The Arab Spring has brought to the surface once more the Jewish concern over isolation and abandonment.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that most Israelis disagree with each other on most topics, except when it comes to the Arab Spring (protests and demonstrations in the Arab World) and they look beyond their borders and see a terrible sandstorm in the making.
Longtime observers of Israel and the Israelis might as, “What else is new?” After all, they are not known for their boundless optimism when it comes to their neighbors and any change in the status quo is usually greeted with deep suspicion. Living on a thin sliver of land in a huge Islamic ocean in what their prime minister calls “the toughest neighborhood in the world,” they have met every challenge to their existence first as a Jewish Homeland after the end of the First World War and after the creation of the State of Israel in May 1948. The feeling of being embattled has gotten into their national DNA, adding to a very long history of insecurity. From the time they lost their state in the Jewish War, which ended with the Destruction of the Temple in August 70 AD, until the creation of Israel in 1948, they were a nation without a state, often living on the edge and always on the move.
Yet, 63 years after the creation of Israel in May of this year, the Israelis enjoy an enormous sense of accomplishment. After Auschwitz, Israel is a testimony to the endurance of the human spirit. What they created, a modern and well-oiled nation-state, is a great achievement.
Today, Israel is a far cry from the state which survived in the 1950s selling flowers and fruit to the Europeans and exporting minerals from the Dead Sea. It has the highest per-capita income in the region, $28,000, compared to Egypt’s $2,000. Its military, the IDP, is one of the world’s finest and its intelligence agency, the Mosad, stands with the CIA and the old KGB. In the short span of two decades, a nation with few natural resources used its human resources to create high-tech industries. Its medical institutes have been credited with far more than a handful of breakthroughs. What was once a backwater province ruled by the Ottomans and later the British is now a post-modern nation.
Today, many Israelis appear confident, always chatting on their cells and sitting along the numerous cafes that dot the coast drinking a domestic beer, Goldstar. But behind the outward confidence once senses an angst, a revival of age-old Jewish fears of isolation and abandonment. When Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Bibi to most, addressed Congress after a difficult meeting with President Obama, he appeared confident and defiant, uncompromising in the face of calls for compromise with the Palestinians. But you did not have to read between the lines or hire an expert on body language to come to a different conclusion. He shares with his fellow citizens a fear of the future.
However confident the Israelis appear, clearly they are fearful of the future. The Arab Spring has brought to the surface once more the Jewish concern over isolation and abandonment. Making matters worse is the fear of Iran with its atomic ambitions, the prospect of the Muslim Brotherhood at the helm of Egypt, the recent mutual diplomatic recognition by Egypt and Iran, the chaos in Syria, the storming of the borders by Palestinians, and the disruption of the gas supply from Egypt, 40 percent of Israel’s needs.
As a nation founded after the Holocaust and located in an Arab ocean, national security is an obsession in Israel. Larger nations can lose a war. Israel cannot, and from its point of view, the wolves are always at the door.
Sander A. Diamond is professor of history at Keuka College.