Trip Report: To Israel, Ukraine, and Russia June 2008
I volunteer every year to deliver three days of lectures to the Israeli Defense College. That is where up-and-coming top officers of the military (colonels) and top executives of the civil services are sent to study for a year before they are promoted.
This is my chance to have an impact on what is happening in Israel, as well as to test my methodology on a national scale, and see how people react to my thoughts and conclusions. (In recognition of this service, the Israeli Defense Forces promoted me to the honorary rank of major.)
There are two Israels: the one you experience when you are there, and the one you realize only after you’ve left.
When in Israel, you can’t not be impressed by the might of the country, by its growth and success. The highways, the high-rises, the hotels. It is impressive, and there is no doubt that it is a very advanced and developed country. Visiting Israeli companies, you feel you are at the epicenter of a world power. Elbit, one of my former clients, is now the tenth largest military electronics company in the world. AMDOC is the leading company worldwide in billing software for cellular telephones, and they are going into network computing to compete with Oracle. AMDOC employs fifteen thousand employees worldwide.
Israel is a success story even without mentioning that it is one of the top Internet development countries in the world, and one of the top countries with presence in the United States stock markets. Israelis own the Plaza Hotel in New York; they are opening the largest hotels in Las Vegas; they’re investing in real estate in Moscow; and on and on and on. Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, and Intel all have their research entities in Israel. Some of the greatest inventions and innovations of Microsoft and Intel were developed in Israel, and Warren Buffet-who, for sure, is not an emotional investor-invested $4 billion to gain control of an Israeli firm. The shekel is recognized now as one of the world’s ten most stable currencies, and Israel’s economic growth is among the best in the world.
So how can Israel’s existence be in danger?
That, you suspect only when you are away from Israel. When you are there, the success I described above gives you a sense of false security, which evaporates when you leave the country and analyze it from a distance.
There are several “ticking bombs” that threaten Israel, bombs that are not being dismantled.
The First “Ticking Bomb”: Can Israel remain a Jewish state as intended?
In our lifetime, Israel’s Arab population will become the country’s majority ethnic group. Arabs have a high reproduction rate (which might decline as their standard of living increases, but probably not enough to nullify the projection). The Arabs would have become a majority already, according to statistics I read when I was a student, had it not been for the massive Jewish immigration from the former Soviet Union in the 1980s. This inflow did not discredit the projection, only postponed it.
To remain a Jewish state, Israel needs large numbers of Jewish immigrants. That can happen if there is anti-Semitism or if life in Israel is so much more preferable to any other place where Jews live.
To make Israel preferable to life anywhere else is an uphill battle. Anti Semitism is a ready made solution.
It is ironic, it seems to me, that Israelis almost welcome anti-Semitism. With a wry smile they often ask me: “So what are the Jews doing in the Diaspora? They should make aliya (i.e., immigrate to Israel).”
For the Jews in the Diaspora, anti-Semitism is something to dread. For Israelis it seems to be the hope for the Jewish state to remain Jewish.
If such a massive Jewish immigration to Israel occurs, it means that there is massive anti-Semitism somewhere else. I wonder if I could welcome such a solution to Israel’s existential problem. If that happens, anti-Semitism does not stop at the borders of the country that is experiencing it. It will be tough for Israel, too, one way or another. The Jews will in effect be congregated into a new ghetto, this time the size of a country rather than a quarter of a city. But still, it would be a ghetto, and under attack not only by its neighbors but by many other anti-Semitic countries worldwide. Not a pretty prospect.
If such a massive immigration does not occur, Arabs will become a significant majority in Israel. They are already expanding into what traditionally were Jewish settlements. Upper Nazareth, which was built for Jews because Nazareth itself was Arabic and did not welcome Jews, is now partly inhabited by Arabs, and the Arab section is expanding rapidly. Carmiel, which was established to bring Jewish settlers to the Galilee, is now increasingly populated by Arabs. In Jaffa, which is part of Tel Aviv, Saudi millionaires are buying land that the Arabs will not sell to Jews.
In a democratic country, which Israel is, every citizen has a right to vote. With a majority Arab vote, will Israel remain a Jewish state? Can these demographic changes lead to a civil war, since the Jewish Israelis will not willingly give up their Zionist dream of a Jewish state for the Jewish people?
What can Israel do?
There are several choices as I see it. One, in order to avoid a potential civil war, Israel could proactively work on changing its culture to become a co-national country, where Arabs are equal to Jews in every sense. That means changing the flag and the anthem, which are purely Jewish, and designating Hebrew and Arabic as dual official languages that everyone must learn to speak fluently. Make it like Switzerland, where French and Germans and Italians live together in peace. Do what de Clerk did in South Africa: Pass the power peacefully to the Arabs. Then perhaps the Jews will survive within an Arab majority, if you can believe that. (How well did it work in Lebanon: the Palestinians living at peace with Arab Christians?) But this solution means that Israel will not remain a Jewish state any way.
“Impossible!” they told me in Israel. Israelis will never abandon the Zionist vision of Israel as a Jewish state. It was established as the homeland of all Jews worldwide; when Jews feel threatened anywhere, they have a home to go to.
