A few days ago, a friend asked me what I was thinking about the impending declaration of Israeli sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria (I resolved the night the Fogel family was murdered in their sleep by PFLP terrorists in 2011 never to use the term ‘West Bank’ in my writing again) as initiated by Prime Minister Netanyahu and likely approved by President Trump. I shared my views with her, from an analytical perspective, as I don’t feel I can demand one policy or another of Israel when I do not live and vote there.
As I considered the issues, I began to crystallize how our chaotic world has distilled our loftiest philosophical and ideological considerations down to the lowest common denominator of pragmatism, of red lines, of seeing things for what they really are and calling them so. This is the first in a series of essays on effective, pragmatic Zionist advocacy in our tumultuous world.
In my view, then, as someone who has been steeped in Israel advocacy and Zionist education for the last 30 years; as a father with two children currently on campus and experiencing what it means to be a Zionist in the face of hatred; as a synagogue member who in the aftermath of Pittsburgh has trained to protect our congregation; as a Jew in America during a rising tide of hate and violence from and on all sides; We need to speak plain truths. Some may be uncomfortable, some may be unconventional, and some may be entirely disagreeable to my friends on either side of the political spectrum. So be it.
How can a Zionist react to Israeli government policies that they may not agree with, or that they feel will make their advocacy more challenging? Today, we are inundated with concerns about the impending Israeli assertion of sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria. Most of the world warns against it. They say that ‘annexation’ will jeopardize nascent cooperation with the Gulf states. It will radicalize a relatively quiet Palestinian street. If Palestinians within these areas are not given citizenship it changes the democratic nature of Israel. And on the other side, how can Israel not secure its eastern border? How can it not take advantage of an historic and unlikely to be repeated window of opportunity from the US administration? How can it reward an intransigent Palestinian Authority and a hostile Palestinian population by taking no action for fear of their response?
My Zionism tells me that establishing and defending the right of the Jewish people to self-determination and sovereignty in every inch of their ancestral aboriginal homeland is an obligation for those who identify as part of the Jewish people. No court, no international organization, no politician, no one -no one has the right or the moral standing to tell us otherwise. Certainly not the Europeans with their bloodstained hands and their legacy of exploitation, expulsion, forced conversion, ghettoization, rape, and mass murder. Nor the Arab world with its own legacy of dhimmitude, expropriation, theft, expulsions, and massacres. And neither an international community that declares the self determination of only one people to be racist, that empowers the worst human rights abusers on the planet to present their macabre charade of moral authority in condemning Israel at every opportunity in grotesque and hypocritical ways. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the infamous Nero of Rwanda who fiddled while Hutus garroted and disemboweled Tutsis for weeks, asked us “Can the whole world be wrong?” about the 2002 Defensive Shield operation and about the blatant “Jenin Massacre” blood libels of Saeb Erekat and the PA. Yes. The whole world can be wrong. Those who deny us our identity, our heritage, our homeland, and the rights associated with them will always be wrong.
As a Zionist my primary responsibility is to establish and defend this truth. It is incumbent upon all of us, though, to understand that having an inalienable right and exercising that right to its fullest extent are not the same thing. There are many considerations that a pragmatic person, who lives and votes in Israel, who has served or has children serving in its defense, may have. They may not be comfortable with the fallout from the maximal exercise of their rights. They may feel that more can be gained in the long run by a minimal exercise of those rights. Real warnings from Military and Intelligence professionals have their part to play in this calculus. Potential deployments during a Coronavirus surge could endanger more lives. Trade with countries across the world could be impacted at a time when Israel’s economy is suffering.
Ariel Sharon didn’t implement sovereignty in Judea and Samaria even though he asserted it. He was a Zionist of irrefutable resolve and indefatigable strength. Ariel Sharon was my namesake, and I try to live up to his balance of ideology and pragmatism. Before all, Sharon was a military tactician and strategist. He understood one of the cardinal rules of warfare as Sun Tzu wrote in ‘The Art of War ‘. If you can avoid it, Sun Tzu wrote, do not stand to do battle on weak ground. Force your adversary to do so. What did he mean by weak ground? A battlespace which is less defensible and expends more of your forces and resources than you can pragmatically afford to do. By finding better ground, you conserve your capacity to defend your army, you seek and do battle where you have most confidence in your ability- and that of your troops- to overcome any adversary. And nothing prevents you from fighting for that weaker ground when circumstances, adversaries, and capacities change.
I believe that fighting to defend the rights of the Jewish people to define ourselves by ourselves, to determine our own future, and to assert that self-definition and self-determination in our homeland is more important than any single policy decision and any single politician.
As we stand on the cusp of what may be irreversible action, I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu, who despite his description as belligerent in most of the world’s media, is to a large extent risk averse. I believe he will likely implement sovereignty over an area like Gush Etzion, which has the deepest connections to Jewish history, where our forefathers tended flocks and vineyards, where our kings declared themselves, and where our heroes fell.
The Prime Minister may declare plans to extend this in places like Maale Adumim or Ariel, or the Jordan Valley, but I will be surprised if this is implemented immediately or in the near future. He will look for the better ground. For now, the Zionism of Ariel Sharon will prevail.