By Rabbi Steven Pruzansky
As a young attorney a few decades ago, I was trying a case of child neglect in the Family Court. The mother testified (trying to excuse her neglect) that she had been beaten regularly by her husband — weekly or monthly — for six or seven years. "Did you ever call the police?" I asked. "No." "Well," I said trying to impeach her credibility, "why would you stay for years with a man who was beating you?"
The wrath of the court fell on me. I was called to the bench, where the judge asked me: "Counselor, haven't you ever heard of the 'battered wife syndrome'?"
Indeed, I hadn't, but quickly gained an education. There are women, I was told, who routinely live with abusive husbands. They stay because they can't afford to leave, because they always think the situation will improve and the last beating is the last beating (until the next one, and that becomes the "last" one), because there can be long periods of domestic tranquility punctuated by explosions, or because they have low self-esteem and on some level "feel" that they deserve the beatings by provoking their malevolent husbands or by not being sufficiently good wives.
Obviously, it is irrational, and almost inexplicable to an outsider with a healthy psyche and a normal, healthy way of looking at the world.
Welcome to Israel, afflicted with the "battered-country syndrome." There is really no rational explanation why a nation would enter into negotiations with an enemy sworn to its destruction, when any outcome of those negotiations will redound to its detriment, and almost immediately. Furthermore, the very notion that Israel should have to bribe its evil interlocutors to come to the negotiation table by releasing another 104 murderers of Jews is beyond bizarre, beyond explanation, and only attributable to a virulent strain of a mental illness that is unprecedented and, as yet, untreatable. It is painfully obvious that no other country on earth ever has or ever will agree to liberate the murderers of its own citizens simply to purchase the right to have an enemy negotiate them into further concessions and weakness.
It is mindboggling. How would the US respond if Iran insisted, as the price of negotiations on its almost-finished nuclear program, that the US release Dzokar, the Boston Marathon bomber? The depraved absurdity speaks for itself. And Israel is releasing 100 Dzokars.
Note as well that the Obama administration, in pressuring Israel to free terrorists, refused to release Jonathan Pollard imprisoned now for almost 29 years. They would not consider it, despite the fact that Pollard has no blood on his hands, unlike the Arab murderers being released some of whom were involved in absolutely brutal slayings of innocent civilians. Only Israel, suffering from the battered-country syndrome. (And what does it say about the Arab society that demands freedom for these killers and celebrates them as heroes? But that is a different syndrome altogether.)
Israel's response can only be the result of a mental illness because neither the negotiations nor the release make any sense — in timing or in execution. The Middle East is aflame — a tinderbox of violence and hatred. Three times as many Syrians have been killed by each other in the last two years than "Palestinians" have been killed by Israelis in 65 years, and few of those Palestinians were innocent of any wrongdoing. Egypt is in the midst of a civil war. Northern Africa is Islamasizing. Jordan fears for its future, as the unrest to its north and the radicalization of Islam that surrounds it threatens the stability of its monarchy. Gasoline prices in the United States have doubled — yes, doubled — since Obama took office.
And John Kerry can find nothing better to do than browbeat Israel into negotiations with its enemy, and at the price of freeing murderers as well? Kerry has made six trips to the region in his attempts to jumpstart these talks, which do not lead to a good place for Israel. There are only two possibilities ahead: either Israel makes more territorial concessions that further weaken it, strengthen the Arabs, and demoralize its Jewish population, or Israel makes no concessions and is blamed for the lack of peace in the Middle East and beyond. How is it possible that its government can be so obtuse and behave in such a shameless way?
Surely, PM Netanyahu knows the disadvantages of pandering to terrorists; he even wrote a book on it. And, of course, he has long insisted, quite passionately and eloquently, as is his wont, that "there will be no pre-conditions for negotiations!" That robust declaration, apparently, holds true — until it doesn't. Does he believe that peace will come as a result of these talks? Does he believe that the US will give Israel a green light to attack Iran, or even attack Iran themselves? Does he believe that Israel cannot any longer bear the absence of negotiations? Does he believe that the same three people who failed in their last round of negotiations five years ago will now suddenly succeed, and the Arabs will morph into the Swiss? Does he believe that the European Union will renounce their hateful boycott of Israel? (Why not make that an Israeli pre-condition for negotiations??)
