Who is being Messianic?
by Jonathan Rosenblum
October 30, 1998
Ethan Bronner of The New York Times has made Israeli politics simple.
Supporting the Oslo process are liberal, educated Jews of European descent (not to mention Israel's large Arab minority, which unanimously supports those who support the process). In short, just the kind of enlightened folk who read the Times (again leaving aside the Arabs). Opposed or skeptical are the traditional, religious, and Jews of Middle Eastern descent.
In another variant of the same theme, the Times' Thomas Friedman portrays the only remaining opponents as people beyond rational argument, not motivated by everyday concerns about security, but only by messianic visions of Greater Israel.
As rhetorical devices, these portrayals are brilliant. They provide a handy cover to ignore the oft-reiterated challenges to Oslo purely on security grounds. It is beneath the dignity of such smart, educated people to respond to the common-sense questions of their inferiors. Thus Ehud Barak has consistently refused to answer the question whether Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority have complied with previous commitments.
And even as veteran Israeli elites - as Ari Shavit put it so well in Ha'aretz - offer automatic applause for any withdrawal and automatic catcalls for any pause in withdrawals, they have been strangely reluctant to offer their own vision of what the Palestinians might ultimately accept and how livable it would be. In truth, messianism has both its secular and religious forms, and it could well be argued that the largest group of messianics among us today are the elites.
Messianic thought posits a period of post-history in which all previous rules of human nature and patterns of behavior cease to govern. The lamb and lion lie down peacefully together.
Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin, architects of the Oslo process, operated on the assumption that precisely such a messianic period has already arrived. For rescuing a financially and politically bankrupt Arafat from the dustbin of history, they assumed that he would be forever grateful and embark on a path leading to peace.
In an astounding leap of faith, they believed that the author of the murder of 38 schoolchildren in Ma'alot, the Coastal Highway massacre, and the Achille Lauro hijacking would abandon a lifelong career of targeting innocents. More, they assumed that this cagey survivor of often-lethal Arab internal politics would willingly risk civil war within his new domain to protect Israelis.
So devoutly does the messianic believer hope for the future utopia that he often imagines that the future has already arrived. No evidence can dissuade him.
Let Arafat continue to call for jihad immediately after the signing of first Oslo accord; let him continue to eulogize as 'holy martyrs' those whose only cause was the murder of as many Jews as possible; let official Palestinian Authority television show a cute little seven-year-old girl being kissed by a smiling Arafat for her rendition of 'I finished practicing on the submachine gun of return.../We swore to take vengeful blood from our enemies for our killed and wounded'; let the PA advertise for its summer camps on TV with scenes of paramilitary training and chants of 'My children, my children are in the suicide squad'; let the website of Arafat's Fatah organization continue to proclaim 'liberating Palestine is an Arab, religious, and human obligation.'
All this is irrelevant. He is our peace partner.
Like Hitler, Arafat is open about his goals. He has repeatedly compared the Oslo treaties to the Treaty of Yatrib, where Mohammed entered into a peace treaty with the tribes around Medina only to put them to the sword a few years later when his military position had improved. Just as Neville Chamberlain either did not read or would not believe what Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, our leaders do not hear or take seriously what Arafat himself says.
Messianic stirrings are often prompted by despair and hopelessness.
Thus those who challenge the underlying assumptions of Oslo are rarely answered with facts or a conflicting analysis of agreed upon facts, but with a plaintive, 'What's the alternative?'
Ignore the new 'sacrifices for peace' offered daily, ignore the gaping holes in agreements already signed that will ensure more such sacrifices. The only prescription: 'Have a little more faith'; 'Show more good will.' Yihiye tov. The tendency of Israeli policy-makers to rely on miracles, noted by James McDonald, the first US ambassador to Israel, continues to hold sway.
Seventy-five percent of Israelis profess support for the Wye agreement. Yet only 18% believe that Arafat will fulfill his undertakings in more than a so-so fashion, and nearly half don't believe that he will keep them at all.
That is mass cognitive dissonance. What, one wonders, will be the parallel of Shabbetai Tzvi's apostasy for our secular messianists?
Let me be clear. I too believe in the coming of the messiah. And I fear that he will only come when our situation has become so desperate from every point of view that all will recognize that we have nowhere to turn but God.
At the same time, I will continue to be skeptical of reports of his arrival until the evidence is clear. Until then, I find nothing in Jewish sources to suggest that we should attempt to render our situation as hopeless as possible in order to hasten his arrival.
Related Topics: Israeli Society, Peace Process
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