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Israel as a Bumblebee

October 29, 2009 

Herbert London

Herbert I. London

Herbert I. London

It has been demonstrated that the body of the bumblebee is too heavy to be sustained by its wings. From an aerodynamic standpoint the bumblebee shouldn’t fly. Yet it does.

In many ways the bumblebee is a metaphor for the state of Israel. If one were to apply rational criteria, Israel’s existence would be in jeopardy.

The Israeli economy is a tribute to discredited socialist ideas. Despite the progress made under Minister of Finance Bibi Netanyahu, Israel’s high taxes are a classic manifestation of income redistribution that has its origins in the kibbutz.

High taxes, onerous regulations, and a sclerotic and well ensconced bureaucracy have led to capital flight. When free market principles are explained to a typical Israeli, he is likely to say that are interesting, even compelling, but they are not for us. In fact, on a recent trip a guide told me government operated transit systems are always more efficient than private ones. This from a fellow who says he admires capitalism.

Another Israeli pointed out that lowering prices in a local pharmacy was considered unfair since other pharmacies could not adopt the same price structure and might be forced out of business. An explanation of the advantages of a competitive market fell on deaf ears.

Israeli popular culture has been thoroughly Americanized. It is amusing to see Israeli teenagers imitate the gestures of American rap singers. In the process of being Americanized the Zionist ideal has lost some of its influence. Th e history of the nation is not taught as an exercise in promoting patriotism. Revisionists of various stripes have come to dominate every level of education.

Recently, when young military recruits were asked about the Altalana episode in the period when the nation was being established (1947), they didn’t have the foggiest idea of the history. In this sense young Israelis are like Americans who haven’t any idea of their national past. Of course, it wasn’t always like that. Israel was regarded as a Jewish homeland, a place where Jews in the diaspora could find their cultural roots.

While Israeli Arabs have been granted full citizenship in the nation and all the privileges that accompany citizenship, Jews have been denied similar status in Arab nations, notwithstanding their presence in places like Iraq for millennia. Nonetheless, Israeli Arab resentment is palpable. A recent book calls these people Israeli Palestinians who have more sympathy for Palestinians than the homeland that granted citizenship.

Moreover, despite differences of opinion about the demographic future of this minority, it is probably growing at a rate considerably faster than the Israeli majority, causing internal pressures and the fear that this minority could unite with Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank to form a majority.

Of course the overarching concern is security. Israel is a slice of land bordered by hostile states eager to see its elimination. Despite all the rhetoric about peace from Oslo, the Road Map, Palestinians and Arab states make it patently clear that Israel should be removed from the Middle East map. Even when erstwhile Prime Minister Barak gave Arafat almost everything he purportedly wanted, he still said no. War was in his blood and Israeli destruction in his heart.

For many Israelis this state of perpetual war, of daily bloodletting, is dispiriting. Some have left the country; others have withdrawn emotionally and still others have turned against their own homeland. So far this is a mere population trickle, but its effect on those who are committed to the struggle, should not be underestimated.

As is often the case in societies exposed to global intellectual opinion, cynicism about national aspirations is encouraged. Israeli universities are heavily populated by scholars with disdain for their government. Their criticism of Israeli policies appears to be correlated to the many benefits university life confers.

One professor in Jerusalem even compared Israeli government to Nazi Germany. Clearly this is an egregious example, but the direction of professorial opinion has been well established.

Israel has more than its fair share of problems. In fact, there is probably not a Western nation that faces the life-threatening issues Israel is obliged to confront each day. That said, there is another side to the story.

A nineteen year old serving in the Givat Brigade composed mainly of Ethiopians and Russians was asked by his grandfather what it was like to serve with people who are so different. “Different?” he asked incredulously, “We are all the same, Israelis fighting to secure a future for our nation.”

On one occasion I traveled to the checkpoint at the Gaza Strip, one of the most dangerous places in Israel. Dozens of suicide bombers have been apprehended at this location; attacks from terrorists occur frequently. Tunnels have even been dug from Egypt to bring in weapons.

The commander is a genial fellow who shows me a Katusha rocket that was recently fired into the compound. He is imperturbable. With an escort we walked to the actual checkpoint. Young women trained to spot odd behavior (or tics) are there to set off mental and physical alarms when a person hiding explosives on his body is detected. It is said that these women have a sixth sense, a point the commander affirms.

I walked over to a personnel carrier with an Ethiopian soldier who explained that it was reconfigured with periscopes so that the crew does not have to expose itself to enemy fire. Th e young man is twenty-one years old and has already served three years at this hazardous border.

He explained that his uncle brought him to Israel when he was one year old, after crossing over to Sudan where the Israelis were engaged in Operation Rescue. His uncle had to travel more than a thousand miles, mostly by foot, before he reached an airport in the Sudan. Despite his dark skin, he is one hundred percent Israeli. His parents finally migrated to Israel when he was three.

Two years ago this young man’s father died in an automobile accident. Since he was now the sole provider in the family, the young soldier was told he could leave the military and return to his family. When confronted with this decision he said, “I will return home for a short time to help my mother, but then I must return to my other family here at Gaza,” He would return to his military family.

On several occasions he thwarted terrorist attacks on the base. Once he came to the aid of several companions trapped in a fire fight. So obsessed was he with firing his weapons at the intruders that he did not see a grenade thrown in front of him. Fortunately his major did see it, threw the young man aside and saved his life. As my Ethiopian guide noted: “another day on the Gaza Strip.” He keeps the fragments from that grenade as a good luck charm.

“I would die for Israel if I had to. Th is is my home. I love my country and I love my military unit,” he said matter-of-factly. He is an impressive young man, but hardly unusual in the Israeli military.

Israel is a nation that relies on such esprit. With all of the economic woe, self-loathing, and cynicism, Israel is a nation inspired by spiritual salvation.

In Israel miracles occur each day. One might well conclude that with all the problems the nation faces, it would sink into the Dead Sea. Yet Israel soars. It manifestly resists the entropy from within and the dangers from without. It is a bumblebee.

I cannot forget that young Ethiopian soldier, a true Israeli who spoke to me in halting English. He is proud, courageous, honorable, and patriotic. It is certainly not an exaggeration to say the future of Israel rests in his hands. He is clearly up to the challenge. He would say he was lucky to be in Israel; I would say Israel is lucky to have him in its military.

When the diplomats consider future borders for this place that defies rationality, they should consider this: How can one explain Israel’s creation and its survival? Israel flies because of her spirit, a living testament to providential will. A world without this nation is a world with diminished human aspiration.

Herbert London is the President of the Hudson Institute, and John M. Olin Professor of Humanities, at NYU. He is also Publisher of American Outlook and the author of Decade of Denial.

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