OPINION: Can we address Israel’s elephant before it has an ‘Ewish’ minority?

OPINION: Can we address Israel’s elephant before it has an ‘Ewish’ minority?

Stephen is the Jewish News' Foreign Editor

by Stephen Oryszczuk, Foreign Editor Stephen Orys

How, as a Jewish News journalist, do you know when you need to broaden your horizons? When the letter ‘J’ stops working on your computer. This is the fate that befell my laptop last week. Now I’m writing about all things ‘Ewish.’ My colleagues Osh, Ack and Ustin think it’s hilarious. 

Hammering away at the keyboard, hoping for the letter to appear on-screen, I reflect on the idea that you can have too much of a good thing. So I abstain from the ‘We Believe’ conference and put the papers down.

Call me crude, but after the seventeenth article on the Israeli election, the death of the peace process (was it still alive?) and Naughty Netanyahu, I’m desperate to read about something else. 

Good timing, then, for the Economist’s ‘World in 2015’ to land in my letterbox. Appealing to my inner nerd, this annual collection of thoughts and opinion trumpets the latest gadgets and predicts future trends – often accurately. I skimmed the contents page: not a Jew or an Israeli in sight. Bliss.

After stories about coral reefs in Australia, sexual equality in Chile and a toilet-building campaign in India, I come to an article about the economics of the Middle East and feel myself brace. Sure enough, after talk of Syria’s “shocking barbarism” and of “booming” Dubai, there she is: the Ewish state. 

It starts badly, with a nasty, brutish reference to Israel’s “nasty and brutish” wars in Gaza. But just as the eyes roll, there’s talk of Israel’s success in “bucking the [regional] trend” by “essentially ignoring its surroundings,” reminding us that Hebrew newspapers show the weather in Moscow, New York, Miami and London, but not in Cairo or Baghdad. “Israel prospers by walling itself in,” it says. I find myself nodding.

There’s more – about Israel outperforming others in rich country club OECD, about its reduced reliance on foreign aid, its healthy trade balance and its $80 billion stock of investment overseas. It speaks of Israel’s energy independence, and of it having a “virtuous circle involving high-quality universities, strong government backing and dynamic entrepreneurs” generating “continued innovation in the high-tech sector”. This is the Israel in which Intel has just invested $6 billion. This is the Israel I know.

The article then progresses through the region, from Algerian infrastructure projects, Egyptian stock-market stability and the effect of the falling oil price on Saudi Arabia. Am I in the clear? Save for that small nibble at the beginning, has the Ewish state had fair mention in an article about it and the neighbours it ignores? It seems so. My shoulders relax as I approach the final paragraph, the child in me primed for the Hollywood happy ending.

Fool, Oryszczuk! Have you not learned your lesson yet? There it is, sat quietly at the end, in the last two lines of page 83, like a cold, hard, printed slap for those smug enough to think that Israel might stand a chance on getting a fair hearing in an article on fiscal policy, GDP and capital inflows. “Israel must beware of its own smugness,” writes Middle East correspondent Max Rodenback, with a flourish. “The surrounding mess has brought several years’ reprieve from pressure to address the elephant in its own room: its 6m happy Jews cannot indefinitely rule over an equal – or greater – number of unhappy Palestinians.” 

Max! Are you Mad? That’s no way to finish an article on the economics of a region spanning 18 countries, three time zones, two dozen languages, hundreds of terrorist cells and a bloodthirsty caliphate!  Shouting at the page doesn’t help.

“Why not end on the perils of states disintegrating under jihadism and mass unemployment, the redrawing of boundaries along sectarian lines, or the prospect of a nuclear Iran?” I ask. “Why finish on Palestine?”

Then I recognise my reaction and realise I’m a reflection of the bigger problem. Why do we react this way? Because everyone hates Israel of course, everyone hates the Jews, the world is biased, or so we chant – endlessly, mindlessly, eventually believing it.

We’re so convinced that it’s a rigged game that we don’t even think of the Palestinians any more.

Instead we flinch when we hear “Gaza” or read of the millions of stateless Muslims on Israel’s border, as if they were a social nuisance, a minor issue or a non-question.

We flip the page, after a rendition of the automatic intonation that there is no “partner for peace,” a mantra that means absolutely nothing in the context of international relations. As evidenced by my keyboard, we look in, and as Mad Max says, when it comes to Israel, we “ignore our surroundings”. 

But the world changes. Bibi may be back but both Obama and Europe are now re-evaluating how they defend a Netanyahu government.

As such, a better question for the Israel in the year ahead might be: can it ignore its surroundings forever? Can it remain walled off indefinitely? If not, as I suspect is the case, the logical next question becomes: can Israel and the Diaspora address its “elephant in the room” before it becomes an Ewish state with an Ewish minority? If not, I fear it really would become a silent ‘J’.

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