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Shuki Friedman

A people that dwells alone? We will not survive

Israel’s ability to survive is based on a Jewish-Zionist-democratic core of values shared by the majority of Israelis and a determination to fight for it; ground-breaking scientific capabilities; and powerful strategic backing. The current government’s policies undermine these foundations and put us at risk.

The nearly total containment of this month’s Iranian attack on Israel was not a miracle. It was a significant achievement built on Israel’s groundbreaking technological capabilities and a regional strategic alliance led by the United States. This impressive success once again illustrated the foundations of Israeli survival: a Jewish-Zionist-democratic core of values shared by most Israelis and a determination to fight for it; ground-breaking scientific capabilities; and powerful strategic backing. The current government’s policies threaten all three. And continuing these policies could have negative future consequences for Israel’s survival.

The early hours of Sunday morning April 14th were surreal. This was probably the first time in the history of warfare that the warning interval before the launch of hundreds of missiles and armed drones targeting a country made it possible to digest the situation and wait in a state of readiness for the attack. Even after long months of war and thousands of successful rocket interceptions in Israel’s south and its north, it was not clear how effectively Israel’s air defense systems would cope with such an extensive attack. 

The fact that just one percent of these missiles penetrated Israel’s defenses is to be congratulated. But it turns out that this overwhelming success depended on more than Israel’s capabilities alone. Alongside Israel’s air defense system, the best in the world, US and British assistance, together with an unprecedented regional alliance, resulted in thwarting the lion’s share of munitions lobbed against Israel. What was the stuff of this?

IDF soldiers are brave and professional, but without a clear technological advantage over our enemies, the ability to win is limited, and the human cost of victory much higher. This is true not only with regard to the layers of defense provided by the Arrow, David’s Sling, Iron Dome, and in the future also the Light Shield anti-ballistic systems. The Air Force, the Army, and the Navy all rely on advanced technological capabilities that give the IDF a clear edge in battle. 

These capabilities are absolutely dependent on the technical prowess of the scientists and developers who build the scientific infrastructure and technological developments that spring from it. This is the result of decades of investment in research and development and the scientific excellence of Israeli academia. But it is also because these scientists and engineers, whose talent would grant them citizenship anywhere in the world, choose to remain here and contribute to the guarantee of Israel’s existence.

The second essential component of Israel’s continued existence is the strategic backing the United States provides. This has been true throughout the difficult half year of fighting Israel has endured. Without a regular supply of armaments and other resources, and without a willingness to massively support Israel’s war effort, militarily and politically, our ability to defeat Hamas and prepare for a confrontation with Hezbollah and Iran would be limited at best. The strategic alliance with the US is dependent on the administration, but it is also heavily influenced by the efforts of the American Jewish community to maintain the administration’s support, be it Democratic or Republican, for Israel.

Finally, the ability of Israeli society to preserve the IDF as the “people’s army” and its capacity to win depend on the existence of a shared and unifying core of values. A common set of values does not mean we are going to agree on everything. But it does require a mutual willingness to see Israel’s existence as a unique and significant Jewish-Zionist enterprise. A place in which we want to live but are also willing to die for.

The policies of the Israeli government should support these foundations and reinforce them. The priorities advanced by the current government do not. Instead of investing in scientific excellence and choosing policies that will retain Israel’s high-quality human capital, investment in non-productive education has increased and the cultivation of excellence has been neglected. Some government policies threaten to drive away part of the scientific and technological elite. 

Its policy toward the US, even before the war, was alienating and defiant, one that has given rise to one crisis after the other since the government’s inception – and also during the war. The same goes for its strained relations with the American Jewish community, which it has almost completely renounced. 

And finally, the government’s willingness to submit to the dictates of the ultra-Orthodox parties, which do not share the Zionist vision, erodes the core values shared by Israel’s Jewish-Zionist majority and threatens the existence of the “people’s army,” without which Israel will be left without a protective force.

After six months of war, it is clear that the policies of the current Israeli government are not appropriate given the great challenges we face – at home and abroad. Confronting these challenges necessitates the formation of a solid Zionist bloc that expresses positions of the Israeli majority that knows how to preserve Israel’s ideological foundations and thereby ensure its continued existence and prosperity.

About the Author
Dr. Shuki Friedman is the vice president of the Jewish People Policy Institute and a lecturer of law at the Peres Academic Center. His book, 'Being a Nation-State in the Twenty-First Century: Between State and “Synagogue” in Modern Israel' was recently published by Academic Studies Press.