This post was written in 2016 and is the first of three posts on this topic. The second (2021) and third (2024) will be published sequentially.
For centuries, the nations in which Jews lived did not encourage Jews to participate in military occupations so Jewish mothers did not raise their sons (and certainly not their daughters) to be warriors. Jews were often the victims of warfare, so Jews tended to prefer peaceful diplomacy. The 42% of Jews now living in the USA continue in that tradition, but the similar number living in Israel do not.
Israel has not been able to rely upon peaceful diplomacy. Israel exists because it is a warrior state, able to defeat and deter attacks from those of the 350 million Arabs and 80 million Persians who continue a one and a half millennial inclination towards combat based upon religious differences. As befits a warrior state, Israeli political leaders on the left and right have military experience, and most had combat leadership positions in both classic wars and asymmetric insurgencies.
This warrior state depends primarily upon Jewish warriors. About half of Israeli Jews, representing essentially the entire political spectrum, serve in the IDF. All Israelis pay high taxes because Israel spends $22 billion on defense, which is one fifth of its budget and 7.4% of its GDP. Only Iraq and Saudi Arabia now spend a higher percentage of their GDP. The Israeli expenditures are much greater than those needed to deal with insurgencies since they include aircraft, armored brigades, naval vessels, and nuclear retaliation that are required instead to deal with the threats from Arab or Persian nations. Israel does not conduct war for regional dominance, but it views war as an absolutely necessary ingredient in its survival.
American Jews do not raise their children to be warriors, but most applaud the existence of Israeli warriors. Each year Israel receives $2 billion from US Jews, some of whom are politically active in support of Israel. Very little of this financial support is directed towards defense needs but much of the political support is concerned with defense, although that support is affected by political party affiliation.
The US Jewish political support is very useful, but not determinative, in the current US governmental allocation to Israel each year of $3 billion, of which approximately $2 billion is direct military assistance. This is about 10% of the Israeli defense budget. Israel’s defense purchases are approximately $10 billion, of which approximately $1 billion is purchased from US defense contractors, but Israel’s unique combat requirements have increased its purchases from Israeli defense contractors, a number of whom are now major players. Israeli Jews celebrate their military industrial complex. Many American Jews are not enthusiastic about the US version.
Although most US Jews favor a Jewish state of Israel and its defense against outside aggressors, there is a growing difference of opinion as to the boundaries of that state, reflecting differing views about Israel’s defense needs. Most Republican Jews, and Israeli Jews on the political right, do not believe that Israel is defendable within the pre-1967 (1949 armistice) Green Line. Some want Israel to annex all of the West Bank and Golan, which would add 3 million Arabs to Israel. Some would be satisfied if Israel annexed only Area C to eliminate the classic invasion routes, which would add only 180 thousand Arabs. In support of these beliefs, they are not opposed to Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Most US Democratic Jews, and many Israeli Jews on the political left, support the current USA Two State policy. This implies a Palestine of Gaza and the West Bank separated by Israel, with borders defined by the Green Line. In support of this belief, they are opposed to most Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including those that perform a military function, and they are somewhat uncomfortable with the IDF occupation functions in Areas B and C of the West Bank.
This difference is fundamental. The function of warriors is to kill or capture the enemy. The Jewish political left in Israel and the US is uncomfortable with the concept of a Jewish Warrior culture and the political right believes it is necessary. This difference is critical because Israel’s ultimate defense is nuclear, and essentially all nuclear powers trust only professional warriors to maintain and ultimately use nuclear weapons.
Contrary to extrapolations from history, some Jews are very good warriors which is very important in Israel’s advantage in warfare. Who knew?