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The Battle Israel is Losing

lohud.com

It would seem, to the casual observer, that Israel is winning on all fronts. Militarily, its army is unequal in the Middle East, and as result Israel—not from today, mind you—is no longer facing an existential threat to its existence. Forty-five years ago the ‘Yom Kippur War’ of 1973 was the last major war of such magnitude. Yes, Iran still possesses the power to be a major threat, but it still abides by the nuclear deal, in spite of America’s withdrawal from it, and begins to lose its grip on Syria, where Israel controls the skies, and where Russia calls the shots on the ground.

On the political front, while Israel continues to face challenges, the current situation still favors it. First, with its major ally USA, where the Trump administration is practically in PM Netanyahu’s pocket, and doing his bid. Every wish—from moving the embassy to Jerusalem, to cutting off all financial aid to the Palestinians—is being met. And while the EU, mainly Germany, France and the UK refuse to align with Israel’s demands and policies, other countries—Russia, Poland and Hungary—are eager to form new alliances with the Jewish state. Just as some Arab states like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt are eager to be among Israel’s friends, rather than its enemies.

Economically, Israel is flourishing, and its citizens—seventy years since independence—are mostly happy with their lives. Culturally, Israel’s artists continue to supplement American television with plenty of shows and creative personnel, and even one of Hollywood’s biggest stars du jour—Gal Gadot—is an Israeli. Another artist, Netta Barzilai, had won the last Eurovision contest and as result, the competition will take place in Israel next year. Even Israeli athletes—admittedly mostly not born and even raised for long in Israel—are making their mark and achievements felt in the international arena.

The Palestinian conflict, internally anyhow, while still possesses limited risks and threats—such as on the Gaza Strip’s border, and random terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and the West Bank—is also dying a slow death. Even the threat of a new Intifada, following the USA embassy move to Jerusalem, didn’t materialize. PA President Abbas is old and ailing, and losing touch with his people, maybe with reality too, while still staying put and grooming no viable successor. Israel’s strong grip on the West Bank’s territories is unchallenged, and with it the settlement endeavor marches on, solidifying the occupation—most probably—for eternity.

Well, you may ask yourself—and me—if everything’s so good, what’s wrong? And which battle Israel is losing? Hang on, I’m coming to it: Israel is losing the PR Battle; the BDS Battle; the Cultural Battle; the Perception Battle. You name it—Israel is losing it. Here’s why and how:

To begin with, the current rightwing governing party in Israel—in power consecutively for almost eighteen years—greatest wish is for the Palestinian problem to go away. To be swept under the rug of history. And yet, it’s staying put and going nowhere. Even Netanyahu/Trump latest efforts, cutting off all financial aid to UNRWA, to an East Jerusalem Hospital, and to coexistence efforts between Israelis and Palestinians, and closing the Palestinian Diplomatic Delegation—the Palestinian de facto embassy—in Washington, won’t stop it. They are here to stay. And so is their just, unrelenting effort to be recognized as a people with a state to call their own.

The Palestinian cause and people are enjoying more support around the globe than ever before. In the UN General Assembly, where 137 nations have already recognized a Palestinian State, they will outmaneuver, and out-vote Israel and America easily. The move of the American embassy to Jerusalem has produced no followers, other than two small South American countries, one of which has already reversed its decision. Even in America, troubling signs are growing for Israel. The millennials—but also their liberal parents and grandparents, it is now apparent—are increasingly disillusioned with Israel and its policies; especially its treatment of the Palestinian people. These young people, whom we count on to bring change to this country, identify with the Palestinian cause and suffering more than with mighty Israel.

Israel—which is in the process of becoming less and less democratic—can arrest an American professors in the West bank, can prevent Jews and others they don’t like from entering the country all they want. But outside Israel, the BDS forces are winning the day. In the last couple of years more than twenty artists, mainly musicians, have canceled their trip to Israel as result of pressure brought to bear by that PR Battle. From Lorde to Lana del ray; from McCartney to Elvis Costello and Cat Power, they all have canceled gigs in Israel due to the BDS pressure.

Worst of all: Natalie Portman. The highly regarded Israeli born American star. Serious star, I’m talking about, not light star. She refused to come to Jerusalem to accept a special humanitarian prize in order not to shake hands with Netanyahu. The big win in the Eurovision contest is already marred with controversy (and I’m not talking about the song apparently plagiarized from an American pop song), and will not take place in Jerusalem—as the Israeli government so much wanted—but in Tel Aviv. Worst of all, the Eurovision governing body has sent Israel a letter demanding conformation that Israel will respect the human rights, traveling rights, speaking rights of all visitors coming for the contest.

Israel took offense, but the facts are, Israel is no longer considered a free, democratic country. And the problems with the Eurovision competition—Israel’s biggest chance to make amends, to rescue the cultural narrative—are just beginning. I foresee more to come, such as artists, winning ones in their countries, refusing to compete in Israel. Maybe even countries banning the competition altogether. ‘Wolf Alice,’ North London’s alternative rock band, signed a letter calling for a boycott of the event, together with musicians Roger Waters and Brian Eno, in addition to writers, theater directors and filmmakers.

