The ‘Dayenu’ School of Foreign Policy

One year ago, I announced, with great fanfare, the establishment of a new school of foreign policy thought, destined to take its place in the pantheon of the long existing “realist” and “liberal” schools. The new school was named, and will be known throughout the generations, as the “Dayenu School”.

The new school takes as its intellectual inspiration one of the high points of the Passover seder, the joyous song Dayenu (“it is enough”). The song poses 14 good deeds that God could do for the people of Israel, each of which would be enough. To illustrate, if God did X that would be best, but if he actually only did Y, it is enough, dayenu. With good fortune, bordering on the miracle of the Exodus itself, the song comes just before the prodigious caloric intake, so common to the hallowed Seder traditions, produces a sense of pervasive listlessness and a collective decrease in national cognitive capacity.

The following is a proposal for a more contemporary version of the traditional song, adapted to the events of 2019-2020 (5780 according to the Jewish calendar), and presented with all of the modesty warranted.

If Netanyahu formed a broad coalition with Gantz, reflecting the wishes of the vast majority of the people and able to address Israel’s true challenges, that would be best, but if he just nixes the idea of a law preventing indictment of a sitting PM and allows the legal process to play itself out as intended, dayenu.

If a moderate government had been elected, which understands that Israel’s foremost national objective is preservation of both its Jewish and democratic character, that would have been best, but if we can just forestall the crazy annexationists and prevent further discriminatory legislation in favor of the ultra-Orthodox, dayenu.

If the West Bank did not have 2.8 Palestinians and could be annexed without undermining Israel’s fundamental character, that would be best, but if we began creating a two-state reality, including a cessation of all settlement activity outside the “blocs”, voluntary inducements for settlers to begin returning home and an ongoing IDF presence to ensure security, dayenu.

If Trump was serious about peacemaking and understood that it requires great foresight, and that he bestow historic inducements, such as recognition of Jerusalem and the Golan, in exchange for similarly important concessions, not partisan political gain, that would be best, but if we just have to “pocket” these historic achievements, dayenu.

If Trump’s proposal for the “deal of the century” truly bridges the needs of both sides, and he continues providing the Palestinians with a badly needed wake up call, balanced by a similar call for Israel, that would be best, but if he does not just make the situation worse, and lead to further violence, dayenu.

If we had an effective offensive military response to the threats we face in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza, at a price we are willing to pay as a society, that would be best, but it is a combination of deterrence, defense and diplomacy, to play for time, while minimizing the disruption to daily life, much as Israel has always done, dayenu.

If Iran ceased its quest for nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles and regional hegemony, that would be best, but if it just continues, for lack of choice, to adhere to the 2015 nuclear deal and we continue to successfully interdict most of its attempts to set up base in Syria, dayenu.

If Syria and Iraq could be reconstituted as effective states and the Arab world as a whole became a vibrant, thriving region, that would be best, but if the forces that gave rise to the Arab Spring, including a population explosion, dire poverty and absence of political freedoms, do not lead to decades of regional turmoil, with harsh consequences for Israeli security, dayenu.

If Saudi Arabia were to fulfill the process of domestic reform begun by MBS, understood that the pen (in the Washington Post) is more powerful than the disemboweling knife and emerged from the medieval darkness of Islamist totalitarianism into a more liberal modern state, that would be best, but if it just continues to cooperate with Israel, dayenu.

If the US regained its long-standing regional leadership role, thereby reducing the chances for WMD proliferation and outbreaks of violence, while actively promoting peace, that would be best, but if Trump would only decide how many troops to leave in Syria, formulate a coherent Iran policy and stop playing into the hands of a more resolute and skillful Putin, dayenu.

If Putin failed in his drive for regional dominance through unbridled sales of weapons and nuclear reactors to all buyers, and thereby reverse the American eviction of the USSR from the Mideast 40 years ago, that would be best, but if he only contains Iran’s presence in Syria and maintains the tenuous and tense balance between Israel and Iran there, dayenu.

If liberal American Jews truly respected the democratic values they espouse, including electoral outcomes they may despise, and understood that Israeli democracy – much like American – is going through a difficult period, that would be best, but if they just appreciated that love is unconditional and that in a family there can be no “disaffection,” dayenu.

If Israel’s national security decision-making process generated sagacious policy objectives and options, that would be best, but if we only learned once again to adopt realistic goals, and to settle for the attainable in the real world, not the world as we would like it to be – the former hallmark of the Zionist movement — dayenu.

Finally, a repeat from last year, because it is as true today as it was then: If Trump and Netanyahu demonstrated moral rectitude and statesmanship, and charted forward-looking futures for their two promised lands, that would be best, but if they only stopped lying through their teeth and tried obeying the law for a change – hey, guys, it is inconvenient but it applies to you too — and we got through the Trump and Netanyahu years alive, dayenu!

About the Author
Chuck Freilich, a former Israeli deputy national security advisor, is a senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School. He is the author of Israeli National Security: a New Strategy for an Era of Change, Oxford Press.
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