My last diary was my translation of an op-ed Ofer Neiman, a fellow Israeli activist, and myself wrote together back in April at Ynet, a mainstream Israeli news site. That article argued that the self-reinforcing siege mentality is gradually taking the taste and meaning out of collective life in Israel.
Last week we continued analyzing fundamental issues in Israel’s dealing with the world. The article appeared in Ha’aretz in an online-only, Hebrew-only format. Moreover, while the Ynet article was published pretty much with the same 575 words we wrote, Ha’aretz demanded only 450, and then were arrogant enough to further cut it to 400, change the title and much of the text. Below I translate the original with commentary. In a way, our message is a progressive Israeli response to the attack on the flotilla.
Will We Go On Pissing from the Diving Board?
Assaf Oron and Ofer Neiman
(title changed by Haaretz language editor to “Israeli Chutzpah”)
Did anyone in the Israeli government notice the similarities between the Gaza flotilla and the “Exodus” story? After all, in 1947 it was “Exodus” that turned into the straw that broke the camel’s back, signaling the end of British mandate rule. And maybe our government does remember the “Exodus” story, but thought that it won’t happen to us. That endure a little bad PR is worth the price; it will all blow over. There seems to have been a slight miscalculation, but predicting the future is not the point of this article.
Of course, calling the flotilla attack decision “a slight miscalculation” is a good candidate for understatement of the year, possibly the decade. But if you are awash in the self-reinforcing torrents of Israeli political thought, it’s pretty easy to see where the attack idea came from. Eleven days, that’s what they told each other. We need to divert the bad PR for 11 days: from May 31 to the World Cup opening kick. From that point on, the world will be busy watching men chase a ball around the field.
A few sentences to drive home how miscalculated this cynical calculation has turned out to be. South Africa, arguably the nation most preoccupied with the upcoming World Cup, still found time to recall its ambassador from Israel in the attack’s wake. The global BDS movement has suddenly shifted from second to third gear:
- The Pixies canceled their Tel Aviv concert in the last minute, joining Elvis Costello who had done so before the attack;
- After years of foot-dragging, major Italian supermarket chains start pulling Israeli produce off their shelves for failing to comply with stated EU policy that products must be clearly marked if coming from a settlement;
- Scottish writer Iain Banks writes an interesting letter to the guardian. In the letter, he states that boycotting is an “act of hypocrisy” because it is collective punishment meted out in order to stop Israel from collectively punishing Palestinians. However, he immediately continues with
…but appeals to reason, international law, UN resolutions and simple human decency mean – it is now obvious – nothing to Israel, and for those of us not prepared to turn to violence, what else can we do?
For the little it’s worth, I’ve told my agent to turn down any further book translation deals with Israeli publishers. I would urge all writers, artists and others in the creative arts, as well as those academics engaging in joint educational projects with Israeli institutions, to consider doing everything they can to convince Israel of its moral degradation and ethical isolation, preferably by simply having nothing more to do with this outlaw state.
All this harvest in under two weeks, without mentioning – say – the war of words and boycotts going on with Turkey, till May 31 a favorite Israeli vacation destination. I have the feeling we’re far from done.
(breaking: Devendra Banhart also cancels, 3 hours before flying to Israel, saying “We will be overjoyed to return to Israel on the day that our presence is perceived and reported on as a cultural event and not a political one.”)
Anyway, back to our little op-ed and why we wrote it:
It is worthwhile discussing the mindset that has led to the attack on the flotilla, the mindset of “pissing from the diving board:” we do whatever we feel like doing, and someone will clean after us.
Thus far, it has worked beautifully for us: Israel destroys the Palestinian economy, sending the bill to pay for their basic sustenance – and the world pays and shuts up. Israel decides that Gazans should go on a suffocating “diet” – and the world collaborates.
There are countless more examples for this pattern. As I demonstrated with painstaking detail (Part I) (Part II) – and as will be further explored below – on the historical-time axis, the peaks in this Israeli strategy correlate with the terms of 3 Republican presidents who saw bolstering Israel’s adventuresome tendencies as an asset in some global chess game: Nixon, Reagan and W. Bush definitely took this to the extreme, affecting a change in I-P reality that is so deep and so dramatic, that people have forgotten what it was like before. Specifically with regards to Israeli policy shapers: like the 5-year-old who leaps off the roof, they truly believe they are capable of anything with no consequence.
It is for them, or rather for our fellow Israeli citizens, that we are trying to connect the dots:
Did it work because the world likes us? On the contrary. Israeli policies this past decade have been about as popular in the world as AIDS. So why are they all cooperating with us? Are we a global power? Israelis are barely 0.1% of the world’s population. Our trade balance has been continuously negative since independence, and the global economy would make do without us. Our military is strong, but without massive US financing it would be paralyzed. Our display of power depends mostly upon external support, first and foremost from the US government. And the wall-to-wall American support for Israel stems mostly from domestic American politics.
This is a key point of the article. As hinted previously, seeing Israel as a useful piece on the global chessboard has made sense for some administrations more than for others. Also, it was more plausible during the Cold War. But a remote “chess piece” whose antics generate a nuclear alert on your home soil – as happened during the 1973 war – becomes a bit questionable. Especially when this (giving trouble and headaches to your sponsor superpower) becomes a habitual pattern.
