Thursday, August 17, 2006

Who Won, Who Lost and Why?

For anyone confused about the results of the war in Lebanon, what with both Israel and the Hezbollah claiming victory, the following rule of thumb should be helpful. Those claiming an Israeli victory and a Hezbollah defeat are basing themselves on things that are supposedly going to happen in the future. George W. is the most prestigious representative of the “Israel won” school of thought. He said this. “How can Hezbollah claim victory when they are going to be replaced?” Georgie, losing still another battle with the English language, must have meant “displaced.” Experts on GWB explain that he quite often confuses things that he wants to happen with things that are actually happening.

Those, who state that Israel lost and Hezbollah won, base themselves on what happened, and this is of course, the only reliable basis for analysis.
The extent of the loss and the significance of the Israeli defeat are, of course, open to discussion.

And now, I have to make a confession. A few days back I wrote an article for our Hebrew website, “Hagada Ha’smolit” [Left Bank]. Pained and disgusted at the war and the steady stream of the official lies, I said some very unpleasant things about the state of Israeli society. The key motif of that article was that even the most consistent opponents of Israeli policy over the years could not have known the depths to which Israeli society had sunken. The blistering indictment that I presented there is so severe as to pose the question as to whether there are still some redeeming features in Israeli society. Fearing to be misunderstood on so critical an issue, I wanted to rewrite the English text, though I knew that, eventually, I would have to come clean and write the sad and bitter truth for my English readers. I had simply hoped that I could find a way to balance the indictment by finding a few just people and events in Sodom. If you have not noticed we are in Sodom and Gomorrah.

Three items in the news yesterday showed me that I was silly and naïve.
Item one revealed that Dan Halutz, the IDF Chief of Staff had called his bank at 12:00, three hours after the July 12 incident, in order to sell all his stocks. The Attorney- General decided that very morning to file charges against Ha’negbi, one of the leaders of Kadima and the present chair of the powerful Knesset committee on Security and Foreign Affairs, for handing out civil service jobs to party hacks. On the same morning, the police requested the Attorney-General to file charges against Haim Ramon, the Minister of Justice (!), for sexual harassment.

Of course, these gentlemen richly deserve the anguish and humiliation that they should be feeling (but do not be certain they do feel anything of the sort). Moreover, this is just one more instance of some flotsam and jetsam being expunged from dark and deep currents.

The plain fact of the matter is that, even as consistent political and moral opponents of the Israeli regime, we did not and could not have known that the rot and the decay in the interstices of Israeli society had proceeded to a level that challenges the imagination.

Of course, we are not concerned with the peccadilloes of this or that politician or general. We are concerned with the recent formation of a national consensus enthusiastically supporting a war that should have been seen immediately as a wild and irresponsible project launched by irresponsible politicians and arrogant generals. There is no need to repeat here all the aspects of this debacle, recognized as such by almost every part of Israeli society. The details of the disaster are becoming clearer day by day. But it our duty to ask the more basic question of WHY this happened! There is a sickness in this land and those who cherish the land and its people, those who see it as their homeland, cannot avoid facing the whole truth.

Root Causes – Real Ones

These, in broad outline, are the root causes of the deep and abiding crisis in Israeli society.

One: Israeli politics have been thoroughly militarized to the point that all major issues are analyzed exclusively in military terms and the employment of brute power. The military and its thought patterns has permeated the body politic and the civilian echelon rendering civilian control of the armed forces a sad joke.
The public is led to believe that all problems and difficulties can be resolved only through the use of force. The assumption is that the IDF, were it released from moralistic considerations and political wimps could take care of business. Thus, the persistence of unresolved difficulties is understood by public as a result of lack of will on the part of the civilian echelon. In times of tension or military operations, the first concern of the government is to convince the public that it has given the military a free hand. The politicians are in mortal fear that any general accuse the government that prevented the army from reaping the fruits of victory. All the government has to do is to “Let the IDF win!”

Two: The pre-existing special alliance between the United States and Israel has been upgraded. Israel has become a full scale operational partner in the “war on terror” and has been assigned specific targets in the crusade of the Bush administration against the axis of evil. Most Israelis are convinced that they are receiving fantastic diplomatic, military and logistical support for doing something that they would have to do anyway. Indeed, how could Israel not respond with a deep sense of gratitude and solidarity when the only major superpower deepens the special alliance and converts it to a mutual interest in battling “Islamo-Fascism.” Israel believes that, with the security of the U.S. commitment, its existential problems are over.
The political and military elites, including the intellectuals, who should know something about the reliability of the United States, have enrolled Israel in a project that might well end in a major catastrophe. Israel is quite satisfied with itself about lining up with Bush, though it does not have the faintest idea of the objectives and the chances of reaching them.

Three: It is impossible to oppress an entire people for 40 years and not to succumb to the ultimate rationalization for such action. Anti-Arab racism is endemic in Israeli society. This racism is so pervasive that it covers the political landscape like a cloud and infects all the thinking and the attitudes of the overwhelming majority of Israelis. There are endless variations on the never ending litany of the faults of the Arabs – some more sophisticated for the more educated strata and more vocal and vicious for the masses.

Four: In a society busily engaged in privatizing its very soul, the concept of dedicated public service becomes anachronistic. Everyone is involved in his/her own career, looking out for advancement and pursuing more monetary reward. If you are smart, you understand the value of public relations. If you want recognition you will find your way to the media. Truth is irrelevant, and everyone knows that what counts is what gets to the media.

These broad and far reaching developments: rampant militarism, abject subservience to Washington, deep seated racism and careerism are the deeper reasons why Israel embarked on the recent adventure in Lebanon. Despite the tremendous sigh of relief all over the country after the cease fire went into place, the hawks, the generals and their stooges are already explaining that the next round is inevitable and it won’t take long in coming.

The Risks of Leadership

With a slight nuance here and there, the Zionist left rallied to the flag of national unity when Olmert and Peretz blew the bugle. However, from the very beginning there were some brave souls who disassociated themselves from their leadership by showing up at the demos by thousands of the militant left which opposed the war from day one.

At a meeting of Peace Now activists on July 24, 2006, there was a clear division between supporters and opponents of the war. Supporters of the war rejected a suggestion that Peace Now, at the least, come out in support of a cease fire. The movement leadership argued that its supporters would not understand such a position and that it was impossible to know whether the demand for a cease fire might not help Hezbollah.(!?)

Public opinion counted Peace Now with those sections of the left who had seen the light and returned to the fold of the nation. But as the war dragged on and there were signs that victory would be evasive or not be achieved at all, three central figures of the Zionist left (Amos Oz, A.B. Yehushua and David Grossman) came out in support of a cease fire on Sunday, August 6. In parallel development, Peace Now and MERETZ activists called, in open defiance of their leaderships, for a demonstration on Thursday, August 11, supporting the demand for a cease-fire. As the week went on, pressure was building on the recalcitrant leaderships to take a position. By Thursday morning, the break away, grass roots initiative had been adopted by both leaderships as an official movement activity calling for quick end to the war .
During the week, there were insistent rumors that Israel was going to launch a mass land offensive drive to the Litani River, any minute. This had the effect of uniting all sections of the Zionist left, which recognized the move as nothing more that a costly attempt by the IDF to bolster its sagging prestige.

There are two ways to respond to these events in the peace movement.
One could say, well, better late than never. Another way of looking at this is to ask what kind of leadership has to be dragged by its rank and file to the street in order to protest against a government that is blatantly ignoring the human costs of an imbecilic war?