On Its 75th Birthday, Israel’s Survival Remains a Miracle

In 1998, the historian and essayist Paul Johnson—who died in January at the age of ninety-four—considered what the Jewish state had achieved in the first 40 years of its existence. Much has changed about Israel since then (although not the identity of its prime minister), but this Yom Ha-Atsma’ut, Johnson’s insights remain as true as ever.

In the last half-century, over 100 completely new independent states have come into existence. Israel is the only one whose creation can fairly be called a miracle.

I observed the drama of 1948-49 from the security of an ancient Oxford college, where I was an undergraduate. Academic opinion was then, on balance, favorable to the new Zion: many dons had been brought up in the philo-Semitic tradition of Daniel Deronda (1876), George Eliot’s novel about a young man who discovers his identity as a Jew and dedicates himself to the Zionist cause, and they welcomed Israel as an intellectual and moral artifact. But opinion was also virtually unanimous that the state would be crushed. That was assuredly the view of most governments and military staffs: the notion of the Jew as a soldier had not yet captured the Western imagination.

After reflecting on the extraordinary circumstances of Israel’s creation and survival, Johnson turns to the challenges before it. Note that he was writing years before the term “start-up nation” had been coined:

The real task, and one that Netanyahu is well equipped to handle, is to create a society where—under conditions of peace—the clever children of Israel will want to stay, and where they can be confident they will flourish. Israel is an elite nation; in my opinion, that is what it should be, and unashamedly so, encouraging and training its people to be in the vanguard of the world’s activity in agriculture and industry, in technology, in the arts, in education and administration, in the conquest and the preservation of nature. Israel must have its place among the nations (to borrow the title of a book by its prime minister). But it is not a nation like other nations. Willy-nilly, it is and will continue to be sui generis, its people shaped by the terrible events of our century, and marked by destiny.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli history, Israeli Independence Day


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