Monday, March 29, 2010

Historical Perspective

The first part of the 1980s were hard times in Israel. Menachem Begin's Likud won the 1981 election by a whisker, but only after an acrimonious election campaign that came close to tearing apart Israeli society. There was a war of no consensus from 1982 that kept on getting worse. The economy was in shambles, and that, too, kept on getting worse, eventually approaching Argentinian-style inflation. Part of the time the relations with the American administration were considerably worse than what they are today, or at any rate certainly no better (hard to believe, huh?).

That was the background for Meir Ariel's song about Pharaoh. Ostensibly, it was a series of kvetches about his upstairs neighbor, the nasty bank clerk, and other woes - except for the refrain:
- Aval avarnu et Par'o, na'avor gam et ze. (We survived Pharaoh, we'll survive this also).

It was an instant and eternal hit. Precisely because it didn't specifically kvetch about Reagen, say, or Begin, or the minister of finance (there were lots of them in those days, coming and going all the time), it never lost its immediacy; by focusing on the original disaster, from which we eventually so spectacularly escaped, it was more comforting than some of the subsequent calamities. "We survived the Cossacks", while true, would have had a less triumphant ring. And it certainly was triumphant, in a kvetch-infused sort of way.

Ariel is unfortunately no longer with us, but the sentiment is still just fine. Just fine for this day of preparations before Pessach, just fine for the American's new boss, just fine as a summary of the past and present.

Avarnu et Par'o, na'avor gam et ze.


4infidels said...


You may be right. While I don't want to be a downer, my feeling is that things are more ominous now.

1) Obama is far more hostile on an ideological and cultural level to Israel than was Regan.

2) In the 1980s, the Democrats sought to win Jewish votes by actively supporting Israel, and attacking Republicans when they weren't sufficiently pro-Israel. Today, Dems try to hang onto Jewish voters by convincing those Jews who care about Israel that the Dems aren't anti-Israel, or that a heavier hand with Israel will actually benefit the Jewish state.

3) The anti-Israel influence of the Saudi and Gulf Arabs is far more prominent and established throughout different parts of Western society. We used to hear about Arabists in the state department; now the Saudis, Kuwaitis, UAE, etc. own US media, fund Western academic institutions and have a major impact on American and EU financial institutions.

4) The spread of communications through the satellite, cable and internet, as well as the global media's desire to win audiences and open markets in Arab/Muslim countries, has made negative stories about Israel far more common and accessible.

5) Political Correctness in the West has determined that Jews are a Western people and must be held to Western standards. Muslims as the third world other in the conflict should not face much criticism, and tolerance in the public discussion of issues includes not offending Muslim sensibilities.

6) The peace treaty with Egypt and American support for Jordan has allowed both countries, though nominally at peace with Israel, to pose a far greater threat to Israel than they could have in the early 1980s.

7) The "new historians" had not yet rewritten the "Zionist narrative." Today many Israelis and much of the diaspora Jewish community is ignorant regarding the justice of its own cause, while the media and academia have adopted the post-Zionist narrative as truth.


4infidels said...

(con't from previous post)

8) In 1981, Hamas did not yet exist and Israel had not yet armed and funded the PLO, putting them in charge of terriorty on Israel's border.

9) The cult of Palestinianism throughout the international left had not yet formed, whereby the Palestinians are the ultimate victims who can never do wrong, making the Jews then the ultimate oppressors of the poor, downtrodden and mistreated "indiginous" peoples.

10) The increase in Muslim population throughout Europe and North America has meant that political parties need to court Muslim voters. Concerns of Jewish citizens, including their physical safety in parts of Europe, have been marginalized so as not to anger the Muslims. This is another of the many reasons for the pro-Arab tilt in Western foreign policy.

11) The end of the Cold War led many to believe that Israel was more of a strategic liability than a benefit, as the desire grew to open Arab markets and avoid Arab terrorism.

12) The Saudis, in 1981, have spread billions of dollars of their oil wealth to promote authentic Islam to Muslims communities across the globe. Those Muslims, outside of Arab lands, who may have been ignorant regarding jihad or the Arab-Israeli conflict, or taken a relaxed approach to their Islam, now get the full Saudi program from mosques owned and funded by Gulf interests to imams trained at the most fundamental Wahhabi institutions. Islamic schools around the World are using Saudi textbooks.

