Unfortunately, Israel suffers from a national disease, the disease of over righteousness -- a national calamity. But can righteousness be bad? If righteousness is good, surely being more-so is better? "No," says the Bible's Ecclesiastes, who warned not to be over righteous since that would surely lead to self destruction. Said Ecclesiastes (7:16):
Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself ?
If you want to understand this biblical bit of timeless wisdom you only need to review Israeli history to reveal how the disease of over righteousness has come to plague a nation that decided to pluck defeat from the jaws of victory.
If we remember the time of Yitzhak Shamir, Israel had succeeded in virtually defeating the PLO which was holed up in Tunisia, more than a thousand miles away. Israel was then engaged in building Jewish communities in her territories and was on the way to consolidating her control over the Arabs who had by and large resigned themselves, out of necessity, to live in peace with Israel. They had no alternative. True, there was an Arab "intifada," but it was ineffective and well under control, or as controlled as people like Yitzhak Rabin, who was Defense Minister, would allow it to be -- a man who would later lead his people to surrender in the name of peace.
What happened? Israeli victory was at the time not felt to be adequate for the Laborites, who thought victory for Labor's discredited ideology was more important, more noble, than mere victory over the Arabs. Labor wanted to make friends of the defeated Arabs, that is, enjoy peace with friendship too. To the Laborites, what good is a victory if in victory the sworn enemies of Israel are downcast and sullen and Labor and its universalistic philosophy is discredited in favor of the more traditional right wing partes and Judaic philosophies? Labor wanted, so to speak, to have the "peace cake" and to eat it too.
Those who have seen Shakespeare's Hamlet will recognize a similar predicament and, uncannily, the same emotional feeling that the Laborites labored under. In Shakespeare's story, Hamlet had proved that his uncle Claudius killed his father, and Hamlet then had an opportunity to kill the praying king -- a justifiable stroke from the "goel hadom," from the blood avenger, the son of the murdered king. But an over righteous Hamlet spurns the opportunity, the way Labor spurned the opportunity to defeat the Arab challenger. Said Hamlet:
"Now might I do it pat, now he is praying; And now I'll do't. And so he goes to heaven; A villain kills my father; and for that, I, his sole son, do this same villain send To heaven. O, this is hire and salary, not revenge. He took my father grossly, full of bread; With all his crimes broad blown, as flush as May; No! Up, sword; and know thou a more horrid hent: When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage, Or in the incestuous pleasure of his bed; At gaming, swearing, or about some act That has no relish of salvation in't; Then trip him, that his heels may kick at heaven, And that his soul may be as damn'd and black"
So you see, Hamlet was so hung up on the perfect retribution that he failed to recognize the importance of "little things," like that King Claudius was very powerful and dangerous and could work to undo Hamlet himself should the king escape the certain punishment that was now at hand.
Those who know the story know that this act of over righteousness eventually leads to Hamlet's own death. Shakespeare's play is about a good man who is tripped up by his own over righteousness -- that was the tragedy. And here you have exactly Labor's perfectionist gambit, a Labor party that allows the Arab enemy to get out of the trap that Israel had crafted at great expense of Jewish blood. Labor not only frees the rendered-harmless enemy but then rehabilitates him and enables him, while he remains an enemy, to create a powerful army right at Israel's doorstep.
Hamlet's own words are vivid testimony to his folly as he realizes what has happened but does not as yet pinpoint his own contribution to it. For when the play is half done, the King that had once been in Hamlet's clutches emerges all powerful, and it is he, Hamlet, that is about to be shipped out from Denmark to his death. Hamlet had gone from a man who acts on history to a victim of accidental forces. Just read the disconcerted and dumbfounded words of Hamlet:
"How all occasions do inform against me, And spur my dull revenge! ... ... Now, whether it be Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple Of thinking too precisely on the event, A thought which, quarter'd, hath but one part wisdom And ever three parts coward, I do not know Why yet I live to say 'This thing's to do;' Sith I have cause and will and strength and means To do't. Examples gross as earth exhort me:"
Hamlet can't understand how he got into his predicament, how the job of restoring justice to his kingdom remains "to do" -- to be done -- since, as he says, he had the motive, the strength, and the will to have accomplished it.
