In all its 53 years, Israel has never been like it is now. The
entire Israeli public seems to have become a flock of parrots.
No matter who is talking - the seller of fallafel or a professor
of history, a taxi driver or Our Political Correspondent, an army
officer or a member of the Knesset - all of them endlessly repeat the
same seven- or eight slogans, in exactly the same words:
"The conflict just doesn't have a solution."
Each of these slogans is wrong and can be easily disproved by the
facts. But that is not the main thing. The main thing is the total
uniformity of the public discourse in Israel, including the voters of
Barak and Sharon, the members of the Labor and Likud, the far-right
Moledet and the Meretz parties.
This by itself could be the subject of an interesting scientific
research project. How does this happen? We have no Goebbels-like
ministry of propaganda. Dissidents don't disappear in the Gulag, as in
Stalinist Russia. Intellectuals are nor dragged to labor camps, as in
the Cultural Revolution of Mao. They are not even compelled to drink
castor oil, as in Mussolini's Italy.
So how does it happen? How does an entire people in a democracy
behave as if hypnotized? How do the free media - the dozens of
newspapers, channels and networks, with the hundreds of commentators and
correspondents, turn themselves into the organs of a uniform, primitive
propaganda? How does such a system of brain-washing come into being
without a cruel, omnipotent dictator, but as a kind of voluntary
This is especially odd, because the main message of this
brain-washing is not cheerful and optimistic, but as pessimistic as can
be. It says that there is no chance for peace, and never was. That the
war is eternal. That "they" will always want to kill us, and that there
is nothing we can do about it. That anyone who thinks otherwise (if such
a person exists) lives on the moon.
Stranger still, this message does cause some depression, but that
is not the only reaction. When the air escaped from the balloon of
peace, one could hear a vast sigh of relief.
A foreigner will not understand this. We do.
The Oslo agreement, which descended on the public without any
prior preparation, created a shock. I remember the day it was signed. I
was in Jerusalem. In the Eastern part, there was euphoria. The
Palestinians, together with some Israeli peace activists, drank
champagne in the American Colony hotel, rejoiced together on the steps
of Orient House. In the streets, bands of Palestinian youngsters were
wandering about, waving the (forbidden) Palestinian flag and nearly
kissing the Israeli border policemen. When I crossed into West
Jerusalem, I found a strange, hesitant, thoughtful mood, cautiously
optimistic. I was invited to a TV broadcast and found the same mood in
Since than, for eight years, Israel has been in the grips of a
painful syndrome, called "cognitive dissonance". This is a situation
where incoming new information collides with old, deeply rooted attitudes.
Every person (and, it seems, an entire people, too) has a
world-view, a fixed pattern of perceptions, a kind of mental map that
directs their thoughts and reactions. Without such a map, the person (or
people) feel lost in a world of chaos. The map gives them security; they
know where they are and where they are going. When they are hit by new
information that contradicts the existing pattern, they find themselves
in a frightening situation of uncertainty, insecurity and anxiety.
Whoever is responsible for this becomes the object of hatred and fury.
For hundreds of years, the Jews have been persecuted in many
countries. Everywhere they encountered anti-Semitism, suffered from
discrimination, became victims of pogroms, were murdered in the
Holocaust. Even in enlightened countries, almost every Jewish child
absorbed with his mother's milk the belief that the Goyim hate the Jews,
always did and always will. Every year, on the eve of Passover, in the
warm family circle, millions of Jews repeat the words: "In each
generation they try to destroy us, but God saves us from them."
Zionism was supposed to create a New Jew, but in practice it only
transferred the existing mental pattern to the new country. Arab
opposition to the Zionist penetration appeared to the Jews as a natural
continuation of the old story of persecution and pogroms. The existing
Jewish pattern was not shattered, but became even stronger. It created a
feeling of unity, permanency and order. A cheerful song, beginning with
the words "The whole world is against us / but we do not care..." became
a folk dance.
And then Oslo came. Perplexing new perceptions hit us. The Arabs
want peace. Arafat, who only yesterday was the Arab Hitler, became a
partner. The Arabs were reconciled to our existence. A New Middle East.
Peace, conciliation, mutual respect are just around the corner.
This picture did not cause happiness. On the contrary. It caused
deep anxiety. It was clear that something was wrong, The pattern was
shaken, and no new one replaced it. The old map, which described a
familiar landscape, did not show the way anymore. It was necessary to
draw a new map, contradicting all that was known and doubting all that
was thought and felt until then.
And then, suddenly, a powerful reaction set in. Ehud Barak, the
man of peace, the representative of the left, killed Oslo and exposed
the Arab plot. He proved that there was no partner. The Arabs want to
destroy us. Thank God, everything returned to what it was before. What a
After all, in a situation of war and conflict, everyone of us
knows exactly how to behave, what to do. There is no cause for anxiety.
The old map remains true. The pattern that served us for hundreds of
years remains good for the future.
This causes deep satisfaction. Haven't we said all the time it's
all a big bluff? As Yitzhaq Shamir put it so succinctly: "The Arabs are
the same Arabs, the Jews are the same Jews and the sea is the same sea."
In this situation, a wonderful national unity is reborn. All the
Jewish parties from left and right can unite. Shimon Peres can sit in
the same government with men like Ze'evi, Lieberman and Landau, who
could give lessons to Haider and Le-Pen. The media and academia. almost
without exceptions, can join the feast. Pseudo-leftists of yesterday
confess their sins as if they were in a Soviet meeting of
self-criticism. Oh, what a wonderful unity!
The most repelling exhibition in this orgy is the treason of the
intellectuals. They, who should have drawn the new map that would lead
the people towards the reality of peace, are betraying their trust. The
few, the very few, who stay true to their mission, are despised and hated.
But on the shoulders of these few the fate of the country now
rests. There is no future for Israel if it goes on behaving like an
armed ghetto. A state is no ghetto, as the ghetto was no state. In order
to exist, the state needs a new perception of itself and its
surroundings, one that suits the new situation.
And that is, first and foremost, the task of the intellectuals