James Cooper

Israel: A Strange Astonishment in the Eyes of the Nations

"Biblic Sea" by Domenec_BM is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

In late November 2023, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood before TV cameras,  lecturing Israel to exercise “maximum restraint” in its war to rid the Gaza Strip of Hamas’ terror apparatus, while warning the Jewish State that “the world is watching.”

Indeed, the world is watching, with all too many casual observers passing moral judgment over the nature and scope of Israel’s military response to being attacked on October 7th.  Israelis, for their part, have sought to engage with their critics across the democratic world by citing past incidents of surprise terror attacks that have called for a similarly forceful and immediate national response: This is our 9/11, our Pearl Harbor, they explain, in a fruitless attempt to reason with their critics.

But actually, it’s not.  It’s much more insidious, since there are no historical parallels when considering Israel’s broader strategic situation.

In modern times – probably not even in historical memory – no nation state has ever faced such a sustained, global campaign of unrelenting attempts to destabilize its daily life on the path toward positioning it for eventual physical annihilation.

The closest global parallel would be the experience of the Jewish people in their Diaspora over the past two millennia, capped by the global campaign of the Nazis to exterminate the Jews wherever they might reach them.  Then, as now, the rest of the world looked on passively, in some instances paying lip service to the tragic fate of the Jews, even as leaders in the free world had colluded to close off viable avenues for refuge and escape.

In response to being reminded about the historical scourge of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, Israel’s progressive critics have grown exasperated, exclaiming:

Not again!  Stop with the moral blackmail. For over seventy-five years, you have placed your boot on the throat of another people who want nothing more than to be free, to return to the land that you stole from them.

Your ethno-state was born out of the Original Sin of colonialism – a sin that cannot be washed away by the cumulative wages of your ancestors’ historical sufferings. 

Because now you’re strong.  Now, you can afford to take that boot off, to give peace a chance by finally, truly considering the only one-state solution that works – a free Palestine from the river to the sea, where Jews and Palestinians together can share all the land with equal rights.  

To many, this is the easy moral summing up that carries the day – the thirty-second clarion call that brings out millions of morally outraged protesters into the streets of London, Washington, New York, Toronto.

With a Palestinian civilian death toll mounting daily in Gaza, Israel’s progressive critics have no appetite for nuanced explanations, history lectures, or legal hair-splitting.   They want a ceasefire, and they want it now – even at the price of letting Hamas live to fight another day.

Lost in this sea of global moral sanctimony is the depressing (and horrifying) realization that has stricken Israeli citizens across the political spectrum since October 7th – that entwined in the blessings of Israel’s astonishing accomplishments since its birth is an astonishing curse which, until recently, most Israelis had convinced themselves they could evade, either by the collective fruit of their genius or by the protective force of their will.

On October 7th – now dubbed as Black Shabbat across the nation – the illusive veil of security had lifted.  For many on the right, it was the realization that the Iron Wall of a Jewish State army may not have the unlimited physical resources to perpetually keep Israel’s murderous antagonists at bay.  For many on the left, it was the stark realization that land-for-peace negotiations with the Palestinians may have always been in vain, for the simple reason that nothing short of the annihilation of Israel would appease them.

And for both the left and the right, there was the even more depressing realization that Israel might truly be alone in the world, surrounded on all fronts, left isolated to fight and to puzzle over escaping an endless array of worst case nightmare scenarios that have primarily been designed for it by this latest incarnation of the Jewish people’s legendary Amalekite foe – the Iranian regime and its regional allies.

Israel’s morally sanctimonious critics never fail to libel the nation with the loaded charges of Apartheid, of ethnic cleansing, and – most recently in Gaza – of genocide.  To the extent progressive critics consider the concept of moral agency, they think in terms of simplistic symbols – of victims and oppressors.  Both may be violent, except that oppressors are strong and victims are weak.  Jews were once weak, but are no longer.  In their repeated – and often successful – efforts to repress Palestinian attempts at violence and incitement, the Jews have lost the moral crown of victimhood. By this moral calculus, Jews – except for those who ally themselves with the current victims – are now seen as the oppressors.  They are on the wrong side of history.

