M.J. Rosenberg: Dreams and Reality

As readers of this column know, I often refer to the organizations which constitute the Israel lobby as the "status quo" lobby. I do that because, frankly, I view it as advocating very little beyond the status quo. Its entire raison d’être seems to be to ensure that everything stays just the way it is. True, the lobby pays lip service to the two-state solution and Israeli-Palestinian peace, but no more than that. If you attend its conferences, you can watch the audience sit on its hands when ritualistic endorsements of peace are offered but jump to its feet hootin’ and hollering when the Arab bashing begins. Oh that status quo! Don't engage Hamas. Don't insist on a settlement freeze. Don't push on roadblocks. Don’t promote negotiations. Don't do anything, in fact, except bash Palestinians, and anyone who has a kind word for them, at every opportunity. And, above all, keep Congress and the Presidential candidates in line. That's it. It doesn't pain me to point to the failures of the lobby. It is, after all, just a conglomerate of organizations. But the State of Israel is something else. It is infinitely more important than the lobby or any other pro-Israel organization here. The survival of the Jewish people hangs on its fate. Just over sixty years ago, the institutions that now constitute a nation of seven million were nothing more than quasi-official entities controlling no territory. And not long before that, what is today Israel was primarily a bunch of Europe-based organizations squabbling over the fine points of Zionist and socialist ideology. Not long before that it was just an idea in the heads of visionaries and prophets like Theodor Herzl who understood that without a Jewish state, Europe’s Jews would face a catastrophic fate. The catastrophe occurred before the state was created. Instead of being established to avert that catastrophe, it was established in response to it. But Israel is a state now, and a powerful one. Nonetheless, it remains a state that must overcome numerous challenges if it is to continue to flourish. That is why it cannot behave as if it is a diaspora Jewish organization. But that is precisely how Jerusalem handled the Jimmy Carter meeting with Hamas. The Israeli government has every right not to like former President Carter. It can choose to ignore his role in securing the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty – which saved more Israeli lives than any action by any President except, perhaps, the 1973 arms airlift authorized by Richard Nixon. But considerations of liking and disliking particular personalities should not be allowed to get in the way of statecraft. The job of the Israeli government is to provide for the security of the Jewish state. That security will only be achieved through the combination of a strong military (which, thankfully, Israel has) and diplomacy geared to achieving peace. It simply makes no sense to refuse to hear what those who choose to talk to Hamas learn from their meetings with its representatives. Carter offered to help secure the freedom of Corporal Gilad Shalit, an offer the Israeli government rebuffed (but which the Shalit family, not surprisingly, welcomed). In fact, the Israeli government gave every impression that it would not even welcome Shalit’s release if secured by Carter. What sense does that make? Everybody knows that Israel is involved in indirect negotiations with Hamas on a prisoner exchange. Why not use Carter to achieve the soldier’s freedom? Frankly, I had thought that Hamas might free Shalit just to embarrass the Israeli government and to send a message about what can be achieved through engagement with Hamas, rather than isolation of it. But Hamas didn’t produce the soldier. Apparently, even the strategic gains it would have realized from that gesture do not outweigh its animosity toward Israel and Jews. Better to keep their hostage than achieve a semblance of legitimacy. It only demonstrates why Israel wants nothing to do with them and why Palestinian moderates are terrified at the prospect that Hamas will eventually take over all of Palestine. But you don’t have to like Hamas, or view it as anything more than a bunch of terrorist thugs, to believe that Israel needs to get off its ideological high horse and deal with the reality that Hamas is a force that is not going away any time soon. Even at the height of the Cold War, when Stalin was not only developing the hydrogen bomb but busily plotting the extermination of Russia’s Jews, the United States dealt with the ugly reality of a Stalinist superpower. Israel dispatched Golda Meir as its first ambassador to Stalin’s court -- and no doubt wisely used its embassy in Moscow as a good listening post to the benefit of Israel and the west at large. There will be those who say that we had to deal with Stalin because he was the legitimate leader of a nation. But he was a monster and his regime was utterly illegitimate. He did, however, represent an ugly reality that had to be dealt with. So does Hamas. Using third parties to find out what Hamas needs to stop inflicting terror on Israel would represent not selling out to the terrorists but finding a means of neutralizing them. Israel’s founders would have understood that. Theodor Herzl actually negotiated with the leading anti-semite in Czarist Russia (an instigator of pogroms) to help secure a Jewish state. He told this guy that Zionism would benefit Russia because it would rid the Czar of a trouble-making radical minority. Knowing the stakes, there was no one Herzl would not deal with to gain the Jews a piece of territory they could call their own. (Needless to say, Herzl, who was willing even to accept Uganda as a Jewish homeland, would be horrified by Jews today who jeopardize the entire State of Israel in order to hold on to West Bank settlements). In any case, Herzl and the other pioneers thought big. Israel’s current policymakers seem to think only in terms of negative soundbites i.e. calling Carter names while ignoring ways to exploit his efforts. As my reference to Theodor Herzl and the other Zionist visionaries demonstrates, I have been thinking about Israel’s 60th anniversary. Obviously I wish it could be celebrated with Israel at peace and the occupation over. But that is not to be. Nonetheless, the anniversary should be celebrated. Despite all the hysterical pronouncements about Iran by various rabble-rousers, this is not 1942. There is an Israel. It is strong and remarkably secure. And it is defended by a Jewish army that happens to be second to none. The occupation will end. Peace will be achieved. But, even now, with all the problems, let’s never forget that a bunch of visionaries in Europe, Jews who knew as little about building a state as they did about creating an army, had a dream and realized it. Thanks to them, and their progeny, it will never be 1942 again. Not even close. Due to the relative weekly renaming cycle used by the IPForum.org website, JSPAN reprints the IPF Friday in its entirety on its website for the purpose of having an unchanging URL to link to.