Bibi, Obama and IsraHell’s A-Historical View of Itself



“It’s time to recognize this basic truth: Israel is not what’s wrong about

the Middle East. Israel is what’s right about the Middle East.”

I’m guessing this Bibi gem won one of those 29 Congressional standing ovations

on Tuesday.

Probably a facepalm – or laugh-out-loud – moment for many Israelis. Here’s our

PM in plain view of the entire world, demonstrating in first person what is dome-

stically known as the Ugly Israeli: a ridiculously arrogant, pushy, free-riding,

zero-self-awareness caricature of a person. (For Americans, think about that rude

sloppily dressed Yankee tourist barging into a vegetarian restaurant in India and

demanding a hamburger.)

Or as Carly Simon would put it: “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is

about YOU.”

But seriously. Leaving aside the pitiful circus that Congress becomes when they do

Israel, and also leaving aside Bibi’s bad personal taste, most Israeli Jews would agree

with some version of his statement, and a majority is suspicious or outright hostile

towards Obama’s gentle attempts to nudge us towards acknowledging reality.

How can we be so collectively blind? What follows below is not a polemic, but rather

an attempt to provide some insight to a nation that sees itself, in some ways, as sitting

outside history and not subject to its laws.

What is this History that we are Ignoring?

One problem when discussing Israel-Palestine, that the first thing to go down the

drain is that simple beautiful principle: “You are entitled to your own opinion, but

not to your own facts.”

To try and mitigate this problem, below is a simple (incomplete, time permitting)

list of major, glaring, important existential facts that most Israelis nowadays either

completely ignore, or brazenly defy that they have any practical implications.

A friendly tip: this can be used a self-selection list. If you find most of the facts in the

list unbearably false, twisted, maliciously selective or unfair, just save yourself the

time and go elsewhere.

But before you do so, consider this: the point in this diary is not to claim who’s morally

“right” or “wrong” (my stand on the matter is well-known, and although it is not 180-

degree opposed to Bibi’s, it is certainly well over 90-degrees away from him).

The point is to demonstrate that from a practical standpoint, Israel is now facing a

multi-dimensional historical train wreck, mostly of its own making. Yet it is precisely

this train wreck that the Israeli mainstream – whether in its brazen Bibi version, or

in its more savvy Olmert-Livni-Barak version – is still ignoring.

And the diary further tries to explain why this deliberate blindness to history, from

an Israeli insider’s perspective.

Here goes:


– Historically, for centuries Jews in Palestine were a small minority with no

national aspirations until near the end of the 19th Century;

– The trickle of national-minded Jewish immigrants to Palestine (later known as

Zionists) received a major boost when they became officially sponsored by the

British colonial power that took control of the country in 1918;

– Around 1950, following the Holocaust, a local war and Nakba, Jews became a

majorityin the land and a 90% majority within the new State of Israel, largely

emptied of its Palestinian population.

– World powers (which earlier pushed a Jewish state down the region’s throat via

the UN) were lightning-quick to recognize and integrate Israel into the world

community, even though in 1950 it was little more than a huge refugee camp for

people sharing little in common except a religious heritage and nowhere else to go.

The West went on to bankroll Israel’s economic stabilization, and to abandon and

punt towards the future the teeny side problem that the majority of Palestinians in

the land have, virtually overnight, become penniless refugees.

– Fast-forward 57 years: in 2007, Jews once again stopped being a majority in Israel-

Palestine (due to “demographic realities” – genuine ones, not the fabricated one of

settlement-building). They are now still a plurality, but are scheduled to be outnu-

mbered by Palestinians sometime over the coming decade AFAIK. Outside Israel,

Jewish demographics are stagnating at around 5-7 million worldwide, and most of

the young generation lives an affluent secular life, tends towards mixed marriages

and is not expected to generate a mass immigration wave to Israel in any foreseeable



– Last but not least: the less than 6 million Jews now living in Israel are surrounded

by over 150 million Arabs, who unlike them are quite aware of this history, roughly

in the context in which I presented it – and whatever spins Bibi or “moderates” like

Thomas Friedman might spin about the Arab Spring, the issue of injustice to Palest-

inians still matters very much to citizens across the Arab world, and ranks very high

on their to-do lists for their governments. Yes, those would be the same citizens who

just rebelled against their leaders and are installing popularly-based governments.

In short, your average Middle Easterner might disagree that Israel meets the definit-

ion of “What’s right about the Middle East.” But as we sadly know, 1948 is not the end

of the story.


I don’t want to add 50 bullet-points here and lose the audience. So let’s summarize

in a paragraph: even though the initial economic integration and exploitation of the

Occupied Territories and their residents had generated for Israel what is to this date

still the greatest economic boom in Israeli history, in 1967-1973 (don’t believe? check

it out on – despite this, continuing to stick with Occupation has exac-

ted an increasing toll upon Israel in every conceivable way. Moreover, no country –

not even the US – has recognized Israel’s claim to control any of these territories by

right (as opposed to as a “temporary measure”).

Are We Really Ignoring This?

In one word: yes. Consider for example the single biggest cost, in my opinion of

Israel’s Occupation: the loss of its democracy. Any typical Israeli, not just wingnuts

like Bibi, will argue with you blue in the face that Israel is a democracy, and that the

Occupied Territories have “nothing to do with it”, are “irrelevant” or whatever. Forget

for a moment the West Bank; bring up the issue of what the regime is in Israel’scapital,

Jerusalem, and they’ll say “East Jerusalem Palestinians are all citizens.” Wrong, of

course; they are only residents; the Shin Bet secret police keeps a close tab on them;

their rights to residency, property ownership and travel abroad are far more limited;

and most saliently – if they linger abroad too long, they lose their residency rights

automatically and simply cannot return except as “tourists”.