Against such sweeping charges, nuance and counter-facts stand no chance.  While Israel’s critics rile themselves up with incessant accusations that Israel has long been driven by policies to cleanse the Israeli nation (which happens to be the size of New Jersey) of Palestinians, they refuse to concede what should be obvious to anyone remotely familiar with Israeli society – that it has two million Arab citizens who share in, and who have equal access to, the fruits of the nation’s wealth and liberal democratic culture.

Who, exactly, are Israel’s Arab citizens? And what makes Israel’s response to them so fundamentally different to those Palestinian Arabs who claim descent from the population who suffered the loss of their homes and lands over seventy-five years ago in what they call the Nakba (translated as “the Disaster”), in reference to the creation of the State of Israel?   

The different fate of two Palestinian populations – those who left in 1948 and those who stayed in place – should reveal to the world the extent to which the Jewish collective in Israel has always managed (or risked) moral trade-offs in response to the formidable and complex array of existential threats aligned against it.

In the months leading up to the end of the British Mandate in Palestine in 1948, the leadership of the Jewish Agency under David Ben-Gurion was tasked with securing the 55% of Palestine west of the Jordan River (much of it arid and uninhabitable desert) that the UN recommended to be partitioned into a Jewish State.

Led by Mohammed Amin al-Husseini – appointed by the British as the Mufti of Jerusalem – many Arab communities in Palestine gave themselves over to the vision of pan-Arabism, intending to incorporate Palestine into a larger and indivisible Arab nation comprising Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan.

On the day Britain left Palestine, ending its mandate and leaving the Jewish community to its fate, David Ben-Gurion declared the State of Israel in the portion recommended by the UN to be partitioned into a Jewish State.  On its very first day of the Jewish State’s existence, the armies of five Arab nations stormed into Palestine, with the declared intent to drive the Jews into the sea.

From the vantage point of May 1948, it was by no means certain that the Jewish community in Palestine would successfully defend itself from a combined military assault by multiple nations on multiple fronts.  Not only did the nations of the world stand by, leaving the Jews to their fate, but also (with the exception of Czechoslovakia) imposed a global arms embargo on Palestine’s Jews.

Far from being a local dispute between two resident communities – one Jewish and one Arab – the Palestinian Arab leadership had defined its cause from the outset as being inseparable from its Arab regional allies.  The zero-sum dynamics of the conflict were set for both communities:  Where the Arab armies took territory – such as East Jerusalem and throughout what would later be called the West Bank and Gaza – the entire Jewish population was driven out.  Without any exceptions.

Among the Jewish leadership, the situation was far more nuanced, mostly guided by a mix of pragmatism and a fluidly changing threat calculation.  Where Arab villages were situated along strategically sensitive routes, the Arab population was forcibly evacuated behind what were perceived to be active front lines, while in many instances, the Arabs fled from the active front lines of their own accord, either on request by the incoming Arab armies or by the pragmatic need to escape a war zone.  At that time, the entire area of Jewish residential concentration across Palestine was an active war zone, contested – or, foreseeably to be contested – by the combined Arab forces seeking to cleanse the territory of Jews.

Under those circumstances, the Jewish community had no option to evacuate or retreat behind any front line.  The only ground they were permitted to exist on was the ground they could manage to hold.

For the Arab communities of Palestine, however, they did have a choice.  In the months leading up to the end of the British Mandate, a certain number of Arab community leaders in the north of Palestine and in the Negev approached the Jews, pledging that they wished to live with their Jewish neighbours in peace.

It turned out to be a fateful gesture, for when the war finally ended in Israel’s favour in 1949, the newly established Jewish State found itself with 150,000 Arab residents inside its portion of the agreed upon armistice lines (which would also define up to the current day the borders of what would subsequently be known as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip).

