Thursday, April 12, 2007

Worshipping False God's

In his insightful article in Haaretz, Ari Shavit points out that the Israel Defence Forces need to be rehabilitated, but they cannot, until Israeli society is rehabilitated too.

“The reason for that is simple: It is not the IDF that is responsible for the ills that gripped it. It is not the IDF that is responsible for the fact that for the past 40 years its primary mission has been occupation, and that for 20 years the state has been denying it its best sons and most of its resources. It is not the IDF that is responsible for the fact that diplomatic folly and political rifts have eroded it; that the right has exploited it and the left has attacked it; that Tel Aviv's hedonism has withdrawn from it.

It is not the IDF that is responsible for the fact that an escapist Israeli society expects the army to protect it from the historical reality in which it finds itself, without placing at its disposal the material, human and conceptual means that will enable it to do so. …

The new ethos of Israeli society is characterized by extreme individualism, rampant capitalism and nihilism. This ethos, which is totally divorced both from the Middle East and from the Zionist continuum, is destroying social solidarity and the sense of a common national fate, corrupting politics and causing the public to collapse. This ethos is preventing a people's army like the IDF from continuing to function properly.

So that now, when the IDF is beginning the difficult campaign of rehabilitation, Israeli society must lend a hand. It must once again examine the ethos that has caused its moral disintegration and the moral crisis of its army. Israeli society must understand that in this place it is impossible to survive without comprehending the importance of partnership and a spirit of recruitment to the cause.”

What Shavit fails to drive home sufficiently though, is that the lack of social cohesion in Israel, is a direct result of the redefinition of the “national mission” that started in 1948, accelerated after 1967, and was solidified in the 1980s and then again in the late 1990s.

Once Zionism and the Israeli society conceived of itself as being devoted to building an enlightened, rational, and egalitarian society: a light to the nations and the fulfillment of the best of the Jewish prophetic tradition – and on this foundation to establish a creative and vibrant Jewish civilization. Settling the land – with all its problematics – was seen as a means to an end.

Then the leadership decided to become “normal”. Chauvinism, defence considerations and territory took precedent over a vision of national hope and an ethical society. Excessive personal wealth was not only tolerated, but promoted over the common good. (Did anyone in the 60’s or 70’s ever question why and how Moshe Dayan, a career military man and later politician, managed to support his luxurious homes, hobbies, and lifestyle? Or how Ariel Sharon, with a similar career, ended up owning the largest private ranch in Israel?) The past few years of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Thacherite economics have completed this process. Personal wealth – and damn the consequences – are now the norms for ambitious and talented Israelis. Let the weak sink if they cannot swim. Grab what you can – else you are sucker. And all this is not only tolerated, it is promoted as good!

After 1967, and accelerating until today, came the craze of settling the land for the sake of settling the land. A combination of mystical messianism – divorced from ethical considerations –, a longing for the “pioneering spirit” of self sacrifice and collective enterprise that was slowing being leached from “secular” Israeli society, and the economic benefits of cheap land, water and labour, brought the settler movement many troops, as well as the grudging admiration of the majority of Israelis. After all, “at least they are idealistic.”

A country like Canada can survive without a strong unifying sense of common purpose. But even here it helps to have one. Israel probably cannot – or at least it cannot thrive under such conditions. Supporting the army requires sacrifices. Living in a pressure cooker requires resolve.

Israeli society needs to find a common ennobling sense of purpose. One that will give it the physical, intellectual, and emotional strength it needs to change, and to grow, and to thrive. To give its people a vision of hope based on ethics. It also needs this, if it expects the outside world – including Diaspora Jews – to keep supporting it.

And it can’t do that by worshipping the false God’s of chavanism, personal riches and territorial greed, that it has been chasing these past several decades.


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