My thanks to Lilly Rivlin for sharing two interesting pieces (by Uri Avnery and Avraham Burg) on the current waves of terror hitting Europe and Israel. I begin with Avnery’s “The Reign of Absurdiocy.”
As usual, Avnery combines elements of sharp insight with some oversimplification and insensitivity. Obviously, he is correct in criticizing the tendency of Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israeli’s right-wing to equate Palestinian attacks with the forces of international terror, but Avnery exaggerates the extent to which all resistance movements use terror tactics. Mandela’s African National Conference engaged in sabotage, but was not known for attacking civilians. The Irgun — mostly, but not entirely — targeted military personnel and the physical infrastructure of British rule. Even the infamous bombing of the King David Hotel fits this pattern, because it was used as an administrative center for the British Mandate, and Menachem Begin always claimed that a warning was made by phone in advance (although incompetently delivered, because it was in Hebrew).
While I don’t condone them, Irgun terror attacks on Palestinian Arabs were mainly tit-for-tat responses to Arab attacks on Jews. And the atrocities committed at Deir Yassin, although deplorable and criminal, were committed during and in the wake of battle. Islamic-inspired terrorist movements attack people more broadly and with cold-blooded intent. While Palestinian terrorists are generally motivated to resist oppression and foreign domination, ISIS combines the conventional military threat of a state (now with far-flung “provinces,” such as in Libya — as reported in the NY Times — and remote corners of western Africa) with an ideology of Jihad that lures recruits from around the world to join its cause on the ground, or to commit terror attacks in the cities of the West where they reside. Avnery makes light of their ability to paralyze Brussels without firing a shot, but this is no joke.
. . . One doesn’t have to be a great thinker in order to realize what must be done when encountering a person chasing someone with a lethal weapon with the intent of killing him. If the pursued person is under clear and imminent threat of death, you must do whatever you can to save him. That much is clear, intuitive, moral and very universal.
. . . For many years, people – including myself – employed an image used by therapists, according to which we live in a cycle of pathology whereby “an abused child becomes a violent parent.” The most persecuted nation in the world has been transformed – almost naturally – into a persecutor. I think that the practical and moral validity of this argument has expired, among other reasons due to the pathological usage by the prime minister of our past victimhood in order to justify the sacrifice of two nations on the altar of his incompetence.
When I look at my children and their friends I see a generation that did not experience the classic pattern of Jewish victimhood. Although exposed to this in two manipulative excursions to the death camps, their sense of victimhood is skin-deep. It’s mainly something which is fed by propaganda. Yet they too, just like my own Israeli generation, do not place on their public agenda the issue of restraining Israel’s use of power. Why is this so?
I look for answers in a different sphere. In his book “David and Goliath,” Malcolm Gladwell tells of a Hollywood star, born to middle-class parents in a home in which “scarcity was a great motivator and teacher.” A person who made something of himself with his own bare hands needs later in life to contend with issues relating to the education of his children, who were born into and raised in a world of total bounty and affluence.
. . . Now that he can afford to buy his children anything they desire he finds it hard to place limits on them and their demands. He and his wife cannot bring themselves to replace the “we can’t afford it” with “we don’t want it or agree to it, since it’s counter to our values.” The educational enterprise founders and the end of the family is already on the horizon. “Affluence,” says Gladwell, “contains within it the seeds of its destruction.”
I’d like to argue that we, the Jewish people in general and its Israeli arm in particular, are “migrants into power.” We once subjected power to virtual moral limitations, since we had no power. Under those conditions it wasn’t hard to commit to restraint. Today we hold absolute power and we won’t relinquish it, since we possess it. We, who won’t set limits on anything – the state, corruption, privileges or chutzpa – don’t see fit to also restrain power with its corrupting nature. …
While Avnery is a cherished intellectual and activist, Burg is an opportunist not to be taken seriously. We should beware of the few who only make their living off this conflict.