Meanwhile, in those portions of the Palestine Mandate territory that the Arab armies had managed to secure, these territories had been  entirely cleansed of Jews, even where Jewish communities had formerly existed for centuries (such as in Hebron and the Old City in Jerusalem).

This pattern, in fact, would go on to define the governing international rules for the Israel-Arab conflict up to this day:  wherever any Arab majority managed to take possession of land in any portion of Palestine, Jews would be permanently barred from residing there.  By contrast, in any portion of territory taken by Jews, the resident Arabs within Israel’s side of the Armistice Line could settle anywhere they chose.

Well, perhaps not in the initial years of the Jewish State’s existence.  As would be a long-standing pattern in Israeli policy, Israel’s treatment of its Arab minority depended on whatever security trade-offs were to be put in the balance.  For the first nineteen years, Israel’s Arab community was put under martial law, with curfews in effect for Arab villages. Sufficient time needed to pass in order for the Israelis to test –  purely for pragmatic security reasons – whether they could afford to be the liberal, tolerant democracy that they eventually grew to be.

At that time, there were no progressives troubling themselves with the rights of Israel’s Arab minority.  No UN organizations looking into their well-being.  No Arab League calling to organize on their behalf.

In its first two decades, the young, impoverished state – besieged on all fronts by never-ending probing attempts by its neighbors to infiltrate its borders to kill its Jewish residents – was struggling to deal with a regional refugee crisis that few progressives discuss, much less acknowledge: the flight and expulsion of over 800,000 Jews from across the Middle East, leaving behind homes and communities that they had resided in for centuries.

Tellingly, the world did not rise up in moral outrage over the mass emptying of historic Jewish communities from across the Arab world.  In fact, many, if not most, young progressive critics of Israel remain completely unaware that the majority of Israel’s Jewish population today is comprised of these descendants of Jewish refugees from the Arab world.

In time, the Jewish State successfully absorbed them, and after nineteen years, Israel also took the proactive initiative to lift the state of martial law under which its Arab citizens had been living, having seen definitively that they posed no security threat to the day-to-day functioning of the State.

Since then, Israel’s Arab citizens have grown exponentially in numbers, integrating themselves into the civil fabric of Israeli society in ways that the nation’s socialist founders never could have imagined.  Even more telling is the fact that much of the liberalization of Israel’s treatment of its Arab minority over the past fifty years has largely taken place under governments that are regularly derided by Israel’s critics as “right wing” or “nationalist.”

It is perhaps fortunate that the Israeli Arab minority in those crucial formative years of the State had been ignored by the international community, forgotten by the Arab League states, and left untouched by the toxically narcissistic progressives who had yet to be born.  Had it been otherwise, it is likely that this portion of Israel’s citizens might have been incited and brainwashed to take on a radicalized identity of grievance while nourished on a diet of violent resistance, necessitating a response by the Israeli government to pre-empt yet another incessant attempt to destabilize the Jewish State from within.

Had the international community – in collusion with global bad faith actors – worked to nourish and feed Israeli Arab grievance and resentment in the manner that they have done with the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza for decades, it is more than foreseeable that Israel might have been locked into an untenable strategic situation in dealing with its own Arab citizens, trading off the need to pre-empt organized incitement with the desire to ethically engage with its minority citizens.

Fortunately, Israel’s global critics and opponents missed that initial window of opportunity to destabilize the Jewish State from within.

But not for lack of trying.  Since Israel took the territories of the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights in a defensive war that had been forced upon it – yet again, by a collusive threat deploying on its borders from multiple Arab nations on multiple fronts – Israel’s progressive critics have sought to broadly characterize Zionism as a conquering ideology, devoted to absorbing a vast land empire from the Nile to the Euphrates.

Lost in this campaign of defamation is the fact that Israel had also conquered – and gave up in a peace deal over a decade later – the entire Sinai Peninsula, comprising a land area three times the size of Israel.  Israel, meanwhile, remains the size of the State of New Jersey, with a width of just nine miles at its center portion, where much of its population is concentrated.

