‘We Get Away with It’

It’s easy to tell what people’s values are. It’s what they do. You may claim to want to be a faithful husband, but if you rut with every female you can get your hands on, your actions say otherwise. You may love your country. But if you betray it for money, cash becomes your higher value.

Yes, there are always explanations, excuses, exonerations, from “The Devil made me do it” to “Anything else would have been suicide.” There are always complexities and ambiguities. We’re all far from perfect. But in the end, your deeds and omissions, and how you react to them, define you.

Countries as well as individuals.

For decades now, a fundamental value of the Israeli government, and much of Israel’s economic and religious sectors, has been, “We get away with it.” From the Gaza debacle – Why did we start? Why did we stop? – to the never-ending abuses and manipulations in the Territories – There is no benign way to dominate a hostile population – to the daily fare of revelations regarding some politician or rabbi or tycoon, the attitude seems consistent.

We get away with it.

But that’s all over now.

Or is it?

Sociology tells us that failures, scandals and disasters may serve as markers of change. That which was once acceptable or tolerable: no more. That which was forbidden or impossible once: now OK.

Is this the situation Israel’s in today? A lot of markers defining the new . . . what?

Certainly, the inventory of failures, scandals and disasters is ample enough.

Leading the list, the steady erosion of Israel’s standing in the world, and of American support, and the rise of active hostility worldwide. Yes, anti-Semitism you have always with it. But there is a continuum of anti-Semitisms, from murderous psychopathology to mild social aversion. Once it gets started, once it becomes acceptable, it’s hard to stop. Therefore, it’s best to confront it now, before it beings to shape the policies of the world.

But you don’t confront it by claiming for yourself virtuous victimhood or demand complete exoneration of what you’ve until now gotten away with. And you accomplish nothing by conflating legitimate disagreement and concern with racist and religious virulence.

Perhaps, so far as the world is concerned, we should expect us to get away with less and less, from here on out.

Then there are other activities that might fall under the rubric of “Not getting away with it anymore.” We’re told that the age of the Israeli tycoon is ending. Perhaps. We’ve certainly got some markers that it might be: bankruptcies, indictments, convictions. But what about the age of the oligarchic families, of  corporate tie-ins and devout cronyism, of the buying and selling of politicians, of money laundering?

Markers, yes. But what exactly do they mark off?

Then we behold the items daily emanating from the Ultra-Orthodox communities and their leaders, religious and secular. Markers? Hard to say. The Ultra-Orthodox world can only be reformed from within. And only those within, can leave it in disgust.

Then there’s the status of women. What other advanced country can boast of a former president in prison for rape? And how many other senior officials, secular and religious, now fear or face the possible career-ending and legal consequences of their own actions? What values were they expressing when they did such things?

And finally, but certainly not least, the status and treatment of our Arab citizens.

The list could go on, ad infinitum and ad nauseam. Every Israeli has personal stories to tell. But the goal here is not to bewail. It’s to raise the question – a nation accustomed to getting away with it, and tolerating same, now perhaps turning into . . . what?

A classic America rock song, the Eagles’ “After the Thrill Is Gone,” asks: “What can you do when your dreams come true and it’s not quite like you planned?”

What say ye, Israel?

Zionism as a compelling mass movement put itself out of business by success. What remains is a magnificent achievement befuddled by a religious/militaristic grand design (or fantasy?) that the world rightly questions. Those Israelis not partaking of this design believe according to their own values, whatever those might be, and choose and act, or fail to choose and act, accordingly.

Today, Israel might be considered a morass of conflicting ideas and ideals, values, ethnicities and economic, social and cultural interests, all held together by bureaucracy and smart phones. It works well enough during times of prosperity and containable threat.

It won’t last forever.

If Zionism (which is not the same thing as patriotism and love of country) has departed, and neither Greater Israel nor post-Zionist groping and sybaritics really avail as a commonality, what new ideal?

Or if no new ideal is possible, what standards to inform the values of those who care to be so informed?

Next week, we go radical.

Monday: “What’s Peace Got to Do with It?”

Thursday: Off for the holiday. The following Monday: “What’s War Got to Do with It?”

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