For two millennia containment and appeasement have accompanied Jews in exile where they were a defenseless, persecuted minority, a necessary evil that allowed the Jews to survive. But Israel would do well remembering a lesson of history; that policy has never ended well for those trying to avoid conflict.
By Tsvi Sadan
For the last 100 days not a single day has passed in which fields and forests were not set ablaze by Hamas kites and balloons. During these 100 days, Israel did next to nothing to stop Hamas from burning Israel’s southern Negev region. Justifying Israel’s policy of containment and appeasement is possible only by trying really hard.
Containment and appeasement, the legal daughters of defeatism, have accompanied Jews in exile for a very long time. In exile, where they were a defenseless, persecuted minority, containment and appeasement were entirely understandable, a necessary evil that allowed Jews to survive. This approach to conflict resolution is recited three times a day at the conclusion of the Amidah prayer – “let my soul be mute to those who curse me and let my soul be as dust before all.”
Two thousand years of recitation have done their job, and made this approach second nature, a habit difficult to abandon. And it is not as if we haven’t tried. From the 1920s to the 1940s, the Jewish society in Israel was deeply divided between those who opposed appeasement (revisionists) and those who supported it (labor parties). Back then, those supporting appeasement feared that retaliation would endanger the small and vulnerable Jewish population in mandatory Palestine. Containment, then, was believed to be an effective way to appease the Arabs and the British, but it never really worked out that way.
Containment and appeasement are also the hallmark of former-British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin, who remained convinced till he was forced out of office in May 1940 that his way would save England. Chamberlin was so self-assured that he insisted on his policy even after the Anschluss of Austria and the Sudetenland and the invasions of Abyssinia, Poland and the Benelux countries by Italy and Germany, respectively. Chamberlin’s policy of appeasement was justified by his belief that Britain could not defeat Germany on the battlefield. From that point of view, his policy was sound and logical. History has now proved that this policy of containment and appeasement based on a defeatist mindset was a complete sham.
What further complicates things is that Chamberlin wasn’t a soft-hearted lefty. He was a conservative, an English Tory who ruled the country with an iron fist, so much so that many of his colleagues saw him as a dictator of a kind. Defeatism, Chamberlin demonstrated, has nothing to do with ideology.
Yet, despite vivid examples from the not too distant past that clearly demonstrate how containment and appeasement bring the exact opposite of the hoped-for result, Israel still believes it is beneficial. Unfortunately, in Israel one hears repeatedly that terror can’t be defeated. We watch as Hamas is appeased with truckloads of goods and humanitarian aid, while the terror group’s assets are bombed with such precision and timing so as not to hurt, let alone kill, anyone associated with it. This failed policy of appeasement has characterized Israeli governments, both left- and right-wing alike, since 1967, and to no avail.
It could be that our leaders still believe, even though they no longer pray, that turning the other cheek is truly the right thing to do. But they would do well to remember the lesson of history, that containment and appeasement have never ended well for those trying to avoid conflict.
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