Haredim rally for Emmanuel parents (archives)
Photo: Gil Yohanan

The tragedy of arrogance

Op-ed: Israel’s troubles rooted in belief that we are better, wiser than Arabs, gentiles

Each person and every nation cultivate their pride. This is a natural human need, yet not everyone can distinguish between pride and arrogance. This requires intelligence, wisdom, and modesty.


Having pride inflate into arrogance has been an obstacle for individuals, groups, and nations since early history. The ancient Greeks characterized arrogance (or hubris, as they called it) as a sin that would necessarily lead to tragedy. History has proven them right.


Arrogance is “built into” the people of Israel from its very inception. We are the chosen people. The whole world is against us. God is on our side. God willing. We forget how briefly we enjoyed independence throughout our history, despite our national arrogance and God’s support.


The Biblical arrogance gained momentum with the State of Israel’s inception, which gave rise to nationalism and turned security into a supreme value. Our Air Force is the best. The IDF is the world’s most moral army.


Yet nationalism is an ill-fated, dangerous outgrowth of a healthy national sense. Nationalism comprises constant demands, self-righteousness, and a sense of supremacy. It feeds arrogance and turns healthy patriotism into wickedness.


Arrogance gives rise to belittling other. All others, and mostly those we know from up close. The basic assumption is that their human qualities are different, lesser, and inferior to ours. There is no comparison, for example, between an Arab, Persian, or German mother and our own “Yiddishe mame.” Yet from that point, shifting to the assumption that an Ashkenazi Jewish mother should not be compared to a Moroccan or Ethiopian Jewish mother is a natural, necessary step.


The basic, fateful errors on the political-security front are the very same errors on the ethnic and religious front. It’s a circle within a circle. These two circles are the product of arrogance and human wickedness; they will end up threatening our very existence as a state, should we fail to restrain them.


Let’s start with the political-security theater. When we aim to estimate how our neighbors or enemies (or enemy neighbors) will react to our initiatives, arrogance prevents us from stepping into their shoes and understanding that they would react precisely as we would had we been in their position.


The similarity in behavior, character, and human qualities is greater than the differences, even in respect to remote nations that are physically and genetically remote from each other, and certainly when it comes to nations that are geographically, historically, and genetically close.


Notably, two of our four matriarchs come from the Aramaic people, that is, Syria and Iraq. King David is a descendent of Ruth the Moabite, and Moses married a Midianite.


Making the same mistakes

In simulations undertaken by our security forces, the false basic assumption that necessarily leads to failure is that the Arab perception is the opposite of our own, that their wisdom is lesser, that their freedom fighters are despicable terrorists wholly different from the Jewish terrorists we admired during British rule, that life is not sanctified by them as it is by us, and that if they won’t get coriander and sweets they would topple Hamas’ rule, which they stupidly elected.


The results of the above thinking have been the same for 100 years now, because we keep making the same mistake.


There are zealous murderers among the Arabs, just like there are decent and moderate people among them. Some of them are smart and others are dumb. They have wise leaders and corrupt ones, just like we have here. And as long as we fail to understand it and internalize that they are no better or worse or more just than ours, just like we are no better or worse or more just than them, we shall continue to kill each other and bury the sons of Ishmael, Israel and Rachel, who herded the sheep of Laban, the Aramaic.


We butcher each other based on the same dumbness. We bring misery not only to the families of our and their casualties, but also to thousands of families of the wounded, whose lives were completely destroyed. And all of this stems from arrogant thinking that the Arabs only understand force, that there is no partner for peace, and that had our neighbors been Scandinavian we would enjoy peace and tranquility.


As long as we convince ourselves that everything depends on our neighbors and that we are doing all the right and decent and logical things, we move further away from resolving any problem.


The religious and ethnic arrogance we see in Emmanuel and in Lithuanian yeshivas stems from the same source: Our arrogance towards the Arabs, and towards the gentiles in general. This arrogance threatens our existence to the same extent. It breeds wars, which are the gravest human tragedies: At times we see them in Lebanon or Gaza, and at times they take place in Emmanuel or Beit Shemesh.


If we fail to get out of this concentric circle of “I’m better and more just than anyone else,” we shall find ourselves facing an irreversible process that will divide us into two peoples in two states – a Jewish state led by God’s rabbis, and a democratic, secular Israeli state with manmade laws. Each state would weaken the other, until we reach the final act in this classic Greek tragedy, whose climax we are now approaching.


Amnon Shamosh is an author and poet


פרסום ראשון: 07.23.10, 00:43
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