Time to End the Monologue

Sometime toward the end of 1989 the world changed, but in Jerusalem it went unnoticed. The Berlin Wall came down, and with it the old and "eternal" world orders. Until then, almost everyone had their own special enemy: the Americans had the Soviets, the Soviets had the Chinese, the Germans made do with two rival Germanys, the British had no love for the French, and there were many other adversaries and rivals. And we? Until then we had our own private enemy: the Arabs, and with them the vast Muslim world.

When the walls came down, the world went in search of a new Evil Empire. That is the way of the human race. You always need something opposing you in order to define yourself. I'll tell you who my enemy is and you'll know who I am. Thus, without us paying attention, they commandeered our personal enemy. Since then, the Arabs and the Muslims have undergone an enormous process of globalization, and are now the symbolic enemy of almost the entire Western world.

With the end of the old order and the beginning of the new, Prof. Samuel Huntington envisioned a new organizing principle for the Western world. The era of confrontation between states or nations is over, and we find ourselves in a confrontation between cultures. "The Clash of Civilizations" became an international bestseller, not only as a book (by Huntington), but as a popular and defining worldview. Huntington argued that the conflicts to be expected in the post-Cold War era would not be based principally on economics or ideology, but rather be a clash of cultures - and in particular between the Christian-democratic-Western world and global Islam, with all its devotees and its Muslim states. It was in the name of this fundamental prophecy that George W. Bush embarked on a foolish war in Iraq, and the mud has stuck to all of us ever since.

A direct line runs from this thesis and from Iraq to the territories occupied by Israel and its attitude to its neighbors. The recent Lebanon war was the first time Israel entered the arena of cultural confrontation. No longer a classic war between Israel and an Arab state or states, no longer a struggle between Israel and the surrounding Arab nations, it was a war between Jewish, democratic Israel and a fanatical organization of faith, the "party of God": Hezbollah. This kind of war was different from every point of view - the fiendish pace, the long ranges, divine glory rather than a human political order. For a month and a half we were all witnesses to the deadliness of this school of thought, as were the Lebanese and the whole world.

But is this really the only interpretation of the current human reality? Certainly not. The clash of civilizations is indeed in the air, but it is different. It is a clash between democratic civilization and its theocratic foe, between humankind's loyalists and God's fanatics. That is the true rift in the world today. The significance of that interpretation is far more profound than Huntington's. He and Bush and a few Israelis see the world as bipolar and flat - we and they, good versus bad, Sons of Light against Sons of Darkness - but the new division has a multitude of strata and varying depths. The tension surrounding the separation of religion and state rips through Christianity, with its dangerous fundamentalist extremists on the one hand, and its deep and impressive democratic values on the other.

That is the deepest rift within the Jewish people: between parliament and pulpit, between rabbinic authority and state authority, between law of the land and rules of religion, between skullcapped fundamentalists and everyone else.

And that is the rift in the Arab and Muslim worlds. I cannot accept the claim of uniformity in the Muslim world: "They're all the same," they all hate us and they all forever want to kill us. Any assertion that one billion Muslims are exactly the same is also an assertion that we [Jews] are all racists, like certain violent rabbis of the settler movement, like the late Rehavam Ze'evi, like Avigdor Lieberman and the rest of their leaders and followers.

The truth is otherwise. There are 150 million Muslims in India living in an impressive full democracy, and 70 million Turks - to say nothing of the democratic elections in the Palestinian Authority; or Lebanon, which was awakening to a democratic dawn until we rudely trampled it all underfoot. And there are other fascinating and encouraging models of Islam in Europe and the Far East. My friends, in other words, need not be compatriots or co-religionists, and my allies can be Muslims, Christians or Jews, standing shoulder to shoulder in the struggle against religious extremism - whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim. The clash of democratic civilization and theocracy.

A needless struggle

In the enormous global process of the "changing of the guard," several very negative things have happened to us, which make it difficult to anticipate the foreseeable future with optimism and hope. It seems that Israel and the United States are each other's only friends. Britain will soon change its leadership, and opt out of this circle of friendship, leaving the two so-similar countries alone, the little one and the big one, back to back in a needless struggle against the rest of the world.

"Why don't they understand us?" is the question asked in Jerusalem and Washington. There is no one answer to the whole range of problems and challenges, and I will therefore content myself with one side comment. They do not understand us because we do not take the trouble to understand anyone else but ourselves. We two, Israel and the United States, have become the symbols of political egocentrism in the new era. Bush's America, and Israel since Ariel Sharon, permit each other unacceptable actions and unsustainable positions.

Since the end of the Second World War, and with increasing momentum since the fall of the Berlin Wall, many democratic Western societies have joined the amazing and fascinating process of preferring dialogue to strife and war. We, on the other hand, have turned the other way. After a thousand years of bloodshed, Europe is speaking with itself: Germany is reunited, the Irish have opted for fragile agreements rather than destructive enmity, and in South Africa the miracle unfolds before our very eyes. Only we and the Americans continue to live in a world of arrogant cowboys and callous settlers who prefer gunsmoke to discussion, clarification and concession.

We are more comfortable with a one-sided, self-important monologue than with the complex demands of dialogue and discourse, and the understanding and concessions that derive from them. Besides, societies or states that embrace a culture of dialogue have, in fact, committed themselves to include in their midst a great number of contradictions, from both within and without, to allow different groups, a range of streams, and "others" representation and expression.

And we, Israelis and Americans alike, who claim to be unique democracies in our respective regions, are withdrawing more and more. We are losing the ability for internal dialogue as we have lost the ability for the external one. We exclude and distance the "other" from our lives, and we live hypocritical lives of incomprehensibly malicious double-standards. One law for the citizen and another for the "other." The United States went to war to bring liberty, and in the name of that liberty it created the Guantanamo prison camp beyond its own shores, while within America itself the individual rights of many of its own and foreign citizens are regularly violated.

When it comes to ourselves, why waste words on our very partial and very selective democracy - for Israelis only, and among them first-rate democracy for Jewish Israelis, and a different democracy for all the rest.

The key to our and America's reconnection with the positive global processes lies in understanding that a world view of "clash of civilizations" derives in fact from a belief in a "civilization of conflict," which sanctifies never-ending war and struggle as a first and only option. In order to break the pattern, it is essential to adopt a new international and national strategy, and join the widening circle of a civilization of discourse and liberties - opening new avenues between Israel and Hamas, Israel and Hezbollah, and ultimately a dialogue and attempts at understanding between Israel and Iran.