On this trip to Israel, March to April 2010, where I lectured to more executives , academics, and politicians than usual, I noticed something that made me worry more than usual.
It was not the nuclear threat of Iran, nor the never-ending struggle with the Palestinians, nor the continuous daily Kassam missile attacks on cities in the south, nor the apparent distancing of the Obama administration.
There was something deeper, something that might be the reason why Israel cannot deal successfully with the above problems.
It was a feeling I got that the Israelis are losing hope. There is a sense of apathy. Of doom. Of: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
I remember Israel’s first ten years as a nation. Small. Weak. Economically in real trouble. Food had to allocated; there was not enough for all. But the spirit was high. There was enthusiasm. There was hope.
Today, I see more top-of-the-line Mercedes and other luxury cars on the roads here than in an average American city, and the high-rises in Tel Aviv are starting to resemble Manhattan, if not Shanghai. People travel abroad for vacations, something people only dreamed about fifty years ago. But the spirit is low.
People tell me there is no solution to the Iran threat. The Iranians are smart and they have spread out their nuclear facilities in so many places and hidden them so well underground that there is no air strike – American, NATO, or Israeli – that can destroy their capability. At best, Iranian efforts can only be frustrated.
And sanctions do not work. They did not work in Serbia, in Cuba, or anywhere else. There is always some country that refuses to join. There are always people who know how to cross borders and bring goods in, and corrupt officials who close an eye to this practice and get rich from bribes.
Furthermore, people in the sanctioned country often rally behind their leaders when the country is threatened. And opposition is silenced.
There is also a loss of hope that there will ever be a peace treaty with the Palestinians, who do not seem to have leaders who can muscle the political strength to get people to accept what is acceptable to the Israelis. And the same is true for Israel: There is no agreement acceptable to the Palestinians that Israelis will live with.
So there is a feeling of being hopelessly stuck. And yet the situation is not stable; for the Israelis, it is steadily deteriorating. Time is working in favor of the Palestinians, especially those who are citizens of Israel. Their reproduction rate is high; their villages are expanding into towns and metropolises.
While the Arabs are spreading out horizontally, their cities eating up more and more land, the Israelis are growing upward – into high-rises. Meanwhile, their share of the land is shrinking.
With time, Israel will cease to be a Jewish state by default. It will have become a multinational state.
It will become impossible to draw logical boundaries between a Jewish state and a Palestinian state. You will not even be able to call some cities Jewish and others Arab.
So, people tell me, there is no hope. There is no light at the end of the tunnel.
But I believe I see something further, beyond this phenomenon of hopelessness.
It is one of the characteristics of being Jewish that we feel guilty all the time. For anything and everything. And this continual self-flagellation is feeding this sense of hopelessness.
There is a tremendous amount of angst among Israelis about the behavior of their country, at all times, good and bad, and this angst can be seen in the number of column inches devoted to the topic by Israeli newspapers. Israel should actually be proud of the behavior of its soldiers during war; in spite of some transgressions it is, morally, one of the better-behaved armies in the world. Nevertheless, Israelis criticize themselves endlessly. And the world listens and believes them; if they themselves admit how bad they are, well, they must really be bad.
Israel is losing its spirit and its hope – the very characteristics that enabled it to be born and survive so many wars.
When (I) goes down, (E) goes down, and eventually (P) will go down.
I am worried.