Addicted to insecurity

I handwrote the following post on the train to Dresden on December 24th. I had to edit it less than I thought I would. I apologize for the very sparse sources. If any particular fact seems dubious to you, please leave me a comment and I’ll try to track down some links.

Many people have pointed out how society is addicted to the concept of security — in the US, in Israel, in the UK,  really everywhere in the developed world. This can lead to some paradoxical situations. For example, as Roi Maor points out, the wave of xenophobia in Israel is far more dangerous to the African refugees than they are to the Israeli public. The primal fear of the Other plays a central role here, as does the government’s utter failure to address the needs of the poor neighborhoods and of the foreigners that gravitate towards them.1

I think another factor is the Israeli addiction to insecurity — the inseparable flipside of our addiction to security, as well as a bit of residue from Diaspora. You could call it chronic societal paranoia.

The state of Israel was formed in struggle, on the backdrop of the greatest atrocity in humanity’s most atrocious half-century to date. The state’s formative first three decades were marked by constant external threats of the very real kind. It’s no surprise our national mentality is so security-oriented. Yet the world seems, for the most part, to have moved on. The Arab states have mostly accepted we’re there to stay, Antisemitism in the West has become a marginal phenomena, and even the Palestinians haven’t posed a serious threat in years, especially on the West Bank.2 As for Iran, it seems unlikely they can realize Ahmedinejad’s Antisemitic banter — it would be national suicide, and I’m led to believe it’s not Ahmedinejad himself who would have to make the decision.

Yet these very threats continue to serve as justification for everything Israel does, from settlements through senseless IDF provocations, torture, and dismantlement of civil and human rights in Greater Israel as well as, more recently, the state of Israel proper. One hears a lot about these threats in Israel, and so they seem real. But here in Europe, where the press is freer, they fade out of view, not due to lack of interest (Germans, at least, are certainly interested), but probably due to the total lack of substance. The self-censoring mainstream media in Israel presents a very slanted view, always being desperate for the continued cooperation of the security establishment, and ever-eager to feed on the public’s siege mentality.

The states of the developed world, as I understand it, have for decades been accommodating Israel’s governments. The popular Israeli conception (as I know it) is entirely blind to this: the West is seen as a bunch of malignant Antisemites and the world at large as a place that is dangerous for Israelis. Our tiny country’s constant dependence on the world’s support (especially material support from the United States) is rarely acknowledged. Yet lately, the Hasbara mechanisms have shown awareness of this situation. Unfortunately, their response to the threat of isolation is to control who is let into Israel/Palestine and to run astroturf propoganda in the West. These policies, very much like the construction of settlements and the IDF’s systematic disruption of Palestinian society, manufacture more insecurity than they resolve.

A culture obsessed with security naturally espouses a politic of manufactured insecurity. This is hardly an Israeli thing. The US invasion of Iraq, the UK putting up useless cameras everywhere, states everywhere (lamentably including Germany) implementing insecure RFID chips in identification documents, Germany’s previous government’s utterly unimplementable plans for combating online child pornography (which would have been entirely ineffective even if they could be implemented)… The list goes on, and these are all symptoms of chronic societal paranoia. But the USA and the wealthy EU can afford imaginary threats. 3 Israel can’t. Israel has real, major problems to deal with: crumbling public services, underfunded education, huge economic gaps, loads of poverty, rampant corruption, and of course Hamas in Gaza and Hizbollah in Lebanon (who, no offense, are nothing compared to Israel’s internal problems — but much better at scaring people.)

A country in Israel’s situation has to pick its fights carefully to survive. Unfortunately, the opposite is true of political parties and ideas, whose survival depends on picking as many fights as possible, as quickly as possible, to give the impression that you know what’s going on. If you’re a politician, a political party, or a political idea, there are huge short-term gains to be had from paranoia. If party A promises to deal with problem X and party B doesn’t, the effect is pretty big, even if X is imaginary or harmless. In a society trying to lead a normal life while managing a variety of problems and threats, it’s easy and practical to believe authoritative-sounding claims without research and without question if they fit your world-view. This is even more so when the claims prey upon people’s fear of the Other, which in Israel is compounded by hundreds of years of Jews actually being persecuted and murdered by Others.

And so Israel bites off more than it can chew, taking on minor and even imaginary threats, overreacting and creating new problems while serious societal and infrastructural problems go untreated. Even if none of the real or manufactured threats get it, Israel may not survive such remarkably unsustainable politics for long.


  1. It’s okay. They’re building a concentration camp for the foreigners now. That’ll solve the problem, right? (I guess the Israeli government is capable of not thinking of the Holocaust for a minute after all!)
  2. None of this is to say the world has grown benign: The Arab states, I take it, are happy to have Israel oppressing the Palestinians because it saves them the work of doing this themselves. And while foreigner-bashing is on the rise in Europe, the European far-right has recognized Israel as a paragon of what they want to achieve (ethnic segregation) and their leaders have become “friends of Israel”. Most of the world is still pretty awful, the true awfulness just isn’t aimed at us anymore.
  3. Well, they could at least up until the economic collapse. Now it’s more iffy.