The Missile and the Jewish Question

According to the view of our "national explainers" on the eve of the war in Iraq, the inhabitants of Israel were supposed to be in seventh heaven by now: dancing in the streets in ecstasy that dwarfs even the night of November 29, 1947.

According to the view of our "national explainers" on the eve of the war in Iraq, the inhabitants of Israel were supposed to be in seventh heaven by now: dancing in the streets in ecstasy that dwarfs even the night of November 29, 1947. Because how can one compare the blood, sweat and tears that came in the wake of the UN Partition Plan to the miracle of our rescue from the collapse of the "Eastern front"? To our great redemption primarily from that same moment of disgrace, in whose shadow we lived for 12 years: the moment when Saddam Hussein would find himself "with his back to the wall," and then would bring upon us collective extermination, literally destroying us?

If the Israeli public is not in a state of euphoria at present - despite the definite feeling of relief - perhaps it is for the same reasons that it refused to panic before the war: a mixture of healthy skepticism and a certain dullness of the senses - the result of emotional exhaustion from all the self-declared existential threats. Whatever the case, quite a gap was created between the gut feeling of the public and the campaigns of hysteria conducted by the heads of local councils, the populist media and the security apparatus, under the cloak of "preparedness": mainly emotional "preparedness" for an existential catastrophe.

Take for example the subtext underlying the statements of Major General Amos Gilad, the "national explainer": Just when public apathy toward the inane rituals of gas masks and plastic sheeting increased, especially in light of the minimalization of the Iraqi ballistic threat - this same "explainer" felt that he had to point out that "the state of Israel has a moral obligation to do everything possible so that the Jewish nation will not be harmed by chemical or biological weapons."

This is not a chance or a one-time formulation. It is heard often, in one variation or another, from those representing the Israeli security concept. Was it by chance that Gilad mentioned "the Jewish nation" rather than "the Israeli people"? Was it only by chance that he emphasized "the moral obligation of the state" to protect us specifically from "chemical or biological" weapons? Because it's strange: Wait a minute, and what about conventional weapons? Doesn't the state have any moral obligation to protect us from them? And who is "us": the Israelis, who are being slaughtered by the hundreds in wars and in terror attacks - or "the Jewish people," who are not under any specific chemical or biological threat? (And let's say that a Jew in Miami were in such danger - what would "the state of Israel" do? Update his gas mask? Place an Arrow missile in his backyard?)

What we have before us is a deliberate ambiguity: The spokesman seems to be speaking about ongoing security measures - and is actually insinuating the very possibility of our collective extermination by means of gas. In other words - "the national tranquilizer" is actually talking, or hinting, about the Holocaust!

It's not clear what he wanted to "explain" by this. But it expresses an entire traumatic, catastrophic world view - which is common among the decision makers in Israel, and includes even the upper echelons of the Israel Defense Forces. It's true that it's not unusual to see an officer in uniform, who supposedly has an empirical, intelligence-based view of reality, "rubbing in" the deepest traumas: arousing the most primeval, communal, exilic fears, while regularly comparing them to the security threats (which are in themselves not negligible) that hover over Israel, as over other nations.

From this point of view, even the second Iraqi war, like its predecessors (and also like the intifada that came between them), took place on two planes for us: One plane is that seen by the entire world - simply war, which with all its dread is the continuation of policy by other means; and the other plane is our own private-national one, which cannot be understood by an outsider: an almost metaphysical plane - fraught with terminal thoughts, with apocalyptic symbols, with simulations of pogrom and Holocaust.

It's true that our unique history should teach us to treat every threat seriously, even the craziest and most hallucinatory. Nevertheless, it seems that especially among our security-conscious leaders, there has been a blurring of the differences between a careful weighing of the dangers and realistic preparations for them, and a magical world view, filled with pathos and myth, which distorts the processes of decision-making and our reactions.

This world view - which focuses only on dangers and threats rather than on opportunities - has given rise to a total obsession with security, which prevents us from taking calculated risks: It is what led to our crazy overreaction during the intifada; perhaps it is this same world view that also gave rise to the idea that Saddam would try to take us down with him, a view for which absolutely no evidence has been found so far. And perhaps this particular concept is only a reflection of the Masada complex and the disastrous "Samson theory" in our heads? The same quasi-suicidal, quasi-vengeful world view, in which it isn't clear which is greater - the will to live or the death wish?

It's very sad when this view is expressed by those same security-conscious people from whom you would expect dry facts, an intellectual analysis, and in this spirit - reactions on the ground as well. From this point of view, many of the top brass in the IDF and among Israel's leaders, who should be expressing the desire for normalization - have become the standard bearers of the anomalous, ghetto-like view of ourselves. Because if the Iraqi or Syrian missile is the continuation of "the Jewish question" rather than a concrete "Israeli" problem, which should be handled in and of itself - what have we actually achieved in 55 years of independence?