I just watched a History Channel documentary about the Manhattan Project. Leaving aside the feelings evoked by the outcome of it — the atomic bomb and its use in war — I was struck by something else: how American society was able to focus its energy (and that of numerous refugee Jewish scientists, I might add) to accomplish this massive undertaking, in every sense — scientific, technological, and organizational — and to do it in a remarkably short time and in the midst of an all-consuming war.
Could we do something similar in scale today? I doubt it, although their are plenty of candidates for such a project, like the development of cheap energy sources independent of OPEC. But for various reasons (I have my theories, of course), we as a society seem to have lost whatever we had that made the Manhattan Project possible.
At which point my thoughts turned to Israel, which also achieved almost miraculous successes in the near past, like winning the War of Independence and the 1967 war, absorbing millions of refugees from Hitler and the Arab world, etc.
And yet, today she stands apparently impotent, facing her enemies on her borders and within them. Why? Are today’s threats greater than those in 1948? I don’t think so.
There are several explanations for this. One is the most obvious: the lack of leadership. Every day there is a Cabinet Minister saying there will be a large incursion into Gaza, there will be a cease-fire, there will be a medium incursion, there will be an incursion of unspecified size “to teach Hamas a lesson” followed by a cease-fire, etc. Every day there is something new, and the only common element is that someone is talking about it.
Similar situations exist with respect to policy toward the West Bank, Hezbollah, Syria, Iran, etc.
What is needed is for responsible, competent, dedicated officials to analyze the situation, come up with the best — which does not mean perfect — policy, and then actually execute it. How simple it sounds, and how hard to accomplish! But we know, for example, that the present government is not responsible, competent or dedicated, and nothing will change until this does. Some have suggested that there are structural problems in Israel’s system for choosing leaders which is responsible for this; if so, it has to be changed too.
There is another problem which, if it can be imagined, is even more destructive than the first. This is well illustrated by Barry Rubin’s recent comment about “back channel” negotiations with the Palestinians: “I’ve been to those, the Israelis apologize and the Palestinians blame Israel for everything…”
Israelis need to stop accepting blame, apologizing, and trying to appease their enemies. The post-Zionist attitudes which appear to infect so many Jews in Israel and elsewhere are no more than the old ghetto mentality which whispers to us to beg the gentile king for our miserable lives. In fact, history shows that the Jewish state has little to apologize for, and that the blame for creating and perpetuating the conflict and the various miseries (e.g., Jewish and Arab refugees) that surround it falls squarely on the Arabs. Sorry for those who demand ‘balance’ but this is true.
Maybe Israel needs a Manhattan Project for political reform, and another one for History. Because no nation, no matter how great, not the US and not Israel, can succeed if its leaders are more concerned with their personal fortunes or legal misfortunes than with the good of the state. And no nation can win an existential struggle by accepting the narratives of its enemies.