Notes From Israel

TEL AVIV — This Passover season, Israel is facing the economic downturn just like the rest of the world, but there is one group that is feeling no pain: the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). In 2009, according to Haaretz columnist Reuven Pedatzur, the defenders of the Jewish State will spend more than $15 Billion (with almost $3 Billion from Uncle Sam), an amount that is close to 10 percent of Israeli GDP. By contrast, Europe and the United States spend less than 4 percent.

Israeli critics of this extravagant spending say that to call any defense funding wasteful in the current political environment is to sound unpatriotic, even though government investigators themselves have, for example, pointed out the likely ineffectiveness of the IDF’s proposed missile defense systems.

It’s no secret that there is an export-driven industrial-military complex in Israel and that a lot of Israelis in high places are making a bundle on military hardware sales. Likewise, Israel’s evolving relationship with Russia bears some analysis. A traveler to the coastal of town of Ashdod south of Tel Aviv will notice that many of the storefronts have signs in Russian, and that Russia is the predominant language being spoken on the streets.

There is great unease among some Israelis over the recent sale of very sophisticated pilot-less drones to Russia. If, they ask, Israel becomes a prominent supplier of sophisticated military hardware to Russia, as well as a culture in which men such as Avigdor Lieberman can play king-maker in the Knesset; if the Obama administration’s attempts to press the “reset button” on U.S.-Russia relations malfunction; and if U.S. policy shifts toward more balance with the Palestinians, what is to become of Israel’s “special relationship” with the United States?

Israel is certainly still a European-style country, but to this visitor for over 20 years it feels more and more like an Eastern European one. In the current climate, only the most courageous Israelis will speak out against export-oriented pork in defense appropriations.

Speaking of which, there is a new group making its presence felt in the halls of Israeli universities. It calls itself Academia Monitor, and is
modeled on the U.S. group Campus Watch, which monitors Middle East Departments in the United States for signs of anti-Zionist rhetoric.

The group’s goal, according to founder Dana Barnett, in an interview in the Jerusalem Post, is to “out” Israeli academics deemed unpatriotic (i.e. pro-Palestinian). In a bizarre bit of logic, Barnett contends that the support among many Israeli academics for the Palestinian cause “derives from their fear of Palestinian terrorism. . . . By helping the Palestinians they [think they] will be spared somehow.”

In addition to cowardice, according to Barnett, these very same academics are influenced by the availability of free trips abroad to lecture to the anti-Israeli hoards, and by “the ability to publish books that will be widely read” by critics of Israel. Barnett also says a “desire to suck up to and be accepted by the enemy” drives such Israeli academics.

The ultimate audience for the group’s enemies-of-the-Israeli-state list is university donors and taxpayers, whom Barnett assumes will be shocked — shocked! — to find out that Israeli academics do not all hold identical views about either the nature of the current conflict or the notion of what constitutes Israel.