Once upon a time, somewhere in the steppes of Eastern Europe, in the Pale that contained many a Jewish village, there roamed two beggars. One of the hobos was a Jew, the other a gentile.
The two transients were friends and far too lazy to hold any job or do any real work. So they wondered carefree, aimlessly and uselessly from village to village, begging for food, sometimes collecting discarded things to sell, here and there stealing some eggs or fruits off farm trees. It was a hard life and they often found themselves on the brink of starvation.
One day, as the two were looking for someone from whom they could shnorr some food, they came upon a shtetl whose residents were all buzzing about, hurrying, scouring pots and pans, cleaning their homes and cooking.
The Jewish beggar suddenly realized it was but a few hours before Passover was to begin.
“We have extraordinary good luck today,” he said to his comrade. “Tonight begins Passover, a Jewish holiday. Indeed, it is in many ways the happiest holiday of the year, with mountains of food and drink. So here is my plan. Let us come into the village just before evening. We will stand in the back of the synagogue. We will tell them that you and I are both Jewish wanderers, far from home, traveling to do some trading and seek our fortunes. And the local Jews will invite us to the most wonderful banquet of our lives!”
Just as the Jewish beggar had predicted, the plan went off like clockwork. The locals competed with one another to see who would have the honor of hosting one of the beggars at his own Passover Seder. After the evening prayers, the Jewish beggar went off to feast with one family, while his gentile friend, pretending to be Jewish, went off to dine and celebrate with another family.
The gentile beggar’s mouth was already watering with the thought of the wonderful delicacies he was about to devour. His belly was grumbling with anticipation. But things were not going the way he had expected.
His hosts ushered him into a chair at a large table set with candles and many empty dishes.
In the center of the table he saw nothing but some pathetic hard-boiled eggs, a few leaves, and a single small shank bone of meat.
“This is for the entire assembly?” he thought. Then, instead of pouncing on the food, his host poured everyone a single tiny cup of wine.
Things just got worse. The hosts finished drinking their wine and offered everyone at the table a few small leaves to nibble. Not even enough to satisfy a rabbit! And they even insisted he dip these into an awful salty solution, which only made him more thirsty and desperate to drink some real grog. Then, to celebrate this “meal,” they broke into song and laughter, which went on for a whole hour.
When he was expecting them to serve dessert, they handed him instead a piece of bread, but one unlike anything he had ever seen before. It was dry, evidently having been left out in the sun for a week, and barely resembled real bread. It was hard and it crackled when he chewed on it. Moreover, it was served plain, with no oil or molasses or fat.
“This is the feast my friend promised me?” the beggar said to himself. “This is the mountain of food these Jews eat to celebrate their happiest holiday?”
And just imagine his horror at what came next. Each of the people at the table was given the most bitter and disgusting glob of horseradish, something he would never ordinarily eat even if he were famished. They even blessed God when they swallowed that horrid-smelling and evil-tasting slop!
Convinced the “meal” was over, the beggar excused himself, saying he was needed elsewhere with great urgency, and left his hosts with an apology. In a rage, he wandered the streets of the village, looking for his Jewish friend and intending to thrash him and scream at him for his empty promise of a full stomach and a glorious meal.
Four hours later, he finally found his Jewish friend. The Jewish beggar was wandering through the alleys, shirt buttons popping, belly overfull, picking at his teeth and belching his pleasure. His gentile friend was so weak with hunger that he was unable even to pummel his friend. The Jewish beggar examined his starving comrade with surprise.
“Some feast you promised me!” grumbled the non-Jewish beggar. And then he told the Jewish beggar what had happened, how his hosts had offered him a thimble of wine, less than a handful of pathetic leaves in brine, a stale piece of bread of some sort with nothing on it, and some horrid bitter glob.
“At that point I decided enough is enough,” he explained, “and I got up and left.”
The Jewish beggar could not control his laughter. “You do not understand,” he said. “Those were simply the earliest preliminaries of the feast. You snatched hunger from out of the horn of plenty! Had you stuck things out for just a few more minutes, you would have been served the most sumptuous feast of your life, a meal for kings, food that would have sufficed you for a whole week of wanderings. But, you see, you abandoned hope only a few moments too soon. Because you were impatient, you spoiled everything.”
* * *
The story of the two beggars is neither a fairy tale nor for children. The gentile beggar in the story, the one who spoiled everything because of his own ignorance and impatience, is the state of Israel.
Like the beggar who did not understand where he was or what was going on, the state of Israel was on the verge of entering the most wonderful, prosperous and liberated period of its existence in the early 1990s.
Had it listened to the Jewish beggar, all would have been well. Had it found patience and stamina to stick things out for just a little longer, it would have achieved its deepest desires and fulfilled its strongest yearnings.
By 1990, the first Palestinian intifada had been put down, suppressed by force of Israeli arms. The dimensions of Palestinian violence were dropping each month. It would likely have ended altogether had Israel used even more vigorous force against it.
In fact, Israelis who felt Israel should use greater force to end the violence outnumbered by perhaps four to one those saying less force should be used. It was a landslide consensus. Israelis were in no mood to appease or capitulate.
In 1990, Palestinian terrorists were so desperate for weapons that they were reduced to concocting zip guns out of household materials and Molotov cocktails far more likely to scorch the throwers than any targets.
The best the terrorists could do in most cases was toss rocks at Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip or in parts of the West Bank, a phenomenon unpleasant but not life-threatening, and one that certainly posed no existential threat to the survival of the state. Many sections of the West Bank were fairly tranquil, including Bethlehem and Jericho. Jews could walk or ride in security in many parts of the “occupied territories,” as they could in all of Israel.
