In the final days of the First Temple, with the Babylonian army nearing the city
walls, the prophet Jeremiah warned Jerusalemites of destruction and exile if
they did not change their ways. The prophet was ridiculed and pursued, with
Since then, the Jewish people have been plagued by
a continuous stream of imitations – self-proclaimed Jeremiahs warning of gloom
and doom, but without the prophetic insight or divine license.
creation of Israel and the challenges faced by the restored Jewish
number of modern day Jeremiahs has grown exponentially. Artists,
columnists, bloggers, NGO officials and politicians have assumed the
adopted the rhetoric, if not the substance, of morality. Indeed, the
doom has become a major industry.
But a great deal of caution needs to be
exercised in drawing analogies between our times and the events from 24
centuries ago, when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the
and exiled the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.
Now, long after the age of
prophecy has ended, it is difficult to distinguish between those who
something serious to say and the many false prophets in our midst.
Self-appointed and self-promoting messengers come from the fringes of
political, religious, and social spectrum – Left and Right,
fundamentalist-secular – and seek to impose their private views and
They are usually unable to gain support through the electoral system,
hostile to democracy, but have access to large amounts of foreign money
used to impose their agendas.
This is far from Jeremiah’s model.
close reading of the biblical text shows that the original Jeremiah
not want the job (like his professional colleague Jonah), and frequently
to be released from this extremely unpleasant task. In contrast, modern
self-appointed prophets have huge egos. From within the country and the
Diaspora, they desperately seek the attention accompanying warnings of
imminent demise of Israel or the disappearance of the Jewish people.
not people who dislike the limelight and argue with God to avert the
In recent years, the Jeremiah industry has flourished by
claiming moral infractions by the IDF in defending the country from
attacks. Otherwise invisible individuals (including failed politicians)
gained a huge amount of attention and funding from those eager to spread
allegations of Israeli abuses, regardless of whether or not they are
Many claim, like Jeremiah, to “love Israel” and to
possess “the truth.”
Furthermore, Jeremiah delivered his rebukes from
Jerusalem, as a Jew, facing the people whom he sought to influence,
from a distant and safe observation point, like Babylonia. In contrast,
today’s Jewish “prophets,” such as Jeremy Ben-Ami (J Street), Daniel
(New Israel Fund) and intellectuals Tony Judt, Peter Beinart and Naomi
promote simple solutions for the challenges facing Israelis, while
living in New
York, Washington, Toronto and London. Those self-proclaimed prophets who
maintain an Israeli address focus most of their attention on, and
money that gives them influence from, these distant power centers.
Other Israel-focused gloom-mongers greatly exaggerate the political and
threats, warning that any sign of flexibility or closing down of
bring instant destruction. For some Jeremiahs on the Right, the 2005
withdrawal, and the more recent settlement freeze designed to restart
the Palestinians, are portrayed as the equivalent to the destruction of
Temple and exile.
Iran is also a popular topic for the prophets of
While the dangers are real, the painters of these
black scenarios understate Israel’s power and resilience. What is needed
response to such threats is a careful assessment of the situation and
options, and not obsessive panic pumped up by headline writers and
little understanding of the details.
Turning inward, we have the constant
warnings that the Jewish people are on the verge of disappearance due to
religious fanaticism, on one side of the scale, or religious pluralism
ignorance of the sources on the other. Jews have survived and evolved
adverse conditions for more than 4,000 years, and predications of the
Jewish history are also exaggerated.
None of this should be confused with
a call for complacency.
The Jewish people have suffered a number of
massive tragedies after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and exile,
the expulsion from Spain and the Nazi Holocaust. Pollyanna-ish
instant and painless peace agreements, or of Jewish continuity without
education, are no better than nightmarish prophecy.
The writer is president of NGO Monitor
and professor of political science at