General Topics

Israel’s Survival


These are worrying times for Israel. When wasn’t? The peace treaties were never popular in the Arab world. There was always rabid anti-Semitism throughout the Middle Eastern media. Alliances in the Middle East are unraveling.

When Turkey was a secular state, it established close military and economic ties, but then Erdogan decided that if Europe wasn’t going to welcome Turkey, his future lay with Muslim autocracies where there is a long tradition of having Israel as a convenient a scapegoat. The vituperation against Israel did not begin with the flotilla. It erupted when Erdogan abused Peres in Davos in 2009. His whole approach has been consistent with his new more Islam-centered Turkey.

The Muslim Brotherhood, now in the ascendency, in all the Sunni states, has been pro-Nazi and virulently anti-Semitic from its inception, nothing to do with Israel (just read the texts of its founder Hassan al-Banna or Sayyid Qutb). It has instigated massacres against Jewish communities across North Africa, notably Tunisia and Libya, throughout its existence.

Israel’s allies have always been fickle. John Foster Dulles was no friend. France in the 60s was an ally, then an enemy. Britain has always sat on the fence and spoken with forked tongue, to mix my metaphors. The Soviet Union was once an implacable enemy and now goes wherever Putin sees his interests. Greece was once antagonistic. Now it is supportive. Armenia, Romania, and Bulgaria, with their experience of Ottoman cruelty, will go some way towards redressing the balance. Things have always been in a state of flux and Israel has had to look for alliances wherever it could find them–not always very savory, I regret, but survival often trumps niceties. Despite Americas other alliances and interests, its special relationship with Israel has in recent years been its greatest support. Indeed, only American help extracted Israeli personnel from the besieged embassy in Cairo.

Regardless of Israeli mistakes (and Lord knows here have been plenty) it has always fallen foul of the majority of people on this earth. But now, at this time of the year there is a mood, darker than before, full of anxiety. Is it the introspection that is in air before Rosh Hashanah? If only! Is it the annual hate fest that is the United Nations General Assembly each September? Could be. I do not believe that a UN recognized Palestinian state would be the disaster it appears. On the contrary, I actually welcome it both morally and politically. Statehood works both ways. It imposes obligations as well as benefits. Two can play the same games. But neither do I believe that solving the Palestinian issue will solve Israel’s.

There are those who believe Israel is still around because the Almighty has kept a protective eye on its affairs. To believe that, you’d have to believe one of two things: either Israel as a state is so moral and spiritual that it deserves Divine protection, or that a minority of its religious followers merit sufficient regard that they, like the old Talmudic concept of the 36 saints in every generation, are responsible for Jewish survival. You might argue it’s the Almighty’s love for “His people”. But that hasn’t stopped disasters in the past. The Almighty did not intervene while the Jewish settlers of Gaza were evacuated. As the Talmud says, “We do not rely on miracles.” Anyway, there is pocket of renegade Chasidim who believe Israel as a Jewish state ought to perish for preempting the Messiah.

As we approach Rosh Hashanah, we are bound to ask ourselves where we stand, what we hope for, and what we can do for the best. Particularly since as individuals we feel so helpless, regardless of which side of the political or religious debate we are on. Physical survival requires mental and physical preparation, good allies, and wise policies. But survival by itself, in my opinion, is not enough. Moral survival requires moral rectitude and that can only be tackled on a personal level.

Ecclesiastes/Kohelet 4:12 says, “If one is attacked, two will come to his defense and a rope of three strands cannot easily be broken.” This has always been used as a metaphor for the Jewish people, linked to its land and its constitution and its God. If one extends the metaphor, I suggest it can imply that each strand contributes to the strength of the rope even if each one remains distinct. Some people support the Jewish people for religious reasons, national reasons, or simply civil ones. They will disagree on so many issues. But so long as there is a unifying feature of wanting that rope to hold, to survive, then it matters less whether they can agree on everything or not. In the same way that religiously, the denominational divisions between us are wide, divisive and often bitter, if there is a shared agenda of survival then isolation can be ameliorated. To take another line from Kohelet, “two people can keep each other warm.”

The purpose of Rosh Hashanah is not to get us to agree or be the same. But rather for each of us to ask ourselves what we are doing, in our own specific ways, to ensure that we survive.

6 thoughts on “Israel’s Survival

  1. As ever, Jeremy you have summed up perfectly. This week saw me and hundreds of others rallying in support of Israel outside Downing Street in London. It was both heartwarming and strengthening for all of us, particularly as we were joined by a group of delightful Christians who were so politically aware of all the dangers you so eloquently described. We sang and waved banners while the Palestinian faction next to us screamed invective and hatred, fronted by half a dozen Chassidim which was enough to make one puke.

    Let's hope for a good and sweet New Year, despite the looming difficulties.

  2. The more I think about it, the more I think this intersection where politics becomes personal behaviour is very important. Of course, it offers at least the hope of influence (if not power) in a frightening world. Even if, as a cynical take on things would have it, that is illusory, it is at least comforting.
    In fact, I believe a cynic would be wrong about this. Societies are moved by the wishes of individuals. Depressingly, we all find it easier to either refuse to engage at all or to deal with "big" issues. I'm all for democracy (as an orthodox Jew I'm eagerly waiting) but once, for example, the Syrians have democracy what will they do with it? If a democracy simply entitles all its members to be nasty then you have a nasty society.
    Ultimately, democracies tend to be relatively benign because forcing all but their deliberately hermit-like members to hear other points of view creates uncertainty and a corresponding inertia. That, coupled with the fact that everyone prioritises different things, makes it difficult to coalesce around any idea, still less one which involves hurting others. Were that to happen, however, nothing would prevent a democracy from being just as vile as any dictatorship.
    The price of freedom, thus viewed, is not eternal vigilance but 1,000 odd ideas, each fixating enough people to prevent wholesale agreement.
    That seems to me to be about the level to which western society aspires. It would be nice to think that we could do better by focussing on our own behaviour. If we all took responsibility for that – and, concomitantly, laid off everyone else's behaviour as far as possible, we might create a society in which everyone's response to being heard was to shut up for most of the time in an effort to hold themselves to a standard of behaviour they would wish others to reach. Bimheira b'yamenu.
    Happy New Year.

  3. Dear Rav Rosen,

    you write that "The purpose of Rosh Hashanah is not to get us to agree or be the same."

    A very interesting and profound point with vast implications, especially during this time of the Jewish Year. Could you please specify at least some of the sources who form the base of this assertion?

    Thanks a lot indeed, shanah tovah,
    Stefano – Italy


    On the biblical level, the very fact that there are different paradigms of personal behaviour, priest, non-priest ( zar) nazirite, stranger etc indicates options ( some hereditary ones are only options within a limited framework). Similarly different examples of leadership, king, priest, prophet, judge all suggest room for choice and individuality within the framework.
    Subsequently Sadducee, Pharisee, Dead Sea Sects, Alexandrian Jewry, the differences between Babylonia and Israel and the options of strictness and leniency ( and I do not mention varieties that were considered heretical).
    In more recent times the differences between Hassidism in all its varieties, Mitnagdism and indeed the localized varieties of Sephardi Judaism all prove the point that there can be varieties of attitudes, practice and emotional choice under the overall umbrella of constitutional Judaism.

    I hope you have a very sweet year!

  4. Anonymous:

    Thanks for that. Sadly too few individuals do get involved unless its something that affects them personally. 'Cause' politics works for some causes but doesn't help establish good general government. The saving grace of Democracy is that on occasion we can boot the old guard out. Something Orthodoxy ,might benefit from too as you suggest.

    Shavuah Tov and Shanah Tovah

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