Into the Fray: Marshaling the intellectual arsenal to preserve the Jewish state

What is at hand is less a clash of weapons and more a clash of wit & will; the side that will prevail is the side whose political vision is sharpest and whose national resolve is strongest.

A soldier waves an Israeli flag on the Golan front during the Yom Kippur war. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT,JERUSALEM REPORT ARCHIVES)
A soldier waves an Israeli flag on the Golan front during the Yom Kippur war.
I find it quite unfortunate, that very few in the general public... understand the situation we are in; for even if we destroy every current enemy militarily, the existential threat through attrition will not diminish. Likewise, the tools necessary for opposing (and hopefully reversing) that threat are different [from] what Israelis are used to... A country that offers no safety to its citizens inside its own borders, a people that have no conviction in holding onto their own ancestral lands, cannot possibly claim to have a certain future.
– Facebook comment, from “Citizen Morgan,” on last week’s column.
This insightful observation by “Citizen Morgan” encapsulates quite succinctly much of what I laid out in last week’s column.
War of wits and will; not weapons
Readers will recall that in it, I argued that the major strategic threat facing the Jewish state today is less cataclysmic destruction and more continual erosion, and hence the major challenge is not repulsing invasion but resisting attrition. Furthermore, to contend with this threat and withstand this challenge, it is not is not military superiority which is called for – however overwhelming.
Indeed, what is at hand is far less a clash of weapons and far more a clash of wit and will.
In such a clash, the side that will prevail is not the one with superior martial prowess but rather superior ideo-intellectual competency – the side whose political vision is the sharpest and whose national resolve is the strongest.
This, of course, has been abundantly clear for over two decades; however the current round of Arab Judeocidal violence serves to make this even more starkly apparent. Israel cannot – and will not – win the war of stones, kitchen knives and meat cleavers without first winning the war of ideas.
Action-oriented skeptics, who believe the physical trumps the philosophical, and what is needed are concrete measures and not conceptual frameworks, will doubtlessly dispute this.
For ‘red-meat’ enthusiasts: A caveat
But this would be both myopic and mistaken.
For any harsh responses to Palestinian-Arab violence will be hastily canceled, unless they can be couched and conveyed in a context that allows them to be sustained.
In my column a fortnight ago, I detailed a far-from-exhaustive list of measures that should be implemented, including: deportation of perpetrators and their dependents; revoking citizenship/residency rights; confiscation of property; refraining from returning bodies of slain terrorists, and rapid demolition of their family homes; passing new legislation – and/or robust enforcement of existing legislation – imposing stiff punishment for incitement; and cutting off funding to entities/ organizations fomenting violence.
But it is one thing to brandish a set of punitive responses. It is quite another to implement them, and certainly to sustain implementation for any extended time.
For example, on several occasions, the government has withheld – tax revenues collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.
However, when complaints regarding the damage this was causing the Palestinians escalated, the measures were rescinded. This generates the inevitable expectation that, were they implemented again, they would be again rescinded before any real harm was inflicted – degrading any deterrent element the measure had to discourage the Palestinian-Arabs from further objectionable behavior.
Caveat (cont.)
Indeed, more recently the cabinet decided that bodies of slain terrorists would not be returned to the Palestinian side because of concern that funerals would become a focus of incitement to further acts of terrorism. But soon, in the face of protests and threats, the government caved in, and returned the bodies of murderers of Jews, risibly in exchange for a Palestinian promise that the funerals would not become centers for agitation.
Predictably, this promise was not honored by the Palestinian side – now secure in the knowledge that, if once more the bodies of killers are withheld, their release will be speedily attained by threats of more violence.
It was clearly not a preponderance of Palestinian military might that impelled Israel to recant on punitive actions it had undertaken.
Rather, it was that it could not sustain the legitimacy of their prolonged application because of the “excessively” severe repercussions this may entail.
Thus as I have warned repeatedly, successive governments have shied away from taking decisive action against the Palestinian-Arabs in an effort to avoid confrontations in which Israel can prevail, thereby precipitating a confrontation in which it may well not.
So, how are we to explain the puzzling conundrum of the powerlessness of the powerful; of Israel’s manifest incompetence/ impotence in handling the Palestinian issue, despite staggering successes in nearly every other field of human endeavor?
Like scissors with single blade
Anyone seeking the reason for the phenomenon need look no further than the abysmal performance of Israel’s public diplomacy.
After all, trying to enforce an appropriately assertive operational policy without accompanying it with a commensurately assertive public diplomacy campaign to legitimize it, is almost like trying to cut cloth with a scissor with one blade – and just as effective.
In numerous articles I have underscored the strategic imperative of enhancing Israel’s public diplomacy. I warned incessantly against the practice of allotting minuscule sums for the nation’s public diplomacy effort and the perils this entails. For, as I pointed out, “the function of diplomacy in general and public diplomacy in particular, is essentially similar to that of the classic role of the air force.” Indeed, “just as the latter was traditionally tasked with creating freedom of action for ground forces to achieve their objectives, so should diplomacy be seen as charged with facilitating freedom of action for the nation’s strategic decision-makers, to allow them to achieve the objectives of strategies they formulate.”
Without a radical restructuring of its diplomatic strategy, infrastructure and doctrine, there is little chance Israel will be able to persist with a policy that goes beyond temporary and tenuous containment of recurring rounds of Palestinian-Arab violence.
