By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
There is a culture of irresponsibility in Israel that is on display time and again with former government officials or even sitting ministers saying “Israel should do X” when they should be saying “I should do” or “we should do.” Science Minister Yaakov Peri, a former Shin Bet director, said in an interview on November 3, 2014 that “We have very good, fantastic partners after Protective Edge. That Israel doesn’t utilize this is a whole different story.” But he should be making relationships, holding conferences, doing outreach. Instead he blames “the government” of which he is a part.
I wrote that Israelis should be lost for words: I have an idea…so go do it. This is the typical Israeli political double-speak “Israel should do X and Y and Z”…never “I will do X, Y and Z.” What’s next, the Prime Minister of Israel will be critiquing his own country’s policies? Peri has CONTROL OVER the VERY THINGS he advises doing. So go do it…go host a science conference with the Saudis….go work with Egypt…Jordan….whoever…why are you telling “us” what “Israel” should do. You are Israel…go be Israel.
On the same day the interview was published it was reported a Saudi man is being kept from traveling because of visiting a historic synagogue in Egypt, and in Kuwait a writer was “scandalized” by daring to say that Jews played a positive role in the country’s history. At the same time hatred of Israel in Turkey hovers at 86%. In Jordan more than 90 percent of the parliament considers a “hero” the man who shot down Israeli schoolgirls on the island of peace massacre.
And all this conveniently ignores the fact that as much as Peri preaches peace has has never called for civil rights reforms of the very organization he oversaw.
So it brings us to two articles I wrote in the past on this topic:
From ‘The Cult of Post-Political responsibility’
In a new film about the directors internal security service, the Shin Bet, called The Gatekeepers, Ya’akov Peri claims the actions he ordered his agency to carry out can make one become left-wing.
“You knock on doors in the middle of the night, these moments end up etched deep inside you. When you retire, you become a bit of a leftist,” he says.
Isn’t it convenient how one can wait until retirement to develop a moral compass? Of course, Peri’s moral quibbles apparently don’t apply to the period when he was actually in charge. No, Peri’s “insight” is reserved for the benefit of those who came after, for the actions of Israel today.
A fully mature adult takes responsibility for his actions. Not only that, but he learns from the results of his actions. When he makes mistakes, he attempts not to repeat them. One of the truly remarkable things about Israel is the degree to which the country was, for many years, run by a political elite who not only took no responsibility for their actions, but refused to learn from, or even admit, for that matter, their mistakes The defining characteristic of this group is its capacity for blaming others for all the country’s troubles, never mind that they themselves once held the wheel and are, to a very large extent, responsible for the very problems they now critique.
In July 2011, for example, Shlomo Gazit wrote that “if we don’t separate from the Palestinian population on the ground, Jewish and democratic Israel will be unable to survive.” He bemoaned the Palestinians in the West Bank having to navigate a “legal system that enforces the law in a discriminatory way on the basis of national identity, [which] is actually maintaining an apartheid regime.”
This would all be easier to take seriously were it not for the fact that Gazit himself played a central role in establishing the Israeli regime that now governs the West Bank. Foreign Affairs has noted that Gazit was “the coordinator of Israeli government operations in the Occupied Territories from 1967 to 1974, was on the ground in the early years of the occupation and has closely followed developments since.” Gazit prefers that the media focus on how, as a young boy, he joined the Hagana in 1942 and then went on to serve for 32 years in the IDF. Although he authored the book Trapped Fools: Thirty years of Israeli policy in the territories in 2003, in his opeds on the subject he rarely brings up his own role in being present at the creation of the very system he denounces.
So Gazit, who as the man on the spot actually could have instituted a policy in the West Bank more in line with that which he now espouses, instead eschews responsibility. Yet he apparently wants to have his cake and eat it, too, fashionably fighting for Palestinian human rights conveniently long after he could have actually played a role in doing something about it as a government employee.
Gazit doesn’t take responsibility in his 2011 op-ed and note that he personally made mistakes, rather he places the burden of responsibility on the current Israeli government. But where are the official reports, Mr. Gazit, in which you advised the government to leave the territories in 1974, to extend Israeli citizenship and law to the Palestinians? Instead the public is supposed to simply accept the Gazit analysis, and the Peri analysis, at face value; one bemoans the knocking on doors, one the apartheid system – and both were intimately involved in creating the very realities they now castigate. It is as if George W. Bush were to leave office and then write articles condemning the detention of terror suspects at Guantanamo and bemoan the “war on terror” without bothering to mention his own role or explain why, if he had moral qualms about it, he allowed such policies to continue so long.
Another former government official who now bemoans the very policies she could have helped change is Shulamit Aloni. Like Mr. Gazit, she was a member of the pre-state Palmah and resides in one of Israel’s most posh communities, Kfar Shmaryahu. She served as Education Minister in 1993.
In an interview with the Arab-Israeli newspaper Kul al-Arab in 2005 she claimed: “Israel is a racist state that commits war crimes and resorts to terrorism worse than that employed by the Palestinians.”
