By YOSSI KLEIN HALEVI
The outcry in Israel over the operation against the Gaza flotilla has cut across political lines. Yet unlike the outrage being expressed abroad, the concern here is over tactics, not morality. "It’s not enough to be right," wrote one liberal columnist in the daily Ma’ariv, "one also needs to be smart." The assumption that Israel was right to stop the flotilla – and right to maintain its siege on Hamas-led Gaza – is largely a given here.
Israel and the rest of the world seem to be speaking dissonant moral languages. How, Israelis wonder, can pro-Hamas activists wielding knives be confused for peace activists? What is pro-peace about strengthening Hamas’s grip on Gaza and thereby reducing the likelihood of a two-state solution? For that matter, what is pro-Palestinian about condemning the people of Gaza to jihadist rule?
The disconnect between Israel and the international community begins with radically differing perceptions over why the peace process has faltered. Most Israelis believe that their country, under Labor and Kadima governments, made repeated efforts to achieve a two-state solution, only to be rebuffed by Palestinian leaders. The election of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister, Israelis note, wasn’t the cause of the breakdown of the peace process. It was the result. Even today, Fatah leaders continue to insist on the right of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel – rather than to a Palestinian state – thereby undermining Israel’s Jewish majority. Fatah insists, in other words, that the price for a two-state solution is a one-state solution.
In principle, the Israeli mainstream has endorsed the two-state vision of the international community. Many in Israel, and not only on the left, argue that a Palestinian state is an existential need for Israel – to extricate it from growing pariah status, from the moral dilemmas of occupation, and from an untenable choice between its democratic and Jewish identities.
But at the same time, Israelis also define a Palestinian state as an existential threat. Israelis fear that an independent Palestine would be either unwilling or unable to control terrorists from attacking the Israeli heartland just over the West Bank border. Even primitive Qassam rockets could make normal life in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem impossible. Moreover, international condemnation of Israel’s 2009 war against Hamas – initiated after Israel withdrew from Gaza and then endured three years of almost daily rocket attacks – has convinced Israelis that they would be denied world approval to re-invade the West Bank in response to terrorist provocation.
The growing estrangement between Israel and world opinion is a tragic negation of the Zionist vision. For Israel’s founders, Zionism wasn’t only about returning the Jews to their homeland but to the community of nations. The root cause of anti-Semitism, argued the 19th century proto-Zionist thinker Leon Pinsker, was the human fear of ghosts: The Jews, a disembodied people without a land, were haunting the nations. By "concretizing" the Jews and turning them from wanderers into a nation like any other, he predicted, the illness of anti-Semitism would be cured.
Now, though, it’s the Jewish state that is the target for demonization. The result is a crisis of confidence among some Jews in Zionism’s ability to keep them safe.
From its founding, the state of Israel, denied legitimacy by its Arab neighbors, has had to contend with diplomatic isolation. It responded with daring and creativity. In the 1950s, Israel dispatched agricultural advisers to Africa and Asia, becoming a role model for developing nations. Later, its high-tech industries helped shape a strategic alliance with India.
The low point in Israel’s international stature occurred after the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Under pressure from the Arab oil boycott, Third World countries severed relations with the Jewish state. At the U.N., PLO leader Yasser Arafat declared that Israel had no right to exist and received a standing ovation from the General Assembly. A year later, in 1975, the U.N. voted to declare Zionism a form of racism.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had instigated the anti-Zionism campaign, Israel’s status abruptly changed. The Zionism-racism resolution was repealed. And by the early 1990s, Israel was maintaining relations with most of the non-Muslim world.
The Zionist vision of acceptance by the nations seemed finally on its way to being fulfilled. The result was a greater willingness among Israelis to take risks for peace, as expressed by the 1993 Oslo peace process.
Now, Israel’s international status is perhaps even worse than it was in the 1970s. Anti-Israeli animus then was largely a result of political and economic motives. Today, however misguided, the moral outrage against Israel is real.
By appealing to the world’s conscience, Israel’s jihadist enemies have learned how to turn their relative powerlessness into a strategic asset. Israel is being increasingly forced to choose between self-defense and acceptance by the nations. The likely result will be a growing sense of empowerment among jihadists, and a growing sense of desperation among Israelis.
Israelis watch with cynical astonishment as the U.N. Security Council urgently convenes to create a Commission of Inquiry – yet another anti-Israel kangaroo court – even as the sanctions effort against Iran’s nuclear program falters. They contrast the banner headlines in the world’s media over the flotilla with the barely noted news item of recent days that Tehran now has enough uranium for two nuclear bombs. And as some self-described friends of Israel are publicly wondering whether the Jewish state needs to be "saved from itself," Israelis reciprocate the outrage and ask: Has the world lost its mind?
Yossi Klein Halevi is a Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, a member of the Institute’s Engaging Israel Project, and a contributing editor to The New Republic. This article originally appeared in
The Wall Street Journal.