In a radio interview on March 3, the host Yishai Fleisher asked me how one can fight against the continuous and overwhelming stream of anti-Zionist lies. I said that ultimately the only defense is that Israel has to be strong. In this blog, I am providing a more complete answer.
The need for strength
Israel’s alliances and friendships are important, but they cannot ensure the survival of a Jewish nation that is isolated in the Middle East and that is widely demonized by most of the international community due to anti-Semitism. However, while Jews were previously defenseless, the Jewish state is far from defenseless.
The enemies of Israel have tried unsuccessfully for almost 67 years, and they are still trying today to pierce through Israel’s strength in order to destroy it. Despite Israel’s relative tiny size, it has survived the many wars and terrorist attacks against it by being resourceful, resilient, and strong.
Almost 67 years after achieving independence, the threat against Israel’s survival is still very real, and possibly stronger than ever. International anti-Semitism is at a peak not reached since WWII, and the lies, demonization, and violence against Israel show no sign of abating. Israel must remain strong, and as its enemies gain strength, Israel must be stronger still, and its strength must come in different forms:
- A strong military.
- A strong economy.
- A strong Jewish identity.
- A strong political process.
- Strong moral values.
A strong military
For a long time, Israel has relied on military deterrence as a way to keep its enemies at bay. After three unsuccessful Arab wars against Israel, culminating in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, deterrence has succeeded in keeping the Arab states from attacking Israel. Deterrence however has been ineffective against death-cult terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbullah who continue to re-arm and gain strength despite occasional setbacks. Israel also today faces a serious nuclear threat from the Islamist Iranian regime.
Israel was seen by its enemies as weak in Lebanon and Gaza because it stopped short of destroying Hezbullah and Hamas. The mere survival of these organizations is seen by their fanatical supporters as a victory, regardless of the human and material costs inflicted on them and their peoples. Israel is also seen as weak against Iran because many years after the start of the Iranian nuclear program, Israel has not destroyed Iran’s nuclear facilities as it did in Iraq and Syria.
The pressure placed on Israel by its allies to limit civilian casualties plays a large role in making Israel look weak in the face of its current threats. Israel’s terrorist enemies play on this weakness by ensuring maximum civilian casualties in every war with Israel. Israel must balance between deterring its enemies and calming the concerns of its allies, but considering that the threats of Iran and its terrorist proxies continue to grow, Israel still has work to do in striking the right balance and in adapting its military strength to these modern threats.
A strong economy
Israel’s economic strength is crucial because without it, Israel cannot afford to maintain the required military strength. The BDS movement is an obvious ally of Iran and its proxies, and its role is to weaken Israel’s economy in order to make the Jewish state an easier military target. The fact that so far the BDS strategy has mostly hurt Palestinians is of no importance to those activists.
Israel’s economy is also important in maintaining its international friendships since various nations have come to rely on Israel’s expertise in key fields such as agriculture and high technology. Israel’s significant efforts at diversifying its set of economic partners (including India, China, Japan, and Mexico) is an indication that it takes its economic strength seriously, and it must continue to do better.
A strong Jewish identity
The main reason for Israel’s strength has been its status as the one and only Jewish nation. As former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir said, “We Jews have a secret weapon in our struggle with the Arabs; we have no place to go”. If Israeli citizens stop thinking of themselves as the crucial defenders of the cherished Jewish state, they will lose that edge, and they will become just another Middle Eastern nation that can be defeated at will.
Although Israel offers its Arab citizens more freedoms and opportunities than anywhere else in the Middle East, and although many of those Israeli Arabs are loyal citizens, most of them still appear to view Israel as the enemy since they still choose representatives who promote erroneous versions of history in order to promote hate against Jews. For this reason, if the safety of Israel is to be maintained, Arab representatives cannot be included in any governing coalition.
Preserving Israel’s strong Jewish identity requires retaining a strong majority of Jewish voters. Any development that weakens Israel’s Jewish majority, such as annexation of the West Bank, will consequently weaken Israel, perhaps fatally. Any decision taken about Israel’s borders must account for this.
A strong political process
Since the end of the days when Mapai/Labor had a virtual lock on power, Israel has had mostly weak governments unable to steer the nation towards a clear plan for the future. Israel’s political system facilitates the existence of small parties, and it inhibits the creation of strong governments that can make longer-term plans without fear of breaking a fragile coalition.
Israel’s political system is comparable to Italy’s, a country where the political system is largely dysfunctional. The only certainty in any Israeli election is that the resulting government will consist of a fragile and contrived coalition that will continuously need to balance conflicting agendas in order to survive. Such governments concentrate by necessity on short-term objectives.
Each country has its unique political solutions, and a model like Canada’s, which usually provides strong four-year terms for majority governments, may not be appropriate for Israel, but whatever Israel’s unique solution is, Israelis must find it.
Strong moral values
Israel’s strong Jewish identity is also dependent on its continued moral strength. As I wrote previously, Israel’s success is rooted in the nation’s high sense of its own moral values and its own historical purpose. If Israel were to lose that moral strength, no amount of military clout would keep Israel’s society from falling apart.
Maintaining strong moral values also requires that Israel continue its efforts of better integrating non-Jewish citizens. Non-Jewish citizens must achieve better parity with Jewish citizens in terms of employment and education.
One can easily argue that Israel is not an occupier in Judea and Samaria (West Bank), and that it is simply reclaiming Jewish land. In practical terms, however, Israel is an occupier because it can neither expel non-Jewish resident (due to Israel’s own ethics) nor offer them citizenship (because this would destroy the Jewish state).
Being an occupier carries a moral cost that weighs heavily on many Israelis. I do not think that Israel has lost its moral strength, but I also think that this strength will slowly erode if Israel continues to be an occupier. Israelis must find a way to end the occupation even though the Palestinian leadership is doing everything possible to ensure that it continues. Tying back to the previous point, finding a way to end the occupation requires strong political leadership, which is practically impossible under Israel’s current political system.
No easy answers
Clearly there is no easy way to maintain Israel’s strength in the face of continuously morphing threats of violence and in the face of a hypocritical international community, but Israel must still find a way. In the early days of independence, Israel’s political leaders had their backs to the wall, and they made shrewd and sometimes controversial decisions that sustained Israel’s military resilience, social unity, and moral fortitude.
Today, Israel’s governments are weak, and the military is too often hand-cuffed. Israel’s leaders behave as if Israel’s existence were not in as much in danger now as it was during the early decades, but they are wrong. In fact, in some ways, the danger is greater today because Israel is no longer only facing the Arab world (which was large but divided and disorganized); it is facing a more sophisticated, heterogeneous, and determined set of enemies.
In the end, no matter how valid the Zionist project is, and no matter how immoral and disgraceful its enemies are, no one will save Israel other than Israel itself. Being strong has always been and is now more than ever an absolute necessity.