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A Glimmer of Hope: a State of All Its Citizens, Summer 2002

A Glimmer of Hope, A State of All Its Citizens, by Yakov M. Rabkin

Source:

http://www.tikkun.org/magazine/index.cfm/action/tikkun/issue/tik0207

/article/020711f.html

Published in Tikkun: A Bimonthly Jewish Critique of Politics, Culture &
Society

July/Aug 2002 || http://www.tikkun.org

Yakov M. Rabkin is a Professor of History at the University of Montreal.
His publications include two books: Science between the Superpowers and
Interaction between Scientific and Jewish Cultures. E-mail:
yakov.rabkin@Umontreal.CA

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. Peres’ not-so-innocent goal was to
emphasize the common fate shared by Israel and the Diaspora in order to
suggest that diaspora Jews who disagreed with Israeli policy were being
traitors to their people. Yet this connection between the Diaspora and
Israel also reflects the obvious, but rarely acknowledged, fact that Israel
itself has become the main danger to the welfare of the Jewish people.

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 it
could 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 the
short 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
Tehran.

Moreover, the chronic conflict engendered by the establishment of the
State of Israel has spread waves of Jew-hatred to most Muslim and Arab
nations. 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 the
Israel/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?

Opposition to Zionism

The most principled criticism of the Zionist idea has come not so much
from Arab writers as from Jewish scholars who have opposed the idea of a
Jewish state for over a century. The Zionists viewed the Jews as a nation in
the modern European sense of the word. In reaction to nineteenth-
century theories of race (theories which ultimately led to Nazism), Zionism
based its definition of the Jew on biological provenance, and sought to
become what one European rabbi called “a purely nationalist-racist
movement without the least commonality with religion.” Most rabbinical
authorities reacted to the emergence of Zionism in the late nineteenth
century with undisguised hostility. Prior to the establishment of the Jewish
State, rabbis and scholars routinely objected to the political appropriation
by the Zionists of spiritual concepts such as “Jerusalem,” “Zion,” or “Land
of Israel.”

Zionism postulates that Jewish history is essentially a sequence of
expulsions, massacres, and forced conversions. According to this view,
the Shoah is the ultimate proof of the untenability of Jewish diasporas,
rather than a unique tragedy interrupting the progression towards a more
tolerant and pluralistic society. Most Zionists see no intrinsic value in
maintaining Jewish continuity beyond the borders of Israel. For them, the
traditional model of autonomous diasporas possessing a common
spiritual focus has largely given way to a center-periphery model with the
State of Israel assuming political, administrative, and representative
functions of a center with respect to diaspora Jews.

Consequently, Israeli policies often convey the impression that Israel
represents Jews from other countries. Political use by Israeli leaders of the
Judaic term “the People of Israel” (Am Yisrael) tends to blur distinctions
between Israeli and diaspora Jews, presenting the latter as “temporarily
away from the country.” Israel has domesticated diaspora leaders to the
extent that they now act as lobbyists for Israel rather than as
representatives of Jews. For many of these leaders, Zionism has replaced
Judaism as a religion.

The characterization of the Jewish people in terms of ethnicity and,
particularly, the attempt to cast Israel as a secular European nation-state
designated as the home for that ethnic group, mark a major departure
from Jewish tradition. Since the Diaspora began twenty-five centuries ago,
the Jewish tradition has defined Jews as a nation only in the sense—and to
the extent—that Jews remain loyal to Torah. According to the tradition
(solidly based on scriptural evidence), there is little meaning to a Jewish
nation without Judaism. Just as the Muslim concept of umma is based on
the loyalty to the Koran and transcends boundaries of nation-states, the
Jewish concepts of umma, Am Yisrael, or Kelal Yisrael refer to
communities that have the Torah as their common denominator; they are
not confined to any particular territory, let alone to a nation-state.

As for the Land of Israel, the Torah posits that the land is entrusted to the
Children of Israel only if the Jewish people live up to the standards
enunciated in the Torah: to practice morality, to pursue justice, and to
obey certain agricultural rules. The nature of our relationship to the Land
of Israel is therefore different from that of other nations to their
respective motherlands. Unlike the images common in other cultures,
Israel is not a mother who would welcome her son whatever his misdeeds.
Rather, Israel is portrayed as a bride who can reject her partner (or even,
in Leviticus 18:28, a land that can “vomit its inhabitants”) if she
disapproves of his behavior. The best known part of the Jewish prayer
book is, perhaps, Shema Israel. This is what we read when we recite it
three times a day: “Beware! Lest you let your heart be seduced, go astray,
and worship alien deities and bow down to them. Then, the Divine anger
will be awakened, and he will block the sky and there will be no more
rain. The Land will not yield harvest, and you will disappear from the good
land that G-d gives you.” The link that the Jews have with the Land of
Israel is therefore contractual rather than organic. It is contingent on their
loyalty to the Torah, and this can be seen in many synagogues on the day
of Shavuot (Pentecost), when a special marriage contract drawn between
the Jews and the Torah is read for all to hear.