She claimed that Israel committed “war crimes against humanity” and was “no different than racist South Africa.”
Strong words for a former government minister – especially considering that as a minister she didn’t make her serving in the government contingent on getting Israel out of the apartheid system she claims it is in.
She didn’t have any trouble serving under Yitzhak Rabin, the same prime minister who ordered the IDF to “break the bones” of Palestinian protestors. Was a little Palestinian bone-breaking acceptable so long as it was being done by one of her friends in the Labor Party? After all, when Rabin broke bones, is in pursuit of peace, so the narrative goes.
In an article in The Independent, Avram Burg wrote that “the Israeli people’s eyes are blind, their ears are deaf and their leaders are flaccid and weak.” He claimed that Israelis the “last colonial occupier in the Western world” and that he had decided “not to buy any product that comes from the settlements.”
Strong words. From a life-long activist against the “colonial occupier”? Not exactly.
Burg is the scion of one of Israel’s elite families, raised in Jerusalem’s prestigious Rehavia neighborhood to Yosef Burg, a long-time Knesset member for the National Religious party. Burg was a member of the Knesset for the Labor party, chairman of the Jewish Agency, chairman of the World Zionist Organization and speaker of the Knesset through 2003.
During all those years, did he work tirelessly to extract Israel from the West Bank and Gaza? Did he encourage a boycott of the goods produced across the Green Line so the Jewish communities there would wither on the vine? When he was chairman of the Jewish Agency, did he advise immigrants that in his view it was immoral to move to Israel in order to settle in Judea and Samaria? No. Oddly, this vibrant righteous anger only sprang up after the institutional positions and the private car and chauffeur he enjoyed for 10 years courtesy of the Jewish Agency were things of the past.
Alon Liel, former director-general of the Foreign Ministry, foreign affairs adviser to prime minister Ehud Barak and former ambassador to South Africa, came out in 2012 in The Guardian supporting international efforts to label items made in the West Bank, writing: “the settlements are not Israel, they are built on occupied land.”
Liel not only played a role in crafting the recent “apartheid survey” that attempted to show that Israelis support apartheid, in Business Day he claimed “I buy Israeli products every day and do my best not to buy Israeli products from the occupied territories.
I don’t see why you, living outside Israel, shouldn’t have the same choice.” In addition Times of Israel reported that he supports a cultural boycott of Israel.
But if Liel believes that settlements “are a grave violation of international law” why didn’t he work actively while at the Foreign Ministry to make the government see that? Why didn’t he work to get the products produced there labeled “made in occupied Palestine”?
“SHOOTING AND crying” is an oft-repeated Hebrew expression that supposedly describes the tendency of some Israeli soldiers to talk about the bad things they saw after completing their tours of duty. The soldiers are conscripted to carry out these duties and they often take responsibility for their role. But the phenomenon of Israeli politicians, officials and high ranking officers experiencing a “moral awakening” after their terms end and “coming out” against Israel’s policies goes beyond this syndrome.
It primarily afflicts one particular generation of Israelis, all of whom hail from a similar economic and cultural milieu, such as the pre-state Palmach or the elite high schools of Jerusalem, that claim to have experienced these moral epiphanies. This group’s belief that one can run a secretive internal security service, such as the Shin Bet, and claim afterward to oppose the very actions of that service, that one can lay the groundwork for Israel’s institutional administration of the West Bank and then claim this policy is immoral, demonstrates a total failure to grasp the notion of personal responsibility. These Israelis were apparently not brought up with a clear notion of what responsibility actually means. Avram Burg wrote that the “Israeli people’s eyes are blind” – but he should have written “our eyes are blind” or “my eyes were blind.”
But there was and is no individual recognition on the part of this group of mistakes made, no admission that the Burgs, Liels, Alonis, Rabins, Peris and Gazits of yesteryear all played integral roles in the creation of the state that exists today.
This culture of post-political criticism and irresponsibility has bred a sanctimonious crescendo of righteous indignation, mainly bruited abroad in newspapers like The Guardian, the actual purpose of which is simply to coddle the egos of the former political elite, pampered while in office and now lauded for “speaking out.”
If Robert McNamara, the US secretary of defense from 1961 to 1968 had come out against the Vietnam war after leaving office the press would have crucified him for not acting on his views while he had the power. By contrast, in Israel leaders are not held sufficiently accountable for their actions and people are not raised to hold themselves accountable. McNamara said towards the end of his life that he was “wrong, terribly wrong”; in Israel it would have been “others were wrong, terribly wrong.”
Israel needs its leaders to understand responsibility and make consistent moral judgements. The the press needs to start asking these administrators turned critics some hard questions.
From ‘Does Israel have a responsibility deficit?’
There is a self-fulfilling prophecy that has converted portions of the Israeli analytical class, and its co-religionists abroad, to the belief that the country is destined for failure. This belief system ascribes to itself the role of the canary in the Zionist mine and, since it is permanently critical, admits no responsibility for the failure it believes is coming.
