Recently, every time Israel has come under withering international approbation – usually for its settlement activity or rounds of retaliation against terrorists – the government reverts to the following line: “Loh naim, loh nora,” which translates loosely into: It’s not pleasant, but it’s not awful either.
When we lose a UN vote by 138 to 9, it’s not pleasant, but it’s not terrible either. We always lose UN votes. It could have been 147 to zero. But even then, it would be uncomfortable, but not catastrophic. When England, France, Sweden and Australia summon our ambassadors to read them the riot act, it’s not pleasant, but it’s also not so terrible. They could have recalled their ambassadors from Tel-Aviv, or even expelled our ambassadors. That would have been awful. But you know what? Awful is still OK; awful is not disastrous.
It’s not only international criticism though. Even internal reports that criticize the government’s handling of, say, road accidents, fires, school exam results, are all met with “loh naim, loh nora.”
It’s not great, but it’s not too bad. In other words, it could be worse. In other words, it can always be worse, so this is no big deal. It sure feels like it’s getting worse, but things really are not so bad.
According to this thinking, when things get worse, they still won’t be really bad. When things get worse, and things really seem to be getting worse here, the government will say “it’s bad, but not terrible.”
“Listen, things are really bad, but they’re not catastrophic. OK, ok, things are catastrophic, but they’re not disastrous. Wow, this is a disaster, but you know what, we’ve had it worse, so it’s really not so bad. We overcame Pharaoh, we’ll overcome this too. It’s bad, but it’s not the end of the world. The sky falling is bad? Sure but it could be worse: it could be the end of the world.”
This is like the parable of the frog in the pot, where the water slowly gets hotter and hotter. It’s not pleasant, but it’s not too bad. The water is slowly, barely perceptibly getting hotter and hotter, so the frog stays in the pot. It stays in the pot until the water boils and the frog is cooked dead. It’s not terrible, but it could be worse. We could have been thrown into a boiling pot of water, where we would have died a painful, burning death. This is much better – a slow burn. But, on the other hand, maybe if we were thrown into a boiling pot we would have jumped out, like good little froggies. Instead, we are being slowly cooked. Kosher frogs legs.
This mindset, this strategy from the government and its supporters, is coming out again now that Israel is being tarred and feathered for its settlement expansion announcements. When taken to its logical conclusion, it’s a brilliant strategy: no matter how bad things get, they could always be worse, so don’t complain so much, and above all, don’t blame us. We’re just doing what every responsible government is supposed to do: stand our ground and look after our vital interests. It just happens to be that, in this case, two of our vital interests seem to be clashing: our vital interest to build in the no-man’s land between Jerusalem and Maaleh Adumim [to stop a Palestinian state from arising and sneaking up on our eternal capital] and our vital interest of maintaining alliances and friendships with world powers so we won’t be all alone in this nasty world. So you see, our vital interests aren’t always in synch. And when they’re not in synch we need to choose between them: reinforcing our God-given right to this land, or reinforcing our hard-earned friendships with allies around the world [not including Micronesia and Palau, God bless them].
What to do? The world is largely with the Palestinians and supports their narrative of this conflict. That’s why the Palestinians aren’t rushing to negotiate with us. They know that the world is losing its patience with the Israeli narrative – the story of the return of an ancient people to their ancient homeland. Nobody outside of Micronesia, Palau and a few American red states supports us in that narrative.
Reacting to the international furor over Israel’s announcement of plans to build in E1 and expand settlements construction in East Jerusalem, Cabinet Minister Uzi Landau today said: “We don’t tell the British where and how to build in London or the French how to build in Paris.”
Yes Minister Landau, except there is nobody in the world who does not recognize London as the capital of England, or Paris as the capital of France. There is however, the minor issue of nobody in the world except us recognizing Jerusalem as our capital. In other words, only we believe our own narrative. In other words, our narrative is not catching on, is not universally accepted; it’s not believable, it’s not working. But how can this be? Every week a new artifact is uncovered from an archaeological dig which links the Jews to this land, to biblical stories, to tales of yore.
There’s no doubt in my mind that we have a case. Then why are we failing to make it? Why does the world still call what we say is our “legitimate construction on disputed land to which we have a historical and legal right to” “illegal”?
Perhaps another reason is that, no matter how justified our case is, it is based on a past reality and, well, you know, things have changed over the past 2,000 years. So perhaps we need to hold on to our narrative, but adapt its conclusions to better suit reality.
It’s not nice, but it’s not so bad either.