The opening line of Israel On The Couch: The Psychology of the Peace Process
-By Ofer Grosbard, a clinical psychologist born in Israel, who practices in the US
Americans have an Israel problem.
Recently I responded to an email propaganda piece on Israel sent out by a friend that listed all the magnificent things Israelis have done in technology and agriculture. The clear implication was that Arabs and Palestinians can't hold a candle to Israelis when it comes to making the desert bloom. Israelis are clearly superior and, thus, deserve to own what was once called Palestine.
I told the list of people (many of them American Jews) that everything on the list was likely true but that it was a case of making an economic and technological argument in response to a moral question. That is, pointing out how smart and savvy in western ways Israelis are does not address the festering military occupation of Palestinian land and the effective imprisonment of Palestinians.
One member of the list went back-and-forth with me -- until a handful of others on the list began to cry out "enough!" Naturally, one person pointed out there were many anti-semites in the world, the suggestion being I must be one of them.
The problem Americans have with Israel is that the region it exists in is in the midst of a major political sea change, while Israel is frozen in time and holding on to its militarist, right-wing policies of extending settlements in the West Bank. It's a policy that harks back to the ideas of the British-trained militarist Ze'ev Jabotinsky's Iron Wall, which is based on the idea a live-and-let-live policy between Jews and Arabs is impossible and, thus, Jews must militarily control and repress Palestinians. Here's Jabotinski:
"Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population. This colonization can, therefore, continue and develop only under the protection of a force independent of the local population -- an iron wall which the native population cannot break through. This is, in toto, our policy towards the Arabs. To formulate it any other way would only be hypocrisy."
This frame of mind is at the root of the current psychology that keeps Israel frozen in time. By extension, it's a potentially grave problem for Americans.
Israel may be the most unique nation in the world. Psychologically and nationalistically, its citizenry feel deeply that what is now Israel is their homeland from which they were unjustly banished thousands of years earlier. It doesn't matter that most Israelis arrived after World War Two as refugees and immigrants from a devastated Europe.
The colonial British Mandate over Palestine helped in the rocky transition to the state of Israel, which was recognized after WWII by among others Europe and the United States, both who bore guilt either for past abuses to Jews or for a desire to avoid an immigrant burden on their own nation. It worked out well for everyone -- except, of course, the Palestinian and Arab Muslims who lived in Palestine.
Militaristic Jews in groups like the Irgun undertook ethnic cleansing and other "terrorist" activities in the years after World War Two. People argue about this, but recent histories suggest it happened. The upshot was the Jewish State of Israel -- in a land that had earlier encompassed both Arab and Jew in a less-than-perfect, but much more ecumenical fashion.
It was no less a case of "manifest destiny" than the American expansion westward on this continent. The result was a nation that consisted of a conquering people and a defeated, subjugated people. The losers in this struggle were relegated in many cases to permanent refugee camps in the land their families and ancestors had been raised in.
By 2012, the situation has become arguably the world's most dangerous ethnic/religious struggle, with the United States a deeply involved military patron supporting without much question the policies of Israeli leaders.
Israel is in the middle of a region in profound turmoil. The so-called Arab Spring involves transitions that ranges from the relatively peaceful ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to the flat-out brutal oppression of Shiites in Bahrain to outright civil war in Syria. The problem is, Israel and its patron the United States, have responded to this political turmoil by circling their wagons, which amounts to Israel reinforcing Jabotinski's Iron Wall.
The United States and Israel -- one a huge nation surrounded by friends and two vast oceans, the other a tiny nation surrounded by enemies -- amounts to a coalition of "the chosen people" and the "exceptional people" in the US.
Americans are dead-center in the middle of all this whether they like it or not. Israel is seen as untenable without the Iron Wall psychology that relies on sophisticated militarism and the protection of its patron, the immensely powerful nation we live in here. The US is now in an exceedingly dishonest silly season of presidential campaigning in which the unquestioned support of Israel is a given. This has led Israel to be the tail that wags the dog, the equivalent of a 51st State. The US does little to discourage Israeli arrogance.
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