Last week commentator Rogel Alpher penned an op-ed claiming that “The time has come to acknowledge reality: there will be no peace.” That is probably a correct analysis. But his conclusion places the onus on Israel. “It will be too late to save the two-state idea,” he writes, and “when the reckoning arrives” it is Israel that will have brought it on. “Among the Jews in the Knesset the Right has a big majority and this will only increase.”
Many columnists and commentators feel the same way. Mark Levine, a professor of history at UC Irvine, asks, “who will save Israel from itself?” His prognosis is dire: “Israelis are clearly incapable.
Their addiction as a society to the illusion of violence-as-power has reached the level of collective mental illness.”
However, the place you find the most hand-wringing Jeremiahs of today (the prophet who warned the people to change their ways before it was too late) is among the Israeli Left. The mantra is generally quite consistent: Israel must make peace and remove itself, as much as possible, from the West Bank, lest it become non-democratic, isolated by the international community, and a pariah state.
This was on display in The New York Times op-ed co-authored by University of Haifa lecturer Israel Waismel-Manor.
With Stanford Iranian-studies expert Abbas Milani, he argued that Iran and Israel were set to change places. We can assume Prof. Milani wrote the part about Iran’s liberalizing. What is interesting is Waismel-Manor’s model of Israel’s future.
He claims that as the West becomes less religious it will be unable to identify with an Israel that is more religious: “A new generation of American Jews sees a fundamental tension between their own liberal values and many Israeli policies.”
Waismel-Manor’s thesis is directed at demographics. “Since the vast majority of Orthodox Jews are also against any agreement with the Palestinians, with each passing day, the chances of reaching a peace deal diminish.” Time is not on Israel’s side because of Orthodox Jewish birthrates, so the narrative goes.
Similarly New Republic senior editor John Judis claims that “Israel’s Labor Party and smaller parties on the Left have wanted to return the occupied lands as part of a peace agreement … but … Labor Zionism itself has become marginalized.”
These authors and many fellow travelers paint a linear view of Israeli history. For them there is Labor Zionism that can do no wrong and which had all the right ideas, and there is all the rest of Israel that threatens what Labor leader Ehud Barak called “the villa in the jungle.”
What is fascinating about this approach is the degree to which it requires willful blindness to historic fact.
WHEN ISRAEL conquered the “territories” in 1967 it had a government run by the Labor party. It was primarily apparatchiks of the Left that situated the first settlements in the Jordan Valley and Golan.
As Gershom Gorenberg showed in Accidental Empire, the decision to build Jewish communities in the West Bank, Gaza, Golan and Sinai was a direct result of Israel’s Labor government-led post-1967 policies.
Labor leader Yigal Allon conceived of building the Gush Katif settlements in Gaza. Golda Meir confidant Yisrael Galilee and military hero Moshe Dayan supported the construction of Yamit in Sinai. A 1984 article in The Christian Science Monitor reminds us that much of the construction of Jewish communities in the West Bank in the 1980s had the approval of Shimon Peres and Labor.
The devil was in the details: “Likud and the Orthodox parties were resisting moves for a compromise settlement-policy platform allowing settlement only in West Bank areas agreed on by all factions in a new, Peres-led coalition.”
Lest anyone pretend that in those days no one knew what was being constructed, the AP reported on July 26, 1977, that “West Bank settlement brings US protest.” US secretary of state Cyrus Vance called it an “obstacle to peace.”
What Judis and Waismel-Manor do is project backward their own prognosis for Israel. They think Jewish communities in the West Bank, and the former communities in Gaza and Sinai, were obstacles to peace, but they then shift blame from those they see as their ideological family, onto those they want to blame for Israel’s problems.
Manor invents a narrative of “the vast majority of Orthodox Jews are against any agreement with the Palestinians” and therefore concludes the demographics of haredim are an impediment to progress in peace talks. Let’s remind ourselves that ultra-Orthodox Jews make up only 10 percent of Israel’s population. They have never been anything but a junior partner in governing coalitions, or were kept out altogether, and there are few haredim even living in the West Bank.
How is it that Labor Zionist Israel didn’t reach a peace deal from 1967 to 1977 when it was in power, or in 1984 to 1986, or 1995 to 1996, or 1991 to 2001? Israel has run the West Bank, the “disputed territories” as Danny Ayalon calls them, for almost 50 years, longer than the Jordanians or British. It isn’t the “Orthodox” and “demographics” that are the problem, it is the inability of the Zionist Left to take responsibility for its actions. It is the inability of the secular Zionist Right to provide vision for what it wants to do with the West Bank.
Responsibility lies at the heart of it all.
There is an irresponsible strain in Israel that always assigns blame to “them” even when it assigns blame to “us.” Thus, Israel is always entirely at fault for the collapse of various smoke-and-mirrors peace processes – but only part of Israel. A more holistic approach would be to see the need for a future policy in the West Bank as something everyone is responsible for.
Preaching and self-fulfilling prophecies aren’t helping anyone.