Rabbi visiting here pessimistic on Israel

Rabbi Motty Berger has lived in Israel for 16 years, but it's only recently that he's become such a pessimist about the future of the Jewish state.

In his view, "the Jewish world sees itself in the right, that this land belongs to the Jews," he said. "But the Jewish world doesn't realize that not everyone sees it that way."

Berger, a Cleveland-born Orthodox rabbi who founded the anti-missionary group Jews for Judaism, is a senior lecturer in Jewish philosophy at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem. He will be speaking in San Francisco and Oakland next week.

One only has to look at history, Berger said, to see the precedent for the Arabs' belief that if they just wait long enough, Israel will eventually cease to exist.

"The Arab world sees itself as part of the Third World," he said. And in the case of the Palestinians, their region was "invaded by elements of European civilization. Everywhere, in Asia and Africa, natives saw themselves invaded, and a power struggle continued until the invaders withdrew or lost."

The current intifada, then, is not a 1-year-old conflict, but one that began around 100 years ago. And at that time, he said, "The Arab world made a decision to not end that conflict until they controlled Palestine."

Berger said he faulted the Zionist leaders for failing to take into account the reaction of the Arab world when creating the Jewish state.

"In hindsight, the Zionist dream was not workable," he said. "It was worked out 100 years ago in a world that did not see the anti-colonialist response to nativists, to what they would see as a European invasion."

Therefore, a resolution for a conflict like this one will not be determined by weapons or force, he said.

"It's not so much who looks stronger, but who is willing to bear suffering more, and that's the Palestinian side."

Additionally, he said, the Arabs have demographics in their favor.

With the influx of non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union as well as foreign workers, the non-Jewish population inside Israel proper is growing. And if you take the population of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israel together, the Arab population is already 50 percent of the Jewish population. Because of the higher Arab birthrate, the non-Jewish population will continue to grow at a much faster rate, he said.

Even if a Palestinian state were established, there are no guarantees that the Palestinians would be content with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Berger believes. And those Jews who believed that a solution was close at hand after the Oslo peace process were deluding themselves.

"Everything that's happened since 1993 points to the fact that the more Israel has been showing levels of desperation to end this conflict, more conflict has erupted, and the other side is accurately assessing its mood."

Using dove Yossi Beilin as a representative of Israel's peace camp, Berger said it was Beilin who once said, "I cannot live in a world where a peaceful solution is impossible."

According to Berger, Beilin should get used to the idea. "He can commit suicide or see it differently," he said.

Sounding especially pessimistic, Berger said that at this juncture, Israel has two scenarios: living in a state of permanent warfare with the Palestinians or surrendering the Jewish state to Arab control.

Berger would not divulge his own political views, but he did say that each side sounded most convincing when it argued against the other.

"When the right says that if we continue as we're going now [meaning toward making peace], Israel will cease to exist, I believe they're correct, and when the left says we have no alternative [but to allow a Palestinian state] I believe they're correct," he said.

Berger quoted conservative columnist George F. Will, who once said that "the advantage of being a pessimist is that you're always either proven to be correct or pleasantly surprised."

Adding that he owns property in Israel, and is bringing up his youngest daughter there, Berger admitted, "It's a cynical way of seeing it."

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."