Maybe it’s just coincidence, but there does seem to be an awful lot of talk lately about the possible demise of the Jewish state. Indeed, it feels as though it’s heating up just as Israel approaches its 65th birthday. Should we be reading something into the fact that 65 is the age of retirement? Is Zionism headed out to pasture? Or am I just being paranoid?
Nobody is predicting demise as a near-term certainty. Well, nobody other than the mullahs in Iran. Even Hamas is talking about a 50-year cease-fire, which is their way of saying they know Israel isn’t going away any time soon. You hear lots of talk about the end of Zionism from one-staters and BDS types, but that’s basically just wishful thinking. The Berkeley student senate isn’t about to seize control of central Israel.
Actually, it’s mostly Israelis and their friends, not their enemies, who are talking about the prospect of extinction. Not as a sure thing, but as a genuine possibility. To be honest, it’s getting rather alarming.
It’s true, of course, that disaster has been batted about as a possible scenario for as long as there’s been a Jewish state. If the prospect of doom weren’t lurking somewhere nearby, the United Jewish Appeal would be reduced to holding rummage sales. What seems new these days is an element of urgency, a sense that unless Israelis wise up pretty fast, it’s curtains.
The other thing that’s new is the radical discordance in Israelis’ assessments of what’s wrong and how to fix it. In a word, half of Israel believes the country faces doom unless it separates itself from the West Bank and allows the creation of a viable Palestinian state. The other half believes the country faces doom unless it keeps the West Bank and prevents meaningful Palestinian statehood. Both sides think Israel’s problems are eminently manageable, but each believes the other side won’t allow it.
What’s more, each side believes it has the support of the majority of Israelis, but suspects the other side is winning by stealth — the right by expanding West Bank settlements until separation is impossible, the left by conspiring with foreign governments to force Israeli withdrawal. That’s why you hear so much talk about the end of Israel these days: Each side believes the other is on the verge of leading the country over a cliff.
That’s the subtext behind the forced smiles and wildly divergent responses to President Obama’s visit to Israel just before Passover. Obama shares the view of those who think that Israel needs to separate — that peace is “necessary,” “just” and “possible,” as he said in his Jerusalem speech — and that the Netanyahu government is dragging its feet. He went to Israel to try and rouse what he believes is the sleeping majority. This pleased many of his Israeli listeners but infuriated many others, including more than a few who agree with him about peace but resent a foreign leader pulling an end run on Israeli democracy.