The second choice is to insist that Israel is and must remain a Jewish state. In that case, in order to prevent the Arabs from becoming a majority, there should be an exchange of populations: Transfer all the Arabs-with their land and territory-into the emerging Palestinian state and, in exchange, make the Jewish settlements on the West Bank part of Israel.
This exchange of territories is inconceivable. Even if the Palestinians agreed to it-which I do not believe would happen, because the Arab-Israelis made it clear when the route of the wall separating Israel from the Palestinians was planned that they wanted to remain part of Israel and not be transferred to the new Palestinian state-exchanging territory means giving up the Galilee to the Palestinians, which I doubt the Israelis would accept.
What about a transfer by force of the Israeli Arabs away from their land and into exile, thus increasing the number of Palestinian refugees? That would not only be immoral, it would also stir worldwide condemnation, imposing on Israel sanctions and an isolation that the country would not be able to bear.
A third solution is to stop being a democratic state and adopt apartheid, but that would be so repugnant to many Israelis that there would be heavy emigration out of the country, and I do not think I need to elaborate on the international repercussions.
The Second “Ticking Bomb”:
What if there was another Holocaust, this time a nuclear one? Iran is most probably developing nuclear capabilities and has already announced its intention to wipe Israel from the map. True, Israel has threatened a massive retaliation if this came to pass, and the world knows it has the nuclear capability to do so. A top Israeli civil servant told me that the Israeli government believes the leadership in Teheran is still rational and would not do anything so stupid as to attack Israel and provoke a nuclear retaliation. But who says political leaders are always rational? I believe this is wishful thinking, and I would not bank on it.
So far I am not aware of a solution to this threat.
The Third “Ticking Bomb”:
Another scenario-not the doomsday scenario of a nuclear holocaust but a disaster nonetheless-is that Hamas and Hezbollah, together with the armies of Arab nations and supported by anti-Semitic countries, might eventually win a war. As I heard someone say, “Arabs can afford to lose many wars. The Israelis, only one. It will be their last.” Could that happen?
When you have a disease that requires an antibiotic remedy, the doctor will tell you to take the whole dosage. If you stop too early and fail to kill all the bacteria, those that survive will have built up their tolerance to the medicine, thus rendering the medication ineffective the next time. The bacteria become increasingly dangerous and could become fatal.
Israel is not taking the “whole dosage”-which would mean annihilating every last one of its enemies. That is called ethnic cleansing, and it cannot and should not be done. But the result is that with each battle or indecisive war, Hamas and Hezbollah grow stronger and stronger, while Israel grows weaker and weaker. The enemy is learning from each battle, while the Israelis are getting increasingly tired of the endless struggle. They want to be a normal country. They have experienced too much death in their lifetimes. There is no family in Israel, not one, I suggest to you, that is not mourning someone who did not die a natural death. Was the Second World War not enough, and now this never-ending fighting? Who wants to die anymore? Who wants a war anymore? Millions of Israelis are calling for “Peace Now.” A high percentage of high school graduates are finding a way to avoid serving in the military. The Israelis are just dead tired of fighting and dying.
Not so the Palestinians. How many Palestinians have you heard of who demonstrate on the streets calling for peace now, or even tomorrow? If they exist, they are an endangered powerless minority of intellectuals, at best. The majority has developed a philosophy based on a religious tradition that dying is good for your country. Palestinian mothers celebrate the heroic deaths of their sons who “martyr” themselves for Palestine. In comparison, have you ever seen a Jewish mother celebrating the death of her child? Ever? And you never will. Jews sanctify life. Arabs, death.
There is a reversal of attitude going on here: In 1948, Jews were willing to die to have a country. The Palestinians were not. They left the country to avoid the fighting. Now the Palestinians are willing, the Israelis less so. Tell me who is more committed to dying for their cause and I will tell you who might win. Eventually
So, one way or another, Israel is in deep trouble, in spite of all the developments and the economic might Israel displays. And its people know it. There is a pervasive gloom as you talk to Israelis; people know that the situation, as is, is not sustainable, it does not work. And they also know that there is no solution they can embrace. So why don’t people leave? At least for the sake of their children?
One explanation is that there is a subconscious belief that a miracle will happen. Read the Passover Hagadah: “In every generation they tried to annihilate us and the Lord saved us.” Period. The Lord will find a way to save the Jewish people like he did for two thousand years. Now, if you repeat this prayer like a mantra every day, or year, for two thousand years, you might eventually believe it.
They also tribute the lack of solutions to a lack of leadership and hope that if the right leader will come along he will solve the problem. I believe it is the wrong diagnosis and thus also the wrong solution because the fact is that there simply is no solution that a majority of democratic Israel will agree to, regardless of who the leader is.
Another reason why there is no massive emigration out of Israel although there is a brain drain, those who have better alternatives do leave, is that life is good in Israel now. There are festivals, music, art, restaurants serving any ethnic food you could ask for.
It is alive and interesting to live in Israel. So as long as the knife is not at the throat, they keep adapting to the deteriorating situation and keep calming each other’s fears. Al tidag. Yihye beseder. “Do not worry. Everything will be okay.”
