By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Prime Minister Netanyahu and his supporters received an unexpected gift from Hollywood: neither of the two Israeli documentaries got an Oscar. Both are highly critical of Israeli government policies as the films testify to the country’s commitment to democracy that allows such open and explicit criticism of its government to be exposed to international scrutiny.
The fact that the Israeli movies weren’t rewarded may also speak well of Hollywood, because there was the fear that the judges would prefer politics to artistic merit and by giving either Israeli entry the award afford it even more exposure for no other reason than because it was critical of Israel.
However, this can only be small consolation to the prime minister. The real issue is the continued occupation and the price Israelis paying for it: yes,Israel! Of course, the Palestinians are its primary victims but it also casts a shadow on much that’s happening in Israel itself. It’s impossible not to hold successive governments responsible for it.
The fact that Israel holds almost 5 000 Palestinian prisoners convicted, accused or suspected of terrorist activities means that, in addition to the countless committed ideological terrorists, there’re at least 5 000 Palestinian families that hate Israel with a passion. For all we know, they harbor members determined to avenge with their own lives what they perceive to be Israeli crimes against them and their people.
It only needs the current hunger strike of a few prisoners or the sudden death of one of them to result in riots in the West Bank and fears of a third intifada. The weakening of the Palestinian Authority to which Israeli policies and actions contribute may result in it losing control over the territory and the corollary threat of Hamas taking over the West Bank turning it into a Gaza. Punishing Abu Mazen may punish us more.
The stalled coalition negotiations add to the sense of gloom. Despite the agreement with Tzipi Livni to become the government emissary in peace negotiations – seen as a meaningless fig leaf in many circles, which is probably why she denied that she’d be a fig leaf – the other potential coalition parties in Israel’s next government don’t seem to show much interest in peace. Their stress on internal matters is noble but, in the present situation, insufficient. Without peace social reform may be impossible in Israel.
President Obama probably senses it, too. That’s why his people are doing their best to lower our expectations from his planned visit next month (if Israel has a credible government in place by then). Both Palestinian and Israeli peaceniks may hope for miracles, but the seasoned politicians know that these won’t happen.
The present situation is by no means only Israel’s doing. However,Israelis the stronger partner in this dispute and, therefore, in a better position to make concessions and order what’s often described as “confidence building measures.” That’s not happening. The determination to expand the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and perhaps build new ones, and the growing move of Jews into once Arab East Jerusalem has the opposite effect.
The glimmer of hope is, of course, that in anticipation of Obama’s visit and perhaps also for intrinsic reasons the government will modify its current policy. The Oscar went to Searching for Sugar Man. Israel is in great need of its sugar man.