Israel: A Danger to Jews Everywhere

Yakov M. Rabkin is a Professor of History at the University of Montreal wrote this in 2002 for Tikkun

When the Sharon government refused to receive a UN panel to investigate the violence in Jenin last May, Foreign Minister Peres termed the very intention to start such an inquiry “a blood libel against the Jewish people.”This statement was made against the background of mounting anti-Jewish incidents around the world, all of them immediate fallout of the violence in Israel/Palestine. 

As early as 1948, the political philosopher Hannah Arendt warned:“Even if the Jews were to win the war … the ‘victorious Jews’ would live surrounded by an entirely hostile Arab population, secluded inside ever threatened borders, absorbed by physical self-defense … And all this
would be the fate of a nation that—no matter how many immigrants itcould still absorb and how it extended its boundaries—would still remain a very small people greatly outnumbered by hostile neighbors.”

Her prophecy has sadly come true. The State of Israel has faced incessant violence since its proclamation. Demographically, Israel’s Jewish population is and will remain a tiny minority facing the rapidly growing Arab masses, 40 percent of whom are today below the age of fifteen. An island of wealth facing an ocean of poverty, Israel is condemned to live by the sword if the Zionist structure remains intact. To survive even in theshort term, Israel will continue to need significant population inflows from abroad. But even if all the Jews of the world were to move to Israel, this would only delay the showdown with its more numerous and mostly hostile neighbors.

We must admit that structurally, i.e. independently of the impact of particular policies, the interests of Israel and of the Diaspora are at loggerheads. Israel was created inter alia, to offer the Jews physical safety. Today the State of Israel adversely affects the physical safety of the
Jews, both within its borders and elsewhere.
In spite of the might of Israel’s armed forces, Israel is the only place in the world where a Jew can be killed just for being a Jew. Today the life of a Jew is in greater danger in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv than in Paris or Berlin or even in Damascus or

Moreover, the chronic conflict engendered by the establishment of theState of Israel has spread waves of Jew-hatred to most Muslim and Arabnations. The current intifada ignited sparks of anti-Semitism in many parts of the world, including Western Europe, which had been free of anti-Semitism for several decades. Indeed, the chronic character of theIsrael/Palestine conflict was an important, albeit not the only, cause of September 11. This observation does not apportion blame or justify terrorism; it simply states an obvious, albeit little articulated, connection between the creation and perpetuation of Israel as a Jewish nation-state and the unprecedented spread of regional violence to the rest of the world. Rwandans, Bosnians, or black South Africans did not spread violence to other parts of the world. Palestinians, frustrated by their fight against Israel, did.

It is not only our physical safety, but also our moral sensitivity, that has been adversely affected by the creation of Israel against the will of the ambient population. The never-ending bloody violence has numbed our sense of compassion, one of the three defining qualities that the Talmud attributes to the Jew—alongside timidity and propensity to do good (BT Yevamot, 79a). It was painful to hear Paul Wolfowitz, one of the most pro- Israel members of the American administration, booed by thousands of Jews assembled in Washington last April when he dared mention“innocent victims among the Palestinians.”

It would be a folly to mortgage the future of world Jewry on the fragile State of Israel. A possible violent demise of this valiant remnant of European nationalism in the Middle East could spell a disaster for Judaism and the Jews. Diaspora Jewry must acknowledge that it finds Israel’s
militancy, callousness, and chutzpah repugnant, a far cry from the values of Judaism. Instead of blindly supporting the Zionist ideal of a nation- state for Jews, we should reconsider the best course for preserving and strengthening Jewish life in both the Land of Israel and the Diaspora.

It is too early to define the place reserved for the State of Israel and for Zionism in history. While for many Jews the desirability of the State of  Israel constitutes an article of faith, this new faith in an ethnic state is not unshakable. It is hard to justify the State of Israel as a tool to enhance the spiritual and material welfare of the Jews and, particularly, to offer them a sense of physical safety. As violence continues, we should find the courage to ask: Was the idea of a Jewish state a viable one? Is it not the very nature of the State of Israel as a state for the Jews that fuels and perpetuates the conflict?

Yakov M. Rabkin is a Professor of History at the University of Montreal. His book What is Modern Israel (2016) is a serious Judaic rejection of Zionism.