World Shworld: Israel's Growing Solipsism

Who knew that the greatest threat to Israel is chocolate pudding.

Asher Schechter
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'Milky protest' in Tel Aviv: The dog is wearing a T-shirt with the slogan 'I want Berlin too'.
Asher Schechter

Here’s an experiment: search for “Israel” in Google News. You'll get the usual mélange of stories about Israel: Palestinians and Hamas, boycotts, fallout from the summer campaign Operation Protective Edge, Iran, and a sprinkling of business stories.

You'd have to scroll down several pages to find anything about pudding.

Naturally, the Hebrew-language press also covers these stories – but a Martian perusing the Israeli press in recent weeks could have gotten the impression that the biggest threat to Israel’s existence comes not from Gaza or Tehran, but from Berlin.

While it is not exactly news that there’s a disparity between what is being discussed within Israel and what is being said about Israel around the world, the gap appears to have reached new lengths. While the rest of the world talks about the implications of the Gazan war, the possibility of a European recognition of a Palestinian state and the fate of Israel-U.S. relations, Israelis seem to have other things on their minds. Such as pudding.

While the rest of the world discussed geopolitics, in the last month Israel became immersed in the “Milky protest”, triggered by the information that in Berlin, the popular pudding costs a fraction of its price in Israel.

Thus while Jews and non-Jews around the world were debating Israel’s future, outlining strategies, questioning its goals and missions and discussing possible ways to save it from what appears to be a demographic and diplomatic noose tightening around its neck, Israelis themselves have been obsessing over the identity of the previously anonymous originator of the “Milky protest”, who anticlimactically was revealed to be a 25-year-old Israeli living in Berlin, not some real estate agent or crook.

Israel is fast becoming a solipsistic nation. Like any solipsist, it is becoming unsure of the existence of anything that happens outside of its own mind, whether its 1.5 million Palestinians besieged in Gaza or a world fatigued by Israel's unwillingness to learn from its mistakes.

A very violent Groundhog Day

'Milky' puddings in the spotlight as low price of Berlin equivalent exasperates young, struggling Israelis.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

This in itself is not news: Israel has been isolationist ever since David Ben-Gurion shrugged off criticism of Israel by the UN by snorting “Um-shmum” – Um being the Hebrew abbreviation for the United Nations. Israel's internal narratives diverged from the international debate surrounding it long ago.

But in the past few months this divergence seems more and more like psychosis. Israel may have stopped taking note of its international image a long time ago, but now it appears to have divorced itself from reality altogether.

Israelis seem to devote so little thought to Palestinians, and to the dead-end we’ve reached in resolving the Palestinian issue, that when general Eyal Eizenberg (head of IDF Home Front Command) said last month that “Protective Edge was no more than a little campaign” and that “we are getting ready for the Big War the Real War”, not one major media organization reported it.

Similar admissions by Israeli leaders that Israel is probably doomed to repeat the same war, like some very violent Groundhog Day, is accepted with an eerie casualness,.

To the rest of the world, Israel seems like the Titanic, charging towards an almost-inevitable iceberg with its captains oblivious to dangers ahead. Many Israelis meanwhile seem to think there's no sea.

It’s not that Israelis don’t care what is being said about Israel around the world. It is that they apparently stopped listening. Many Israelis feel the world is simply anti-Israeli if not downright anti-Semitic, a conviction that enables them to ignore everything that is being said outside of Israel itself.

The danger of such solipsism is, of course, palpable. Ignoring outside criticism makes it easier to ignore or delegitimize internal criticism as well. It allows Israelis to forget the repercussions of war, and allows Israel to conduct wars as if those were free of repercussions.

The reasons for this state of acute solipsism are many: call it denial, call it escapism, call it weariness or despair. With each passing day, Israel is becoming more separate, more solitary, increasingly retreating more and more into its own thinking. And that is dangerous for a country that needs backing from the rest of the world in order to survive.

The danger is not that this will change Israel as we know it. The fear is that Israel will never see a need to change.

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