In addition to its tiny size, Israel is also surrounded by twenty-two Arab Muslim majority nations, most of whom calibrate their reaction to Israel according to their entirely opportunistic self-interests.

To the extent that Israel continues to prove itself economically useful – or as a strong military counter to the axis of Shiite regional influence led by Iran – a portion of Arab Sunni nations are currently willing to deal productively with Israel on some level.

But when one powerful regional opponent of the Jewish State had removed itself from the chessboard of threats – such as Egypt in its 1978 peace deal with Israel  – another immediately stepped in to fill the vacuum, with Iran currently taking on the mantle to move the chess pieces in place for the annihilation of the Jewish State.

For over two decades – for no other reason than that it is religiously and ideologically committed to this apocalyptic outcome – the Iranian government has invested a huge amount of resources to ensure that the tiny territory of Israel is surrounded by a multi-front existential threat of a missile swarm, leveraging the fate of two peoples – the Lebanese and the Palestinians in Gaza – as human insurance against the prospect that Israel might pre-empt the Iranians from creating the nuclear capacity to destroy it.

In other words, Iran has ingeniously set up the strategic threat equation arrayed on Israel’s borders so that Israel can’t martial the resources to dismantle Iran’s nuclear facilities without first taking the necessary steps to dismantle the respective threats posed to it by Hamas and Hezbollah, which would entail the destruction of large swathes of Gaza and Lebanon (in addition to causing catastrophic damage to Israel).

Even more insidious, as of October 7th, the Iranian axis of resistance has sought to signal to Israel that from here on, Israelis can never let up their guard so long as these existential threats remain in place.  Israel must perpetually mobilize its civilian reserve-based army against a surprise attack – an economically unsustainable option – or be put in the horrifying position of killing tens of thousands of Gazans and Lebanese in order to pre-empt the immediate threat posed to the lives of tens of thousands of Israelis.

Such are the foreboding decisional pressures weighing on Israel’s political and military leadership, Under all possible scenarios, there are no good outcomes for the Jewish State.  Seen from this perspective, “victory”for the IDF just means achieving a comparatively less catastrophic outcome for Israel’s citizens than what one could otherwise expect by just sitting and waiting for the apocalyptic hammer of destruction to drop.

After seventy-five years, the incessant, inter-generational, collusive  attempts to destroy and destabilize the day-to-day functioning of a nation state – for nothing more than the ideological desire to annihilate it – have reached their fruition in the current moment.

To much of the international community, this is normal.  Not once has it occurred to Canada, to the US, or to Israel’s nominal (fairweather) friends in Europe to sponsor a Security Council resolution to acknowledge, much less to call off, the collusive, inter-generational attempts to destroy a member nation of the UN.

Instead, the world has mostly looked on passively – nay, repeatedly offered their votes – to ensure that Israel has racked up a diplomatic record at the UN as the most globally condemned nation state in history.  And that it will continue to do so, right up to the bitter end.

Israel’s critics repeatedly ask, What does Israel want?  What is it hoping to achieve in Gaza? It can’t remove the Hamas threat without taking a horrific toll of Palestinian civilians. Or killing the Israeli hostages.

What nation has ever been called upon – and globally judged while doing so – to wrestle with such moral and strategically impossible choices?

Israel’s progressive critics – the ones who claim to speak from a position of moral clarity – seldom, if ever, trouble their conscience by reflecting on the agency and decisions of Israel’s enemies.  As they see it, Israel’s current situation is solely the fruit of Israel’s conduct with the Palestinians.

By their calculus, Israel hasn’t tried hard enough to appease the Palestinians, to wager once more on giving them a sovereign state that abuts Israel’s nine mile wide frontier, or perchance to gamble on the shaky prospect that a binational state of Jews and Palestinians (in which the Jews would no longer comprise the majority) might somehow yield the kind of positive results in the Middle East that has so far eluded failed multi-tribal states like Lebanon.