13) The defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and the success of the Islamic revolution in Iran, has given a triumphalist impulse to would-be Islamic jihadists throughout the "Muslim world." They believe that history is on their side and that they should continue pushing forward with their jihad. The pathetic response of the West to terrorism, and Israel's willingness to make compromises, has only further convinced them that their infidel enemies are weak, and either unwilling or unable to meet the challenge.

14) The Muslim Brotherhood has not only established itself throughout the US (CAIR, MSA, ISNA, NAIT, etc.), it is being treated as a moderate group of civil rights activists that are the official spokespersons for the Islamic community and deserve "outreach" efforts from the FBI, CIA and local police forces.

I'm quite confident that I could think of others if I spent more time on it. On the other hand, the Jews have faced worse in their history and lived to tell about it, so perhaps I worry too much.

NormanF said...

I subscribe to my dictum, which is an update of Moshe Dayan's famous dictum about Sharm El Sheikh. I want it to go viral on the Internet and resonate in the heart of every Jew in the world tonight:

"I prefer Jerusalem without peace to peace without Jerusalem."

The Jewish people will survive Obama just as they survived the catastrophic inflation of the 1980s.

Chag Sameach Pessah, every one!

Anonymous said...

"includes not offending Muslim sensibilities."

if you do offend and you happen to be prominent you may find a guy with an axe at your door who will not be content with taking it out on your furniture (Kurt Westergaard) and the head-waggering commentariat will tell you "that he shouldn't have this" and "he shouldn't have that" and they moan about the dangers of being called an Anti-Zionist while in real life ever since the Rushdie-fatwa we are slowly learning the lesson of harm-one-discipline-thousands. And once we dare to say that they frighten us then we are accused of Islamophobia

and what infuriates me most is the short-sightedness of it all
the boss who lets his secretary/PA be humiliated by a competing department-head is setting himself up for doom (the PA may find another job)
(by which I only mean to say that Israel is a comparatively small entity compared with the hundreds of millions of us competing for best weaseller Europeans)


PS: If I were a better person this picture wouldn't make me chuckle ... (the text to it reads like it is meant as a compliment)

Anonymous said...

this must be the song - thanks

Carrie said...

4infidels has it 100% right.

Sergio said...

4infidels put it quite right. I'd just add that the demise of the USSR gave a boost to left-wing anti-semitism (aka anti-zionism), as the new "orphans of the Berlin Wall" now dedicate full-time to transmit the soviet legacy (the torch was already passed to the palestinians).

And this goes hand-in-hand with what Wistrich's call Europe's capitulation, cringing appeasement and intellectual decadence (epitomized in the PCism and postmodernism) What a drek...


Anonymous said...

there is a perfidious though hard to nail spin going on which in a roundabout way will likely be harmful to the perception of Israel's military operations.

McChrystal the Afghanistan Commander has been reading Churchill's writing about his time on the Afghan Border at the end of the 19th century and thinks Churchill got it right - under the link below is a comment with a short description of the book (the book itself is available at as is the next on McChrystal's list Churchill's River War)

McChrystal is reported as saying Churchill's way is the right way - but what I remember most closely from either his Malakand-book or his Early-Years-book is that British forces would destroy the harvest of uppity villages and tribes and that Churchill didn't disapprove of severe punishments being meted out one bit.

On the other hand I remember distinctly how his language got cold and distinct when he without passing express judgment described in the River War how the Brits from their boat on the Nile fired indiscriminately and heavily on a column of refugees (warriors, women and children) walking on the bank.

Therefore I pride myself to have a gut reaction when he disapproves and he doesn't disapprove one bit on the Afghan border

- i.e. a sanitised Churchill, a Churchill without severe punishment meted out to the unfaithful, is promoted as a guiding light to the boots on the ground of this world. Never mind that the boots will have to do the dying it is all a war of perception and so the only important thing is how you perceive that your leg got lost in the process.

