|Gever or Friar? (a mentch or a fool?)
A lot of pundits are spending their time lately evaluating “what went wrong” with the recent war in Lebanon.
An excellent article by Ari Shavit in Ha’artz identified the problem as a philosophical one. Asking “what the hell happened to us,” he blames the elite of Israel for being “drugged by political correctness” and “poisoned by an illusion of normalcy”.
A second article in the Jerusalem Post Summed up Shavit’s first point accurately saying:
Shavit maintains that the main lesson to be absorbed from the Lebanon imbroglio is that the shocking performance of our national leadership was a logical consequence of the erosion of the national spirit among Israeli elite circles.
He writes that “we were drugged by political correctness,” by a discourse dominated by the baseless assumption that “occupation” is the source of all evil… According to Shavit, that resulted in the demonization of core values like heroism and fortitude. Military power became identified with fascism, and the army, the most hallowed icon of the state, was transformed into a dirty word.
Those who warned that we were becoming weaker and our enemies stronger were mocked, as were those who dared question unilateral withdrawals… Shavit notes that “The unending attacks, both direct and indirect, on nationalism, on militarism and on the Zionist narrative have eaten away, from the inside, at the tree trunk of Israel’s existence and sucked away its life force.”
It struck a nerve with me, as so much of my disillusionment is rooted in fact that the values of Israel which so passionately seduced me, community, nationalism, peoplehood, love of the land, etc. are rapidly disappearing from the top down in favor of the western ethics of consumerism and individualism.
I came to be a pioneer only to realize I had arrived 80 years too late.
Nonetheless, The Jpost’s commentary on Shavit’s position emphasizes a point that Shavit did not; that Nationalism and Zionism for their own sake will rarely serve as “ideological motivation for a youngster to be willing to risk his life in order to defend the state.”
What Shavit was missing was a uniquely Jewish angle, where Jewish does not necessarily equal religious.
Shavit’s second point, that we have been “poisoned by the illusion of normalcy”, is as interesting a critique of society as the first;
The State of Israel is fundamentally an abnormal state. Just because it is a Jewish state in an Arab region, and just because it is a Western country in a Muslim region, and just because it is a democratic state in a region of fanaticism and despotism, Israel is in constant tension with its surroundings. On the one hand, because of the situation in which it finds itself, Israel cannot live a life of European normalcy. On the other hand, because of its values and its structure in terms of identity, economics and culture, Israel cannot avoid being a part of European normalcy… Therefore Israel is in a constant state of basic contradiction.
And, my favorite line of the piece “Life in defiance of the environment is an essential part of Israeli existence,” a “cruel insight” he says that has been dissipated in the last generation with the dillusion that we have overcome our problems and can live like any other nation.
Yet, despite all that, he maintains that the while the public at large have not turned their backs on the “existential imperative” of Israel and have impressively withstood multiple tests of terror, the elite of the last 20 years, meaning the capital, the media and the academic world “have become totally divorced from reality” and have “blinded Israel and deprived it of its spirit.”
Instead of being constructive elites, in the past generation the Israeli elites have become dismantling elites. Each in its own area, each by its own method, dealt with the deconstruction of the Zionism enterprise. Step by step, the top 1000th percentiles abandoned the existential national effort. They stopped doing reserve duty, they stopped sending their sons to the fighting units. They mocked those officers who warned about unilateral withdrawals. They mocked those officers who warned that the emergency warehouses were emptying out and the enemies were becoming stronger. And they deceived themselves and those around them that Tel Aviv is in fact Manhattan. Money is in fact everything. And thus they bequeathed to young Israelis a legacy of values that makes it very difficult for them to attack even when the attack is fully justified.
And this, Jacob Shwirtz, is why I don’t hang out much in Tel Aviv.