To succeed, such an endeavor to “weaponize” Israel’s diplomatic strategy would have to address the issue of new (renewed) “ammunition” (style/substance of the message to be delivered) and its “artillery” (logistical infrastructure /resources to deliver it).
Let me begin with the “ammunition” in the envisioned “arsenal”.
Tale of two narratives
At the heart of the conflict lies a clash of two narratives: On the one hand the stirring, fact-based Zionist narrative, on the other, the openly conceded fabricated “Palestinian” narrative, which as one senior PLO official admitted “serves only tactical purposes” and whose sole purpose is to function as “a new tool in the continuing battle against Israel.”
Although enormous efforts have been invested in a futile endeavor to portray them as reconcilable, the truth is that they are mutually exclusive. Either one will prevail, absolutely and exclusively, or the other will.
The reason for this lamentable impasse is, as is becoming ever clearer in the current round of killings, that Arab enmity toward a Jewish state does not arise from anything the Jews do, but from what the Jews are. This enmity, therefore, can only be dissipated if the Jews cease to be.
Since successive Israeli governments, intimidated by left-leaning civil society elites, have refused to acknowledge this fact, and refrained from formulating policy that reflects it. Accordingly, they have perpetuated the myth that there is middle ground, which could leave both sides frustrated, but still tolerably satisfied enough to eschew violence.
Clash of two narratives
So if the eye of the storm is irreconcilable claims for sovereignty over a given geographical area, driven by mutually exclusive national narratives, which claim is to prevail? Although there is seldom agreement among political scientists on issues relating to nations and nationalism, there is consensus that a discernably unique identity is a crucial precondition for validating claims for the right to national sovereignty and nationhood.
It is beyond dispute that Jews have a far stronger claim to a distinct national identity, and hence the right to sovereign nationhood, than most nations – particularly the Palestinians.
The Jews have a unique language, unique script, unique religion, unique history and heritage, unique calendar, unique customs, unique...
By contrast, Palestinian-Arabs can point to nothing unique in any of these areas – not in language, in religion, in script, nor in customs...
The Palestinian-Arabs admit that they are part of a wider national grouping. Thus, Article 1 of the Palestinian National Covenant proclaims: “the Palestinian Arab people are...part of the Arab nation.” Article 12 baldly admits that a separate Palestinian identity is a ruse to further wider Arab interests. Thus, at an Arab League summit in 1987, convened in Amman, King Hussein conceded that Palestinian identity was merely a response to Jewish national claims, not driven by any authentic endogenic sentiment of uniqueness, stating, “The appearance of the Palestinian national personality comes as an answer to Israel’s claim that Palestine is Jewish.”
Clearly, then, if the Jewish claim has undisputed validity over an irreconcilably, mutually exclusive counter-claim by the Palestinian-Arabs, surely it is the Jewish claim that must prevail – exclusively and absolutely.
Expression of Jewish sovereignty
Thus in the resultant Jewish nation state, Jewish people will comprise the sole and exclusive source of political sovereignty.
Non-Jewish residents will enjoy full equality regarding individual civil rights, including the right to vote, but no collective national rights.
In a Jewish state, the national flag will bear the Star of David, not a crescent moon or cross; the state symbol will be the menorah, not an Arabian scimitar or a Crusader sword; the official day of rest – the Sabbath – will fall on Saturday, not Friday nor Sunday; the national anthem will refer to the yearning of a Jewish soul, not a multi-cultural one of all-its-citizens. In a Jewish state there will be Judeo-centric legislation, enshrining the Law of Return for Jews in the Diaspora, but not the “Right of Return” for diasporic Palestinian- Arabs. Public life will be conducted, and the yearly calendar constructed, according to Jewish tradition and Zionist heritage. Hebrew, not Arabic or English will be the hegemonic means of communication in commerce, academic, and legal proceedings.
Any individual who actively rejects this should not continue to live within the frontiers of the country. There is absolutely nothing undemocratic about this – indeed, it is a necessary precondition for sustainable democratic rule. For as John Stuart Mill reminds us: Free institutions are next to impossible in a country... without fellow-feeling... [generated by] identity of political antecedents; the possession of a national history, and consequent community of recollections; collective pride and humiliation, pleasure and regret, connected with the same incidents in the past.
Without this, he warns, “The united public opinion, necessary to the working of representative government, cannot exist.”
More than a random amalgam
For those who might throw up their hands in a show of politically-correct horror, current events in the region ought to serve as a sobering reminder that a cohesive nation – and hence a stable nation-state – is more than a random amalgam of the inhabitants of a given territory, bound by nothing more than the accident of their geographic location.
Any doubts as to the continuing validity of this historic insight should swiftly be dispelled by the spectacle of gore and guts across the splintering Arab world in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.
Of course, much has yet to be said as to the “intellectual arsenal” that needs to be marshaled to preserve Israel as the nation-state of the Jews. But a clear idea of the superior Jewish claims to sovereignty, expression of that sovereignty in the Jewish nation-state and the need for a muscular public diplomacy offensive to promote and protect it are indispensable initial building blocks.
Subject to breaking news I will pursue these matters further in next week’s column, including more on the provision of “intellectual ammunition” and the mechanisms of the “intellectual artillery” to deliver it.
Martin Sherman ( is founder and executive director of the Israel Institute
for Strategic Studies (