On Horatian metaphor and the New Middle East

O ship of state, new waves push you
Out to sea. Why stand there? Hurry,
Hurry to port! Can't you see
Your oars are gone../..../..

Horace was born in 65 BCE, and died in 8 BCE. His ode (I, 14) on the "ship of state" pertains to ancient Rome, but it might just as well refer to modern Israel. Sailing without oars, the Jewish State flounders, out-of-control, heaving around and around the shining Cyclades.

What has gone wrong? This ship, though built of noble timber, and from wondrous forests, can hardly hold together. Its sails are shredded. What has gone wrong?

More than anything else, Israel, in an unmatched irony, has sought direction only from its enemies. Both within its own borders and outside them, Israel has handed over the ship's tiller to Arab populations sworn to sink the ship. Today, as the country prepares for fateful elections, the Arab vote will elect the next Prime Minister. Ahmed Tibi, an important Arafat advisor, just said it all quite plainly at the founding session of his new political party: "We, the Arabs, will determine the next Prime Minister of Israel." The statement was made in the town of Taibe, where a few days earlier hundreds of excited soccer fans, citizens of Israel, yelled, "Death to the Jews! Long live Yichye Ayash!" (the assassinated Palestinian terrorist who had been known as "The Engineer").

Outside its borders, Israel's enemies are completing the creation of a new hostile state of Palestine, a state not only committed to Israel's destruction, but one actually carved out of Israel's own dismembered body. What is more, this dismemberment takes place with the full support of Israel's own government. Indeed, in a reductio ad absurdum of national policy, this government now arrests and imprisons those Jews who seek to remain in control of the sinking ship while it simultaneously releases from jail those Arabs who would grab all the oars for themselves.

There is more! Outside its borders, Israel's enemies, especially in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Egypt (yes, Egypt) prepare for war. While Mr. Peres begs and beseeches these enemy countries to join in creating the New Middle East, Islamic leaders only redouble their efforts to crash an already sinking Jewish ship. Revolted by Israel's pleadings, these leaders are all the more committed to ridding the region of a rotting ship that is no longer truly seaworthy and that is no longer even captained by its original crew.

Once upon a time, Israel's army took essential preemptive initiatives, preventing enemy states from reaching a point of clear military primacy. No more. Following the humiliating Israeli surrenders of the 1991 Gulf War, where Israel chose to be a sponge rather than a swordfish ( a "cooperative" sponge, to be sure) Jerusalem now forsakes any remaining opportunities for anticipatory self-defense, a relinquishment of survival and self-respect options spawned largely by incomprehensible expectations of a horribly misnamed "Peace Process."

There is more. Israel is entirely content to be a pitiable vassal state of the United States. Bent over in now ritualized deference to Washington, Israel's current Prime Minister, head down, is willing to accept any indignity, any degradation, any disabling of the ship, so long as President Clinton and leaders of Congress will make him feel important and will agree to recite the proper political incantations. For Jews everywhere, not only in Israel, it is a shameful official behavior that should resonate with unique disgust.

Shimon Peres, a devotee of imagined seamanship, has handed over the tiller to Israel's sworn enemies. The People of Israel, largely preferring the imagined enthusiasms of government mendacity to real maritime warnings, now venture so far from safe harbors that imminent shipwreck can hardly be avoided. Content with servility - before its internal enemies, its external enemies, its "friends" - Israelis contemplate their botched seamanship with inexplicable equanimity. If they should emerge from torpor, aware that they must retake the tiller, and soon, they may yet not have to pray for a second Flood.

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