Back to the Future

An attitude of despair and longing for the past in Israel appears to derive from the confusion and humiliation felt by many on the left - those who pinned all their hopes on the Oslo process - in the wake of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the failure of Ehud Barak and the surge of deadly terrorism.

Various left-wing circles were upset by the government's decision not to ratify the signing of the Rome Treaty, which created the operation of the International Criminal Court at The Hague beginning July 1. They apparently believe not only that Israel's behavior in the territories is immoral, they are also of the opinion that Israeli democracy has been enfeebled and that it can no longer be trusted to judge and convict those in its midst who have perpetrated war crimes.

Since October, the left has strengthened its conviction that the press is being fed too much by the military spokesmen, that the judicial system is overly dependent on the political establishment and that the large number of terrorist attacks and the military reactions to them have dulled the conscience of the public and made it insensitive to moral dilemmas.

That criticism deserves to be heard. Moreover, the 1998 Rome Treaty is indeed a welcome step on the part of the enlightened world, which seeks to make it possible for communities to exact justice from those who have done them injustice. At the same time, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the aspiration for the globalization of justice is also the result of political spin on the part of a few countries, which are self-righteously and hypocritically eager to make use of the international institutions of justice in a manner that is liable to void the concept of justice of content and make a mockery of the sincere intentions of moralists.

However, even if the law brings redemption to the world, and even if its advocates are correct in arguing that as soon as Israeli decision makers are subject to threatening international judicial review they will have no choice but to consider well their actions in the territories, it is difficult not to notice the heavy smell of despair that is rising here in Israel, of all places, at the appeal to Big Brother, to the external supreme judge. It's like the mood evoked by the writer Etgar Keret in his story "Nostalgia for Kissinger," or the longing of others, expressed in the phrase, "If only we could have the Mandate period again."

This is the nostalgia and despair of people who no longer believe Israel will be able to, or will want to, initiate peace talks and who have thrown up their hands in the face of the impotence of the Palestinian Authority. It is the despair that induced figures on the left to call on the United States, in August 2001, to send observers to the territories immediately, and that prompted Yossi Beilin and Yossi Sarid to plump for internationalization last April. It is the same nostalgia and despair that led academics such as Tanya Reinhart and Zvi Raz, from Tel Aviv University, and Ilan Pappe, from the University of Haifa, to urge their colleagues overseas to boycott research institutions in Israel - a call of folly that brought about the dismissal of two Israelis, important researchers and moralists - Gideon Toury, a professor in Tel Aviv University's school of cultural studies, and Miriam Schlesinger, a senior lecturer in translation studies at Bar-Ilan University - from two British translation journals.

This attitude of despair and longing for the past appears to derive from the confusion and humiliation felt by many on the left - those who pinned all their hopes on the Oslo process - in the wake of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the failure of Ehud Barak and the surge of deadly terrorism. Yet it is here that the left's Achilles' heel is to be found: Instead of looking inward, at the society, its fears and distresses, the left always prefers to deal with diplomacy and policy, focusing its gaze coarsely outward - toward international judges, toward academe abroad to tell us what's right and what's wrong, to the Americans to punish us for the sins of the occupation.

This is the same left that ignored the weak population groups, turned its back on the principles of solidarity and the welfare state and allowed itself to be hypnotized by the sweeping might of globalization. Globalization is not a dirty word. On the contrary, it has tremendous advantages. But the citizens of Israel, and especially those in the socially disadvantaged groups, are not enjoying its fruits, but suffering from its shortcomings. The majority of the advocates of internationalization and boycott, who purport to speak in the name of moralism and who are now bedazzled by their initiative to establish a new "social democratic" party, belong to that small coterie of people who hover between sabbaticals, lectures and investments abroad. Even if they continue to live here, they can amuse themselves with their mobility and their ability to detach themselves. Nothing could contrast more with the low-income groups, who are stuck here in tenements, apartments, classrooms and jobs that are increasingly difficult to cope with.

One could perhaps argue that those whose gaze is directed back or outward are acting courageously, like their colleagues in South Africa in the period of apartheid. But the turn to the outside world brings with it a danger - it weakens politics at home. Instead of making an effort to integrate itself into political action and to strengthen the opposition to the occupation and the settlements, the left prefers to issue calls to the Europeans. And in the meantime, in the domestic political arena, the right is preparing for the next elections. And when the right defeats the left and the sane center and brings about its further disintegration, who will be left here to appeal to the good uncles at The Hague?