As they see it, there are no other legitimate political solutions for the Palestinians short of full statehood and voting rights.  A localized autonomous authority – even one that prospers and provides for a thriving day-to-day existence for its residents – is to be opposed on principle.

From this perspective, such critics need not trouble themselves with questioning whether Israel can ultimately afford to create a mini nation state that might one day serve as a belligerent launching pad to afflict the Jewish State with yet more existential crises.   No matter.  A certain narrowly defined view of democracy is at risk – and so, Israel’s Jews must sacrifice themselves on the altar of political science.

And while Israel’s morally sanctimonious critics claim to have insight on Israel’s true motives and intent, they consistently fail to inform themselves of the multiple attempts Israel has already made over the decades to test Palestinian intentions.

In the early ‘90’s, it was the Oslo Accords – subsequently met with a campaign of suicide bombs in Tel Aviv, accompanied by a fresh round of anti-Jewish incitement.  In 2005, the Israelis unilaterally evacuated all Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip, only to set a clear path for Hamas to take over and appropriate Palestinian resources toward planning the destruction of Israel.

In 2000, the Israeli government unilaterally withdrew its forces from a defensive deployment in southern Lebanon, on the gamble that Hezbollah would then have no practical reason for attacking the Israelis – only to witness over the course of the next two decades that Hezbollah took this as an opportunity to hasten and build on its plans to eventually destroy the Jewish State on behalf of Iran.

What Israel’s progressive critics further ignore is that Israel is a democracy and that it has already followed the failed political prescriptions of the nation’s peace-loving faction, many of whom were the sons and daughters of Israel’s founding left wing Labour Party.   The once-dominant Labour Party took a gamble on the prospect that it could achieve peace, even with a Palestinian Authority that refused to abandon its culture of incitement.  The Labour Party rolled the dice, and now it can barely cross the threshold to secure a seat in the Knesset.

On October 7th, it conclusively dawned on the Israeli public that it didn’t matter what they did – alone, they are powerless to avert or to solve the impossible existential dilemmas that have plagued the Jewish State from its very inception.

And yet….

Even in the midst of this dire moment, when the Jewish people – both in Israel and throughout the Diaspora – can sense the pall of divine judgment hanging over the collective fate of Israel, a faint murmur of support can be heard among the nations.

God bless Israel, a faithful contingent of American Christians are heard to proclaim.  But not all are Christian.  The blessings are also voiced by not a few Muslims in the heart of Iran and across the Arab world.  Some invoke the blessing as far away as Indonesia.  And from India, not a small number likewise proclaim, God bless Israel.

What is going on here?

Throughout the world, there exist millions – even tens of millions – of people who sense a spiritual meaning in the collective fate of the Jewish people and the state they created.  For them, the people and the nation state of Israel are seen as an astonishment for reasons that have little to do with Israel’s creative accomplishments as a start-up nation, much less with its political resilience or military feats.

Rather, they sense a deeper phenomenon at play in Israel’s current global dilemma, mostly arising out of the promises, visions, and themes formulated in the text known to them as the Bible.  Within the twenty-four books of the Hebrew Bible, the first five books – variously called the Five Books of Moses, the Pentateuch, and, in Hebrew, the Torah – are understood to be the foundational direct revelation of God to the Jewish people, given to the entire nation of Israel as it stood at the foot of Mount Sinai.

If one were to look for a kind of thematic summing up of a unified theme in the Torah, it may be found in the closing chapters of the Book of Deuteronomy – the last book of the Torah – in which Moses conveys to the assembled Children of Israel a series of blessings and curses to be visited upon them from God:

But it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you… and you shall become troublesome to all the kingdoms of the earth…. and you shall be only oppressed and crushed continually…And you shall become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword among all nations where the LORD will drive you….

And they shall be upon you for a sign and a wonder, and on your descendants forever

Then the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other…And among those nations you shall find no rest, nor shall the sole of your foot have a resting place…

… Your children who follow you in later generations and foreigners who come from distant lands will see the calamities that have fallen on the land and the diseases with which the LORD has afflicted it…

All the nations will ask: “Why has the LORD done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”  And the answer will be: “It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the LORD, the God of their ancestors, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt.  They went off and worshiped other gods and bowed down to them, gods they did not know, gods he had not given them…

…When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you.

