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With Friends Like These

M.J. Rosenberg

A poll reported in last Friday’s Yedioth Achronoth brought me back to reality (or one version of it) after a visit to Israel that concluded with an inspirational tour of Israel’s equivalent of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. It is the place where David Ben Gurion declared the establishment of the state on May 14, 1948.

Israel’s Independence Museum, on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, is worth a visit just to stand where Ben Gurion did (in front of a photograph of Theodor Herzl) as he read out the words of Israel’s Declaration of Independence. The room is in a basement because Tel Aviv was already under attack from the neighboring states; in recordings of the event, one can hear the air raid sirens.

Almost as interesting as the room where independence was declared is the story of the house in which the room is located. It originally belonged to Meir Dizengoff, the first mayor of Tel Aviv. He built the house on the spot, actually a sand dune, in which he and a group of Zionist pioneers stood in 1909 and decided that here was the place to build a Jewish city adjacent to the Palestinian town of Jaffa.

Today, of course, the Dizengoff house is at the heart of a Tel Aviv-Jaffa metropolitan area with a population of two million. The city is named Tel Aviv after a book of the same name by Theodor Herzl.

Herzl, who died 44 years before independence but who predicted it to the year, was the kind of visionary who would not be surprised that his dreams and the dreams of others like Meir Dizengoff were realized. After all, in his will, written in 1903, he asked that his remains be buried in his home city of Budapest “until such time as the Jewish people” establish independence in Israel “and re-inter my bones in Jerusalem.” Herzl’s state funeral did, in fact, take place in Jerusalem in 1949.

People like Herzl are not surprised when their visions become reality. They knew it all along. But Herzl, like most of the Zionist pioneers who followed him, would be surprised at what some Israelis believe about the country of his dreams today.

In an article in Friday’s Yedioth Achronoth analyzing the Dahaf Institute poll, Sever Plotzer concluded: “The Israeli people is telling its leaders clearly and decisively: You are destroying the country. You are destroying society. You are not trustworthy. You are pushing the country to the brink of ruin.”

Plotzer writes that the following poll findings “speak for themselves.”

65 percent of Israeli citizens believe that Israel is in the midst of economic collapse.

73 percent believe Israel is in the midst of social breakdown.

79 percent accuse the government of cruelty to the weaker sectors.

68 percent of Israeli citizens charge the government with causing deliberate harm to social solidarity.

But those are not the most troubling aspects of the poll. After all, America goes through periods think of LBJ’s last years in office and of Watergate when public disillusionment with government is rampant. But this goes much deeper as Plotzer points out.

“An unprecedented wide gap has formed between the actions of the rulers -- the correct word to describe the present government from the citizens'

perspective -- and the desires of the subjects. The citizens have lost their trust in the people who rule them and could also lose their trust in democracy entirely.

“The public feels that the government has turned its back on it, and rudely. The public also feels helpless. Completely helpless: 88 percent of citizens said in the poll that Israel has no social protest, or that protest has no effect at all. Nine of ten Israelis are therefore convinced that the legitimate methods of protest against rulers available to the common citizen do not exist in Israel of 2004 and/or that they accomplish nothing. No one up there listens or cares. It's a waste of time. They have no problems with that regarding the media, by the way: it is perceived as a faithful reflector of all the distress.

“According to this poll, Israel is in a pre-upheaval state. There is but a step between us and despair over democracy and its institutions and a willingness to listen to demagogues. This is fertile ground for extreme ideologies, superstitions and flight from reality.

“We are walking on the very thin ice of a melting national consensus.

Another few ill-considered and crude steps and the surface will shatter. Thirty-eight percent of the citizens already distance themselves from Israeli society and feel the glue of solidarity that keeps us united giving way. Every fourth Israeli has already crossed the threshold of separatism and does not feel part of Israeli society, expatriates who have not physically emigrated.”

One need hardly inquire about the cause for this depressing state of affairs. One need only note that, just prior to the collapse of the Oslo process in 2000, Israeli optimism was, according to all the polls, at an all-time high. In contrast to the no-growth economy of today, Israel was experiencing an almost unheard of 8% growth rate. Foreign investment and tourism had reached an all-time high. Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation had reduced terrorism to an all-time low. With formerly closed trade and diplomatic doors opening to Israel throughout Asia, Africa, and the Arab world, Israelis looked forward to a new era of peace and prosperity.

Contrast that with today.

This is not to argue that the root of Israel’s national sense of despair is entirely economic. There are other problems, but most of those, like the widespread economic suffering, derive from the continuing war with the Palestinians.

Nevertheless, there are supporters of Israel who honestly believe that the disastrous status quo is preferable to the risks of pursuing peace. It is hard to fathom. In what other area in life does one choose the certainty of pain and misery over the risk incurred in pursuing a possible cure?

It is not like anyone has ever seriously suggested that Israel simply withdraw from the ’67 territories without security guarantees (early warning systems, forward-based troops, etc) -- although some of the unilateralist ideas being advanced today by the Sharon government do come dangerously close to withdrawal without recompense. But Madrid, Oslo, Camp David, Taba, the Roadmap as well as the various peoples’ initiatives now circulating -- all would provide US and other international guarantees (not to mention the guarantee provided by an unmatched IDF) in exchange for territories which, one can argue, detract from Israel’s security rather than add to it.

Preserving the Zionist dream requires negotiating a way out of the deadly status quo with the Palestinians now. Last week’s Dahaf poll demonstrates that those who favor erecting barriers to negotiations are doing Israel no favors. As the old adage goes, with friends like these, who needs enemies?

M.J. Rosenberg (email: mj847@aol.com) is the Director of Policy Analysis for Israel Policy Forum and is a long time Capitol Hill staffer and former editor of AIPAC’s Near East Report.
Source: Israel Policy Forum, February 20, 2004,

Shopping for a Peace Plan

Highlighting the various recent Middle East peace initiatives, Ksenia Svetlova - Israeli columnist for the Russian language newspaper Novosty Nedeli and Arab affairs reporter for Israel Plus, discusses the proliferation of these initiatives and advocates for “uniting the existing ones and evolving them into an ultimate product, which will unify the peace camp, rather than dividing it”. (Source: AMIN.org, February 25, 2004)

An Animated Discussion of Peace

With the help of Italian officials and artists, a group of Israeli and Palestinian high school students is working to transform the landscape of violence into a “Technicolor fairy tale”. In the fable, a Palestinian and an Israeli teenager are taken on journeys through scenes of terrorism and war, while transforming each scene into one of joy and peace. (Source: Jerusalem Post, February 19, 2004)

William Fisher:

U.S. Jews and Foreign Policy
William Fisher discusses the world’s misrepresentation of the U.S. Jewish community’s broad range of political and religious viewpoints which, according to the author, does potentially represent a substantial reservoir of goodwill for Palestinian aspirations...

Common Ground News Service February 20, 2004
CGNews promotes constructive perspectives and dialogue about current Middle East issues.

From the Common Ground News Service
hagalil.com 22-02-2004



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