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Michael Levine - Contributor

Michael Levine is the founder of the prominent public relations firm Levine Communications Office in Los Angeles. He is the author of 15 books. - [go to Levine index]

Let’s Set Our Jealousy Aside
Envy and loathing in the Middle-East...
[Michael Levine] 2/9/04

An old parable tells of two peasant neighbors, one of whom has two cows, the other only one. The peasant with one cow goes about his days fuming, convinced of the injustice of this state of affairs. One day he uncovers a magical lamp on his land, from which pops out a genie, promising to grant him anything he wishes. The peasant glances over to his cow, standing alone, then looks back at the genie and demands, “Kill one of my neighbor’s cows!”

Jealousy is one of humanity’s most powerful yet most unexamined emotions. I believe it is worth giving thought to how it manifests itself in world affairs. Consider the carnage in Israel, where anti-Israeli terrorism is as common as a cold in winter. What else can drive fundamentalists to tactics of killing of innocent victims, where only bloodshed is a victory?

Israel not only perseveres but prospers in the face of such adversity. Israel has the highest average standard of living in the Middle East, with an economy larger than that of all its immediate neighbors put together. Israel has the highest number of startup companies in the world, proportional to its population, and, apart from the Silicon Valley, it also has the largest concentration of high-tech companies in the world.

The emergence of the Internet in Arab life has served to underscore the extraordinary magnitude of the gap in progress between Israel and the rest of the Middle East. America Online’s Instant Messenger, a technology that many Arabs use on a daily basis, was developed by four young Israelis. In fact, Israel can take credit for a number of advances in information technology, including the Windows NT operating system. To become a major player in the world economy, a country needs to provide innovations in this field; Israel has demonstrated it is serious contender here, while its neighbors lag behind.

Consider being a neighbor of such a country, a now-prosperous nation that was established a mere 55 years ago. Can we really expect Palestinians to not feel a twinge of jealousy? Perhaps such feelings of jealousy have led to hatred of the state of Israel among Arab extremists.

The Jews’ ability to follow through on their values, which favor productive achievement and initiative, has inspired hatred for centuries, most infamously in Germany. Political columnist Jim Peron, in his article The Marxist Origins of Hitlerian Hate in The Laissez Faire Electronic Times, has noted of late 19th century Germany, “The ability of the Jews to succeed in business ventures was despised by many in the lower middle classes who themselves failed at similar ventures. Marx argued that such success was indicative of exploitation, and these would-be merchants were all too happy to accept that theory. It was certainly more palatable than the one that said they failed because they didn’t have the necessary abilities.” The early twentieth century saw the flowering of this mentality in National Socialism, employing propaganda denouncing “Jewish greed,” and launching the most devastating assault on the Jews in history, thereby affirming the old proverb “No sooner is envy born than he consorts with the hangman and the gallows.”

This cycle of envy has manifested itself in Palestine with dire side effects which have become more self-destructive than ever before. Thomas L. Friedman of The New York Times says in War of Ideas, Part 4, that Palestine is at a decisive point in its history, a history in which it has “so long has been on vacation from globalization, modernization and liberalization,” and is now “realizing that vacation is over.” This vacation must come to an end, Friedman explains, because it was financed by the region’s oil wealth, which can no longer support the growing population.

However, instead of concentrating on its sustenance problems, the Palestinian leadership has focused on the disgrace of Israel. The creation of Israel as a modern state is what Arab terrorists loathe, and more offensive still is that territories they have seized, like the Gaza Strip, have prospered under Israeli control. The disparity witnessed by the Arab world has not fostered a willingness to make what Friedman calls a “wrenching adjustment” to compete with its Israeli neighbors; instead, they have combated this disparity by promoting hatred for Israel and the US.

The hatred results from a mindset not of self-responsibility, but of blaming others; we have achieved less because we’ve been victimized and they’ve had an unfair advantage. From the Marxist complaints of “exploitation” to extremists blaming the Jews for their own condition, the scapegoating of successful Jews continues; even many Americans, such as socialist philosopher Noam Chomsky, take the Arabs’ side. Although jealousy cannot account for all Arab grievances against Israel, which hardly has acted flawlessly at all times, one cannot dismiss its significance.

Sadly, we see that in focusing on this jealousy, Arab countries doubt themselves, their strengths, and their ways of life, living in the shadows of a more prosperous Israel. It could easily be one of their countries. Even worse, it was. Evaluating such envy, French Renaissance writer Francois Duc De La Rochefoucauld wrote, “Jealousy is bred in doubts. When those doubts change into certainties, then the passion either ceases or turns to madness.” We can’t really blame them; jealousy is a basic aspect of human nature.

It is evident that this envy of Israeli achievement has manifested itself largely in chaos—a world in which a young mother will opt for suicide bombing rather than execution. Jealousy is an emotion that distorts decisions, facts, and lives; it pushes people away and makes them self-destructive. One cannot blame suicide bombers such as this woman for their inability to understand how this was an irrational decision.

The prevalence of poverty and oppression in the Arab world need not be a permanent condition. If the majority of Arabs were to emulate many of Israel’s strategies for success, they could have a bright future ahead of them. As long as they envy their neighbor’s cows and seek vengeance over self-improvement, conditions will tragically remain much the same.

copyright 2004 Michael Levine



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