None of the above is credible in the least, and the ongoing weakness is only attributable to the battered-country syndrome. Just like the battered-wife blames herself for the violence, thinks she can improve the situation by making unilateral changes, lacks self-esteem, and therefore endures the violence, injury, emotional and verbal abuse and degradation that is her fate — so too Israel.
Only a country that lacks self-esteem willingly surrenders its land to its enemies; that diminished self-worth is only possible among those who deny the divine promise of the land of Israel to the Jewish people. Only a battered-country blames itself for Arab unhappiness and discontent, and thinks it can solve all its neighbors' problems. Only a battered-country will tolerate rockets on its citizens' heads, endure terror for years without responding, and then regret and apologize for its forceful response when it does happen. (Just like the battered wife will often regret defending herself against her abusive husband.)
Just like battered women have been known to seek out cosmetic surgery in order to please their husbands (new face, new look, new start), so too, only a battered country will make surgically excise parts of its homeland in order to please, or even just temporarily mollify, its abusers. And just like the battered wife always feels that relief is just around the corner, so too the battered country feels that peace is attainable, juuuuuuuuuuuust around the corner. It's entirely visible, like any mirage.
The battered wife accepts repetitive cycles of abuse and tranquility, but always lives in fear of the abuse and thinks she can somehow avert it by changing something, anything. But the same story repeats itself again and again — like here, the same faces emerge once again: Livni, Molcho, Erakat, Indyk. Expect Dennis Ross to make a cameo, and Shimon Peres to take a bow at some point. And where is Hanan Ashrawi?
The battering husband never makes concessions, because he thinks he does nothing wrong. Fault lies only with the misbehaving, unsatisfying, failed wife. So, only Israel, the battered country, must make concessions. The only Arab concession —having to sit in a room for a short time with the accursed Jews — is bought at the price of freeing murderers of Jewish men, women and children. The battered country makes concessions in order to forestall terror and violence, because it thinks that it is responsible for the distress of the "husband," and because it does not really believe it is entitled to a peaceful, tranquil existence, a normal life, as other countries have. It does not really believe it deserves such a life, and so it does everything it can to undermine it, and at every opportunity.
And then the terror resumes, and the heartbreak of expulsions and the denial of rights to its citizens recur. Just like the battered wife often takes out her frustrations on her children (as in the case above), so too the battered country abuses its citizens, expels them from their homes, expects to stomach terror, massacres, bombings and shootings, and exults in its victimization. After all, it deserves it.
The battered country, like the battered wife, thinks it cannot live without the "husband." But the healthy know that the dependency is unhealthy and reversible. Thus, every country pressured by the Obama administration thumbs its nose at it; only the battered country is incapable of standing up for its interests and saying a polite "no."
The greater irony here — and what underscores the illness —is the superfluity of it all. Israel is today living in relative peace and prosperity, much more than any other nation in the region and more than in most of the world. The "Palestinians" are a spent force, characterized by Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal just three weeks ago as a "boring" people, whose affairs do not really interest the world or have any impact on global affairs. Watching the Israeli news the last few days, it was surprising that these negotiations barely rated mention in the first half-hour. The only outcry — from the pockets of normalcy that remain — was over the impending release of the Arab murderers. The cause of the Palestinians is not even in the top five interests of the Arab world today; it is probably not in the top fifty of important world concerns.
So why do it?
The Oslo process also began when the Arabs were in political decline. Their civil war had petered out, with Israeli casualties in the years before Oslo numbering annually in the twenties. (After Oslo, there was an awful spike in terror and casualties.) Now again, terror is at an all-time low, notwithstanding the recent increase in shootings, stabbings, and, in the last few days again, rockets. Why should Israel indulge Kerry, revive the dormant Arab cause, punish its own citizens, and weaken itself in the process? Why not just do as the battered wife should do — leave her abusive husband until he gets help, or just leave him altogether — as in "peace is not possible in this generation with these Arab leaders; let us focus instead on co-existence"?
It is inexplicable, as inexplicable as the battered country syndrome.
Rabbi Steven Pruzansky was trained as a lawyer and is an ordained Rabbi. After practicing law for thirteen years, he served as Rabbi at Congregation Etz Chaim in Kew Gardens Hills, New York. He has been the spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, New Jersey since 1994. Contact him at email@example.com. This article appeared August 1, 2013 on Rabbi Pruzansky's Blog. It is archived at