Divided by politics, Israelis unite to defy global isolation – Times of India


As 100,000 protesters shouted outside for early elections, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a press conference Sunday to defend his conduct of the Gaza war. He was asked why the world is increasingly against Israel.
“The virus of antisemitism,” he replied. That’s why the state of Israel was created, to provide physical security to Jews, he added.Of all the things he said, that remark was probably the one that resonated most strongly with the furious citizens outside.
Israeli society may be deeply divided politically, but it is increasingly unified in the belief that the country stands alone. Six months after it was attacked by Hamas and then responded with the longest, most destructive war since its creation, that poses new risks both for how Israel conducts itself internationally and for how it views and reacts to external events.
“Even for left liberals, there is a sense of isolation and frustration,” said Daniel Ben Simon, a former Labor Party lawmaker and author. “The right will tell you this is the nature of being Jewish. But even people who hate Netanyahu are feeling they can’t count on the world community. They accuse anyone who does of being naive.”
There is no more fraught topic in Israel these days than international isolation, symbolized by a recent cover of The Economist magazine showing a solitary windswept Israeli flag against a backdrop of war with the headline “Israel Alone.”
First there’s the question of how alone it actually is. A recent United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza left the country feeling abandoned. The majority continue to believe Israel’s military must defeat Hamas, designated a terrorist organization by the US and European Union.
Other signs of isolation are everywhere. Dozens of international airlines have stopped flying to Tel Aviv. Canada will halt future arms sales to Israel. In academia, Israelis are also being shunned — their papers rejected from conferences, their graduate students passed over, even their very presence unwelcome, according to Michal Frenkel, a professor of sociology and anthropology at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.
“To single Israelis out for things other countries do, to focus on the only nation state of the Jewish people, this is antisemitism,” said Frenkel, who’s been a left-leaning scholar of international renown for three decades.
At the same time, few countries have cut diplomatic ties and none of the hundreds of multinational corporations that set up shop in Israel in recent years have pulled out. The US remains a stalwart ally, even after shifting its language to encourage a cease-fire. It has shipped arms and munitions to Israel some 200 times since October.
Israel’s position hasn’t grown easier in recent days after its forces killed seven aid workers traveling in a vehicle in Gaza. They included US, Australian, Polish and British nationals. Israeli officials apologized, saying it was a mistake and would be investigated. But abroad, it was seen as part of a pattern of careless killing by its forces since the war started. The conflict has killed some 32,000 Palestinians, according to Hamas officials.
Michael Oren, a US-born Israeli historian and former ambassador to Washington, said isolation is a default position for Jews.
“Zionism was a response to loneliness,” he said. “The Jews would have a state like everyone else. For a while it worked. But Israel is now perceived as oppressive and reactionary and once again it is lonely.”
The more religious and nationalist Israelis embrace the isolation as inevitable, perhaps even useful for focusing the electorate’s minds on policy direction. This view was roundly mocked as delusional last month by “Eretz Nehederet,” a weekly satirical television program.
Actors playing Netanyahu, his wife Sara and his cabinet are shown singing a parody of the 1985 hit “We Are The World” with the lyrics changed to “Without the world, it’ll be fine.” Netanyahu starts off, “The time has come to sing loudly to the world and declare that we no longer need you.” Then his wife chimes in, “We have everything here, so we don’t need any more favors,” and Foreign Minister Israel Katz with, “We’ll manage just fine without the United States.”
Israelis who lean more centrist and left worry that if the government feels friendless, it’s more at risk of violating international norms. Even some in the Israeli cabinet say that US pressure on it to facilitate humanitarian aid has been salutary, permitting Netanyahu to tell his more hard-line colleagues who wanted to cut off Gaza completely that he is being squeezed by Washington.
There’s a difference, of course, between what might be called triumphant isolationism, that of the hard right, and the tragic isolationism the center says it’s facing.
Micah Goodman, an author and public intellectual, says most Israelis view their situation as tragic because they have in Gaza only bad options from which to choose, whereas many abroad see the choice as between good and evil.
“What we have to do is very messy — make sure Hamas can no longer rule in Gaza — but the alternative — leaving Hamas in power — is impossible,” he said. “We want to be loved by the West and feared by forces in the Middle East. You want both but if you have to choose, you lean toward inspiring fear in your enemies.”


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