“Hello, Israel. I’m an American. My country is dying. What did you say you wanted?”
An extreme statement? Fantastical? Not hardly. But ya gotta understand what it means.
Three premises in this series so far:
First, the future of the American side of the American-Israeli relationship may be determined, not by the screamers pro and con, but by serious Americans with serious doubts about Israel, America, perhaps themselves. A minority, most likely. But also, perhaps, a minority soon to be far more important than its numbers. Politically. Intellectually, Spiritually.
Second, in order to speak to this audience properly, you have to understand them: what’s on their minds, and the fact that, for most of them, Israel’s a low-involvement item. They have no stake in us. At least, no stake they can clearly define. Forget the worn-out clichés like “Israel is America’s bridgehead in the Middle East” (bridgehead to where?) or newer models like “We’re defending you!” (Mr. Netanyahu at the UN). They do not and will not avail. Time to get real.
Finally, the proper meta-theme for the Israeli approach to serious Americans: “We’re in this together.”
But what, precisely, is “this”?
We’ve already suggested two meta-matters: the global Islamist threat and the effects of planetary climate change. There are other aspects of “this,” involving only our two nations. But before getting down to specifics, let’s listen a moment to our hypothetical, or maybe not so hypothetical, serious American.
“Seventy years ago, 1946, the United States owned half the world’s industrial plant. We were capable of flooding the world with our agriculture, and sometimes did. We were the world’s greatest creditor nation. When people referred to the Almighty Dollar, they exaggerated, but not by much. We held a monopoly on nuclear weapons, and between the Almighty Bomb and the Almighty Dollar, we contained our communist enemies.
“But what they didn’t do to us, we did to ourselves.
“We understood, of course, that as Europe and Japan rebuilt, they would do so with modern technologies. Not to worry, we thought. We’re America, we can always compete and anyway, they can’t buy from us if they can’t sell to us. So we’ll let them peddle their trinkets and cameras. But cars? Electronics? Big-ticket items? No way.
“Then came globalization, and the emergence of Asia. No problem, thought we. Cheap goods benefit everybody. We forgot, or chose not to remember, the lesson of what’s known in logic as the fallacy of composition. It’s one thing to export a million jobs, but quite another to export twenty or thirty million. It’s one thing to let in a million illegal aliens to take the jobs that are left, quite another to let in twenty or thirty million.
“And so it came to pass that cheap destroyed America. The organized labor movement went under, and now the middle class is straitened and nobody’s very optimistic outside the One Percent. Why shouldn’t they be? Globalization means they’re no longer tied to their own country. In fact, the One Percent no longer needs all these Americans as well-paid workers, as affluent consumers, as investors, as people.
“The Great American Die-Off has begun, as long-term unemployment, poverty, alcohol and drug abuse, obesity, violence, and the rest of the inventory of despair (not to mention the ancient evils of racism and misogyny) start to show up in the life expectancy statistics. They have.
“Hard to believe that our own elites could write us off. But such has happened before. The elites of Rome decided they could get along without independent, productive, prosperous citizens. Food came from Africa. Luxury items came from the east. The provinces could always be exploited. And war was good for business.
“The reduction of Rome’s citizenry to slaves and a useless urban proletariat took centuries. So did the fall that reduction occasioned. Things move faster now. America’s doing it in decades. So it’s not just the American Era that’s over. It’s the American Dream.
“Now, Israel . . . what did you say you wanted?”
A serious Israeli answer might start with:
“We want to be a genuine partner of the United States, not just Uncle Sammy’s Spoiled Brat, self-obsessed and made furious by any suggestion that we’re less than perfect. A genuine partner of a great nation in trouble. We’ve got some very specific proposals. But for now, America, you’ve shown us some of your doubts. Let’s show you some of ours
“We call ourselves a democracy. We’re not. Like you, we’re an oligarchic republic. Unlike you (for now), we’re also more than a bit of a theocracy. And this goes far beyond the irksome, such as restrictions on the Sabbath, and the infuriating, such as the total ban on civil marriage and divorce. It also impacts every aspect of our relations with the world.
“Let’s be honest about one thing up-front. There can be no peace with the Palestinians, under present conditions. It’s not just that the issue, once a separate line item in the catalogue of world dilemmas, is now one part, and not that important a part, of the global struggle. Nor is it simply that Israel lacks a Palestinian “partner for peace.” True, neither Mr. Abbas nor any likely successor can deliver without tearing his own society apart, violently, and opening the way to yet another ISIS.
“It’s that we’re in the same boat. Israel cannot make peace without risking civil war. Nor can Israel fully enter the world. Too many people want to be the nation that dwells alone.
“Put differently: our politics, our philosophies, are utterly inadequate to our needs. So are yours. And now we come to an important commonality. Both Israel and the United States need new concepts of citizenship, of civic virtue, of effective citizen participation in governance. We neither of us have them and our ruling oligarchs certainly don’t want us to have them.
“This is not about American patriotism, or Zionism, or love of country. It’s about crafting a citizenry willing to come to terms with the perils of this age, and with those among us who thrive on such.
“So that’s a bit of us, America. A bit ore to follow. Then let’s talk specifics.”