Reading this morning’s commentaries on President Obama’s speech to AIPAC, one of the things that strikes me is the myriad ways in which it is possible to listen, and how the way that you listen determines what you will hear. In one of my first blogs (‘A Time for Silence’) I suggested that Netanyahu needed to take time for reflection before reacting to events. Apparently, no-one passed him my suggestion. Once again, instead of taking time to reflect on Obama’s official Middle East Policy Speech, Netanyahu gave us his gut reaction – hostility and stubborn refusal. If he had studied Obama’s words more closely, he would have seen that they were not substantially different from the speech he gave to AIPAC – which suddenly Likud MK’s are claiming was a sign of Obama caving to Netanyahu’s pressure. That’s certainly not what I heard Obama saying, but enough of that for now.
Netanyahu’s reaction tells us quite a lot about his mind-set. He was listening from a place of fear – and indeed, this is his approach to the world. I remember his famous speech, when he shouted ‘Hem Mefachadim’ – ‘They are afraid’ – at his opponents. But the truth is, Netanyahu is afraid. He is dominated by his fear. His gut reactions tell him that the world is out to get him, and us. He is obsessed by security, and can only see security in military terms. He apparently cannot see that Israel’s security depends on much more than military might – in the case of Israel, security will be found when there is a Palestinian state next door and our permanent borders are recognized by the whole world. Israel will be secure when we stop alienating our non-Jewish citizens and enable them to feel valued citizens of this country. Israel will be secure when our government can be joined by the governments of neighbouring states working together to isolate those extremists who refuse to accept the ending of the conflict. Israel will be secure when it works to offer real equality of opportunity and access to resources for the whole country – and when it works to reduce the ever-widening gaps between the rich and the poor.
When I speak to groups about Israel and the conflict, they often ask me what they can do to help. I suggest to them that one thing they can do is be a true friend to both the Palestinians and to Israel. Supporting one side whilst attacking the other does not help either side. Israel needs to feel supported if we are to take the bold steps we need to take to resolve the conflict. But mindless support for everything we do is not true friendship. Obama understands this – and laid it out in black and white yesterday. As a true friend of Israel, he offers us support on many different and essential levels – military, strategic, political, etc. etc. But as a true friend he also tells us the truth: that time will not stand still, that the events sweeping the Middle East mean that there is no room for neutral gear, that the only way for a Jewish, democratic state to survive is to make bold moves towards peace before time runs out.
Netanyahu is dominated by his fear – and when you are paralyzed by fear, it seems that your worst fears can indeed come true. By now, the world is pretty much out to get both him and us. If he remains paralyzed, and the whole country along with him fails to move forwards, our worst fears may also come true, and that would indeed be a tragedy.