Of all the scandalous and noisy headlines of recent days, perhaps the most amazing of all - and what's more amazing is that it did not prompt any comments - is this: The Joint Distribution Committee, one of the oldest and most central pillars of organized Jewry, has been raising funds for Israel by presenting it in the world as a country plagued by hunger.
With the support of the JDC, a "Hunger Forum" (yes, that's what it's called) has recently been formed, including the Jewish federations, funds and donors in the U.S., Canada, Australia and Europe. The "Forum" has set the goal of defining hunger as the main problem in Israel, requiring fund-raising on a massive scale.
The JDC is a serious organization, so it does what it says: It has already produced a full-color brochure under the headline "Jews in Crisis," devoted to three areas where Jews are suffering the disgrace of hunger: the Commonwealth of Independent States, Argentina and Israel. The brochure provides the information that "one out of three children in Israel lives below the poverty line."
One of the forum's goals, as reported by Ofer Petersburg in Yedioth Ahronoth, is to establish at least one soup kitchen in every city in Israel. The new advertising campaign, he adds, has already borne fruit: One of the largest Jewish federations in the U.S. has produced a video clip meant to open wallets and hearts. It shows Israeli teens dancing in a club, wearing jeans, but in the background, a voice-over explains to the American Jews that the youth in Israel might dance to the same music and wear the same clothes as American teens, but there's a difference: The big problem in Israel is not terror, but hunger.
Look what they've done to our country. There were times when Israel was represented, for fund-raising purposes, by pioneers sporting kova tembel caps and soldiers wearing knit balaclavas. Israel was seen in Jewish National Fund postcards as a brave new world, a country full of beautiful people and landscapes, creative, daring, and original.
Over the years, enormous achievements in culture, science and high tech were pushed to the forefront. Once there was even the pretension of acting as a "light unto the nations," let alone the Jews. The heart of every Jew was supposed to swell with pride and identification.
Now we are expecting help as les miserables, a social case, a Third World country, seeking handouts as we expose our handicaps. Israel no longer expects proud identification, but pity. No more David against Goliath, or Samson the hero, not even "Samson the pitiable hero," as Levi Eshkol unforgettably put it, but simply poor Samson, locks shorn, blind and desperate, dying with the Philistines.
Israeli politicians often speak in high-flown terms about the importance of the State of Israel's "deterrent capability." The most representative examples of that concept are Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Only a few weeks ago they were planning to attack Iraq, just so we don't lose our famous "deterrent capability."
Our deterrent capabilities indeed have stood us in good stead more than once, and they may have prevented quite a few armed conflicts. And we won those wars that did break out because we had a strong army. We had a strong army because it was based on a strong society, on solidarity and progress. Our enemies lost those wars because their armies were based on societies that were weak, poor, deprived, corrupt, nonprogressive and lacking solidarity.
Now our society is beginning to look like theirs, and therefore the day is not far off when our army will look like their armies. Our neighbors are looking at the JDC's brochure and rubbing their hands with glee. Who knows better than they that a weak, miserable society is incapable of carrying the burden of a powerful army? Real national security can never be based on "one poor child out of every three."
With their own hands, those who brought this shameful hunger on Israel have exposed it to the deadly threats: How dare they go off afterward to Washington think tanks to lecture on the critical importance of Israel's deterrent capabilities? Netanyahu may think his economic program will be bringing us America, but so far it is turning us into Argentina.
I still remember how years ago, a single little girl in Beit She'an said "I'm hungry," and the entire country went into an uproar. Now hundreds of thousands of children are on the bread line, and the country is silent. That's the entire history of Israel, from B-G to Bibi.
The writer is a Meretz MK and former education minister.
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