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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Why did Israel do it?

As most of you will undoubtedly have heard by the time you read this post, Israel received two black coffins on Wednesday morning that likely (and at this writing it's not yet confirmed) contain the bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev HY"D (may God avenge their blood). Israel Radio has just reported that there are celebrations and candy distribution in the Gaza Strip - which pales by comparison to what will happen in Beirut later Wednesday. Hamas released a statement Wednesday morning that said that Hezbullah has proven that Israel will release 'prisoners' with blood on their hands, and that Hezbullah and Hamas have succeeded in bringing Israel to its knees.

Many of you have asked how Israel could be going ahead with this 'trade.'

Haaretz pundit Shmuel Rosner, who is definitely on the left of the political map, thinks he knows why this happened. He argues that the 'trade' is the result of Israel's 'national psyche.'
For better or for worse, this is mostly a product of the Israeli psyche. Its force was too strong for Olmert, the struggling, soon-to-be-ousted, leader to resist—but it was also stronger than popular, commanding Ariel Sharon. Sharon once agreed to an outrageous deal in which an Israeli colonel, who also happened to be a drug dealer, returned home in exchange for the release of 450 Lebanese prisoners. [A deal I have criticized on this blog in the past. But even then, no one knew that Tenenbaum was a drug dealer until he actually was released. We were told that he was a high-ranking army officer who was being 'tortured' into revealing IDF secrets. When he was released, most of us expected him to be in a wheelchair because the stories going around the country said Hezbullah had broken his kneecaps after an escape attempt and that he could no longer walk. And none of those Lebanese prisoners was a terrorist with blood on his hands. Kuntar was supposed to be released in the second phase of that deal, but Hezbullah never supplied the goods on Ron Arad. They didn't supply them this time either, except Olmert and his 'government' are so pathetically weak that they overlooked it. CiJ]

The leaders can hardly claim that the public will not support them. The heartbreaking fate of the families tends to overwhelm more hard-to-define long-term strategic considerations.

It is no wonder that the head of Mossad, Meir Dagan, was the most visible opponent of the newest deal, while the military's chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, supported it. Ashkenazi is charged with sending warriors into battle; it is his responsibility to assure every Israeli family that its sons and daughters are in good hands and that they will not be abandoned under any circumstances.

So, it is easy to distinguish between the "calculated" and the "emotional" approaches to hostage deals. The Dagans, who see mostly the downside of these deals—that they provide an incentive for more kidnappings and potentially send released prisoners back into the fray—and the Ashkenazis, who think about the families' suffering and the moral responsibility of their command.

But these are false distinctions. Israel is a society in which everyone knows everyone, in which every soldier's fate matters to every citizen. It is a society that demands that every young man and woman perform military service, a society in which a state of war is a 60-year habit, in which national solidarity is always an existential question. For such a society, looking into the eyes of the father or wife of a kidnapped soldier and telling them that the price is just too high is something no leader is able to do. So, in the case of Israel—a country with a never-ending need for public trust in the military—the "emotional" can be the most "calculated" approach of them all.
If this 'trade' is the result of the 'national psyche,' Israel is in deep trouble. This 'national psyche' is the same 'national psyche' that blurted out the following to the Israel Policy Forum on June 9, 2005 to justify turning the IDF against Gaza's Jews:
"We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies, we want that we will be able to live in an entirely different environment of relations with our enemies."
The speaker, of course, was the current Prime Minister, Ehud K. Olmert. Is Israel's 'national psyche' that bad? Is it that defeatist? I'd like to believe that it is not. But much of the country at least thinks along the same lines as Olmert, even if they're not as downright passive as he is. And while I firmly believe that had the IDF Chief Rabbi been given the time to investigate and conclude that Goldwasser and Regev were dead before the cabinet vote (he was stopped in the middle by the cabinet vote), the 'exchange' would never have passed, I must also acknowledge that Israel's 'national psyche' is currently so demoralized that much of the country will likely countenance this deal despite the fact that we are trading a brutal murderer for two dead bodies. The proof? I can point to three data points:

1. The despicable, conniving Olmert remains in office despite his total failure in Lebanon two summers ago, and the only prospect of removing him from office is because of his own corruption and not because he is a bad leader or because he failed in Lebanon.

2. The 'opposition' leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, doesn't seem very interested in deposing Olmert. Last week, I met with someone who worked as a political consultant on Netanyahu's 1996 campaign against Shimon Peres. He said that in 1996, Netanyahu wanted to be Prime Minister. Today he doesn't. Netanyahu is in the 'peaceniks' pocket - just like Olmert. I wrote the following nearly a year ago.
But does Netanyahu understand that Fatah is the enemy? Does Netanyahu want to stop Olmert from reaching that agreement? Or would he prefer that Olmert reach the agreement and then that he, Netanyahu come to power 'facing' a fait accomplis? From his actions this week, Netanyahu seems to think that it's not Fatah - but Feiglin - who is the enemy, and that he'd just as soon let Olmert reach an agreement with Abu Mazen.