And what is happening in the meantime, by default?
Israel, like the frog, continues to adapt to living with the increasing problems it faces.
How can they do that?
One of the characteristics of the Jewish people is that they adapt to anything. This is their biggest asset, to which I attribute their survival in spite of all the disasters that have come their way. They adapted even to Auschwitz. They survive under any conditions.
Ironically, however, while this is an asset of the world Jewry, it is a liability for those in Israel. Israel continues to adapt to the increasingly hot water: Rockets are raining on Shderot, next to the Gaza strip and their range is increasing. Now the Palestinians are shelling Ashkelon and soon maybe they will shell Tel Aviv. They did shell Haiffa during the second war with Lebanon. Nevertheless, life in the rest of Israel went on as normal.
One wonders, since there is no solution for the frog to jump out of the heating water, will Israel stay put, adapting and adapting until it is too late?
(Actually, I have thought of a solution for Israel. It is truly out-of-the-box thinking-very out of the box. I will share it with those of you who write me and ask for it.)
About an hour and a half through my lecture, I looked up at the screen and realized what was happening. All this time, no one, including the dean of the business school, who was sitting in the first row, had pointed out to me that I had the transparency positioned the wrong way.
I repeated this “mistake”, this time on purpose , in my lecture in Moscow where I gave a master class after accepting my seventh honorary doctorate. Same results: they twisted their head but said nothing to correct me.
I realized that this was something Communism had done: People will accept anything authority does-from fear, from respect, or from what I do not know-but they will accept and bear any condition imposed on them by authority. That also explains why service is atrocious in ex-Communist countries. The market, i.e. the consumer, or in this case the audience, believe they have no rights. They are there to accept and be grateful if they get anything at all.
Now, imagine: In this cultural milieu, how worthwhile is it to teach entrepreneurship?
I asked the audience: “How can you sit quietly and suffer? Did you not pay to hear me? So why don’t you stand up for your rights?”
It seems that a cultural revolution must accompany the political revolution before true market economy can be established in these countries.
What did that do? It broke the family apart.
Another way to break the family cell was to teach children at school to report to the police if they heard anyone in the family speak against Stalin. Quite a few parents were sent to Siberia because the children did their “duty.”
The Communists knew exactly what they were doing. If the family unit is broken, and religion is abolished, then to whom do you feel you belong? Clearly, to the state. And Stalin was promoted as father of the nation.
I remember how, when I was growing up in Communist Yugoslavia, I was brainwashed to believe that I was first and foremost Tito’s son.
The (A) role, as we know, needs to control everything, to mold everything so that it is controllable. Any means are acceptable. It will use religion, ideology-immoral as well as moral means. (A)s reward and punish mercilessly in order to gain absolute control. An (A) considers any means legitimate if the end is complete control, and if the means are not legitimate, they will make them legitimate.
But does this only happen under Communism or fascism? Granted, those political systems are extreme examples of (A) in action. But what about large (especially multi-national) organizations? What do they do to gain control of their people? Any insights you might have?
One more insight from Russia: One would expect Russia’s culture to be dominated by the (A) role. Communism was an overwhelmingly (A) system. Look at the buildings from that era. I could tell which were built during the Communist regime as I was driven through the city, and when I asked the driver to confirm my opinion I was never wrong. Communist-era buildings are all big and square and heavy and bombastic: glorified (A). (The same is true for the buildings in Berlin from the Nazi era, or in Italy from the Fascist era, and have you seen Brazilia, which was designed by a socialist architect?)
But look how the Russians drive. You can tell a lot about the culture of a country and the style of a person by how they drive. Russians, for instance, do not know what a lane is. They all try to find a hole in traffic that they can exploit to move forward, ahead of someone else. Very Israeli- or Greek-style driving; it’s typical (E) or (P), and it certainly isn’t (A). If you want to see (A) driving, go to England. They know the rules and honor them without being asked or told. It comes naturally to them. Nor do Russians have a translation for the word “efficiency,” which is (A)’s raison d’etre, its slogan and badge of honor. So why the bureaucracy, the (A)-type buildings, and endless forms one has to fill out to get anything done in Russia?
I suggest that the (A) style so conspicuous during the Communist era was not culturally based. Russians do not stand in line. They push and shove and try to get ahead of the other person-like Israelis. (A) was ideologically imposed.
(A) is not the Russians’ innate culture. The British have (A) as part of their culture. So do the Germans. I postulate that Communism was not culturally a natural fit in Russia. Rather, it was imposed by Stalin with force and intimidation. He wanted to change the country, but in a totally dictatorial way. He imposed change by issuing death warrants. Millions of peasants were murdered or exiled to Siberia to die: Change at any cost, with iron controls. And for such a style, Communism was the best-suited system for him. He could just as easily have been a Nazi. It was a question of style, not values.
Well, I believe it is enough for today. Next trip is to Lithuania, back to Moscow, then Montenegro, and Slovenia. Let us see what insights, if any, that trip will yield.
Ichak Kalderon Adizes