By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
In a TV clip showing the exchange between the new European Union envoy in Israel and President Shimon Peres when the envoy presented his letters of credential, the president described Israel as an island in a turbulent sea and added something to the effect that the inhabitants must defend the island and try to calm the sea.
Attempting to make sense of the political tensions around and within Israel in terms of the president’s metaphor, it may be appropriate to suggest that at one end of the spectrum, there may be too much stress on defending the island with insufficient regard for the sea that surrounds it and, at the other, showing excessive concern with the turbulent sea without paying enough attention to the security of the island.
Israeli politicians and their followers who are concentrating solely on defense could be described as the hawks. Those who care so much for the sea that they run out of imagination and resources when it comes to defending the island may be the doves. It’s a version of the perennial Jewish struggle between particularism and universalism.
In theory, Israelis should be the particularists and Jews in the Diaspora, reflecting the mood of the non-Jewish world, the univesalists. In practice, however, there may be more hawks in the Diaspora than in Israel, which may have something to do with powerlessness and psychology – the guilt of not being there – than with sober analysis.
Peres’ observation may have tried to transcend that division. He seemed to be telling the envoy that because we must defend the island that’s Israel, we’ve to do all we can to calm the sea. Being for peace with the Palestinians and seeking relationships with other countries in the region is a way of making the State of Israel more secure.
I’ve a feeling that, for good reason, Israel has given up on trying making a good impression on the nations of the world –“hasbara/public opinion” – in the belief that in the eyes of the world, Israel – the Jews – will never get it right. The endeavor to try to calm the sea is in the interest of Israel and its future, not for public relations purposes.
I don’t know anybody who envisages an idyllic existence on the island with boundless possibilities to swim or sail across the sea. For all Kerry’s efforts to make peace, we can really only hope for a state of non-belligerence – probably with some “accidents,” alas – based on constant Israeli alertness and vigilance.
The only time I’ve ever been in the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem is some twelve years ago when I was part of a small delegation that went to see Arik Sharon, now sadly in the news again. All I remember from that meeting – apart from how charmed we were by the man many of us considered to be a dangerous hawk – is the impression that all we can ever hope for in the continued Israeli-Palestinian conflict is containment. The crisis cannot be resolved in the foreseeable future, but it may be managed.
Statecraft here has become the art of management rather than the grand vision, but few seem to possess it in sufficient measure. At the time that Peres and then Sharon were in power we all complained about mismanagement, but now in retrospect and in comparison to their successors, their time as prime ministers may have been comparatively good for everybody. And it may not be nostalgia that blurs our judgment.
After all, calming the sea isn’t within human capacity. Only God through Nature can do it. That’s why in the long run prayer is more important than politics.