The leaders of the Palestinian terrorists were off in distant Tunis, with a few others in Damascus, places from which they could do little more than pout and bluster. The world – or at least the United States – had made its peace with the Israeli position that the PLO was not an acceptable partner in any Arab-Israeli peace talks. The most the Palestinians could hope for was a limited autonomy, with no role whatsoever for the PLO.
The number of Israelis who took seriously the notion that the Palestinians deserved their own state was relatively small. Israelis were willing to treat them as the Palestinian branch of the Arab people, entitled perhaps to control their own lives and conduct their own local affairs – but only on the condition that they would eschew further violence. This was also, in essence, the formula backed by the United States.
The Israeli economy in the early 1990s was booming, riding the crest of the high-tech revolution. The country was flooded with immigrants from the nations that had comprised the Soviet empire. The standard of living in Israel had reached the levels of the middle tier of Western European countries.
While many Israeli Arabs voted for anti-Zionist parties to show their solidarity with Israel’s enemies, many others did not and voted for Zionist parties while maintaining cordial relations with Jews.
Into this relative tranquility burst the Oslo “peace process,” led by the ignorant beggar who did not understand that the greatest of feasts was nigh.
Oslo was based on the proposition that economic interests and consumerism had replaced military power as the determinants of international relations in the post-modern world – that armies are obsolete, as is patriotism; that appeasement of fascist terrorists is the surest path to true peace; that Israeli self-abasement is the highest form of Jewish nationalism; that cowardice is the highest form of valor; that the best way to end war is to pretend it doesn’t exist.
It sought to reduce tensions with the Palestinian Arabs, who had just been defeated in their intifada, by importing the PLO leadership from Tunis and Damascus into the “occupied territories” and then allowing it to build up an army in the suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, bankrolled and armed by Israel itself.
Like the beggar who snatched starvation from the jaws of plentitude, the Israeli government of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres succeeded in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Peres and Rabin became convinced that the most promising path to a full and permanent peace with all of Israel’s neighbors lay in Israeli capitulation to Arab demands and appeasement of the planet’s worst Islamofascist terrorists.
They took to lecturing the country on how the utopian state of affairs they envisioned had not yet come about because Israelis were not strongly enough desirous of it.
The Oslo era was defined by a massive assault on Israeli pride, morale and confidence by its own leaders and intellectual elites. Israeli academics wrote books and articles castigating the country for its shortcomings, both real and imagined.
“New historians” and “post-Zionists” zealously set about the task of rewriting history texts and school curricula to debunk what they regarded as pernicious Israeli propaganda, promoting instead the Arab “narrative,” beginning with the Original Sin of Israel’s founding.
The Israeli media, heavily leftist on nearly every level, bludgeoned the country on a daily basis, promoting the Palestinian position in editorials, op-ed columns and even ostensibly objective news stories.
This self-flagellation produced a situation in which each and every atrocity committed by Arabs was greeted with calls from the Israeli chattering classes for further concessions and appeasements by Israel. Some, including tenured extremists at the universities, went so far as to justify and celebrate Arab acts of terror as necessary to force Israelis to come to their senses and make peace on terms favored by the extremists.
The Left promoted insubordination and mutiny by Israeli soldiers, with not a few leftists endorsing boycotts of Israel by overseas anti-Semites. The Israeli press adopted the practice of overseas Israel-bashers in referring to Palestinian terrorists and suicide bombers as “activists” and “militants.”
In return for its endless goodwill gestures and masochistic eagerness to placate its enemies and world opinion, Israel got a campaign of Nazi-like hatred led by the Palestinian Authority, down to and including virulent Holocaust denial accompanied by Holocaust justification (never mind the contradiction).
* * *
For 16 years now, Israel’s elites have been living in a make-believe world in which Jews are to blame for nearly everything and Arabs are merely expressing “frustration” at being “mistreated” for so many years by Jews.
And the psychological war mounted by Israel’s elites against national pride, dignity and self-respect – indeed against national existence – has been accompanied by a set of diplomatic policies expressing little more than self-loathing – policies that in effect allow no act of Arab violence to go unrewarded.
The Oslo and post-Oslo eras will be known in history as the period when it became evident that a great many Israelis – and nearly all the Israeli elite – had lost the will to survive as a nation.
After centuries during which Jews maintained the most militant self-assurance even while being mistreated, despised and humiliated, here were the Israelis – possessing one of the great armies of the world and a record of achievement on a variety of fronts that put far older, larger and wealthier countries to shame – abandoning all pride and promoting self-humiliation and self-destruction.
An Israel no more than two generations removed from the Holocaust was willing to hold “peace talks” with people who denied there ever was a Holocaust and who insist that Jews use the blood of gentile children to make Passover matzos.
The nation that had fought against enormous odds and won spectacular battlefield victories was acquiescing in a “peace process” that involved unilateral gestures from Israel in exchange for Arabs continuing to make war against the Jews.
Israel’s leaders chose to behave like the foolish beggar in the story who had no idea of what was going on, who let his hunger get the best of him, and who stormed out of the house in irritation, just before the delights of the feast were to begin in earnest.
Because of frustration that Palestinian guttersnipes were tossing rocks at Israeli troops, Israel swapped the stone-throwers for suicide bombers exterminating hundreds of Jewish children and other civilians in Jerusalem and Haifa.
And while the events of the past decade and a half have taken the shine off the visions offered by Rabin and Peres and all the others who brought us the Oslo disaster, make no mistake: the foolish beggar is still with us.
But where is the Jewish beggar – the one who understood the rituals of the Seder and knew his heritage, the one who had the wisdom to wait patiently and achieve the delightfully bloated belly of satisfaction and prosperity?
I search, but cannot find him anywhere. Can you tell me where he’s gone?
Steven Plaut, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor at Haifa University. His book “The Scout” is available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.