Once We Were Slaves, Now We Stand Strong

Overnight Newsweek tweeted out an excerpt from my latest article .The tweet read: “Israelis in Tel Aviv are confident that we have the ability to counter any significant threat.”  As I re-read  this line, it struck me that this sentence really explained a great deal about Israel and Israeli politics. Many explanations have been given as to why Israelis voted the way they did. However, I would like to add an additional motivation (together with a plea to my fellow countrymen and to the Jews of diaspora who might be reading this on the eve of the Passover Seder):

I believe a fundamental difference between the political approaches of many Israelis can be understood, by knowing if they think that our physical survival as a nation is threatened then they are more likely to accept  Prime Minister Netanyahu’s world view. Let me clarify, I am not saying that we do not have enemies who would like to eliminate us. I am questioning whether we fear they might be able to achieve their goal. I, for one, do no worry about that. Why?

I served in the Israeli Air Force four decades ago, during the years right after the Yom Kippur War, when we began receiving our first F-15s and F-16s. It was at that time we began placing massive efforts in electronic warfare. The effect of those initial investments were  seen in 1981, when we wiped out the Syrian defensive systems during the Lebanon War, without suffering any casualties. In my above referenced Newsweek article I wrote about the leaked 1987 U.S. appraisal of Israel’s capabilities. The U.S. assessment stated that back then, in 1987 (almost 30 years ago) Israel’s conventional military technologies were superior to what the U.S. was deploying. Furthermore, the U.S. report claimed that Israel’s nuclear research was on par with the top research being done at U.S. research labs, such as the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

I have no access to what our military is doing today – beyond what any good reader can ascertain. However, being part of the Tel Aviv hi-tech world, I have some idea where we currently stand in non-military areas now, and compared to where we stood 30 years ago, the difference is astounding. Today we are technology leaders. It is absurd to believe that our military, who has been sending our most talented young people (at least those who do not become pilots) to do advance research and development for a generation, has not radically widened our gap in the decades since that report came out.

It does not require a peek into our secret labs to get some sense of that fact. Those of us who lived here this last summer were all impressed by the effectiveness of Iron Dome – an irrefutable success. Despite the psychological impact of being attacked, Iron Dome’s protective cover allowed all of us to go about our lives in cities under missile attack, with some sense of normalcy. Coincidently, this week the Ministry of Defense announced that final tests have been successfully completed on David’s Sling (our intermediary range missile defense system), thus giving us a triple-layered missile defense system. No other country in the world has implemented any sort of missile defense system, and now we have three complementary systems deployed. The report from 30 years ago referred to Israeli research in high-energy beam technology and other advanced fields. I am confident that we have made progress in all of these areas, and our military has many secrets up its sleeves.

What does all that mean practically, and how does it explain Israeli voting choices?  I acknowledge we have no lack of foes. It does not take advanced intelligence networks to look around today’s Middle East and understand that there are enemies out there who would love to annihilate us. However, I believe that neither the ancient swords used in barbaric beheadings, or the 20th century technology that the Iranians are working hard to develop (with their attempts to become a nuclear threshold state) truly threaten us.

We are a 21st century military power, with capabilities far greater than is commonly understood.  No agreement with Iran is going to threaten our existence. (n fact, I actually think this agreement is not a bad one – given the options – but that’s a different article. The arrival of ISIS on our borders is also not an existential threat. I, along the tens of thousands of Tel Aviv residents who voted for a different government understand our situation this way.

One must ask: What do almost every former high ranking military officer and former heads of the Mossad and Shin Bet know, (who all decided not to support the Likud in the last election) that others don’t know? When I talk with friends and acquaintances, no one I know is worried about our physical existential existence here (note: that does not mean we do not worry about random terrorist attacks, border wars  and bombs). Rather, we all worry about what sort of state are we going to have. We worry about what it means to be a Jewish State. We believe that after 67 years of independence it’s our soul as a Jewish State that is endanger, and not our physical existence. Those people who did not buy the “campaign of fear” during this recent election (i.e. everyone is out to exterminate us), fear what sort of state we might become in 10 or 20 years.

Tonight as we all sit down to our seders throughout the world, it is time to stop worrying exclusively about the Pharaohs that are out to destroy us. The foundation of Zionism was to provide a solution for that problem. True, there are still people who want to destroy us. However, today we don’t have to worry about being in the good graces of foreign kings. We can defend ourselves, and we do not have to worry about how Moses will influence the Pharaoh. We have the means of defending ourselves whatever the circumstances.

We must remember the past, as we are obligated to teach it to our children. At the same time, it is imperative we acknowledge our achievements and work to build a brighter future. As you sit down to the seder table, ask yourself – what sort of state do you want Israel to be? Worry about our soul and stop worrying about our body. The Israeli defense establishment has been doing an excellent job defending us over the past 67 years. I have no doubt it will continue to do so. Let’s all make sure we have a state whose values we can continue to celebrate. Chag Samech

About the Author
Marc Schulman is the editor of -- the largest history web site. He is the author a series of Multimedia History Apps as well as a recent biography of JFK. He holds a BA and MA from Columbia University, and currently lives in Tel Aviv. He is also a regular contributor to Newsweek authoring the Tel Aviv Diary. He is the publisher of an economic news App about Israel called DigitOne and has a weekly newsletter on substack called Israel Update