A Look Outside the Local Pond

Many Israelis returning from even a short trip overseas share this feeling: The joy of homecoming is accompanied by a sense that home is not a normal place, in the bad sense of the expression.

Many Israelis returning from even a short trip overseas share this feeling: The joy of homecoming is accompanied by a sense that home is not a normal place, in the bad sense of the expression.

The encounter with foreign countries, at least those that are not part of the Third World, is like a blow to the consciousness: In many states, people go about their daily life without Qassam or Katyusha rockets or terror attacks. There are places in the world where civilians are not exposed to news about the security situation from morning to night. There are nations that do not live with the constant moral unease deriving from the occupation of another nation. There are societies that are not surrounded by incessant violence. Public life in most developed states is not suffused with feverish preoccupation with fateful questions about their national survival.

Israel's insane lifestyle really hits those returning home. This is not just because, as tourists, they only superficially experience daily life abroad; it is because leaving Israel frees them from the local pond for a moment. When a society stews in its own juices, it cannot observe itself with a foreigner's eyes. On the contrary, it develops self-pity and self-righteousness and projects its own version of events onto reality.

Thus Israel sees itself as a victim of Arab violence, and all its violent acts are intended solely to defend itself, so that it can realize its right to self-determination. These include the checkpoints and the abuse of innocent, helpless Palestinians by brutal soldiers and policemen. They include preventive arrests in the territories, as well as blockades and closures that destroy the lives of women, old people and children. They include the assassinations and the separation fence, which arbitrarily expropriates the private property of poor farmers, as well as the Air Force bombardments, the demolition of houses and the uprooting of orchards. The feeling of constant threat with which Israelis live dulls their sight and their ability to distinguish between good and evil.

The growing view of Israel among a considerable part of the international community was recently reflected in an Amnesty International report and the British initiative for an academic boycott of Israel. Granted, local actors were behind both developments; international politics were also involved; and perhaps both show traces of anti-Israeliness per se, or even anti-Semitism. But curling up like a snail in a shell of self-righteousness is not the way to deal with them. Like the boycott initiative, the Amnesty report is another alarm bell. Israel's international standing is disintegrating; its moral image has been eroded; its military actions are indefensible.

The basic picture is simple. The world sees Israel as an occupier, and its increasingly sullied image in the conflict with the Palestinians is a result of this. But the Israeli sees himself a victim of Arab aggression. He is fighting for his life, and his enemies keep plotting to take it away. The world is against him and is trying to stop him from defending himself.

In his sallies abroad, the Israeli tastes the intoxicating flavor of an environment that exists without a bloody conflict and learns how he is seen by others. The Israel portrayed by the decisions of the British University and College Union is, as the UCU put it, an "apartheid state, engaging in crimes against humanity in the occupied territories." The Israel reflected in the Amnesty report for 2006, which focused on the Second Lebanon War, is a state that carried out "indiscriminate, disproportionate attacks on a large scale" and left about a million cluster bombs, as well as new minefields, behind in Lebanon.

The foreign and education ministers can raise a hue and cry about substantive inaccuracies, one-sidedness and cynicism on the part of both Amnesty and the UCU. But their main duty is to exert their influence as senior cabinet members to bring about a change in Israel's basic situation.