Despair, Israeli Style

When it’s not preoccupied with Gilad Schalit’s release-not-release, the settlement freeze-not-freeze, the never-ending Iran nightmare or Bibi Netanyahu’s offer/threat to bring Tsipi Livni’s Kadima into his coalition, in whole or in pieces, the Israeli press has lately been publishing a good deal of what can only be described as existential despair.

Nobody has captured the angst more exquisitely than Yair Lapid of Yediot Ahronot, one of the country’s best-known and most firmly centrist journalists, in a December 20 column titled “So what now?

It’s possible that it doesn’t work anymore. That this country stopped functioning the same way old cars die: In the first few times you still take it to the mechanic, later you learn to look under the hood yourself and get your hands dirty, and then comes the moment where you just leave it in the street, realizing that there must be someone out there whose job is to take it away…

In a slightly more dispassionate tone, the underlying tension is described in a December 24 op-ed titled “Two Types of Zionism. It’s by Gadi Taub, an essayist, Hebrew University professor of communications and public policy (and occasional Forward contributor):

What we are dealing with here is the difference between means and ends. In the settlers’ view, the State is a means for realizing “our obligation to the Land of Israel through Aliyah and settlement work” (as noted in the founding document of the Gush Emunim settlement movement.) Yet in the view of mainstream Zionism, the settlement enterprise is a means for reinforcing the State’s sovereignty.As time passes, it turns out that this difference is in fact an abyss. Two worldviews will be facing off for a head-on clash.

Taub ends on confident note: the “Zionism of the state” will outlast the “Zionism of the land.” “There’s “no need to panic.”

The settlers do not have enough resources or ideological confidence in order to detach themselves from the State, let alone declare war against it.

Maybe not, but they’re making a pretty good show of it. Consider:

Two hundred 12th-graders wrote an open letter to Defense Minister Ehud Barak December 24 declaring that they will “fight the enemy” but they’ll refuse to evacuate settlers.

A battalion of reservists hung a sign on the gate of their base December 21 at the end of a month of training, declaring their solidarity with a military yeshiva that was expelled from the army’s Hesder training-and-Torah program because its head rabbi refused to stop teaching recruits to disobey orders. Dozens of rabbis and teachers in other Hesder yeshivas wrote a December 18 open letter to their students — all of whom are soldiers in uniform—that “Torah law” takes precedence over army commands and they must disobey any orders to evacuate or dismantle settlements.

Yisrael Harel, one of the founders of the settler movement and former chairman of the Judea-Samaria Settlement Council, warned in a defiant essay in the Jerusalem Post December 20 that the settlers won’t go down without a fight. But there’s more than a hint of anxiety in his defiance.

Thus, if only to continue to exist, i.e. to prevent another Katif bloc uprooting, the settlers understand that they must bring tens of thousands of new people to the settlements. But that cannot happen without ongoing construction.

Moreover, Harel writes,

they face an additional existential threat: atrophy. Many of the veteran settlements are over 30. original settlement is liable to age and eventually disappear. Thus, another reason for the struggle against the freeze is the need to bring fresh blood to the veins of these settlements.

Working for the settlers, Harel writes, is the fact that “Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is perceived by settlers and others as a weak figure who succumbs to whoever pressures hardest.” But there’s a flip side:

Netanyahu’s inclination to fold under pressure generates yet another concern. Nothing will change in the Obama administration’s approach 10 months from now. There will be more pressure, followed by further freezes. And since there will be no newconstruction starts during the coming 10 months, there can be no second ministerial committee for exceptions. Thus as long as Obama is president, there will be no housingconstruction in Judea and Samaria …

One of the most surprising notes of fatigue came from the editor of the Jerusalem Post, David Horovitz, in a December 24 signed column titled “A Nation Held Hostage.” It’s a long, agonized one-the-one-hand/on-the-other-hand parsing Israel’s dilemma over freeing Palestinian prisoners to win back Gilad Schalit, the soldier kidnapped in June 2006 and held ever since by Hamas in Gaza.

On one hand, Horovitz writes,

Hamas is already contemplating the momentum this vindication of its strategy will provide for its supporters in the West Bank - and the momentum this will give to Hizbullah in Lebanon and to their would-be nuclear state sponsor, Iran. Hamas is already anticipating the blow to the credibility of relative moderates such as Abbas. Hamas is already gauging how far forward this will take it toward the full dominance of the Palestinian polity, en route to the full dominance of Palestine.DEEP, DEEP down, many Israelis know all of this. We are not stupid people.

On the other hand,

We know that, even as the inner cabinet was weighing the terms of the deal on Monday, another family was being torn apart. Mor Cohen was killed in a training accident, shot dead through what ought to have been an impermeable wall during an exercise on the Golan Heights. …Mor Cohen is dead. It is tragic. But there is nothing we can do now to bring him back. Gilad Schalit is alive. We can save him.

But should Israel free hundreds of committed terrorists to win back one soldier? The answer from the veteran editor of the Jerusalem Post is: I don’t know.

There’s no simple decision, but there is a right one. And it’s not for the people of this nation, held hostage by Hamas, to take.That’s why we have leadership.

Or, to paraphrase: I’m stuck, and I don’t know how to get out. You get a sense that he’s speaking for all Israel.

Written by

J.J. Goldberg

J.J. Goldberg

Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).

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Despair, Israeli Style

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