Recently, the infamous Caroline Glick (yes, that’s the mastermind behind Latma) turned philosophical and wrote a longish piece on the Jerusalem Post, reminding everyone what an amazing, unparalleled asset Israel is to the United States, and how the Obama Administration is too stupid (read: “Obama is a Jew-hating closet Jihadi”; if you don’t believe click on the Latma link and watch from minute 1:45, making sure you have a barf bag handy), too stupid to realize this. In particular, Glick said Israel “projects American power in the region”, without using a single American soldier.
mmmm. What fanstastic imagery. We “project” your power. Sounds self-evident, no? No. If Israel projects American power, it means that Israel being there and doing what it does, makes America more powerful in the region and its interests served without having to spend efforts on it directly. Ya. Exactly what we’ve been seeing. Well, actually, the opposite: it is America that projects Israeli power onto the Middle East, not vice versa. As we showed above, America works overtime, so that Israel gets its interests served without breaking a sweat.
But what do we project for you then? Israel project to the Middle East, that America hates and despises them, totally ignores their legitimate interests and grievances, and is furthermore hell-bent upon keeping them weak and divided, suffering from wars and corrupt dictatorships that America props up from Cairo to the Gulf. Way to project.
Back to the article, probably to the most touchy sentences.
Only 2% of Americans are Jews, but there are 13 Jewish Senators out of 100, and their weight in media and the economy is even greater. The only issue around which America’s Jews cooperate as a unified bloc is supporting Israel, and American politicians have learned the lesson long ago.
Whoa. I’ve reached what can be termed A Michael Chabon moment: how does one celebrate the extraordinary success of the American Jewish community, without making it sound like “Antisemitic stereotypes”? And how does one begin to discuss the impacts of that community’s Israel advocacy, without being accused of invoking “The Protocols of Zion”? I will grant this to those who don’t like reading sentences like the two above: Jewish fears about discussing these matters too openly, have very clear and painful historical justifications.
Moreover, much as I appreciate the courage of Mearsheimer and Walt in publishing their “Lobby” paper and book, I do not subscribe to their version of events, in particular the prime event which gave them the political space in which to place the book: namely, the Iraq war. Mearsheimer-Walt let Bush and Cheney off way too easy. As mentioned above, Bush has a huge culpability and a terrible legacy on I-P: like on other topics, he never cared to understand what an American President’s role should be. But on Iraq he and Cheney have pretty much sole responsibility; it was their brainchild and their crime. Yes, there were plenty of criminally idiotic (or idiotically criminal) Jewish neocons milling about, and Jewish organizations shamefully advocated for the invasion (the ADL!) – but they were little more than useful idiots in the Iraq story.
That being said, it is impossible to fathom American I-P politics and the dominant media discourse here about I-P, without acknowledging the depth of fear gripping Congresspersons and reporters. This was the first shock that greeted my arrival here in 2002-3. On Israel-Palestine, America is simply not a free country. If, on issues that are clearly controversial (the West Bank Barrier, the Gaza war), a parliament votes 403-8 or 99-0 with little debate, then for this particular issue it is little better than the parliaments of Syria or North Korea. If a New-York based director smuggles a film out of a deadly battle in her underwear defying an evidence-destroying campaign by those who had done the killing, then conducts a press conference and posts all the material online – and still gets ignored by the mainstream American media – then these media are so shell-shocked that they have forgotten the reason for their existence. They would have never given up such a good story, on any other topic.
European government support for Israel is motivated in part by guilt about the Holocaust, but it seems that the main factor is their unwillingness to challenge America’s traditional stance. Arab rulers like Mubarak rely upon the US for the survival of their regimes, and therefore toe the line on Israel. What’s wrong about that? The problem is, that almost in every country whose government supports us, this is done against the opinions and sentiments of a solid majority of the public.
There are a lot of fantasies (and deliberate misinformation) in Israel and in right-wing Jewish circles about why world governments back us up. People keep spinning theories about interests of “moderate” Arab governments converging with those of Israel’s government. Bullocks. The Guardian’s Cairo correspondent recently wrote that “Domestically, Egypt’s role as an accomplice in Israel’s crippling siege of Gaza has long been Mubarak’s biggest political vulnerability.” Regimes, even dictatorships, don’t want to be hated by the majority of their citizens. Serving Israel’s interest does precisely that.
It doesn’t have to be like that, and we have not always been so hated. From the 1960’s to the 1980’s, European youth flocked to Israel to volunteer in Kibbutzim. Their kids are more likely to be found supporting the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, than in any display of support for Israel. The “Israel Lobby” in the US used to represent the views of most American Jews, but this has long ceased to be true. These changes are a direct result of Israeli policies.
We arrive at the surprising (and also misunderstood by most readers, I fear) punch paragraph.
Our “pissing from the diving board” strategy relies upon the support of a narrow, shrinking layer of politicians and businessmen, as we stick our tongue out at the rest of the world. Many of our ancestors in Eastern Europe have been in this position before: “The Nobleman’s Jew.” The peasants fear the nobleman, even hate him, but he is too strong. It is far easier to hate the Jew, who is totally dependent upon the nobleman and basks in his power.
So what should a Jew do?
A smart Jew will treat the peasants nicely and reasonably. An even wiser Jew will make sure to extricate herself from this position, and integrate in the surrounding community (i.e., the Middle East) in a healthier role, without depending upon the nobleman for survival.
And a brainless Jew will exploit his position to torment the peasants under his control, will grab an exorbitant piece of the pie for himself, and believe this will last forever. In short, he will “piss from the diving board.”
The sad irony is, that the leaders pushing us into this lethal Diasporic trap, have done so in the name of “security” and national pride.