In the shadow of the rhetorical negligence thrown around with regard to the Iranian nuclear issue, the following should be remembered: both Israel’s endurance and the mobilization capabilities of the United States and the international community for military and diplomatic initiatives are dependent on democratic conduct at home, and the way Israeli democracy is perceived abroad.
There are many people in Israel who believe that Syrian crimes, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Palestinian split [Since 2007, the Gaza Strip has split from the PA and is under the Hamas leadership.] and the many other failures in Arab and Muslim society lend Israel a form of “moral immunity” in the eyes of the West. According to this thesis, our region’s tough reality, which has changed the rules of the game in the Middle East, reveals our moral superiority and the international community’s hypocrisy for its years-long criticism of Israel on other core issues.
But whether Israel decides to pursue a military operation unilaterally [against Iran], or whether it will be the United States that leads the way to defeating the Iranian threat, it must be said that Israel’s sense of moral advantage is deceiving. It prompts many people to act drunk with power and forget that the persistence of the occupation, the lack of a political horizon, and the increasingly religious ultra-Orthodox violent character of the state are dangerous points of de-legitimization that won’t go away. They will arise again, despite the present period of relative pause in criticism.
Dani Dayan, the chairman of the Yesha Council of Settlements [the umbrella organization of municipal councils of Jewish settlements in the West Bank], recently enjoyed a relatively sympathetic profile in the New York Times, which depicted him as a “pragmatic” man. But anyone who believes there exists sympathy or understanding in the societies and governments of the West for Dayan’s opinions (which are expressed in an op-ed in the same newspaper and state that the notion of two states for two peoples is unrealistic) is mistaken. Dayan demands that the Americans and Europeans recognize the reality of permanent Israeli control in Judea and Samaria, which he defines as “irreversible.” He also claims that annexation of the territories does not obligate extending citizenship to the Palestinians in an expanded State of Israel. These ideas, which are presented as “realistic” in a period where Israel supposedly has increased moral immunity, will easily become racist as soon as the reality in the Middle East stabilizes, and the Palestinian question returns to the international agenda. Just this week we saw growing condemnation of Jewish terror against a Palestinian family [A Molotov cocktail was thrown on a Palestinian taxi on August 16, injuring 6 people. Three suspects, young children from the settlement Bat-Ayin, have been arrested by the police.] and of the lynch carried out [by around 50 youths on August 17] against a young Arab in Jerusalem.
An article by Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post, in which she reports from Beit Shemesh about a Haredi takeover and violence in Israeli streets, should also remind us that even the Iranian threat to destroy us doesn’t make the world or our friends forget the worrying phenomena of Israeli thuggery and violence. In the Washington Post, an attack is described against American immigrants, who are both religiously observant and liberal. It also describes curses (like shiksa– non-Jew, in Yiddish, or harlot) constantly hurled at religious women of the more liberal American variety, and stone-throwing against religious Jews from Maryland. The immigrants report real anxiety from the religious direction the state is taking, and the support for that process from state institutions.
Indeed, the internal moral failures in Israel and in Judea and Samaria, which relate to core issues of a democratic Jewish state, are dwarfed by the moral collapse in the Arab Muslim world. And still, they are a stumbling block for the state’s ability to deal with future existential challenges.
If the noise coming out of Jerusalem about Iran is not accompanied by rigorous moves to defeat thuggish, nationalistic and racist acts within the state, Israel is likely to face a cold shoulder from potential allies, even when dealing with existential threats. It should be remembered that the democratic character of Israel is the basis for its national resilience, and decision-makers mustn’t bask in the present, temporary “immunity space.” Nothing lasts forever.
Professor Yossi Shain is the head of the Abba Eban Graduate Program in Diplomacy in Tel Aviv University.