Most Israelis – including, to my astonishment, my own mother who is progressive,

well-educated, has mostly “lefty” offspring and has lived in Jerusalem for most of the

past 40 years – did not know that simple fact, that the Palestinians who live in her

city have to live under a structurally inferior citizenship status. Heck, most Israelis

don’t know anymore where the 1967 lines pass on the ground, because the settlements

and “Israel proper” have been so thoroughly integrated in so many places. But tell

Israelis that the integration of our flagrantly undemocratic control of the West Bank,

with the supposedly pure democracy of “Israel Proper”, means that Israel is not a

democracy anymore – and they will throw a hissy fit and see you as a lunatic self-

hater (if you are Jewish) or an anti-Israel type (if you’re not).

Moreover, tell Israeli Jews that we must, must, must end the Occupation or Israel

might simply implode or explode – and they will shrug “what’s the rush?” Most will

add some lip-service saying that the “settlements” (which – see above – they cannot

really identify; what they mean is places with people who look like settlers, Orthodox

and crazy) – the “settlements” are wrong of course, Palestinians need their state of

course – but, but – the punch line will be some currently-fashionable version of

“there’s no one to talk with on the other side.” Which really boils down to the immo-

rtal Bibi phrase opening this diary: the rest of the Middle East, esp. the Palestinians,

is just innately wrong, and we – the innately right ones, will just have to stiffen our

upper lip and hang tough until they become more civilized.

This is what some 80%-90% of Israeli Jews think nowadays. Everything else is

semantic decoration.

So Why This Blindness?

I mean, ok, you don’t have to like or even respect your neighbors, esp. considering

all the bad blood. But where’s the pragmatism? I mean, 6 million and 150 million,

loss of majority in the country itself, erosion of popular support across the entire

world, the refusal of any country even our friends (upon whom we rely like air to

breathe) to recognize any part of the Occupation, etc. etc.?

Here’s the deal. Any person, any group, any nation has their share of exceptionalism

– some irrational level of hubris and unwillingness to acknowledge their true nature.

But in Israel this is taken to the absolute extreme: we honestly think that history, and

the laws of nature in general, do not apply to us.

There are very good reasons for this. It is easy to forget, especially in the US (where

nearly all 535 members of Congress are thoroughly trained to forget it). But Israel

itself is neither a natural, nor even a likely, phenomenon. The Jewish national project

in Palestine was spearheaded by a band of misfits with various extreme ideologies; it

had taken 50 years – against immense odds – for it to even reach the mainstream of

the Jewish world.

But what the leaders of soon-to-become Israel have demonstrated at nearly every turn

is an uncanny ability to leverage and surf the huge historical upheavals of the 20th

Century, and to take advantage of every lucky break. Time after time has the Zionist

train seemed to head into a brick wall – and time after time the wall miraculously

crumbled at the last moment, or a side-spur materialized out of thin air, and Zionism –

later Israel – emerged not only unscathed but actually empowered.

I am not giving specific examples. If you know any of the history, you will find them


Moreover, another tendency that Zionism and Israel have demonstrated, is a brazen

willingness to experiment on itself. The Hebrew language which seems so natural on

the lips of millions of Israelis (including myself) is really known to linguists as “modern

Hebrew” (opposed to Biblical Hebrew). As recently as 1900, according to accepted ling-

ustic definitions, it simply did not exist. It was created by thousands of those crazy initial

pioneers forcing themselves to talk with their children not in their native languages

(mostly Yiddish), but in a language they were inventing on the fly based on the ancient

Biblical structures. It worked; in my opinion, modern Hebrew is Zionism’s greatest

unqualified success. A more famous social experiment – the Kibbutz movement –

while posting great achievements, is now largely seen as a failure with generations

growing up in kibbutzim mostly deserting them with deep psychological scars, and

others not taking their place.

But a far greater experiment is the Occupation itself. The mere willingness of a nation

to tamper with its own regime and shatter its own laws in order to achieve some limited

practical outcome (in this case, de-facto expansion of borders without acknowledging

the expansion) – is so unimaginable to people outside Israel, that foreign leaders and

even experts continue to misunderstand what has actually transpired on the ground


But in Israel this tinkering is taken for granted and seen as natural. We can fly through

walls. We can jump off buildings. If we say we are a “democracy”, we can re-define the

term as we wish so that we still fall under it – or simply stare at our non-democracy in

the face and ignore its true nature. We can subjugate our entire society to a huge and

corrupt military, and still claim that it does nothing to us, that we are in fact a vibrant

life-loving civil society.

Instead of counting our blessings, being grateful for the immense, truly generous

breaks history has afforded us over 63 years, and moving off the fast lane – we Israelis

delude ourselves that these astounding privileges and being bailed out for failure after

failure are our God-given right, and are insulted to the point of hysteria whenever reality

manages to bite us. Like the famous quote from George W. Bush’s inner circle, Israel

believes in making up its own world, its own reality, its own rules.

It is this deep self-conviction with which most Israeli Jews communicate their delusional

and a-historical view of their nation, that fools many outside observers, most of all Diaspora

Jews with longtanding ties of friendship and family. These “friends of Israel” then go on to

promote the delusions as if they were the Gospel Truth, and thus help Israel continue

running away from itself and gamble the entire nation away – straight into the increasingly

unavoidable abyss.

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