It bothers me that much of the Religious Zionist world has turned inward. “The world will never care about our needs.” “Such and such will always hate us.” “We need to fend for ourselves.” Personally, I see us as in a better position than this, even with an obligation over us to act inversely to this inclination to reject the world that has so unfairly dealt with the Jewish people and now with their Jewish state. There is a fundamental approach to global politics in the books of the Prophets, and here’s what I suggest it means:
It’s in Isaiah, Chapter 2: “Out of Zion shall come forth the Torah and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” But I translate the word “Torah” while others might not:
“Out of Zion shall come forth the Law and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”
Why? Torah isn’t the body religious rituals we typically define it as today; it’s much, much more. It’s a body of law. It’s a code. It’s an ethic that should have much broader influence. For me, this verse embodies another duty of the Jewish religion: to influence the international law and ethic that the world should abide by. It’s been over 2,500 years since this statement was first made, but it couldn’t have a clearer resonance for me today.
I can’t go so far to claim this is actually Jewish law, but it certainly provides an enticing template for action.
This, in my humble opinion, is the key value to a Jewish foreign policy; definitely a Zionist foreign policy but more importantly a Jewish one. What are those laws, ethics and values that Judaism should project via the vessel of the State of Israel? That’s a matter of healthy debate among the committed and devout Jews who believe in international justice, though I have my own suggestions below. That doesn’t imply only Orthodox Jews would have a monopoly on defining them, either. The often-touted “Tikkun Olam” – ‘Betterment of the World’ – that is a central tenet for Conservative and Reform Jews is something that adds a healthy dose of universal, international concern to the Jewish religion. As an Orthodox Jew, I’d say that the community sees the philosophy of “Tikkun Olam” as much more Jewish-focused. The two approaches do not conflict; rather, they compliment each other. That’s what is so critical here, matching the advocacy for our internal Jewish and Israeli interests in the external, international arena.
The State of Israel faces a bold list of challenges in the international arena, but what the state can do to mitigate those difficulties are perfectly in line with the philosophy that Judaism might expect of a state based on Jewish values: the value of justice.
1. Israel has many grievances with the international community and its lopsided organization that favors ethnic blocs of countries like the Arab World or the European Union but isolates ethnic-minority states like the Jewish state of Israel, the island of Taipei and the newly independent province of Kosovo.
2. The laws of war must be updated to address the dynamics of guerrilla, asymmetric warfare terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah use that often violate the traditional ethics of conflict, unfairly demanding stricter standards for states in fighting flagrant abusers of human rights like these organizations I just mentioned.
3. Finally, the international community via the United Nations has arrogantly inserted itself inappropriately as a claimant to the holy city of Jerusalem. The UN has never policed the city and has no plans to ever do so, yet still refuses to recognize West Jerusalem, let alone the East, as the legitimate sovereign territory of Israel. The importance is all the greater when it comes to the need to stress the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount, the sapphire in the crown that is this city.
These are unacceptable realities that demand change. No matter how hopeless the arrival of that change might be in the next few years, an assertive foreign policy can press these issues until the world eventually relents. Israel can make these demands and press its strengths in the context of an idealist approach to the world where the love for international justice is greatest in the Holy City – from Zion as Isaiah would say – from Jerusalem.