Into the fray: Preserving the Jewish nation-state

The predominance of Israel’s military prowess has little or no bearing on many of the emerging threats menacing the Jewish state today.

An Israeli soldier uses his mobile to take pictures during clashes with Palestinian stone-throwers in the West Bank city of Hebron March 6, 2015 (photo credit: MUSSA QAWASMA / REUTERS)
An Israeli soldier uses his mobile to take pictures during clashes with Palestinian stone-throwers in the West Bank city of Hebron March 6, 2015
(photo credit: MUSSA QAWASMA / REUTERS)
To question the Jewish people’s right to national existence and freedom, is... to deny to the Jewish people the right accorded to every other people on this globe...
– Chaim Herzog, (1918-1997) sixth president of Israel and Labor MK
Zionism is nothing more – but also nothing less – than the Jewish people’s sense of origin and destination in the land linked eternally with its name… The question is at what point Arab nationalism, with its prodigious glut of advantage, wealth and opportunity, will come to terms with the modest but equal rights of another Middle Eastern nation to pursue its life in security and peace.
– Abba Eban, (1915- 2002) foreign minister of Israel (Labor)
A number of learned scholars in academia have recently started to attack the very essence of Israel as a state that is both Jewish and democratic, or as the state of the Jewish people. This characterization, so they claim, is detrimental to the Arab population of Israel – to be more precise it undermines the basic right to equality of the Palestinians, who are Israeli citizens. It is difficult to contend, time and again, with this claim and explain, one more time, that the Jewish people have the right to their state, and just as is the case of any other nation-state, this does not imply discrimination against minorities in that state...
– Prof. Amnon Rubinstein, formerly education minister (Meretz), Yediot Aharonot, November 26, 2000
Modern Israel abounds with outward signs of power and prosperity. But don’t let the modern multi-level interchanges and soaring new high rises fool you. Don’t be misled by the booming haute couture boutiques and bustling gourmet restaurants. For despite this external display of success and strength, the fate of the Zionist project and the future of the Jewish nation-state have never been more imperiled.
Misplaced complacency
It is easy to be lulled into a false sense of security.
But this misplaced complacency is a deceptively tempting pitfall that must be avoided at all costs, for it is certain to have catastrophic consequences.
Frequently, one hears the ostensibly reassuring contention that Israel no longer faces any existential threat; that it has by far the strongest military in the region, (including rumors of scores of bombs in the basement); that its traditional enemies have been neutralized – by either peace agreements or internal disintegration.
Yet while this is all completely true – it is equally irrelevant.
For with the dissolution of central authority in Arab countries and the predominance of Israel’s military prowess has little or no bearing on many of the emerging threats menacing the Jewish state today.
Perversely, in some respects, they may even exacerbate them.
Thus on the one hand, the perception of military invincibility may generate a false sense of over-confidence and hubris, as it did before the Yom Kippur War of 1973, inducing it to lower its guard; on the other hand, the erosion of government control in Arab countries has spawned an array of uncontrolled, nonstate jihadist movements, undermining – and in several cases, overthrowing – any purportedly “moderate” Arab regimes, on which, prematurely/naively optimistic Israelis pinned much of their hopes for accomplishing peace, or at least, durable non-belligerence.
More ethereal, no less lethal
Many of the threats confronting the Jewish state are perhaps less clearly defined, and arguably less immediate, than those in the past. But although they may be more ethereal, they are no less real, and certainly no less lethal.
The array of new threats can be coarsely categorized into two main types: conceptual and concrete.
These categories are not hermetically isolated from each other. Quite the opposite. They frequently interact – with fluctuations in one category exacerbating or attenuating the intensity in the other.
There is little that Israel can do to prevent the concrete threats from arising, but much it can do to avoid them becoming unmanageable. By contrast, there is a great deal that Israel can do to curtail and counteract the conceptual threats. Yet sadly, it has done virtually nothing in this regard – and consequently they are on the verge of spiraling out of control, stripping Israel of much of its ability to contain the emerging concrete ones.
For example, Israel can do little to prevent Syria (or large portions thereof) falling to Islamist radicals, whether of the Sunni variety (of al-Qaida or ISIS predilection) or of the Shia brand (of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah). Likewise, there is little it can do to prevent the regime in Jordan being taken over, or dominated, by some ISIS-like Islamo-mutation.
But in either case, it makes a huge difference whether or not the threats inherent in these events are confronted with the Golan Heights and the highlands of Judea Samaria under Israeli control.
However, whether or not Israel maintains or relinquishes control over these territories depends on how effectively it contends with the burgeoning threats of the conceptual type.
Resisting attrition; not repulsing invasion
It is of course correct that, for perhaps four decades, Israel has not faced a tangible threat of large-scale invasion by conventional Arab forces, as in 1948, 1967 and 1973 when it had to repulse Arab attempts (or preempt Arab designs) to overrun the country, or at least large portions of it.
Today, however, with the changing nature of Arab enmity, the major existential challenge to Israel’s existence as the Jewish nation-state is no longer repulsing invasion, but resisting attrition.
The Arab stratagem is no longer the cataclysmic annihilation of the Jewish state, but the ongoing erosion of Jewish will to maintain the Jewish state, by making Jewish life in it unbearable – both physically and psychologically.
(While on the one hand, the nuclearization of Iran may reinstate the cataclysmic approach; on the other, it may “merely” provide a protective umbrella under which the attrition-oriented one can continue with greater intensity – and impunity.)
Perhaps one of the most explicit expressions of this attrition-oriented intent came from Yasser Arafat in Stockholm, in an address to Arab diplomats, barely a year after being awarded the Noble Peace Prize: “The PLO will now concentrate on splitting Israel psychologically into two camps... We plan to eliminate the State of Israel and establish a Palestinian state. We will make life unbearable for Jews by psychological warfare... I have no use for Jews. They are and remain Jews...”
This overt admission of malice, and Arafat’s no less candid confession in Johannesburg (May 1994) and Cairo (January 1995), that the Oslo Accords were no more than a temporary subterfuge to weaken Israel ahead of a future Arab offensive to obliterate it, should have removed any doubt as to what lay ahead.
Assault on legitimacy of Jewish nationhood
These post-Oslo declarations of intent irrefutably underscore that the ultimate objective of Israel’s then much lauded “peace partner” had deviated little from his pre-Oslo malevolence encapsulated in Arafat’s 1980 proclamation: “Peace for us means the destruction of Israel. We are preparing for an all-out war, a war which will last for generations.”
Yet, incredibly, despite this, the Israeli government continued to collaborate, with perverse eagerness, in brewing the noxious swill of deceit and deception, deliberately and undisguisedly designed to bring about the country’s demise.
It should be recalled that until the early ’90s, the idea of supporting a Palestinian state was shunned by virtually all the Zionist political factions in the country as a near-treasonous anathema, with any contacts with Arafat’s PLO an offense punishable by law.
What then induced this breathtaking metamorphosis that converted the detested into the desirable, and the catastrophic collapse of national will that made the vehemently abhorred into the virtually adored? It certainly was not military inferiority that compelled Israeli capitulation and coerced it to accept the once unacceptable; to legitimize the once delegitimized, and politically sanitize the once politically unsanitary.
It was not predominance of Arab martial might that imposed upon Israel to allow armed Arab militias to deploy adjacent to the nation’s capital and within mortar range of its parliament; to permit the influx of hordes of brutal Judeocidal thugs and their access to military grade explosives that turned Israeli streets, cafes and buses into killing fields.
No, all this was the result of intellectual surrender to a concerted assault on the conceptual legitimacy of Jewish nationhood, which made that legitimacy conditional on the recognition of an inimically adversarial – and openly admitted, fictional – nationhood, that of the Palestinian Arabs.
Active complicity of Israeli establishment
So an absurd situation arose.
Perversely, with the active complicity of much of the Israeli intellectual establishment, the myth was born that the Jews had no absolute right to national sovereignty.
Paradoxically, according to this all-pervasive myth, this right and the ability to sustain it was now conditional. They would allegedly only become conceptually legitimate and practically feasible if the Jews deigned to make perilous concessions to accommodate the bogus demands of their implacable foes, the Palestinian Arabs, for national sovereignty, which the latter concede is nothing but a ruse to facilitate the termination of Jewish national sovereignty.
Clearly, to contend with such conceptual threats to the existence of the Jewish nation–state, an entirely different arsenal is required from that at the disposal of the IDF.
On the conceptual plane, the fight for Jewish sovereignty and a Jewish-nation state – and for legitimizing the demand for the minimal physical conditions to sustain them in the inhospitable real world, rather than in some cuddly Kumbaya delusional dream-world – requires mounting an intellectual counter-offensive.
It will be an uphill battle and will have to be fought on at least two fronts.
When the conceptual & the concrete converge
It will be uphill, because the myth of Palestinian nationhood has become an integral part of international political culture. Indeed, support for what will almost certainly become yet another homophobic, misogynistic Muslim majority tyranny has become the prerequisite of acceptance into allegedly bon-ton liberal society.
It will have to be waged on two fronts because the struggle will not only be against the ignorance, envy and/or malice from sources abroad. It will also have to be waged on the domestic front, against those who insist, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that for Israel to be secure and prosperous, it must relinquish the highlands of Judea-Samaria, and expose itself to the possibility of facing the specter of an Islamist-jihadist entity, stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo.
The preceding discussion graphically illustrates how the new conceptual and the concrete threats converge to reinforce the dangers facing the Jewish state, and its capacity to resist Arab attrition. For if Israel cannot withstand the conceptual assault on its hold over Judea-Samaria and feels compelled to relinquish it (or large portions thereof), it will have no ability to determine who will control it – as the Gaza precedent unequivocally demonstrates.
Likewise, as noted before, Israel has very limited ability to curb the concrete threat of the ascendancy of Islamist forces in Jordan.
Accordingly, were Israel to yield control of Judea-Samaria, it would be far from implausible that Israel would be confronted with the daunting prospect of a massive stretch of Islamist-ruled territory, abutting the coastal metropolis – with Judea-Samaria comprising a mega Gaza-like entity, having a front extending almost 500 km. instead of the barely 50 km. in Gaza.
Now imagine how much attrition that could wreak...
Marshaling the intellectual arsenal
I realize, of course, that some readers are chaffing at the bit for more “red-meat” operational prescriptions.
But almost a quarter-century of intellectual mismanagement cannot be corrected with a few pithy sound bites.
To repulse the conceptual threats bearing down on Israel and to generate the freedom of action to overcome the concrete ones, Israel needs to marshal a whole new arsenal of intellectual weaponry, which, subject to breaking news, will be the topic of next week’s column.
Martin Sherman ( is founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (