Friday, June 27, 2008


By Si Frumkin
A friend sent me a video of an interview at a Russian language TV channel in Israel. I was reluctant to watch it – it was more than 35 minutes long and I had never heard of Dan Shiftan, the guest. Just to avoid feeling guilty I googled Dan Shiftan and was impressed: he is the head of Israeli National Security Center and was described by the 30 or so sites I looked at as “scholar”, “controversial”, “well informed”, “conservative”, “prolific”, “influential”, and also “Arab-hating”, “right wing”, “colonialist” and several much less complimentary adjectives by Palestinian sites.
I was hooked after the first two minutes when he was asked how he saw Israel’s role and image in the Middle East and he responded that it was a luxury villa in the jungle.
“Israel must concentrate on itself, on what it needs and what is fantasy and what is real,” he said. “There was a time when Jews believed that they could become part of the Middle East, that they could fit in but they are realizing now that they will never fit in. And, furthermore, the more they learn about the Middle East, the less they want to be part of it and they should stop trying and look at reality.”
Dr. Shiftan believes that it is important for Israel to form relationships with Europe and the U.S. but Israel also knows that it is impossible to form a relationship with the Palestinians. And so, since both U.S. and Europe insist that something should be done, Israel does something: Oslo, Madrid, more recently Annapolis, exercises in futility of little significance.
“Israel must concern with itself without asking when there would be peace. Israel lived without peace for 120 years now, and it can learn how to live 120 more years without it. The best that can be hoped for is not peace – just an absence of war, like with Egypt. Israel will continue to develop its culture, industry, art, and all the rest that creates a culture, just as it has done before and will do in the future. This is our strength and this is important.”
He tells a joke to explain his optimism about the future.
“The Lord decides that He has had it with humanity and will destroy it once and for all. There will be a flood but no Noah, no arc, no stopping the rain, nothing. He calls together the three representatives of the monotheistic religions and tells them that they should tell their people that they have two weeks before it is all over.
“The Christian tells his people, ‘We have two weeks so use them to do good deeds and you’ll go to Paradise.
“The Muslim tells his people that it is unavoidable, just live as you always have, and this is the way it is – Allah’s will.
“The Jew says, ‘Guys, listen carefully. We have just two weeks to learn how to live under water, so let’s go!”
He claims to be an optimist because of the Arabs.
“Just look. They hate one another. The Saudis hate the Shiites. The Lebanese hate the Palestinians - well, everyone hates the Palestinians. The Egyptians act superior and no one likes them. The Syrians hate the Jordanians and the Lebanese. In Sudan the Arabs are slaughtering Muslim blacks. In Iraq Sunnis and Shiites kill one another. And they have the same language, same religion. This is a region with an unstable and aggressive structure and we expect to be an island of harmony and goodwill here? It’s a fairy tale. I love fairy tales but really, you should stop believing in them when you are 7 or 8, maybe at 13 at the latest. The failure of the Palestinians and the success of Israel are caused by their goals. The Palestinian goal is to defeat the Jews. The Jews do not want to defeat the Palestinians – they want to create a pluralistic society, to advance science, create a strong economy that will help the poor, develop a good educational system for. This is the Israeli fantasy, but it isn’t predicated on everlasting peace. Of course, if there is peace, it would be wonderful, but if not, we’ll manage.”
Israel’s success is incredible but it is in spite of politicians, not because of them. The main principle of politics is hypocrisy – to say one thing and do something else.
“If you believe that a program will end poverty you are a fool! If you believe that a program will end crime, you are a fool! If you believe anything a politician promises, you are a fool!” he tells the host.
But the Israelis, most Israelis expect to be lied to and they act accordingly. The result is that Israel is an incredible success story. Israel’s media write about poverty, unemployment, the end of society but the Israelis don’t believe it. And the proof is that only 10% have emigrated – 90% didn’t. In the 1950s there wasn’t enough food for everyone – today more is spent on diets than on all of the food in 1950. The Israeli shekel is stronger than the dollar and the euro – no one transfers money to foreign banks while a decade ago anyone who had $50 sent it to Switzerland as soon as he could.
“Why?” he laughs. “Because the government was sneaky - they allowed transferring currency out of the country. And everyone knew that if the government allows something then it must be a stupid thing to do. And so they stopped.”

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