For a regional power, Israel does an awful lot of complaining. In an interview last month on American television, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared – with great polish, as always – that the Palestinians pay terrorists for killing Jews, indoctrinate their children to hate Israelis, and refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist.
All true. But in that case, why strive to make peace with the Palestinians? Why not demand unconditional surrender? (Israel is the stronger party, after all.) Why, Prime Minister Netanyahu, are you willing to cede parts of the biblical homeland to vicious murderers? Why have you repeatedly asked – nay, begged – an anti-Semite like Mahmoud Abbas to sit at the peace table with you?
And why do you care if the Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist? When an Austrian diplomat told Napoleon in 1797 that Austria was prepared to recognize the French Republic, Napoleon replied – as every self-respecting leader should – that the Republic “did not require or desire recognition. It is already as the sun on the horizon in Europe: too bad for those who do not wish to see it and derive the benefit of it.”
Why, Mr. Prime Minister, don’t you make a similar declaration to Abbas?
When I visited the Golan Heights a number of years ago, I remember my tour guide declaring that “Israelis dream of being able to eat a falafel in Damascus.”
I asked him: “Why? Americans didn’t dream of being able to eat a hamburger in Moscow during the Cold War. Why do Israelis yearn to eat a falafel in the capital of one of its sworn enemies?”
Early Zionists did not grovel in this manner. Indeed, their Zionism was founded on a disregard for world opinion. For decades in the 19th century, Jewish intellectuals in Eastern Europe appealed to enlightened gentiles to accept Jews in their midst as fellow citizens. They believed Jews merely had to change their habits – become more educated, more genteel – and non-Jewish acceptance would immediately follow.
But after pogroms swept Russia in 1881, some Jewish intellectuals realized their mistake. And rather than decry Jewish “backwardness,” they now lambasted their own inferiority complex that had led them to pine for non-Jewish approval.
During that year of pogroms, early Zionist writer Peretz Smolenskin (1842-1885) asked, “Why are we treated like this?” And he answered:
Because we have sunk so low that our self-respect has died – because we have come to like charity flung at us in disgrace and contempt.
We have no sense of national honor; our standards are those of second-class people. We find ourselves rejoicing when we are granted a favor and exulting when we are tolerated and befriended. Jewish writers sing aloud for joy when a Jew happens to be honored. They do not tire of praising the graciousness of this or that gentile who overcomes his pride and makes some slight gesture toward a Jew. Alas for such kindness and tolerance and alas for our writers, poets, and speakers who praise them.
A year later another early Zionist, Dr. Leo Pinsker (1821-1891), wrote his seminal “Self-Emancipation” in which he urged his fellow Jews to recover their “national self-respect” and stop living for gentile endorsement. He wrote sardonically, “When an idle spectator on the road calls out to us: ‘You poor Jewish devils are certainly to be pitied,’ we are most deeply touched; and when a Jew is said to be an honor to his people, we are foolish enough to be proud of it. We have sunk so low that we become almost jubilant when, as in the West, a small fraction of our people is put on equal footing with non-Jews.”
Smolenskin and Pinsker understood that constantly looking to others for “validation” is demeaning. It reduces you to the level of an eager dog, tongue hanging out, waiting to be petted. Israel’s modern-day leaders, however, seem to have embraced this pre-Zionist mindset. Instead of standing tall and acting in Israel’s own best interest, they tour the world complaining about the Palestinian Authority, even while they chase Mahmoud Abbas to negotiate with them. Negotiate over what? Eretz Yisrael? Does any sane person negotiate with someone who claims his house?
And that is really the crux of the matter. No one really cares about Lord Balfour’s declaration in 1917 or the Palestinians’ rejection of a state in 1947. People care about right and wrong. Whose land is it? The Jews’ or the Arabs’? And if it is the Arabs’ land, no one is going to get very excited over their murder of women and children. People are willing to overlook all sorts of sins – even heinous ones – when performed for the sake of a greater, just cause.
If Israel wishes to clear the moral air, it must start acting like it actually owns the land. Real owners don’t whine to others. Real owners don’t try to please violent squatters on their property. Real owners assert their authority – unapologetically.
Elliot’s second volume of “Movers and Shakers” is due to be published next month.