Truth of the matter is, this is not really a PR Battle. Israel cannot win this battle no matter how much resources and personal its investing in fighting it. Because, this is really a ‘Heart and Mind’ battle. Maybe even an all-out war. Israel cannot win that war because the heart and mind of living, thinking, feeling people are not with the mighty power of occupation, settlement, and ruling over other people for so long. Israel is losing this fight because in the process of being so powerful, and winning in all the other fronts mentioned above, it lost its own mind and heart.

* The ‘Leave a Comment’ link is the last tag below, in blue.

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The Villa in the Jungle

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Three months ago Ehud Barak—former Israeli Prime Minister, Defense Minister, IDF Chief of Staff, commander of the storied Sayeret Matkal, and still the most decorated IDF soldier—visited our town as part of the ‘Sacramento Speakers Series.” Like other expatriate Israelis, and many Jews in our community, I was eager to hear Barak’s talk, and learn of his views regarding the current Israel government and political situation, the Palestinian issue, Middle East, Iran, war and peace. To be frank, I was largely disappointed, as he hardly touched on these topics, at least not in his initial long talk. The second part of the evening however—the interview session, where he was asked question by a local TV personality—was much more interesting and he was forced to touch upon these topics, and was also more revealing as to who Ehud Barak the person is.

The reason I’m coming back to his talk so late is because one thing, one phrase of his, had remained planted in my head—and kept bothering me—more than anything else he’d said that evening. He’d kept comparing Israel to “The Villa in the Jungle,” at least a couple of times (this being his favorite moniker). There was also an element of smugness in him, of look how clever I am, saying that. And I came to believe that this saying is symptomatic of a lot of what’s wrong with Israel’s attitude and politics today, with the army’s parlance and ‘school-of-thought’ adopted by political leaders. I thought it’s well worth analyzing. So here goes:

The first thing to disturb me in this saying was the stench of plain racism that came from it. We built, he actually said, a beautiful (white, I assume) villa in the jungle (dark, I assume). Inside, he said, we’re doing very well, but once we venture outside, we’re surrounded by the (black, I assume) barbarians at the gate. What can we do, he really remarked, but we are not living in Canada. This was, still is, so reminiscent of South Africa, and how the white minority, the Anglo and Dutch outsiders had ruled over the native, black majority there for so many years. And how they thought of, and behaved toward, the people surrounding them. Indeed, Israel is accused by many of being in the process of creating an Apartheid state.

It’s also, for second, not exactly true. In the north of Israel we have Lebanon. For many years, it was regarded, especially Beirut, as the ‘Paris’ of the Middle East.’ Southern Lebanon, where Hazboollah now is completely in charge, was the bastion of the Christians, historically an educated, culturally sound society and place (I know, I’ve been there). If not for the Palestinian issue—which Israel continuously refuses to solve, and to acknowledge as being the central issue, the core of the conflict—things there would’ve been much, much better.

True, it was Ehud Barak, in his short stint as Prime Minister, who pulled the IDF out of Lebanon. It’s also true that he tried to strike a deal with Arafat—unreciprocated unfortunately—in order to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. There are some ongoing efforts to promote coexistence with the Israeli Arabs, and with Palestinians. And not that there were never any other serious peace negotiations and attempts on Israel’s part. Yitzhak Rabin paid with his life for one such an attempt. Still, in the current political climate in Israel, these are too few and far between, and the majority of Israelis continue to move right-of-center, and are opposed to any compromise with the Palestinians.

And then we have Syria and Jordan to the East. Yes, things in Syria are horrendous currently, but that country carries a lot of historical, cultural significant in the Middle East and the world. And so does Jordan. And we also have Egypt in the south, with its own immense historical, cultural treasures. It’s not as if we Jews, by coming to the land of our forefathers, are the only cultured, educated, enlightened people around.

It’s also brings to mind the larger question of how we see ourselves—Israel that is, and its people—living in the region. Are we there to erect and solidify our walls (that indeed Israel keeps building), to separate ourselves in our fortified “Villa,” fighting and dreading the day we’ll be overrun by the wild people of the “Jungle.” Or do we, finally, want to be an integral part of that rough neighborhood. To belong, at least, if not necessarily to assimilate. To live in peace with our surrounding neighbors, and not in a constant war.

Finally, this saying—which depicts, describes Israel as the “Villa in the Jungle”—represents a lot of the problems afflicting today’s Israel and its people. It’s the reason why, despite all its advances—in agriculture, hi-tech, culture, democracy, and yes, military might—it’s still so isolated, especially culturally. Not that surprising then that Natalie Portman, Paul McCartney, the singer Lorde, and the Argentinian Soccer team, all refused to come to Israel lately. In a way, Israel brings it upon itself, isolating itself—culturally and politically especially—with this attitude; which the saying—the “Villa in the Jungle”—is such a reflection of.

* The “Leave a Comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.

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