He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it…The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.

The LORD your God will put all these curses on your enemies who hate and persecute you.  You will again obey the LORD and follow all his commands I am giving you today…

… This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live…

 And, further on, a call to the nations and a warning to Israel’s adversaries:

Rejoice, you nations, with his people, for he will avenge the blood of his servants; he will take vengeance on his enemies and make atonement for his land and people.

Throughout the Torah, the Children of Israel are called upon to be a holy nation, to be set apart from the other nations of the world.   The Hebrew word for holiness – kodesh – comes from the root kadash, which also means to be set apart for a sanctified purpose.

It is a purpose that is meant to be witnessed in the unfolding of historical events – by all the future generations of the Children of Israel, and most crucially, by the nations who are to see, in all these blessings and curses to be visited on the descendants of the congregation at Sinai, the power and providential hand of the Creator of the heavens and the earth,

From this perspective, the Jews are not particularly seen as better than anyone else, at least in terms of their conduct.  Rather, it is a nation that has been set apart, chosen to benefit from, or to suffer, a continual series of blessings and curses that have never been, nor ever will be, visited upon any other nation in human history.

From the Holocaust, followed three years later by the resurrection of the Jewish nation, followed by the historical ingathering of long-separated Jewish communities from around the world – accompanied throughout by an unrelenting, almost obscenely disproportionate, focus of the nations on one tiny contested piece of territory in the Middle East– it’s a wonder that more people have not revisited these chapters in the Book of Deuteronomy in light of what has unfolded over the past several decades.

This is not the kind of message that a secular-minded politician, a diplomat, or a legal scholar would normally be inclined to deliver in defence of the Jewish people’s claim to this land.

However, in light of the events of October 7th – followed by a new coordinated global campaign to delegitimize the State of Israel as its enemies position to annihilate it – it’s worth considering the possibility that there may never be any secular solution or appeal for legitimacy that Israel could ever present to its regional neighbours, who perpetually ask, “By what right do you claim this land?”

The medieval Provencal rabbi, Rashi, had once raised the question as to why the Torah begins with the creation of the world instead of the origin of the Children of Israel.  He reasoned that the nations of the world would one day rise and ask by what right the Children of Israel took the lands of Canaan from its original inhabitants:

For should the peoples of the world say, “You are robbers, because you took by force the lands of the seven nations,” they (Israel) may reply to them, “All the earth belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He; He created it and gave it to whom He pleased. When He willed, He gave it to them, and when He willed, He took it from them and gave it to us.

All over the world, Israel’s critics ask, “By what right do you claim this land?” Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, thought he had the answer:  to make of the Jews a normal people, to no longer be reviled as stateless wanderers, as they reclaimed their ancestral homeland.

In this, Herzl’s secular vision for Israel has been an unmitigated failure.  Far from normalizing the collective Jewish condition in the eyes of the nations, the establishment of the State of Israel has once again set the Jews apart from the rest of the nations, soon after they had been set apart through the horrors of the Holocaust.

Israel’s secular Zionist founders had endeavored to settle the Land of Israel, not as a response to any religious commandment, but as an attempt to refashion the Jewish people from a religious collective – previously bound to one another through the Torah – into a national entity, making its own choices and guiding its own fate, freed from the eternal global curse of anti-Semitism.

And yet it’s precisely this secular notion of Israel as a modern ethno-state that Israel’s critics and sworn enemies refuse to accept.  “By what right do you claim this land?” they repeatedly ask.

Even more ironically, the Jewish State now finds itself besieged by an Islamic regime whose own holy scripture – the Quran – mandates that the Children of Israel (in the words of the prophet Moses) settle the Land of Israel.

