One of the most ironic obstacles to peace in the Middle East is what I call the Jewish disease of “ifonlyitis.” This is the school of thought that says “if only” Israel would do this, or “if only” Israel would do that, then we finally might resolve the conflict. I suffer from the syndrome myself, and for that I blame my mother. She convinced me from a very young age that “if only” I put my mind to something, there’s nothing I can’t do.
Well, Mother, it turns out there’s plenty I can’t do, and one of those things is make my enemies like me.
I was thinking of this last week when I read about the plan to increase pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to obtain the release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas since June 2006. According to reports, the plan in the Shalit camp now is to “take the gloves off” against Netanyahu. That might include politicizing the cause and having more disruptive demonstrations throughout the country.
In an editorial in Haaretz, Nehemia Strassler wrote that the Shalit family has to “wage a personal war against the prime minister” and be “much more militant.” They must “organize mass protests and bring the country to a standstill. They must not give Netanyahu one moment of quiet.”
Evidently, because Bibi has failed to convince Hamas to return Shalit in exchange for the release of almost 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, he’s now the bad guy and must be punished. If you ever needed more proof of the Jewish instinct to blame ourselves for everything, this is it.
This is a sure sign of the “ifonlyitis” disease: The belief that everything is on our shoulders. It’s all about us. We can achieve anything. If only we would release a few hundred more terrorists with Jewish blood on their hands, we might finally free Gilad Shalit.
If only we did this, or if only we did that.
There is a wonderful psychological benefit to this disease. It gives us the illusion that we are in control; that we can affect our situation, no matter how bad it might seem. It empowers us. And when we’re in a hostile and unpredictable environment, we desperately need to feel we are in control of our destiny.
But we pay a heavy price for this illusion of control. First, it leads to tremendous tension and mutual animosity among Jews. Because we assume we are the ones who are always responsible for any situation, we end up constantly beating each other up.
Second, we get so busy beating each other up that we lose sight of the real obstacles to peace. To the Haaretz writer who is calling for a “war” against Netanyahu because Shalit is still not free, I want to scream: “Why on earth are you declaring war against Bibi? In case you forgot, he’s not the one who kidnapped Shalit and is holding him hostage!”
What Jews need, it seems to me, is less hatred of one another and more hatred of evil. Any group that will target a guided missile at a children’s school bus is evil. Any group that will codify the murder of Jews and destruction of Israel in its charter is evil. Those, my friends, are real obstacles to peace.
If we didn’t have this obsession with blaming ourselves for everything, we might focus more of our energies against the real bad guys — and maybe even come up with some imaginative ways of getting what we want.
For example, instead of pressuring the Israeli government over Gilad Shalit, why not transfer some of that pressure to the Palestinians?
A Syrian Jew who sat next to me at the first Seder this year had this idea: Take the names of the hundreds of Palestinian prisoners whom Israel has already offered to release and promote those throughout the Palestinian territories. Drop millions of leaflets with their names and pictures. Promote them on the Internet and social networks. Buy ads in Palestinian newspapers. Film some prisoners pleading for their freedom and run the clips on Al Jazeera.
In other words, put the real pressure on Hamas, not on Bibi. Humiliate Hamas for refusing to obtain the release of its own Palestinian brothers. Have them answer to the hundreds of Palestinian families who would love nothing more than to see their own Gilad Shalits returned home. Expose Hamas for turning its back on its own people.
Think that wouldn’t be more effective than starting a “personal war” against the Israeli prime minister?
It’s ridiculous to keep beating Bibi up over Gilad Shalit. His offer to release hundreds of prisoners is already risky — going beyond it would be reckless and irresponsible. He’s done his part. Now we must do ours.
Just like the global movement to free Natan Sharansky focused on pressuring the Soviet Union, the global movement to free Gilad Shalit must focus on pressuring the Palestinians. Ideally, we ought to find someone with international credibility who could spearhead this effort — someone highly motivated to do something special for Israel and the Jewish people.
In fact, I have a name in mind: Richard Goldstone.
Now “if only” I can convince him to go after the bad guys.