In line with this idea of contract, the Jewish tradition attributes the exile
of the Jews from the Land to their abandoning Torah commandments. The
tradition does not view Jews as hapless victims, but rather as makers of
their own fate. Maimonides and other classical sources indicate that the
way back to the Land of Israel is Teshuvah, i.e. repentance and return to
the commandments. Since the reason for exile is not attributed to the
superior strength of the Roman legions, the redress for exile is not and
should not be sought in developing a mightier army. In fact, the Talmud
(BT Ketubot, 111a) refers to oaths that the Jews were to swear prior to
their second exile, in which they are enjoined not to rebel against the
nations and to re-occupy the Land of Israel by force. Given this tradition,
some Judaic scholars see Israel’s military exploits not as a sign of
impending messianic redemption but rather as a blasphemous act of
rebellion.

Opposition to Zionism has not disappeared since the time when Zionism
was a minority movement shunned by most Jews. Most principled
opposition continues to come from certain Hasidic groups, centered in
Jerusalem and New York. They believe that the Zionist state, born in sin
for which it has never repented, has no legitimacy in terms of Jewish
history. They believe that Jews had lived in the Land of Israel before the
state, and they will remain there after it comes to an end. According to
them, the State of Israel is an impediment to the messianic redemption.
While most Mitnaggedim (non-Hasidic Jews) take a less militant position,
they also reject the legitimacy of the State of Israel. According to the
editor of the newspaper Yated Hane’eman: “Our participation in the state
and its institutions is performed due to the pressures of the time and the
force of circumstance, similar to our behavior under foreign regimes
outside of the land. It may be defined as stealing into the enemy camp.” It
is no wonder that the late Rabbi Eliezer Schach reportedly prayed daily
that the State of Israel should disappear without harm befalling a single
Jew. It is quite significant that the main street of Bnei Brak, the citadel of
traditional Judaism in Israel, was recently renamed from Herzl Street to
Rabbi Schach Street.

Uses of Violence

“In the long run,” wrote Arendt when the idea of a Jewish state became
dominant in Zionist circles in the mid 1940s, “there is hardly any course
imaginable that would be more dangerous, more in the style of an
adventure… It will not be easy either to save the Jews or to save Palestine
in the twentieth century: that it can be done with categories and methods
of the nineteenth century seems at the very most highly improbable.”
Indeed, Israel’s attempts to suppress Palestinian resistance, which
provoke worldwide protests today, would have been perfectly acceptable
to European nations of the nineteenth century. The Zionists’ refusal to
heed the prognosis about the durability of Arab resistance to the Jewish
state may be seen as “a triumph of the will” or, conversely, as a major
failure. Jews used to believe in the power of their ideas, unsupported by
material power. It appears that nowadays Israeli leaders cling to material
power for want of ideas.

It is often said that Herzl’s vision of a state for the Jews came to life in
spite of an inhospitable terrain and the implacable hostility of the local
inhabitants. However, it may well be that it is precisely this implacable
hostility that forged the new Hebrew nation in Palestine. Since the Zionists
discarded the Jewish religion as a common denominator of the
ingathering exiles, a shared “fear of the Arabs” became the ultimate factor
of national unity. Resorting to education as the primary tool of forging
“the new man,” Zionists made consistent ideological use of the military
conflict, a natural consequence of their self-serving vision of Palestine as
“a land without a people for a people without a land.”

When Jewish babies are killed in the West Bank or Gaza, most Israelis are
outraged. However, more than a few also wonder what kind of parents
would endanger their children by keeping them in Hebron or Netsarim.
This sacrificial rite is beginning to awaken doubts as to the very nature of
the State of Israel, which had caused hundreds of human sacrifices from
Jews and their neighbors well before it was established, and tens of
thousands since. Was it wise to establish it? Is it worth defending with
heavy sacrifices? These questions, quite unimaginable in other countries,
are hardly rhetorical in Israel. But it is a fact that the majority of the Jews,
on whose behalf the State of Israel was ostensibly established, enjoy more
tranquil lives elsewhere and are reluctant to join their brethren in Israel,
and not only because of fear of wars. Zionist discourse has convinced
many diaspora Jews that it is Israel that ensures their safety and welfare
from far afield. This is an erroneous and dangerous belief. Erroneous
because it ignores the structural conflict of interests between Israel and
the Diaspora, and belittles the progress of human rights that makes Jews
equal and active citizens of their countries. Dangerous because it lures
diaspora Jewry into a mental and a physical trap.