In our time, the Arab Muslim nations forced the ingathering of the Middle East’s Jews to the Land of Israel – the very miracle of the global ingathering of the Jewish exiles that was promised by their own scriptures.

And yet, the Jews themselves refuse to bear this kind of Torah-based witness to the nations in response to the questions posed by their enemies and critics (with few Israelis realizing that the Torah – known as Torat to Muslims – is considered to be one of the foundational holy texts of Islam).  Instead, Israelis naively trust in their activists and advocates to provide all kinds of secular reasons for accepting the legitimacy of the Jewish State – that all these Jews from Yemen, from Eastern Europe, from North Africa, Syria, Iran, India, and Iraq somehow have a common historical bond that isn’t solely rooted in their common, unbroken inheritance and dedication to the Torah through the ages.

There is something strange about Israel’s current global existential predicament that needs to be faced by the nations of the world looking on in astonishment at Israel’s conduct and fate.

After October 7th, it should be clear to all the world’s Jews that Israel can no longer avert the curse of its existential predicament without looking to the support and assistance of those among the nations who recognize, in the fate of the Jews, that there is a light that guides the blessings and curses visited upon them – a strange astonishment that much of the secular Jewish collective has found it difficult to acknowledge, much less understand.

Many religious Jews, for their part – entrained by centuries of passive waiting in the Diaspora – have convinced themselves that there is nothing practical they can do, other than continuing to hold fast to religious observance and Torah study – and to passively wait for the advent of the Messiah (known in Hebrew as Moshiach) to eventually sort out the mess and proclaim a permanent era of peace.

What should be clear by now is that the Jewish people – secular and religious alike – can neither passively wait nor trust solely in their own collective ability to extricate themselves from their existential predicament.

They need help.  They need to reach out to the nations and bear witness that their strangely peculiar demographic fate – with all its attendant blessings and curses – is in the hands of a greater force beyond their control. .

The Iranian regime and its allies across the Arab Muslim world – secular and religious alike – have convinced themselves that a good result for mankind will follow from a concerted international effort to destroy the Land of Israel, including the globally ingathered descendants of the only people who have continually constituted their communities around the Torah (at least until recently) through the ages.

The specific historical context as to how the blessings and curses in the Torah were to play out were not strictly predetermined, for all the stages in the Jews’ historical journey were to be tempered by a choice – as Moses put it, the choice to choose between life and death.  As the Talmud described this quantum-like reality: “All paths are foreseen, yet free will is granted.”

Now that the global community of Jews has historically come back together to settle in the Land of Israel, stark choices of life and death will need to be made.

While the Iranian regime might gloat about their Hamas and Hezbollah sacrificial offerings as being the stumbling block against Israel’s plans to thwart Iran’s apocalyptic nuclear ambitions, the Iranians should perhaps consider whether the Torah is ultimately the respiratory virus in their throats that religiously delegitimizes their position in the eyes of the nations and the Arab Muslim world.

Without the Torah, the Land of Israel ultimately has no meaning, neither to Muslims nor to Christians.  Does the Torah covenant the land to a people who have no knowledge of Torah, who have no millennial chain of inheritance in safeguarding and keeping its precepts?  In the councils of the nations, do the leaders of the Arab Muslim world propose to covenant this land to the Palestinians?

It’s a question worth asking, especially because the complaint against the Jewish people’s claim to settle the land comes from people – the masses of the Arab Muslim world – whose belief system ultimately rests on the foundation of the Torah.

In the Torah, the constitution of the Children of Israel is inseparably bound up in the commandment for them to settle the Land of Israel.  It’s a command embedded in the Quran and the Christian faith.  That both the Christian European nations and the Arab Muslim world effectively drove the Jewish masses in our time to flee to the Land of Israel, and then subsequently condemned them for settling in it, is an astonishment that should merit discussion among Jews and in the councils of the nations.

Ultimately, there is no secular solution to Israel’s current existential predicament, and none that can bring good tidings to mankind so long as the nations of the world do not wake up to an astonishment that ought to be apparent to all – that the mass return of the Jews to the Land of Israel is fundamentally strange, including the incessant global campaign to delegitimize it.

