How we became a night unto the nations
The days when someone could ask what language we were speaking and we would answer "Hebrew" with pride are long gone.
The first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, is the one who said Israel should be a light unto the nations. The great powers, who didn't lift a finger to destroy the death camps during World War II, were not only sympathetic to Israel's establishment, but admired its valor in repulsing the Arab states' onslaught.
Renowned foreign journalists came here and wrote glowing reports about this war of David against Goliath, about the young immigrants who were taken from the boat straight to the battlefield, about the Jewish volunteers who arrived to help establish this state that was fighting for its life. They also described the hatred of the Arabs, who in their stupidity refused to reach peace agreements with Israel. Because of this, the Rhodes armistice agreements awarded Israel far more territory than the UN did in its resolution of November 29, 1947.
The second wave of admiration for Israel stemmed from the speed with which it defeated the Arab armies in the 1967 war. The Six-Day War is taught in military academies worldwide, and the international media once again described the campaign as a war of David against Goliath. Israel proved that it was in no danger of being destroyed, desite what its fund-raisers in America liked to claim.
But admiration for Israel's strength gradually turned into resentment over the side effects of the prolonged occupation. Don't speak Hebrew in public places overseas, tourists to Europe are warned today. Indeed, the days when someone could ask what language we were speaking and we would answer "Hebrew" with pride are long gone.
Israel's military might and its unrestrained use of this might have turned the David-versus-Goliath analogy into an asset for the Palestinians. Israel is no longer described as at risk of being destroyed, but as a strong country, aggressive and domineering, as Charles de Gaulle once said. President Shimon Peres was recently greeted by angry demonstrations in Argentina and Brazil. Many countries boycott Israeli products, and Israeli lecturers on college campuses throughout the West endure catcalls. During Ehud Olmert's recent lecture tour of the United States, he was greeted almost everywhere he went with cries such as "child killers!"
Of greatest concern is what is happening on American campuses, which are slowly becoming pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli. That is dangerous because this is where America's future leaders are bred. But our opponents are not motivated by anti-Semitism, as our political hacks like to claim. If patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, then anti-Semitism is the last refuge of the occupier.
Control over the territories is also taking a heavy toll on Israelis' conduct. On one hand, there is the increasingly brutal treatment of the Palestinians; on the other, there are growing doubts among our soldiers about whether to carry out missions to evacuate settlers. Today, no one is interested in how we became embroiled in the 1967 war, how we survived the Yom Kippur War by the skin of our teeth or how, despite peace with Egypt and Jordan, Palestinian terror continued, producing intifada after intifada.
From a light unto the nations, Israel has become a maligned and ostracized nation. The UN Security Council doesn't condemn Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for announcing his intention to destroy Israel, but Israel, which has been fighting for its life for six decades, has become the most denounced and criticized country on the face of the globe.
Ever since Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, officers in the Israel Defense Forces have been at risk every time they land in an international airport.
Former defense minister Moshe Arens said last week that while a civilian defense minister is preferable to a military one, that doesn't mean every idiot is capable of being defense minister. Though Arens named no names, Amir Peretz took offense. But on the other hand, a former IDF chief of staff such as the current defense minister, who views military overreaction as the solution to the state's problems, is not necessarily the ideal man for the job, either. It is not for nothing that the United States bars retired senior generals and admirals from serving as secretary of defense for 10 years after leaving the service.
Before sticking our noses into the problem of Iran's nuclear program, which is a source of international concern, it would be preferable for our government to discuss how we got to where we are - no longer a light unto the nations - and what needs to be done to stop the freefall in our international image before it's too late.