Does Israel Need a Culture War? Part Eight of Eight

People write blogs for many reasons. Mine these last few months has been to play with and develop ideas I can send back to America in order to explain Israel: why some things are the way they are, and why some things maybe ought to be. Maybe some of it could even start to make a little sense to Israelis.

Not a simple task, and not a welcome one. Far too many Israelis and American supporters of Israel appear quite content to limit Israeli public diplomacy and discourse to their own preferences. “Tell the world what we want to hear the way we want to hear it.” Far too many supporters of Israel appear quite content to talk primarily to, for and about themselves. Arrogantly, Defensively. Angrily. Complainingly. Self-righteously. The results have been predictably abysmal.

Who wants to listen to a self-obsessed, conceited, scolding little kvetch?

To ask it differently: How much of Israel’s worsening failure to communicate – a potentially suicidal failure – is due both to an utterly ineffective style and an unwillingness to depart from the received narrative and talking points?

How many times have you heard, “We must reclaim our narrative of freedom”? Great idea. Now . . . who besides us is interested in listening to it? What’s the market value? What does the world need it for?

The world don’t. And it sure don’t generate a lot of customers among those we need to address most urgently: men and women of goodwill with honest doubts that have been going ignored or sneered off for decades.

I’m not concerned about the opposition to Israel (and Jews in general) that’s rising. I’m concerned about the support that isn’t. A couple weeks ago in this space, I suggested that the United States used to be ninety percent favorable, ten percent incorrigibly against. Now it’s more like twenty percent invincibly favorable, twenty percent invincibly opposed, and sixty percent trying to make up their minds.

But is “make up their minds” an accurate term? For the vast majority of Americans, Israel is a “low-involvement” item. And there is a thing called “rational ignorance.” We’re all busy, perhaps overwhelmed by our daily lives. There are ten gazillion issues we can’t do anything about. Why waste precious time – and time is the ultimate scarcity – trying to understand them?

And so it goes with Israel. Once vast majorities were favorable because Israel had been oversold and too much reality elided, denied or left vague. But that was generations ago. The old approach doesn’t work anymore. Once, Israel was entitled to the world’s sympathy. But that was generations ago. Others enjoy the world’s sympathy now. Hearts and mind change over time. Ardor yields to apathy, adoration to unease, And so, I would suggest, the greatest threat, long-term, to Israel’s standing in the world, even survival, is neither hatred nor nukes.

It’s the indifference of the good people of this planet, who have quite frankly grown weary of being lectured, hectored, complained at, insulted and stood up to. They will not abandon their doubts because we scream that they should, and do not appreciate the screaming.

This audience isn’t booing and throwing tomatoes. It’s losing interest and leaving. The old ways won’t change that. Israel, you’re pushing buttons no longer connected to anything with these good people you must reach. Something utterly different is required.

Which brings us back to the question this last few weeks. Does Israel need a Culture War?

Yes, but not exactly the one we’ve got, this latest iteration of a struggle that began when the first Israelite wondered what went on in those Canaanite high places; when the first Jew thought that maybe the Greeks were on to something; and when that first shtetl dweller, centuries ago, asked himself, Is this all there is?

And was told by some imperious, corrupt rabbi or brain-addled teacher, For you, yes. This is all there ever will be.

Zionism said No. There is more for us than this. But now the work of Zionism, the creation of the State, is done.

Or is it just beginning?

I venture this.

We all know the dozens of issues that add up to Israel’s Culture War, from the squeeze on the middle class to the role of coercive hyper-orthodoxy to foreign affairs, to the endless corruption that permeates everything. But beyond them all, and perhaps uniting them all, is a single meta-issue:

Will Israel take its place among the nations, or will it become, once again, the People that Dwells Apart?

Every issue the people of Israel face, has this aspect. Do solutions increase participation or isolation? In confronting the two great crisis of our time – climate change and global Islamist terror – do ideas and proposals, actions or solution, favor one or the other?

Can we build, out of our own struggles, a Jewish Israel that will prove to be one of global freedom’s most vital proponents, protectors and creators? And can we make our struggle so compelling that those engaged in their own Culture Wars elsewhere, will see us as at least potential allies? The 20th century indicated the difficulty of such alliances of purpose and spirit. But this is the 21st. Time to tell the world, “You don’t have to be Zionist to accept us or work with us. You don’t have to love us. Just watch what we do and when it seems to you right, admit it.”

That’s the Culture War we need.

Next week, the United States celebrates its Independence Day, precisely, the release on 4 July 1776 of a bit of inspired hasbara (the actual Resolution of Independence passed on 2 July) that I reread every 4th. The Declaration of Independence speaks to the world of basic values and how these newly United States intend to live them and advance them.

Every year at the appropriate day, I also reread Israel’s Proclamation of Independence. It’s about the Jews. Just the Jews.

But not everything is always about us. Perhaps by our deeds in combating the two great evils effectively as part of the world, and by our Culture Wars actions at home to create a more just and admirable Israel that can wage these battles effectively, we might regain some minds and hearts.

Minds first.

Off for a week or two whilst I tend to some medical items. Be well, all.

About the Author
Philip Gold made Aliyah from USA in 2010 after several decades as a Beltway "public intellectual" of sorts.
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