The Danger in Distraction

The Danger in Distraction

It happened almost 50 years to the day since the last war that appeared to take Israel by surprise – the 1973 Yom Kippur War. That was a conventional land and air war between Egypt and Israel. The latest provocation is a terrorist attack by Hamas. The surprise attack and the sense of unpreparedness are what most obviously tie the two wars together. Inevitably, there will be other aspects of this latest incarnation of Pearl Harbor that will also prove important in the long term.

Surely there are many factors that contributed to the catastrophe of this surprise attack, all of which will undoubtedly require analysis in due time, once Israeli victory has hopefully been achieved. But one particular aspect that surely has been noticed and which will likely receive greater attention in post-mortem punditry is the potential impact of distraction – among both Israeli elites and ordinary citizens. By that, I don’t mean that border guards were asleep at their posts or intelligence officers at their desks, although there does seem to have been some unaccountable element of intelligence failure. By « distraction, » I am referring to the incontrovertible fact that, for some time now, Israeli politics and Israeli society more generally have been distracted by contentious partisan divisions, alleged scandals, and overall governmental dysfunction.

What other country does that sound like?

Hamas is not likely to invade the U.S. in a sneak attack across the U.S.-Canadian border (or anywhere else). But the U.S. too – American policy and American society more generally – have been inordinately distracted by our own contentious partisan divisions, alleged scandals, and overall governmental dysfunction – all vividly on display recently on the Washington, DC, political stage and almost totally dominating our political punditry. The point is not that we are imminent danger of invasion (although terrorism, both foreign and domestic, remains a real threat), but that across a whole range of issues the national interest is being dangerously neglected while we distract ourselves with manufactured political crises.

From appropriating the money to operate the government, to aiding Ukraine, to managing immigration, to confronting climate change, almost everything that government exists in order to do is being hobbled. While the dragon of government shutdown has been tranquilized for another six weeks or so, metaphorically at least the gears of governance have been gradually grinding to a halt. Instead of the national business, the daily news – whether delivered via traditional TV, political podcasts, or social media – is distracted by the political bridge to nowhere which we keep moving farther out on.  

When Donald Trump first announced his candidacy for president in 2015, an acquaintance casually commented on how interesting, even exciting things were going to get. The curse of living in interesting times! Meanwhile, not only have our actual politics gone almost completely off the rails, but we seem to have lost any interest in the things that politics is about. We have become dangerously distracted, increasingly oblivious to the danger in distraction,

Photo: NY Times (October 8, 2023) A fire burning after a rocket attack on Saturday in Ashkelon, Israel.


Amir Cohen/Reuters

Credit..Amir Cohen/Reuters