It is just like a disconcerted Israel, which now finds herself, having gone from mastery of her situation into discussing her dismemberment and the loss of her historic capital, Jerusalem, with her would-be assassins, and for the same reason -- over righteousness. This is a kind of character failure that leads those afflicted to concentrate, not on essentials, such as survival and the setting back of dangerous enemies, but on abstruse points of super-colossal "morality" that cannot be moral since it promises to bring a most vile party of terrorists, the murderers of women and children, to victory over the true owners of the land of Israel.
Unfortunately, Israel's governments, past and present, have too often labored with incompetence for dubious goals that have established Israel's dangerous rival both morally and militarily in position to walk off with the honor, the capital, and the lands of the nation and not be a whit closer to peace, only closer to destruction.
That Arabs can today say without world condemnation that the lands of Israel and Jerusalem belong to them and that "Jews are robbers," and find that masses of Jewry and 40% of Israelis agree, shows by how far Israel's abysmal diplomacy has failed. Dangerous Arab military bases, established with the collusion of Israeli governments, now menace Israel and cannot be stemmed except by Jewish blood, sweat, and tears -- once totally unnecessary. It shows how far and fast even a strong nation can crumble without vision or self understanding.
Over righteousness will do it every time, as Ecclesiastes warned many years ago. Binu boarim, matai tascilu? (Come to your senses o' you dullards, when will you become wise?)
It's clear. The Jews actually do provoke the Arabs and I now know exactly how they do this. It is all in the Jewish national anthem. Read the words for yourself:
As long as Jews insist on thereby provoking the Arabs with this message, they provoke and invite murderous Arab hatred.
There is only two alternatives for Jews. Either get out and become wanderers and disappear, or create conditions where the "provoked" Arabs cannot do harm. Since the Arab leaders teach their children to be on such a collision course with the Jews, the problem cannot be otherwise.
All the nonsense about Israeli leaders calling the Arabs "Palestinians," which the Arabs interpret as signifying that they are the true owners of the land of Israel, creates an unhealthy situation for both Arabs and Jews. It gives the Arabs the idea that such nonsense is real and inflames them to murderous action. It is bad for the Jews to spread Arab myths among themselves because it corrodes Jewish resolve to preserve their nation, Israel, as Jews and Israelis begin to doubt themselves. Unfortunately, ignorant Israeli governments have fed the Arab flames of hate by teaching the Arabs that their terror and hate does and will bring results.
The reality is that whatever Israel does in trying to soothe Arab feelings and in ceding land to them is taken by the Arabs as a sign of Jewish guilt and merely adds fuel to the raging fires. It is unhealthy for both communities since it does not let the Arabs get a grip on reality or learn a new way of behaving and some Jews, like Ehud Barak, actually begin to think, erroneously, that the Arabs have a point when they hate Israel.
The Arabs need to firmly learn that they will not get that which belongs to the Jewish people -- Eretz Yisrael and Zion, Jerusalem. If the Arabs resort to violence and other anti-social behavior they have to see clearly and know in their hearts that they will not succeed and in the end lose the advantages of living with such a fine people as the Jewish people, if not altogether destroy themselves.
Israeli governments that appease the Arabs and don't teach such lessons in a firm and unequivocal way, merely contribute to the Arab enemy's irrationality. In these terms, many of Israel's governments are responsible for contributing to the calamities that Israel faces today. They are responsible for the fact that today Israel negotiates her physical, national, and spiritual survival with dangerous enemies, who are dangerous because they claim the very things that Israel needs to survive.
There is not a second way to create the omelette of a safe and secure Jewish nation on its patrimony in the Middle East, in Zion and Jerusalem. Only by cracking the eggs of reality will it be achieved. Those who think by avoiding the truth it will be accomplished, by not cracking the eggs, will in the end have to forego the "omelette" itself.
David Basch is an architect in New York and an expert on Shakespeare. He serves as the Freeman Center's political philosopher.