Kibitzers at Our Own Lives

Something about Israel's behavior remains immature, as though we had remained stuck in the community-ghetto stage, without progressing to the national stage and behaving like a nation among nations.

The guessing game concerning Syria's intentions is gradually widening its circle of participants. As in a "pyramid" scam, every day new players join the gang of gamblers, which already includes the prime minister, the Foreign Ministry, Military Intelligence, the Mossad, the Defense Ministry and several more decision makers (or to be more precise, decision evaders). Each person throws the dice in turn: The head of the Mossad claims Syrian President Bashar Assad wants only to reduce the pressure being exerted on him; the head of MI is betting that Syria is not preparing for war but for negotiations with Israel, in order to improve its status in the world; the foreign minister, in a cautious and calculated gamble, is going for "Assad is more interested in negotiations than in peace, but we have to try"; and the prime minister is maneuvering among the gambling tables, trying not to annoy the owner of the casino, but also not to lose any chips. The aim of the game is simple: to remain with the Golan in our hands in peace or in war, with or without negotiations. But who knows? The secret hope is that this time too, just as it has for the past 40 years, something will happen: a raid, a fire, an attack of cold feet in Damascus, a major diversion, something that ends the game entirely.

Ostensibly, what is more legitimate that this hesitation? One does not hastily and light-headedly relinquish a strategic military asset that may be our only political card; and the question of the Syrian regime's nature and the motives, like the very disappointing precedent of the peace with Egypt, are issues that require clarification and examination. However, this legitimate set of considerations is accompanied by an undertone that is characteristic of Israel's behavior not only on the Syrian front, and not only in the context of diplomatic negotiations: It is an undertone that includes a mixture of passivity, deliberate alienation and evasion of responsibility.

It is true Israel has been bitten more than once, both when it started wars and when it embarked on energetic peace initiatives - and once bitten, twice shy, etc. But something about Israel's behavior in its relations with the world and with its neighbors remains immature, as though we had remained stuck in the community-ghetto stage, without progressing to the national stage and behaving like a nation among nations. Our prime ministers will always prefer to be adopted by some nobleman, usually the president of the United States - to hang on to his every word, to be subject to his mercies, his sponsorship and his whims, and even to willingly subjugate themselves to his interests.

Discussions in both the government and the cabinet are for the most part not goal oriented: They look and sound more like the "park bench parliament" of a group of idlers, who prattle on about the problems of Israel and the world from a certain distance that stems from the absence of a sense of urgency, and mainly from the absence of a sense of responsibility. As though we were not really sovereign over our decisions and our fate, as though it were always better to wait until matters are somehow resolved, under the aegis of the nobleman, or wind up in our favor. Instead of taking our fate into our own hands, like all other nations, we have become like a group of kibitzers at the game of our own lives. And under the Olmert government, this is already being said openly.

In this sense, the present government, more than any of its predecessors, seems like the natural successor to institutions such as the "office behind the stove in the study house" or "the top berth in the bath house," with which Jewish Diaspora literature dealt extensively. Mendele Mocher Sforim (the pen name of Yiddish writer Sholem Yakov Abramovich) gave a good definition of "that place that is a refuge for all kinds of conversations and secrets about divine and earthly things, on issues of state, estimates of the wealth of Croesus or the property of Rothschild and other famous people of wealth and influence, and stories about the 10 lost tribes and so forth - and there they will be examined by a special committee of Jewish idlers with impressive countenances."

Although our ministers have Volvos and offices, and our community has an army and some official protocol - though of the sort exemplified by the government and its head, who continue to wonder whether or not there will be a war with the Syrian "provocateur" - not much has changed in the sacred community of Idletown.