If there is a holiday atmosphere in Israel on the eve of Rosh Hashanah 5770, it stems from habit and tradition, and applies to individuals and families. On the national level, Israel enters the holiday season without many reasons for levity or celebration - hiding its head or angered at the serious charges leveled against it; more isolated than ever on the international scene, on the verge of being treated like a leper; reaping bitter diplomatic and public relations fruit at its every military attempt to resist or to achieve calm; lacking in political amplitude; despairing of a solution to the conflict and of peace.
If on the new year last year there was still some hope for renewal and change, with the casting of the sins of the past - the end to the problematic tenure of prime minister Ehud Olmert and the attempts by Tzipi Livni to set up a new government - then this year, following the establishment of Benjamin Netanyahu's government and the change of power in the White House, it seems Israel has taken giant steps backward, incredibly quickly. Hated, bitter, violent, hamstrung by self-righteousness, wallowing in its sense of victimization - with its sole strange comfort being that none of this is our fault, but actually the result of international anti-Semitism.
In this sense then, the Goldstone Commission report on Operation Cast Lead, which accuses Israel of war crimes and even of "crimes against humanity," has come at the worst possible time. And not only because it is a "bitter" holiday present. Its unprecedented severity gives strong backing not only to the those who are enemies of Israel, but also to the pessimistic, fatalistic attitude that guides the current government in Israel. The same government which is busy gathering evidence of anti-Semitism, and looking for reasons to withdraw into the ghetto of our self-righteousness rather than searching for ways to become a normal nation in an ever-changing region and world. One such way, for example, would be to honestly and courageously investigate our actions, and determine whether "ethics," for us, is not just an empty word.
But even without examining the facts and motives that appear in this difficult report, we can say that the terribly emotional responses it is stirring in Israel - with the support of its leadership and its tabloid media, including the demand that it be rejected entirely - are no more than the other side of the coin of the verbal frenzy and indignation that originally motivated Operation Cast Lead. The operation, whose aggression was known to all as it was taking place, and was even announced to be so, was accompanied here with applause and encouragement. Both cases (responding to the report and responding to the offensive), are a matter of gut reaction, reflexes that are almost predetermined and lacking in thought.
Israel is an emotional, hot-tempered nation, loaded with deep traumas and justified fears. But its leadership is expected to behave rationally, coolly and intelligently when confronted with real crises, not to blatantly encourage fear and bitterness, as Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman tend to do out of a pessimistic and self-fulfilling approach.
Hopefully, the Israeli government will start using more of its head and less of its gut.
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