It is always the same: pick out books out of fashion or out of print and spin them to the public as early promoters of fashionable "truths" relying that nobody of any consequence will read them.
Ben MacIntyre in his comment plays along in the best British fashion of salivating heavily whenever an American finds that the Brits have something noteworthy. (another Irony is of course that Obama had Churchill's bust removed while one of his major generals is trying to learn lessons from him)


Anonymous said...

Goldberg is back and mentions/coins?

"today's neo-Lindberghian climate"

I wonder, is this just a way of saying Anti-Zionism for the "intellectual" classes? or is it supposed to give a boost to Philip Roth's book? (here's Paul Berman's lengthy review of the book


Anonymous said...

I forgot
- if you enjoy reading about creepy people by all means "enjoy" the Atlantic-piece on McChrystal
- I still can't decide whether the basic ideal the writer was aiming at is more Disney or McKinsey but either way thinking of it makes me shiver and I sure have spend a lot of time and effort in teaching myself to understand and consequently greatly respect soldiers since the last Lebanon War but this kind/brand of "band of brothers" idolizing makes me feel more than a bit nauseous.

4infidels said...


What is really disturbing--I have read that Patraeus and other top military types have become fond of T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) as a guide to dealing with Arabs and Muslims.

Glad to know that these folks are relying on the fantasy of a failure to guide their actions.

Anonymous said...

I think Lawrence is mentioned in the Atlantic article also but he is back in fashion already quite some time especially his piece in the Encyclopedia Britannica. I haven't read Lawrence himself (except for that EB piece) but his uni-buddy Robert Graves (the I, Claudius-Graves) has written a biography on him and according to that Lawrence was a success insofar that he could get concerted action out of the tribes but then you stumble on info-bits that when they went on a raid Lawrence had to take care that warring tribes didn't ride into action next to eachother lest they wouldn't forget about the loot to be had and start fighting eachother instead. Also he had to plan the raids so that the fighting business was finished before the looting absorbed all attention. But of course this time it's going to be different.

I am not so sure whether Lawrence himself was the failure, he comes across more like the perfect kind of nut you need for such an enterprise. And after he had done his military thing big politics took over. The what he promised his Faisal? or not or what Faisal knew about that British-French pre-existing deal seems to be still a murky affair. But I also remember that Gertrude Bell the Brit-woman doing Iraq at the time thought according to her biography that Lawrence got it all wrong.

Robert Graves says in his book about Lawrence that Lawrence asked him to write it because he couldn't stomach the romanticized version of his actions an American reporter (National Geographic?) had come up with - I don't know what to believe - but whether their reading Lawrence or Churchill is more important both have in common that they obviously take in sanitised versions with a lot of bloody facts eliminated.

Most disturbing in the Atlantic piece is that McChrystal read two novels of a French guy about Algeria and Vietnam
"We had a level of unit cohesion just like in The Centurions and The Praetorians,” 1960s novels by Jean Lart√©guy about French paratroopers in Indochina and Algeria. "
By now the French admit at least that in Algeria they went on a torturing orgy that can compete with the best of them - whether paratroopers were involved - no idea - but it makes for a highly discomforting info-bit
- maybe one should watch Marlene Dietrich in Morocco again to find out what's going on in the heads of these guys. (the final scene is gorgeous when he leaves her millionaire husband to be throws away her high heels grabs the halfter of a goat and follows her foreign legion guy into the desert.)


Anonymous said...

just to put some gloom into the day
- the Anti-Zionist-Lobby operates in the concert hall

Anonymous said...

here is another Brit fighting with a Mahdi and there are two versions of him (there probably are more but those two I had "recommended" again and again)

Churchill's at the beginning of the River War i.e. the history of what went on before the war and the description of the Mahdi's ascent - McChrystal's next book on his reading list (I wonder whether he got that list from Kaplan who has been using this book in his pieces for ages) -

and Lytton Strachey in this take on Chinese Gordon that was the nickname of the Gordon who got hacked to pieces in Khartoum (some guys sure got around a bit in the British Empire)

for my taste both versions are exaggerating one in the virtue department the other in the acid department but exciting to read are both of them

I wonder will Kaplan get McChrystal to read Norwich's books on the Normans in Sicily also? another book he keeps harping on - a great read also and for a short period even a success story...