A Scotsman’s Love Letter to Israel

The Scottish journalist Stephen Daisley congratulates the Jewish state on the anniversary of its independence, and responds to some Israelis’ own pessimism about their future:

[T]here are plenty of reasons for Zionists to be gloomy on this, Israel’s 75th birthday, but there is one reason for optimism that outshines them all: Israel is 75. Israel was created; survived an immediate Arab effort to annihilate it; ingathered the survivors of the death camps; settled the land and built kibbutzim; struggled through the lean and lonely years; triumphed in the Six-Day War and reunited Jerusalem; pulled through the Yom Kippur War; endured two intifadas; rescued Beta Israel and welcomed the refuseniks; lost Yamit, lost Rabin, lost Gush Katif; made the desert bloom with fruits and microchips; and made peace with Arab nations. All of that in 75 years and, despite impossible odds, Israel lives yet.

Israel is a hard country and for many a hard country to love. It is flinty but whiny, eager for the world’s love but diplomatically tin-eared, unsentimental but gripped by existential angst. It is a country that adores its army and reveres military discipline but is so hectically informal that you wonder how it made it to 75 days, let alone 75 years. It also boasts the highest density of rude people in the known universe, although I find that strangely endearing. I have never loved Israel more than the time the manager of a Tel Aviv minimart yelled at me for a) not speaking Hebrew, b) being a foreign journalist, and c) coming in to shop when she was trying to watch TV. Only in Israel, the innovation nation, could they invent the inconvenience store.

If Zionism is the theory, Israel is the practice and like all practical translations of idealism it is compromised, haphazard, sometimes unsightly, and occasionally disheartening. But that tension between Zionism and Israel, between ahavat and ha’aretz, is where the great debates take place and where the course of Jewish history can be set or changed. Israeli independence, as it reaches 75 years, is still a miraculous application of a mundane idea: Jewish self-determination.

Read more at Spectator

More about: Israeli Independence Day, Israeli society

Israel Can’t Stake Its Fate on “Ironclad” Promises from Allies

Israeli tanks reportedly reached the center of the Gazan city of Rafah yesterday, suggesting that the campaign there is progressing swiftly. And despite repeatedly warning Jerusalem not to undertake an operation in Rafah, Washington has not indicated any displeasure, nor is it following through on its threat to withhold arms. Even after an IDF airstrike led to the deaths of Gazan civilians on Sunday night, the White House refrained from outright condemnation.

What caused this apparent American change of heart is unclear. But the temporary suspension of arms shipments, the threat of a complete embargo if Israel continued the war, and comments like the president’s assertion in February that the Israeli military response has been “over the top” all call into question the reliability of Joe Biden’s earlier promises of an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. Douglas Feith and Ze’ev Jabotinsky write:

There’s a lesson here: the promises of foreign officials are never entirely trustworthy. Moreover, those officials cannot always be counted on to protect even their own country’s interests, let alone those of others.

Israelis, like Americans, often have excessive faith in the trustworthiness of promises from abroad. This applies to arms-control and peacekeeping arrangements, diplomatic accords, mutual-defense agreements, and membership in multilateral organizations. There can be value in such things—and countries do have interests in their reputations for reliability—but one should be realistic. Commitments from foreign powers are never “ironclad.”

Israel should, of course, maintain and cultivate connections with the United States and other powers. But Zionism is, in essence, about the Jewish people taking responsibility for their own fate.

Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship