GM as parable, and Israel's sudden choice: Obama or Kahane
If General Motors has toppled, can the sacred cow of unfettered settlement be far behind?
Even in Israel, the bankruptcy of General Motors has much to teach.
In fact, it seems oddly fitting that a month which may recast the direction of the Middle East, and of the future of Israel [see below], opened with an event which until recently would have redefined the unthinkable: an African American president of the United States discussing the impact of the collapse of what was once the world's largest company, and warning that it would take "a painful toll on many Americans."
The bankruptcy of General Motors bears a number of lessons Israelis would be well advised to consider, especially in view of Barack Obama's imminent overture to the Muslims of the region.
One has directly to do with a society's most fundamental and protected of sacred cows, in Israel's case the settlements and their outlaw spinoffs: Sacred does not mean immortal. Nor, in an atmosphere of moral bankruptcy, does sacred necessarily mean moral.
Another lesson is this: Choices which may have for decades seemed indefinitely far in the future, may suddenly and unavoidably become the province of the here and now.
And one more, for the settlers, especially: Do not underestimate Barack Obama. If the untouchable General Motors has been toppled, can the sacred cow of unfettered settlement be far behind?
For Israel, the choice of paths is becoming clearer by the day. There is the way being pointed by Obama, characterized by an intensive search for creative ways in which the main players in the conflict are to receive long-desired benefits in return for sacrificing certain - often self-destructive - policy platforms and practices.
The other choice, it develops, is that of Rabbi Meir Kahane, the man who first embodied what might be called the disgracist strain of hardline Israeli politics: In all things, act and speak so as to belittle, besmirch, and disgrace Israeli Arabs, Palestinian Arabs, and Muslims in general, couching all of it in the baldfacedly bogus guise of an imperative of Jewish law or in Orweillian demands for Stalin-worthy fealty to a theoretical, on-the-books reality.
In recent weeks, we have seen the hideous markers of the Kahane approach, notably in the legislative proposals highlighting Jewish insecurity over the "Jewish Zionist" future of Israel, and a we-have-much-to-hide attitude toward the circumstances of Israel's birth. Kahane's legacy is even more evident in the current eruption of violence in settler outposts, with masked Jewish youths hurling stones and other objects at passing Palestinian motorists. We have watched these "most excellent of our youth" as they fight Israeli police and soldiers who have the temerity to enforce Israeli law and are thus routinely branded as Nazis by the pro-outpost hoodlums.
Disgracism, as an ideology, extols the settler hotheads' and rabid rightist rabbis' brand of abject disloyalty to strictures imposed by the state, even as it condemns Israeli Arabs for suggesting that members of a minority should be able to simultaneously hold both citizenship and their own opinions.
In the end, the disgrace shown the Arabs does deep disgrace to the perpetrator, but, more importantly, does the deepest disgrace of all to the State of Israel.
At the same time, we have seen the indications of an effort to stem the tide of unfettered and illegal settlement in the West Bank. This, despite the blackmail of religious and right-wing politicians, who brandish the third-act pistol of coalition demolition every time they take an oath to support a new government.
The most applicable lesson of GM's fall might be gleaned from studying perhaps the most honored misquote in history. Until now, the settlers and their supporters have insisted by word and deed that what is good for settlement is good for the State of Israel.
But the original quote bears repeating. In 1953, facing a Senate hearing over his nomination for secretary of defense, then-General Motors president Charles Wilson came in for questioning over the large amounts of GM stock he owned. Given his investments, he was asked, could he make a decision as defense secretary that would hurt the company?
"I cannot conceive of one, because for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors and vice versa. The difference did not exist. Our company is too big. It goes with the welfare of the country."
Wilson, it should be underscored, sold his shares. It is time for extremist settlers and their blind supporters to sell theirs - to be willing to make sacrifices for the good of the country, rather than expecting the country to sacrifice itself for them.
A partial calendar of a potentially fateful month:
June 2: Civil defense exercise of unprecedented scope in Israel
Scenarios include of hundreds of missiles thundering into Tel Aviv, chemical warheads striking the north of the country. News of the exercise prompts neighboring Arab armies to go on alert.
June 3: Obama visits Saudi Arabia
The president is expected to ask Riyadh as well as moderate Gulf states for preliminary steps toward normalization of ties with Israel. The measures may include granting a limited number of business and perhaps tourist visas to Israelis, anchorage rights for Israeli vessels, mutual air space rights for Israeli and Arab airliners, and opening interest offices.
June 4: Obama, in Cairo, addresses the Muslim world
The speech will be closely watched, intended as it is to quell the seething enmity between the Bush administration and Muslims around the globe.
June 7: General elections in Lebanon
The strongly pro-Iranian and Syrian-allied Hezbollah could win the crucial contest, tilting the precarious balance of power in the Mideast.
June 12: Presidential elections in Iran
If incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wins a second term, he is seen as likely to leverage the victory into more authoritarianism at home and a clear endorsement of hardline foreign policies, in particular the drive for nuclear capability and upgraded intercontinental ballistic missiles, support for, and perhaps instigation of, proxy wars on Israel's borders with Gaza and Lebanon, as well as steps to undermine the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
Throughout the month: Outpost razings and the looming indictment of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman
Two severe tests of the resolve of the Netanyahu government. If Lieberman is brought to trial on a range of money-laundering and other charges, the nation's spearhead of disgracism would be blunted if not rendered moribund.
If the government can survive outpost removals, perhaps by trading rightists for the centrist Kadima, the peace process and Obama's new diplomacy will have a chance.
If not, elections in Israel will have to be added to the calendar in a few months' time.
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