When the Israeli universe was still young and full of hope, the cartoonist Dosh drew the iconic figure that reflected the collective self-perception: Srulik, a naive boy in a kova tembel (that sort of blue or khaki sailor cap with the brim turned down, sometimes still sighted on kibbutzim and in kindergartens ) whose intentions are pure and whose hands are clean. Were we called upon to update that icon today, possibly a great many Israelis would still cling to the self-image of an innocent child in a hostile world. However, in the spirit of the times - at least as it prevails in the government - the kova tembel has been replaced by a ghetto boy's peaked cap and the khaki shirt with a yellow star.
In the eyes of foreign observers, or people with more critical vision, Israel already looks different: perhaps like an impatient and hysterical military man with a skullcap on his head from an army of occupation, who is threatening or threatened, it is not clear which, and is prepared to land a resounding thwack in the face of any gentile or leftist he happens upon, and see himself as the victim of a pogrom. It's the work of the devil. This unflattering stereotype came out of nowhere recently and took on flesh and blood. The hysterical reactions to the affair of Lt. Col. Eisner - applause and support from broad sectors (which revealed their moral compass ) and from another direction the frantic efforts to dull the incident mainly for purposes of hasbara - "public diplomacy" - actually prove the extent to which this image really is representative. Indeed no hasbara effort can deny what is happening to Israel. It is becoming more and more of an ethnocentric, contrarian religious community with a shortening fuse and no tolerance or patience for any scrap of criticism or independent thought that doesn't line up with the most extreme marker on the right.
Israel is perceived as a brutal state living in well-fanned hysteria and existential anxiety, which sees any political process as a conspiracy, any move on the ground as a justification for war and any criticism as an anti-Semitic campaign. In the 64th year of its independence, there is a strange contradiction in Israel: on the one hand, the apparent acceptance of the perpetuity of the conflict and of the view that it has no solution, and on the other hand the loss of the skills and sense of strength needed to withstand this conclusion.
Instead of steeling itself in the face of a conflict that will last for generations, it seems Israel is only becoming more fragile and more sensitive to every touch, even the slightest. The shadow of mountains looks like mountains; anything that in some way benefits the Palestinians is perceived as a threat to us. Any act of demonstrative protest is considered an "airlift" by the Luftwaffe or a terrifying "flotilla" in the style of the Spanish armada, and every foreign observer is perceived as an enemy requiring an "operation" and a "confrontation." How does neurotic sensitivity like this accord with the apparent readiness for eternal war? Perhaps the psychiatrist of "The Big Brother" reality show has answers.
Israel appears enclosed in a bizarre egocentric bubble: On the one hand, in the outer shell there is relative security and quiet, which in a rare and wonderful way has been going on for three years now. However, from within, instead of a sense of strength and some calm, fears are seething and jumpiness and violence are bubbling over. In the absence of a positive vision and under a leadership that sends a message of contrarianism only, Israel just seems to be waiting in ambush for any threat or criticism of it so it can pounce on its critics and then wait for the next provocation. This is how we prefer to conduct our affairs these days.
This dissonant bubble - perhaps produced by the prime minister's personality and perhaps itself producing his leadership - cannot continue to exist in the long run. One day it will crack and break open: with a bang or a whimper, from within or without. But until then, to paraphrase Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's remarks: If we discount the Arabs, the ultra-Orthodox, the Palestinians, Gush Dan, the demonstrators, the left, the center, Haaretz, The New York Times, Channel 10, Europe, Asia, Africa, U.S. President Barack Obama, the present and the future - our situation has never been better.
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