Frustrated, Flummoxed and (just plain) Fed-up

I am sick of the middle-east–or more accurately, the middle-east is making me sick. I have spent a good deal of my adult life actively defending the State of Israel; both by bearing arms in the military, and by serving as an unofficial ambassador to defend the country from its detractors.

Recently, I have published my initial blog on Occam’s Corner discussing why the so-called boycott of Israeli academics is hypocritical and silly, and then defended this position against anti-Israel propaganda here again on OT. More recently, I have argued Israel’s position with regards to its recent operation in Gaza to prevent continued rocket fire on Israeli citizens.

I have never backed away from criticizing Israel’s misguided policy of settling in the West Bank (and of course Gaza), but as the Hebrew saying (“Higiu mayim ad nafesh”) translates “The water has reached the soul–” and I am utterly fed up with Netanyahu and the Israeli government.

Instead of embracing the moderate Palestinian stance of Abu Mazen, and the common denominators that he put forth in seeking UN recognition–including a two-state solution recognizing Israel’s security on the basis of the pre-1967 borders–with no insistent rhetoric about the right of return of millions of former Palestinians to Israel, the detached Israeli government has spit into the face of the world. There is no anti-semitism/anti-Israeli hypocrisy here; Europe, a host of influential and generally supportive countries and the US (not to mention the Palestinians) see the decision of Netanyahu to start building again in disputed territory as a slap in the face. I see it that way too.

I am not alone. Article after article in the Israeli press–particularly in the excellent newspaper “Haaretz” lambastes Netanyahu over his arrogance and poor decision making; he, who wants to convince the world of existential threats coming from Iran, is wasting any political credit (although none is due) over useless policies of angering the Palestinians and the world by building in land that (hopefully) will be negotiated away as part of a peace agreement and two-state solution.

Why? Why does he do this? Why did he announce intentions of more controversial West bank building projects when Vice President Biden visited Israel? Why this show of arrogance and willingness to go against the entire world? One might argue, as Netanyahu clearly does, that the world is full of anti-Semites who hate Israel. But that argument fails when the US and Canada, Australia and Germany, are all voicing tremendous disappointment with Netanyahu’s behavior. No one will convince me that US policy is anti-Israel.

So why does Netanyahu do this? Is he really so obtuse, so caught up in his own righteous rhetoric, that Palestinian suffering means nothing to him? That he truly believes that Israel can continue to control these territories indefinitely?

Perhaps. But I think the answer lies with Netanyahu’s ideology–or rather–lack of it. Not that Israel’s right lacks ideological opponents of a two-state solution. But in Netanyahu’s case, it seems more likely that the man will say anything to get elected. If it served his purpose (eye on the polls) to push for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, I believe he would do it. But in Israel of 2012, the population is split, and Netanyahu expects his reelection to come from the right. Hence his merger with Avigdor Lieberman’s radical right wing party, and hence his decision to stir up international trouble. There’s nothing like the old “us against the world” rhetoric to stir up the right wing base and get the nationalistic juices flowing.

I’ve been venting, and one might wonder “what does this have to do with science and the lives of scientists?”

Well it has a lot to do with science. Because building government sponsored settlements in the occupied territories costs a lot of money. The security that is needed to provide for these residents is exceptionally expensive. Roads and schools need to be built. All at the expense of the government. The taxpayer.

At the same time Israel’s classrooms are overcrowded. Teachers are underpaid and treated like dirt. Almost no one wants to become a teacher. Although Israeli researchers have obtained several prominent Nobel prizes in recent years, concerned that science is derailing in Israel, a new program was recently instituted. I read that schools will select an extremely small number of high school students with IQ scores in the ‘genius’ range. This select group of about 15 students will begin in high school to work in science labs with prominent researchers, in an attempt to train “Israel’s next generation of Nobel laureates.”

When I read this in one of the Israeli newspapers, my BS detectors were screaming louder than a Geiger counter in a puddle of 32P. What?!!! Instead of methodically training students in the sciences and improving the education system, this is the great plan? Did any of the great planners of this program ever consider that diligence, creativity, management skills and a variety of others skills undetected by any IQ test are probably far more important for success in the sciences?

It’s all back to the same root–money. With huge investments in the West Bank and settlements and infrastructure, it’s no wonder idiotic and cheap programs for advancing science are being implemented rather than real improvements in education.

