Israelis Are Waiting for the World to Save Them From Themselves

Only 'involuntary treatment' of Israeli rejectionism, executed with sincere concern for the country’s fate, will demonstrate to its citizens that there is no correct way to live an incorrect life.

Eran Rolnik
Eran Rolnik
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A man overlooks he high waves in the Mediterranean Sea in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015 Credit: AP
Eran Rolnik
Eran Rolnik

World statesmen are wrong to wait for the Israeli voter to have his say before they decide whether to recognize a Palestinian state and impose sanctions that will spur Israel to reach a political settlement with the Palestinians. Equally misguided are Israeli opposition leaders who fear that had the United States not cast its traditional veto in the United Nations it would have driven Israel’s voters to greater extremity.

It’s precisely in the run-up to an election that Israeli voters need a wake-up call from the outside about the implications of the results of the voting for Israel’s international standing. For the past 47 years, Israel has been longing for a slap in the face from the international community, but in vain.

In March 1973, on the first anniversary of the death of the rabbi, jurist and diplomat Yaacov Herzog, the historian Jacob Talmon lauded Herzog’s view that despite the unassailable fact that history is controlled by the force of neuroses of leaders and nations, all of these small, perplexed and bewildered individuals embody notions and ideas that are immeasurably larger than each of them separately and than all of them together.

Herzog understood well that cutting off Jewry from Western culture would reduce Israel to a peculiar, arrogant and bothersome tribe to which the world owes nothing: neither a debt of gratitude nor a debt of atonement. He was fearful that the Jewish national revival would be overtaken by messianic revolutionism driven by militant nationalism, on the one hand, and Jewish death wishes, on the other.

Just before the apprehensions of Herzog, of Talmon and of many other intellectuals are about to be realized in full, it is worth reexamining the fear harbored by Israel that the international community will recognize Palestine and set a date for the end of the occupation.

Those who are concerned about intervention in the “internal affairs” of a democratic country, and warn against a political settlement being forced on Israel are invited to read an item from the realm of mental health that appeared recently in Haaretz. A study conducted by Israeli researchers found that the involuntary hospitalization of patients suffering from severe anorexia nervosa does not adversely affect the recovery process, and achieved positive results comparable to those attained with patients who were hospitalized voluntarily.

Patently, “involuntary treatment” raises weighty questions in the realms of ethics, civil law and Jewish religious law. However, therapists and patients who have experience with involuntary treatment – on the administering or receiving end, respectively – know that an individual’s will, whether that individual is healthy or ill, is not monolithic and does not reflect the whole range of his personality, needs and longings.

Making it possible to feed anorexic patients who are starving themselves to death is not the only goal of forced treatment. Primarily, it sends a message to the patient’s feeble, life-wishing and helpless self that he is “not alone.”

The psychotherapist, by positioning himself unambiguously on the side of the healthy and sane parts of the patient’s psyche, and by agreeing to endure the patients’ contempt and fury, assists in extracting the sane parts of the patient’s self that were taken captive by primordial anxieties, manic defenses and death impulses.

It’s not only the individual will that is caught in a constant conflict between contradictory inner wishes and yearnings: Collective political wishes and national yearnings are also compromise results of unconscious conflicts between life impulses and death impulses, between a preference for omnipotence and messianism, or coming to terms with reality, recognition of dependence and acceptance of the “other.”

This is the only way to understand why public opinion polls in Israel show consistently overwhelming support for the two-state solution and the evacuation of the settlements, while in practice few Israelis give expression to this when they cast their ballots.

What this shows is that the Israeli voter needs firm support from the outside in order to extract his sane parts from the shelter in which he’s been hiding them for the past half-century or so. Only intervention by the international community can undo the balance of terror that Israelis maintain inside themselves, between knowing what’s good and doing what’s bad.

Only “involuntary treatment” of Israeli rejectionism, executed with sincere concern for the country’s fate, would demonstrate to its citizens that there is no correct way to live an incorrect life, enable them to forgo their megalomania and help them release their sanity from its hiding place.

“He is forced until he says ‘I want to,’” the Gemara says, recognizing the duality of the will and the fact that coercion sometimes helps a person in his struggle against inner factors that otherwise prevent him from realizing his true will.

Those who have Israel’s welfare at heart, and the Jewish lobbies abroad, need to stop listening only to the will of official Israel, which is unrelated to the Israelis’ true will.

Official Israel might stamp its feet and cry “anti-Semites!” or, “by what right?” – but the nation in Israel, whose right hand doesn’t know what its left is doing, is only waiting for genuine help from the outside. Help that will enable us to be healed of the curse of ruling the Palestinian people. Israel is not Russia and it is not Iran, and its citizens will not accept pariah status indefinitely.

Apply a small diplomatic squeeze, such as symbolic cultural and economic sanctions, and the healthy narcissism of Israelis will leap to life and show them and their elected representatives the way to end the occupation and bring the settlers home, to within Israel’s recognized international boundaries.

No war of Gog and Magog will erupt here, nor a “war of brothers.” As we see in psychic therapies that begin with coercion and end with gratitude, when the sane and healthy self is convinced the outside world is not writing it off,

it stops cooperating with the destructive elements that took hold of it.

Gradually the screaming and kicking subside, and so do the terrible delight of omnipotence and destruction to which it became addicted. Israel, not unlike so many patients, is longing to be committed by its friends and they will be held responsible for its demise should they refrain from helping it out of its current political and historical impasse.

Eran Rolnik is a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and historian. He is the author of “Freud in Zion: Psychoanalysis and the Making of Modern Jewish Identity” (Karnac Books, London, 2012 ).

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