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Contentions

The Symbol Fetish

At the New Republic, Leon Wieseltier writes that Israel has lost “the all-important war for symbols and meanings, to Hamas.” Somehow, among all the wars and skirmishes and ambushes that define Israeli existence and threaten to erase the Jewish state, I find it hard to swallow Wieseltier’s post-modern competition “for symbols and meanings” as “the all important war.”

Ethan Bronner writes, in the New York Times, “the world powers have grown increasingly disillusioned with the blockade, saying that it has created far too much suffering in Gaza and serves as a symbol not only of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians but of how the West is seen in relation to the Palestinians.”

You know what else the blockade serves as? A blockade. It separates Israel’s sworn enemies from those who would help them arm and kill Israelis. Oh, and by the way, as a blockade – and not a symbol – the blockade works. So, too, do the fences, check points, and walls that separate Israel from would-be terrorists in the Palestinian territories.

Oops, did I say walls? This comes from a Reuters story that ran last year: “Pope Benedict stood by the wall Israel is building round the West Bank on Wednesday and called it a symbol of “stalemate” between Israel and the Palestinians, urging both sides to break a ‘spiral of violence.’”

What kind of Freudian limbo do Israelis now supposedly inhabit where everything they do and create is just another telling symbol of chauvinism, paranoia, and frustration. Friends of Israel often decry the absurd standards to which “world powers” try to hold the Jewish state. But this isn’t even about selective standards; it’s a category distinction. Here are the rules: Russia, which has been illegally occupying Georgia for almost two years, and facilitating Iran’s nuclear and anti-aircraft programs for even longer, is a state. North Korea, which recently sank a South Korean navy boat full of 46 sailors (not in oh-so-precious international waters, but in South Korean waters), starves its own population, and threatens to destroy Seoul, is a state. Pakistan — the creation of which led to a million deaths and millions more displaced, in order to give a single religious group its own area– is a terrorist Disneyland; it is also a state, achieving independence in 1947. Israel, on the other hand, is the world’s Hitchcock dream sequence. And it better not forget it.

That’s what all this criticism of the flotilla operation amounts to. How dare Israel act in service of its existence as a country when it’s so valuable as a symbol. In this way, those who wag their fingers at Israel for insufficiently weighing optics and PR and world opinion have put an insidious twist on the denial of Israel’s right to exist. For if it is forbidden to act on its own behalf as a state then there is an implicit denial of its right to be one. After all, when a state prevents a fleet of armed enemies from breaking its blockade with no casualties on their side it’s called a smashing success. When it’s done by Israel it’s just another sinister emblem of increasingly violent suicidal tendencies.



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