2016-01-20 / Voice at the Shore

Author series looks at how the world sees Israel—and how Israelis see themselves

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore correspondent


JOSHUA MURAVCHIK JOSHUA MURAVCHIK Which is Israel: David or Goliath? That question was addressed by two different speakers at the Margate JCC’s Jewish Author Series, which concluded last month.

According to foreign policy expert Joshua Muravchick, author of “Making David into Goliath—How the World Turned Against Israel,” the world now sees Israel as a Goliath.

Do Israelis share this view? According to psychologist Alon Gratch, “Israelis can’t figure out if they are David or Goliath— and they go back and forth about how they feel about it.” Gratch is the author of “The Israeli Mind: How the Israeli National Character Shapes Our World.”

Prior to the Six Day War, there was no dispute in anyone’s mind that Israel was David. The world saw tiny Israel take on the vast conglomerate of Arab nations, and sided with the underdog. At that time, polls showed that people favored Israel over the Arabs 14:1— with Europeans even more sympathetic towards the Israelis, favoring them 28:1, said Muravchik, a former fellow of Johns Hopkins University’s Foreign Policy Institute.


DR. ALON GRATCH DR. ALON GRATCH Yet now, “European publics are very hostile to Israel,” he said. “Israel is now perceived as a formidable country militarily. Instead of the vast Arab nation against little Israel, it is now big strong Israel against the tiny Palestinian State.”

Ironically, this change in perception has been promoted by the vast Arab nation, which is now fighting more of a public relations war against Israel. The success of the Arabs’ public relations war can be seen by the fact that the world expresses much greater outrage over the plight of Palestinians versus that of the Kurds, a much larger ethnic group lacking its own state that has been oppressed by Turkey and other nations in the Arab world, said Muravchik.

And while the world’s anti- Israeli sentiment did not start out as anti-Semitism, “The rage at Israel is increasingly turning into anti-Semitism,” he said.

Just as the world’s view of Israel has changed now that Israel is no longer seen as the underdog, Israelis’ view of themselves and the Israeli character has changed correspondingly, said author Alon Gratch, an Israeli-born clinical psychologist who now practices in New York City.

“Zionists set out to create a ‘new Jew’ that was the total opposite of the Diaspora Jew,” said Gratch. By outward appearances, it would seem they succeeded, he added. “Israelis have adopted a tough exterior. They have suppressed the timidity of the Diaspora personality, but they didn’t get rid of it. Underneath the tough Israeli exterior, complex things are going on.”

Among those complex feelings is the very real fear of losing a child or loved one, something all Israeli parents must deal with, said Gratch.

He adds that as a result of constant war, “hundreds of thousands of Israeli men are silently walking around with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]”— which numbs them emotionally and “results in dissociation from the present.”

The constant threat of death also means that “Israelis choose life every day, living life to the fullest. That’s why spending time with Israelis is not relaxing but stimulating,” said Gratch.

Israelis must also grapple with constant change. Gratch, who visits Israel frequently, said that he finds “it’s a different country every 3-5 years. The borders keep changing, new settlements are put up and dismantled and there are all different groups of people with different languages.”

As a result, he noted, “Israelis are very adaptable. You make change your friend. That’s why Israelis are all aspiring or failed entrepreneurs.”

Ultimately, concluded Gratch, “Israel is like an old baby”—a new country experiencing constant, myriad changes, yet which is “uniquely burdened” with the lessons of Jewish history. .

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