Professor, Department of Political Science, Purdue University
Now that Israel is giving official birth to "Palestine," disappearance of the Jewish State is all but assured. For the Arabs, whose political and geostrategic operations since Oslo have assuredly been brilliant, this disappearance is only a matter of time. For the Israelis, whose guiding government policies have centered only on various nuances of autodestruction, it is largely a matter of indifference.
Can anything be done to rescue a state that seems determined to embrace its own demolition? Or is it already too late? In essence, Israel's leaders approach national annihilation as a healer. Let us not think too much about existing, they caution. Survival is an impractical concern. And it will only anger The Americans.
A few Israelis, however, have yet to surrender. Although their own government is now actually spawning another enemy state - the unprecedented gestation of an altogether unique form of Jewish self-hatred - these particular Israelis resist the soulless herd of Hebrew speaking anti-Zionists. Animated by more than an awe-inspiring wish to become Los Angeles (who needs Hebron or Jerusalem if one can become L.A.?), these stubbornly authentic Israelis refuse to accept collective disintegration or to bring everlasting shame upon the memory of so many (so very many) martyred Jews who now sleep in the dust.
But what can they do? Previously their efforts had been focused upon the elections in Israel. To an extent, such a focus made perfect sense. After all, the defeat of the Peres government was an obvious sine qua non for national survival. But defeat of the Peres government, however necessary, was not sufficient. The problem of Israel's survival lies not only in the obvious intellectual and programmatic deficiencies of the Netanyahu government, and in the substantially irreversible Oslo harms already inflicted upon the nation's security apparatus, but also in something much "deeper," something much more important. It lies in the heart of a nation that no longer believes in itself, that no longer believes in anything that is truly important. Indeed, all that once mattered for Israel, all that was once firm, resolute and incorruptible, has now withered, broken apart, gone to pieces. Small wonder, then, that there is no longer any air to breathe, or that asphyxiation has become every Israeli government's prevailing idea of "peace."
Israel's Islamic enemies have something that Israel lacks, something altogether vital and commendable. Truly they should be admired. They believe in something important! They believe in the promise of Islam! They believe in themselves. And they understand time.
Israel, however, at least as a collectivity, believes strongly in unbelief. Worshipping only cliches, and adoring only those whose promises are without foundation, it believes largely in what is small, transient and fleeting. To be sure, it believes not at all in the meaning of Judaism. It believes in virtually anything but itself. Above all, in what is perhaps the crowning irony of Israel's anti-achievements, it believes in its enemies.
Some of Israel's leaders still fear Jewish rebellion, but their fear is unwarranted. Not only is the Oslo opposition dedicated entirely to peaceful and patriotic political argument, genuine rebellion against a still vacuous public authority could serve absolutely no pertinent security function. The political authority of this government - like that of its predecessor - is merely epiphenomenal, a symptom of a much larger pathology. This authority is not the actual disease that afflicts Israel. The only rebellion that can save Israel today from the underlying disease is a far reaching revolt against that national self-hatred that nowcripples each Israeli Jew as a productive citizen and that has already immobilized public safety.
Israel, for the most part, has entered into a Faustian bargain in which "things" are exchanged for the passive acceptance of falsehood. Whether they are confronted with extravagant claims for a new kind of regional common market (Shimon Peres) or for expanding government policies of territorial concession (Peres and Netanyahu) fantasy is taken for granted. For Israelis, as for their American models, truth is what is manufactured in the print media and on commercial television. These manufacturers are now the Chief Rabbis of the true state religion in Israel -- the acknowledged worship of consumption and commodities.
Where the throne sits on mud, only mud can sit on the throne. To create the conditions of a decent and purposeful foreign policy - one that could give the country at least a small chance to survive - Israel will first have to transform itself. Otherwise, the so-called Jewish State will be left bloodless, a skeleton, dead also with that rusty death of machinery, more hideous even than the death of an individual person.
There is so little time left for understanding. Amidst the eternal babble of politics, Israel can endure as a nation only where Israelis first learn to take themselves seriously. As long as it remains captivated by the smooth mediocrity and squalid contentment of mass society, Israel will pluck its prime ministers from the flies of the political marketplace and reveal impatience with any one who dares speak the truth.
Let us be frank! Israelis now inhabit a tiny land of enormous spiritual emptiness and intellectual mediocrity - a disappearing land of surface glitter, smug comforts, sham conventionality and wholly irrational optimism. It is a nation where the final arbiters of personal meaning are located in shopping malls and where a great number of citizens have traded a Jewish soul for presumed opportunity in the interrelated worlds of quick pleasure and imitative commerce. In this barren land of Israel all vital rapport with genuine meaning has been lost. Here, in the land of Jewish learning, real wisdom is not only rejected; it is despised.
You may say, however, that Israel is a happy society. Listen, after all, to the laughter and the persistent merriment along Tel Aviv's beachfront. But listen more attentively! Today's sounds of happiness in Israel are largely the canned reverberations of a methodically-rehearsed gaiety, of a dreadfully false communion, of shrill, dried voices calling only for conformity. This triumphant reign of vulgarity flows from an increasingly fearful collection of outer persons, a mimicking collection that may still call itself a nation, yet is internally decayed, externally weak, soon forced by itself to disappear.
Hope for Israel? It must exist, to be sure, but it must now sing softly, in a calculated undertone. The great emptiness of Israel creates a terrifying noise, but it is still possible to listen for real music. Tuning out the shrieks and mutterings of the politicians, of the generals, of the "experts" - of the whole faceless herd whose well-varnished nonsense about "peace" now passes for insight - we may still find, like an old master violin discovered beneath a layer of dirt, the majestic structure and full broad bowing of the strings. Caught up in a war of extermination against the individual Israeli ( a war foreshadowing a Final Solution to the Israel Question) the murdered and murderous sounds ooze on and on, but the original spirit of music need not be destroyed. While life in Israel's dominant herd seeks to strip this music of its most wonderous tones, spoiling, scratching and degrading it, for those who learn to listen even the most ghastly of disguises can give way to life.
How shall Israel listen? To begin, the People of Israel must pay close attention to their private states of anxiety, restlessness and despair. For Israel, the time for "science," "progress," "confidence building" and "peace agreements" is over. To listen, and therefore to survive, the individual Israeli must rediscover life by conscious separation from the pitiable herd, by total detachment from contrived optimism, and - above all, by coming face-to-face with the inexpressible prospect of death as a nation. In this spirit of Third Temple impermanence, they may still learn that agony is infinitely more important than economics, that cries of pain are always more revealing than the expansion of celebrated technologies, that anguish counts for much more than recrimination and that tears always have far more substantial roots than public smiles.
The great existential dangers to Israel can never be undone or halted by elections, by the coming of a new political leadership. This is, in the first instance, a nonpolitical task that can be accomplished only by Israelis acting as individuals, not as herds. At the most telling level, Israel lacks a future not merely because its people still lack serious leadership, but more importantly because they have steadfastly refused, as Jews, to become persons. Israel is now kept distant from survival in the world not because its people have eaten of the Tree of Knowledge, but because they have not yet eaten of the Tree of Life.
LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is Professor of International Law at Purdue University. The only son of Austrian Jewish survivors, he was born in Switzerland in 1945. His work is well-known to Prime Minister Netanyahu.