“Just Because You’re Paranoid …”: The Fading Illusion Of Peace In Israel

Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics,

And the Catholics hate the Protestants,

And the Hindus hate the Moslems,

And everybody hates the Jews.

Tom Lehrer’s not around for me to ask him how he would feel about my playing with his lyrics. I wish he were. We could use his biting humor these days. But I think that, given where America and the world are at right now, if we were to change the last word of his refrain to “Israelis” instead of Jews, we’d have ourselves a reborn classic.

As Libya totters on the edge of regime change, Syria is increasingly isolated in the western world, Egypt has changed regimes but seems increasingly unstable, and, of course, the House of Saud and other similar illegitimate governments in the area worry when their turn will come, there is always one strategy that they can turn to that is guaranteed to deflect the world’s attention from their woeful state.

Lob a few Grad missiles into an Israeli schoolyard or apartment complex, shoot up a few buses, kill a few innocent Israelis… and then wait for Israel to strike back, because you know they will. And when they do, and some of your people die in that action, scream “Murderer!” at the top of your lungs so that the entire world can hear you.

It’s pretty much a fail-safe strategy. The world will always be ready to believe that Israel has acted with “inappropriate force” in response to a terror attack that killed innocent civilians, because (here’s where Tom Lehrer comes in very handy), when all is said and done, everybody hates the Israelis.

Hating Israel has a huge upside and almost no downside. It costs nothing to hate Israel because just about everyone does, and, if anything, you are seen as siding with the angels. After all, those settlements that Israel refuses to relinquish are all that stands in the way of true peace and tranquility abiding in the Middle East- right? It is Israel’s imperialist policies that cause the bloodshed in the region- isn’t it? Intentionally killing Israeli civilians is “resistance.” Killing Egyptian soldiers during a retaliatory raid is “inappropriate force” and murder. I’m counting the moments until the next vote comes up in the UN Security Council to condemn Israel for its outrageous behavior in violation of international law…

I am not a blind advocate of Israel’s settlement policy, certainly not on religious/nationalist grounds, nor because of political points to score. The issue of whether or not Israel should be more forthcoming in terms of ceding land captured in 1967 is hopelessly entangled in her coalition politics, and it is a huge mess. For all that we celebrated Israel’s miraculous victory in 1967, the sad truth is that capturing all that land was one of the worst things that could have happened to her. The victory was glorious, the aftermath far less so.

But that said, every time I allow myself to get the slightest bit hopeful, or to believe that maybe, just maybe, there is someone to talk to on the other side who really does believe that there is a way out of this madness and we have to find it, someone, or some terrorist organization or country, remembers that “everyone hates the Israelis” and pushes the button that triggers an inevitable cascade of events. And the blood flows.

It’s not hard to imagine in whose interest the current unrest is. It certainly diverts attention from Iran, the primo provocateur in the region, and it doesn’t hurt Syria either, who desperately needs to be out of the limelight. And those are only a few of the possibilities.

Each time that Israel gets attacked so cruelly, we who would like to believe that there is an alternative to right-wing nationalist policies get further away from ever being able to even dream of a better time, or hope for one. Is Mahmoud Abbas saying that “violence is not in the Palestinian national interest” really the best that we have the right to hope for? Is anyone on that side of the fence sick of the bloodshed? Does anyone there really, genuinely, truly believe that the map of the Middle East will always include Israel?

Was it not for the collective capacity of the Jewish people to hope, there would be no State of Israel. The very words of Israel’s national anthem attest to that. Od lo avdah tikvateinu, hatikvah bat sh’not alpayim; Our hope is not lost, our two-thousand-year-old hope. Through calamitous destructions, Crusades, Inquisitions, pogroms and even Holocaust, we have always, as a people, displayed an almost surreal ability to hope in a better future.

My hope, like that of the people of whom I am proudly a part, is not yet lost. But I pray that my hope for a better future is more than a mirage that is slipping away before our eyes. My greatest fear is that, in order to get to that better place, both sides- like the Montagues and Capulets of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet- will have to suffer pain that is simply too great to bear in order to be shaken from hardened positions.

Od lo avdah tikvateinu… I live in hope.

About the Author
Rabbi Gerald C. Skolnik is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens.