Friday, December 19, 2003

Another Tack: The prostitute's price (JPost)

by Sarah Honig

No need to worry about Ehud Olmert's latest pronouncements. He has evinced such dubious originality in the past, most glaringly when he sabotaged the Likud's 1999 campaign and starred in Ehud Barak's electioneering broadcasts, vouching that Barak won't divide Jerusalem. Shortly thereafter, Barak was about to sign everything away save for the subterranean strata of the Temple Mount.

That's not to say, however, that there's no cause for anxiety - not so much about Olmert, as about his boss, ultra-pragmatist Ariel Sharon. His cronies informally reassure us that our interests are in capable hands, that the wily old man knows best.

That's precisely what should deprive us of sleep at night. Crafty expediency may get us out of assorted jams but land us into life-threatening quicksand.

In this case, the road to disaster is paved with pragmatic considerations.

Pragmatism is akin to focusing on specific potholes in our national path rather than sometimes lifting our eyes from the ground to scan the horizon, survey the sweep of the land and behold the full track ahead. We bog ourselves down with details and neglect the whole. We quibble about issues and forget the basics.

Occasional pragmatism has its uses, but had Zionism's founding fathers been dogged by the demographic demon like Olmert, this state would have never been born. It came to be because of the Herzlian "irrational" resolve that "if you will it, it's no myth." Unlike visionary, against-the-odds Zionists of yesteryear, pragmatists reject dreams, absolutes and truths. Everything is judged by the practical outcome. The quicker and more facile the solution, the better, because impatient pragmatists rarely commit for the long haul.

THUS IF the world, for a host of ulterior motives, contends Israel is the villain and the Arabs its downtrodden victims, we don't quarrel with this basic premise. We throw the howling hostile hounds a few bones to mollify them, ease the pressure, win time.

If the world, for cynical self-serving reasons, equates us with South Africa's old apartheid regime and the Arabs with the oppressed indigenous masses, we don't challenge this odious distortion. We try to improve our image.

If the world decides we're foreign colonists who forcibly usurped the land of peaceful natives, we remove several settler outposts, rather than refute the brazen fabrications and stress our right to our only homeland.

If the world falsely depicts us as the many and the mighty and the Arabs as the few and defenseless, we shy from military solutions to violent conflicts. If the world calls us aggressors, we apologize.

If the world misrepresents this bloody dispute as being about a Palestinian state, we don't protest that it's really about denying the right of a Jewish state to exist. Instead, to please our critics, we concede the Palestinian cause.

By repeatedly conceding the basic assumptions against us, we aggravate our own distress and inevitably succumb to the inimical international axiom that we're in the wrong and that those who would annihilate us are desperate insurgents against injustice. Any means to which they resort are thereby quasi-legitimized and terrorism against Israel not entirely cast out of moral bounds. Our accommodating pragmatism effectively removes Israelis, even Jews, from what the world's anti-terror warriors define as terrorism.

Insidiously, terrorism becomes the indiscriminate targeting of non-Jews.

It's therefore quite counterproductive for us to exclusively harp on the terror theme. We'd do better to go back to basics, proclaim loud and clear that we are here by right; that we were attacked; that the Arabs only conjured Palestinian nationality in order to stake rival claims; that a Palestinian state never existed (i.e. we certainly didn't conquer and subjugate it); that we didn't drive out hapless refugees (who themselves started the war); that they caused their own downfall by plotting genocide and ethnic cleansing against us; that our only sin is surviving. We can remind the world of the Nazi legacy of "Palestinian" hero Haj Amin el-Husseini. We can point to Ahmed Yassin's recent declaration that there's no room in the region for a Jewish state.

Admittedly, we may not convince anyone. The dice are loaded against us. But we've nothing to lose by rediscovering our defiant spirit and lost Zionist ideals. Excessive pragmatism - the sacrifice of national honor for temporary gain - will lose us everything, from our own sense of justice to the souls of our youngsters.

Pragmatism will turn us into the woman once asked by George Bernard Shaw whether she'll go to bed with him for a 1,000 Pounds. When she answered in the affirmative, he offered her a mere 2 Pounds. Outraged, she railed: "What do you take me for? A prostitute?" Shaw replied: "We've already determined that. Now we're haggling over the price."

Sarah Honig is a political analyst and columnist who writes for the Jerusalem Post, where this article appeared on December 12, 2003.