About Steve Caplan

I am a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska where I mentor a group of students, postdoctoral fellows and researchers working on endocytic protein trafficking. My first lablit novel, "Matter Over Mind," is about a biomedical researcher seeking tenure and struggling to overcome the consequences of growing up with a parent suffering from bipolar disorder. Lablit novel #2, "Welcome Home, Sir," published by Anaphora Literary Press, deals with a hypochondriac principal investigator whose service in the army and post-traumatic stress disorder actually prepare him well for academic, but not personal success. Novel #3, "A Degree of Betrayal," is an academic murder mystery. "Saving One" is my most recent novel set at the National Institutes of Health. Now IN PRESS: Today's Curiosity is Tomorrow's Cure: The Case for Basic Biomedical Research (CRC PRESS, 2021). All views expressed are my own, of course--after all, I hate advertising.
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4 Responses to Frustrated, Flummoxed and (just plain) Fed-up

  1. Laurence Cox says:

    I think that the problem is not so much Netanyahu, but the Party that he currently leads. There is no denying that he will say anything to get elected, as you note, but Likud’s 1999 Charter claims all the land to the west of the River Jordan as part of the land of Israel. As long as this claim persists and the Hamas Charter persists with its claim to eliminate the State of Israel, there can be no peace.

    If we look at the example of Northern Ireland, the Good Friday Agreement (1998) included the UK Government’s agreement to repeal the Government of Ireland 1920 (which instituted the partition of Ireland) as well as the Irish Goverment’s agreement to hold a referendum on changing their constitution to eliminate their claim to the six counties. Whilst this was not sufficient to ensure peace (it was necessary also for the Loyalist and Republican parties in Northern Ireland to agree to take part in a power-sharing administration) it was a necessary condition for the peace process to work.

    • Steve Caplan says:


      Oh, I agree that the Likud and its now merged-right faction are definitely a major part of the problem. If you look at the recent primaries, the more moderate Likud members now have virtually no chance of making it to Israel’s Knesset (parliament)–these include Dan Meridor and many others. So point well taken.

      Having said that, a true leader with an agenda to achieve peace would not let that stop him/her. I never liked Ariel Sharon, who was almost “the father of settlements.” And before he underwent his incapacitating stroke years back, I was still unsure of whether he had undergone a real transformation, or it was just politics. Given the legacy of the key players who joined him (former PM Olmert and Tzipi Livni), in retrospect I do think he had intended to reach out and achieve peace. If constrained by the Likud, he simply made his own party.

      The problem is that (as opposed to the period where Israel still had peace-seeking governments) the Palestinians finally have representatives in the W. Bank who are pragmatic and committed to a non-violent means of achieving their goals. The UN is one route, and given their Israeli counterpart now, I don’t at all think their UN bid was wrong; my view is that Israel missed an opportunity to embrace it.

      But the tragedy is that the far-right in Israel feeds off of Hamas and other terrorist organizations, using their example (of firing rockets indiscriminately on southern Israel) to maintain the danger in ceding territory in the W. Bank. And the logic of rockets and terror for civilians (even if not extremely deadly, but enough to hold hostage school, work and normal life) is something that terrifies many Israeli–and serves to warn them off of any peace initiative.

      The tragedy is that if Abu Mazen had been the leader during Rabin’s time, or even during Ehud Barak’s tenure in the early 2000s, we’d probably be with 2-states right now.

  2. cromercrox says:

    Many years ago when the world was young I went to a demo in Trafalgar Square in support of Israel. Netanyahu was one of the speakers (he seemed very shifty) as was Richard Dawkins’ friend the Bishop of Oxford. But you can see Natanyahu’s point when the chants of the counter-demo were clearly audible – ‘Kill The Jews’.

    • Steve Caplan says:

      Point well taken, Henry. I think that in an atmosphere clearly pervaded by anti-Semitism and overtly anti-Israel, I too would have trouble leveling criticism at Israel. But avoiding comparisons with any of Israel’s neighbors, Israel is becoming dangerously close to fascist in its internal policies. So while I will adamantly defend Israel’s right to exist and fight against the hypocritical treatment of Israel, I will also not give the current government a “pass” and refrain from criticizing policies that I think endanger Israel’s existence.

      I can recall years ago, too, when the world was young, backpacking through S. America and ending up caught in bad weather in a little guest house outside a volcano (Villa Rica) that I had hoped to climb in Chile. (As an aside, the weather never did clear up, and I returned 10 years later to reach the top). There were two Dubliners there who were so clearly swimming in their own anti-Israel rhetoric, that I never bothered to tell them that I disliked former PM Itzhak Shamir as much as they did. Instead, I spent my time trying to educate them about the history of the mid-east conflict, and how the complex situation of the “occupation” arose, in a vain attempt to break through some of the anti-Israelism and hopefully show them that the situation was more complex than they envisioned.

      While my arguments may not have prevailed, I do think they realized after a few hours that not every Israeli agrees with government policy, and that a glance at how the “occupation” came about in the history books might be worth a few minutes of their time.

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