Dwight Owen Schweitzer
Editor & Publisher The Jewish Star Times
Originally published on September 16, 2002
Not long ago I had occasion to ask a high ranking member of the Israeli Foreign ministry a simple question. ”If peace broke out today could Israel survive?” I asked. It was not an idle question and the evasiveness of the answer pointed out just how close to home the implications of the question were.
It is not unusual in history for a government in crisis to find a foreign threat to unite it and thereby prolong its hold on power. Israel on the other hand didn’t have to create an external threat –it has had that ”luxury” for quite some time. The question worth pondering is what the consequences of not having one might be.
It is admittedly pretty easy for one far removed from the flash point to offer solutions or manufacture problems with the relative impunity that distance affords. On the other hand distance permits objectivity and through objectivity often the truth, if it does not emerge, at least is made easier to discern. Israel was not created by men and women steeped in democratic institutions and traditions — quite to the contrary. Lacking that experience but with the love of freedom that only its deprivation can truly inspire, freedom became the mantra and the touchstone upon which the government of the modern state of Israel was created.
No one familiar with the ethos of the Jews would doubt for even a moment that Israel is a Jewish state, and in that realization comes all of the blessings and the ills that have been the building blocks of Jewish communities large and small for hundreds of years.
In those turbulent years, Jews lived in one box while we thinking out of another. The very structure that confined us, ghettoized us and isolated us also trained us to discover a new kind of freedom –a freedom of the mind, for we are indeed a people who throughout history saw things that never were and said why not. One hundred and eighteen Nobel prizes speak volumes about the mindset of Jewish intellectual thought and power. Unfortunately it also contains within it the embryo of our weakness and our vulnerability, for freedom without the structure to form it, guide it and bring order to it is only a prelude to anarchy and chaos. Not new phenomena to us as our history shows in all its long recorded litany of tragedy and deprivation.
The political system that exists in Israel today is the translation of Jewish life into Jewish politics and the very success of one contains the seeds of disaster for the other. One chamber, countless parties, religious orthodoxy, strident voices, elections that are only proxies for the leader of the party elected, all form the backdrop of what is democracy freed of constraint, discipline, focus and order.
To this is added a Supreme Court which serves as a super legislature to bring a patina of order to the underlying ebb and flow of too many voices speaking in too many political tongues. When Israel was a backwater country focused inward on its own survival, an island, tempest tossed in a sea of hatred and oppression, such a system gave inclusion, when exclusion had been the norm for centuries.
In the process, Israel had the political equivalent of a loving and indulgent parent who overlooked the flaws in their child in favor of the pride success brings when that success comes against great odds. World Jewry and the United States gave Israel the same freedom of delusion that a too indulgent parent gives a child who has buoyed expectations of their own worth because of what they have accomplished with what they did not earn.
In the process, Israel grew to be a world power without gaining the political maturity that she might, had she not been excused from confronting her internal flaws. Rather she, in the age old pattern of Jews throughout the Diaspora, came together to face the external threats — united and strong — only to disintegrate into factional strife when the threat disappeared.
Today, Israel is faced with the most important challenge in her history and it is not the Palestinians or the Iraqi’s. It is not terrorism or the threat of war. It is the threat of peace before she is ready to confront peace. It is peace that is her most dangerous enemy because the inherent flaws in the structure of Israeli society and the political institutions that must be present to nurture, direct and foster stability in a world of instant communication and even faster destruction do not exist there. Worse, the threat to Israel within Israel from an Arab citizenry that is populating at a rate 2.5 times that of the Jewish population will inevitably turn control of Israel’s democracy and the state itself into one which is no longer Jewish and will do so within two generations.
What to do is simpler than one might think. The presence of a unity government offers Israel the opportunity to change its political system and in so doing insure the survival of the State when only itself is the cause of its decline and eventual fall. Israel needs to develop a bi-cameral legislative system similar to that existing in the United States with one house based upon population and the other based on geographical subdivisions which will insure that at least one house will be controlled by Jews no matter what the ultimate population of the country may become. It needs not only a strong executive, but the same kind of checks and balances we enjoy in this country. It needs a court system that does not make its Supreme Court a super legislature to correct through litigation the ills and excesses of the remaining institutions. It needs a written constitution and the window for creating one will close the day the present unity government dissolves.
Israel is not simply the epicenter of the worlds Jews. It is the electricity that connects Jews together from Hong Kong to Durban, from Tierra Del Fuego to Vladivostok and throughout the world. If that light is allowed to go out again the Jewish people will not survive. Not because of an external threat, but because that same freedom will doom Israel from within.
To paraphrase an old soldier, we will, as hundreds of thousands of us have done in the 60 years since the holocaust through inter-marriage, conversion, or just plain neglect, not die; we will “just fade away”.