In this week's Likud primary, Moshe Feiglin garnered just over 23% of the vote. Instead of being gracious and trying to co-opt Feiglin into a strong nationalist coalition, Netanyahu treated him and one quarter of the Likud's voters like interlopers. He barred Feiglin from the victory celebration and made sure he was not photographed with Feiglin. In fact, he made sure that former education minister Limor Livnat stood by him like a wall to make sure that no photographer would get a picture of him with Feiglin. Instead of speaking out against the corrupt government of Ehud K. Olmert in his victory speech, Netanyahu spoke of recruiting "moderates into the party's leadership from the business sector, academia and former IDF generals." Earlier this week, I noted what Netanyahu meant by that statement:
He's talking about bringing people who abandoned the Likud for Kadima Achora back into the party. He's talking about people like Shaul Mofaz, who zealously commanded the expulsion of the Jews from Gaza two years ago, and Bibi's old buddy Tzachi Hanegbi who has never seen a bribe that looked too criminal to take, and who has been under 'investigation' nearly as many times as Olmert. Bibi's not talking about former generals like Effie Eitam, who was beaten by police at Amona, or Moshe (Boogie) Yaalon, who was fired as Chief of Staff of the IDF because he opposed the Gaza expulsion. (Yaalon is already a member of the Likud, but if Bibi brings Mofaz back, you can bet that it is Mofaz who will be defense minister and not Yaalon).
Netanyahu wants to make the Likud a 'centrist' party and not a party of the right. It's as if he's playing for votes from Haaretz and not from Israel's right. People seem to have forgotten - as he wanted them to - that Netanyahu stayed in the cabinet and voted for the expulsion from Gaza almost to the very end. Netanyahu was the only leader in the Likud who could have mobilized people against the expulsion. He didn't do it:
On October 26 [,2004], the Knesset gave preliminary approval for the plan with 67 for, 45 against, 7 abstentions, and 1 member absent. Netanyahu and three other cabinet ministers from Sharon's ruling Likud government threatened to resign unless Sharon agreed to hold a national referendum on the plan within fourteen days.

On November 9, Netanyahu withdrew his resignation threat, saying "In this new situation [the death of Yasser Arafat], I decided to stay in the government". Following the vote fourteen days earlier, and Sharon's subsequent refusal to budge on the referendum issue, the three other cabinet ministers from the Likud party backed down from their threat within days.

On December 30, Sharon sealed a deal with the Labor Party to form a coalition, with Shimon Peres becoming Vice Premier, restoring the government's majority in the Knesset.

On February 16, 2005, the Knesset finalized and approved the plan with 59 in favor, 40 opposed, 5 abstaining. A proposed amendment to submit the plan to a referendum was rejected, 29-72.

On March 28, the Knesset again rejected a bill to delay the implementation of the disengagement plan by a vote of 72 to 39. The bill was introduced by a group of Likud MKs who wanted to force a referendum on the issue. [6]

On March 17, the IDF Southern Command issued a military order prohibiting Israeli citizens who do not reside in the Gaza Strip settlements from relocating to that area.

On August 7, Netanyahu resigned just prior to the cabinet ratification of the first phase of the disengagement plan by a vote of 17 to 5. Netanyahu blamed the Israeli government for moving "blindly along" with the disengagement by not taking into account the expected upsurge in terrorism.
The expulsion began on August 15, 2005.
3. When I was in Boston in March, I went to hear JPost editor David Horovitz speak. Horovitz is a proper Englishman who has probably been in Israel as long as I have. He lives on the other side of Jerusalem. He generally has his head on pretty straight, and doesn't live in a delusional state like many of our leftists do. He is definitely not a leftist. In the question and answer session, I asked him if he still held out hope of Israel to be a 'normal' country (i.e. not under constant fear of war and terror attacks). He said that he did. I told him that I don't. After the session, I spoke with him privately. He said that if he believed - as I do - that Israel will never be a 'normal' country, he would leave. He could not continue to live here. National psyche?

Is Israel's national psyche as weak as Shmuel Rosner (whose newspaper is a major part of the problem) depicts it? Recall this:
What is your opinion of our governmental elite?

"They are pitiful," Prof. Aharon Ciechanover says decisively, while Prof. Yisrael Aumann vigorously nods his head in agreement.

They are so repulsive?

Ciechanover: "It is truly pitiful that there is not one among them who instills in the public a sense of inspiration. There is no one with whom you would like to speak, whose ideas you would want to hear. To tell the truth, the members of the Israeli elite in general do not voice ideas. They lack discussion, discourse – they don't even have an agenda! They use all kinds of verbs in the Hebrew language – to disengage, to dismantle – that lack all meaning and sense. They are devoid of content, and in the middle of it is a soap bubble called the Kadima party."

That is to say, the downfall of the universities is not occurring in a vacuum.