Israel’s critics ask the Jews, “By what right do you claim this land?”  In posing this question, they overestimate the demographic agency of the Jews.

It is a peculiar fact of history that the ideological pull of secular Zionism never had much of a hold on the Jewish masses of the world prior to the Second World War.  Before the rise of Hitler, the overwhelming bulk of the Jewish masses in Eastern Europe chose to immigrate to North America, to South America, to Western Europe – anywhere but Palestine.

The nations of the world – not the underfunded leaders of the tiny Jewish Agency in Palestine – ultimately closed off those avenues of immigration and forced the Jews in the 1930’s, by sheer existential necessity, to finally seek refuge in Palestine.

But it’s also a peculiar fact of history that Britain then stepped up to close off the immigration spigot to Palestine at a time when the European Jewish masses belatedly woke up to its necessity as a land of last resort refuge.  None of this speaks to the power of secular Zionism at the time to plan for, and to mold, world affairs in its favour.  Quite the opposite.

By the end of the Second World War, the European Jewish reservoir of potential immigrants to Palestine had been mostly exterminated, with the remainder being cooped up in the Soviet Union.

The long-term demographic viability of the Jewish State might have stalled, even after Israel’s 1949 victory to secure the state, if not for the Arab Muslim world playing its fundamental role to push virtually the entire population of Middle Eastern Jews into the newly created State of Israel.

Since then, the European nations and the Arab Muslim world have been badgering and hammering Israel’s Jewish citizens on all fronts for demographic choices that were largely forced on them by their anti-Semitism.  .

Viewed from this perspective, the nations of the world need to wake up and ponder these demographic peculiarities, The Iranian Regime and its allies likewise need to wake up and consider who it is they are seeking to destroy, and why they have chosen religious grounds – opposition to the Jews’ settlement of the Land of Israel – that are so demonstrably contrary to the precepts of the Torah foundation upon which their entire religious belief system rests.

It’s worth asking whether the mullahs in Iran are so arrogant as to interpret the historic ingathering of the world’s Jews into the Land of Israel as somehow being contrary to the Quran, as opposed to validating its Torah foundations in a fundamental sense.

Most crucially, Israel’s secular Jewish citizens need to revisit the history of the Jewish State and consider the extent to which they can justify their bond with one another in the absence of focusing on their common ancestral spiritual inheritance in the Torah – because world events have conspired to make the cause of a secular national ethno-state appear as illegitimate.

The world’s Jews should revisit Rashi’s observation – that the nations cannot, and will not, accept the legitimacy of Jewish claims to settle the Land of Israel without the Jews bearing witness that the Creator of the universe – as revealed in the Torah – set aside this particular land for a particular people that he set apart from the rest of the nations. .

Meanwhile, Israel’s supporters among the nations also have a crucial role to play.  They, too, can bear witness to the existence of a Creator who has revealed Himself through the peculiar demography and history of the people He has set apart.

In this, the people of Israel can perchance fulfill the promise of being a light unto the nations, but not on account of them being morally better than everyone else – for the record is clear that they have often failed to live up to their calling – but rather, on account of their history and demography, to be read by the nations as a text, as a warning, and as a guide for the Jews to make of themselves a better role model for the nations, in line with the precepts of the Torah and the Oral Law that have preserved them through the ages of their exile.

In our current moment, it is not just the Jews who are tasked with making fateful decisions of life and death.  So, too, are the nations.  Going forward, the world’s non-Jewish bystanders can choose to act as agents and facilitators of those who curse the Jews – with potentially dire consequences for the world – or they can choose to step up and form a protective phalanx around the Children of Israel, to help them reach an historic rapprochement with the Children of Ishmael, based on a common stake in, and reverence for, the Torah.

About the Author
James Cooper is a practicing lawyer in the Greater Toronto Area. He has written and spoken publicly on matters of interest to the legal profession and to the Jewish community at large.
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