Ciechanover: "Certainly not. What we see in the universities is merely a symptom of a serious and much more comprehensive disease. I would even call it a fatal disease: spiritual diminution. It is a cancer that has spread throughout Israeli society, to all its bodily limbs."

The politicians, in the opinion of the two Prize winners, have stained public life with their behavior. Prof. Ciechanover said, "Our leadership is always raising moral questions; the public's trust in it has been lost completely. Of all the national symbols, only the anthem and the flag are not yet subject to investigation by the Attorney General or the State Comptroller. All the other symbols have already been consumed."

"With such leadership," adds Prof. Ciechanover with great passion, "It is not surprising that the people's internal cohesion is weakening. The external enemy does not scare me; with the help of technology and wisdom, we will find a cure for it. What do worry me are the processes within Israeli society itself. They are the destructive ones. Even our army failed [in this summer's war in Lebanon] morally and practically – just look at the way the IDF is now investigating itself!

You sound pessimistic…

Prof. Ciechanover: "I am extremely pessimistic. I fear for the very existence of the State of Israel. Everything here seems lacking in values, temporary, one patch on top of another, a thin patch cover that can be torn off with any breeze."

Prof. Aumann (turns to Prof. Ciechanover): "I listened to your words and wanted so much to disagree with them, but I couldn't find a reason to do so. Just the opposite: Everything you say is correct. Your claims are problematic, but I entirely agree with them. I, too, am pessimistic. The problem is not with our neighbors, the problem is with ourselves, with our lack of patience, with the selfishness that has developed among us. Our national agenda is all mixed up: the collective interest has been pushed to the sidelines by the personal interest. The State of Israel in 2006 is something entirely different than what it was when I immigrated in 1956, during the Sinai campaign."

How is it so different?

Prof. Aumann: "Today, everyone worries first and foremost for himself – I, and only I. This is all well and good for a country like Switzerland, but it is very bad for Israel. We cannot allow ourselves a selfish agenda."

This selfishness – is it not also a result of the privatization and subjugation of everything to a competitive market regime? The competitive market lauds and praises selfishness and the advancement of private interests. It has no place for national, religious, ethical and cultural values of which you speak so highly.

Prof. Aumann: "I am a great fan of the market economy and of the incentives that it creates. There is no opposition or contradiction between it and Jewish values: Judaism has to be deeply absorbed in our identity. The incentive to be a Jew has to be assimilated into our soul. The Israeli educational system has to be built in such a way that the population will want to fund the study of the humanities – the humanties, theatre, all those things that are not strictly "economic" – just as Haredi Jews fund systems of gemilut hassadim [charitable acts of kindness.]"

Prof. Ciechanover: "I was competitive all my life. Without competition, I would not have succeeded in anything – even my scientific success is a competitive success. Nevertheless, I am convinced that there is no place for a competitive market economy in preserving values that are critical for our existence. Our profitable and historical inalienable assets cannot be managed like a profit-making economic factory."
I started this post thinking I would argue with Rosner. As the post progressed, I realized I could not. While I don't believe that Israel's 'national psyche' is as weak as this 'deal' would portray it (I believe this 'deal' was made because of a confluence of factors that makes our situation appear even worse than it is), we definitely live in a culture of selfishness and valuelessness that led to what is happening on the Lebanese border today.

Will Israel return to its Jewish values? If we don't, we may not be here much longer.

8 Comments:

At 12:08 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Carl - I have to agree with you. If Israel does become extinct (G-d forbid) it will not be because her enemies defeated her on the field of battle but quite simply, she lost her very soul and thus her will to live. Without those two things, no nation can for long endure. The treif deal that was consummated today is only a symptom of a larger illness consuming Israel from within. We can only hope a cure is found to it.

 
At 2:04 PM, Blogger Orde said...

Norman, God does forbid the extinction of Israel, it just will not happen. He's been 100% right about everything said in the Bible so far, 100%, and a glorious restoration of Israel is a sure thing--later. But Israel first will be severely chastened, for sure. She can't just go directly against the Torah's teaching about punishment for murderers and get away with it. I am nauseous now.

 
At 6:29 PM, Blogger J. Lichty said...

I thiink the national psyche, from my outside view is one of resignment to a fate. When the leaders show that Israel will fight back, the psyche shows a collective strength. During the Lebanon war the country was united.

The psyche of the country is not the problem, it is as Arens recently said in an interview that their is a vacuum of leadership.

Your post on Bibi depresses me more than anything as he has the natural smarts and skill to be such a leader, but I fear that your doubts about him are correct.

At any rate, that was a brillian post (one of your best and that is high praise). We will get through this dark day, but sadly their will be more before the dawn.

 
At 7:49 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

That is my feeling. I have family in Israel and want to see nothing happen to those I love. I just feel shame at this dark day and I wish Israel had a government Jews could be proud of. That is not true of this dark day in Jewish history. It feels like the Ninth Of Av.

 
At 8:08 AM, Blogger Stuart said...

Excellent piece.

"It feels like the Ninth Of Av."

Yes, it does.

 
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