Residual nostalgia for Zionist exploits largely explains many Israelis’
reluctant approval of the settlers, whom they tend to admire from afar.
The settlers are indeed “the last Zionists,” whose messianic fervor is
genuine and impressive. They are “the tail that wags the dog,” that makes
the retention of the territories the main preoccupation of successive
Israeli governments. The settlement momentum is intrinsically expansive,
since it relies on religious determinism that deifies the State and
sanctifies the Occupation. The settlers accuse those who argue that the
conflict can be solved by evacuation of the West Bank and Gaza of
hypocrisy. They claim that there is no moral difference between Jewish
settlement in Hebron and in Tel Aviv. And it appears that this view is
gaining ground. Why should one rid Hebron of Jews but leave them in
Jerusalem’s neighborhoods of Katamon or Baka, which used to be no less
Arab prior to 1948? Why should one oppose Israeli occupation of Hebron
and condone the destruction of an Arab village, replaced by the University
of Tel Aviv—nowadays, ironically, the citadel of liberalism and pacifism? If
Jewish settlement is illegitimate in Gaza why is it legitimate in Jaffa or
Haifa? Such questions convey a powerful message: We are all in the same
boat. They argue that the legitimacy of the entire Jewish presence in the
Land of Israel is in jeopardy once you start to examine its recent record
carefully. This polemic strategy, aided by the sense of physical insecurity,
keeps large segments of the Israeli population hostage to fear. Yet it also
contains a certain truth.

Embarrassment and Double Standards

Israel’s military operations, particularly against civilians, have
embarrassed Jews both in Israel and in the Diaspora for many decades.
Since Israel promotes itself as the representative of the Jews, and most
diaspora Jewish leaders enthusiastically support this claim, the State of
Israel is often associated with Jews everywhere. Jews outside of Israel are
thus put in a difficult situation of defending the morally indefensible, of
bending their ethical standards in order to justify Israel’s actions in
Bethlehem, Jenin, or Beirut. Indeed, Israel routinely, and perhaps
inevitably for any state, acts against the morality embodied in Judaism. At
the same time, since there is nothing but Judaism that distinguishes
diaspora Jews from their fellow citizens in different countries, this blanket
defense of Israel seriously discredits Judaism.

Conceptual disparities between Israel and the Jewish diasporas become
more pronounced since the countries with sizable Jewish communities
have all adopted a liberal system of social and political values. It is quite
common in Israel to talk in anti-liberal, anti-democratic terms; for
example, there are public discussions about building Jewish
neighborhoods or settling Jews in the Galilee so that Arab citizens do not
outnumber their Jewish compatriots in the region. Israeli official
documents routinely identify the bearer as a Jew or a non-Jew. Structural
segregation of Jews from non-Jews is common in Israel. So is
occupational discrimination, all of which is justified by the Herzlian
denomination of Israel as a state for the Jews.

However, in the context of Western societies, it would be inconceivable to
practice ethnic or religious discrimination in such a manner. One could
imagine an international outcry if the Front National mayor of a French
town were to promote a public housing development designated solely for
Catholics. One of Israel’s dailies wryly observed that Le Pen would be
considered a bleeding-heart centrist in the Israeli political spectrum.
Israel’s discriminatory practices, while often opposed by the country’s
Supreme Court, conflict with the liberal values that underpin the stability
and welfare of Jewish diasporas around the world. It is only a matter of
time before diaspora leaders, at least those who overtly identify with the
State of Israel, will face the challenge of explaining their obvious double
standard.

The primacy of the State is a dangerous belief to hold. A few decades
after the Shoah, Jews remember what happens when the raison d’état
becomes a transcendental principle that supersedes individual morality. It
may be illusory and even dangerous to confuse the profane centrality of
Israel with the sacred centrality of the land; in order to affirm the first
aspect one has to reject or distort the second one, and vice versa.

A garrison state inhabited by a desperate population and armed with
nuclear weapons faces the danger of a regional, perhaps a world war.
Zionism has brought about an unending confrontation with Palestinian
Arabs. This cycle of violence has become a serious threat: it may spell the
violent demise of the State of Israel and, more importantly, a spiritual and
psychological crisis for Judaism. As some foresaw over fifty years ago, it
appears increasingly unrealistic to preserve “the state for the Jews,” an
adventurous idea to begin with, against the violent opposition of the
Palestinians, whose nationalist dispossession by the Zionists remains at
the root of the conflict. Of course, Israel’s army is capable of defeating the
Palestinians, but such a “victory” would not bring peace any closer. Many
Israeli generals have learned this the hard way, and, once in retirement,
openly decry the use of force in settling the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Out of the Impasse

The military gains of the last fifty years seem to evaporate as the situation
on the ground between the Jordan and the Mediterranean reverts to 1948,
when an ethnic conflict for the control of the land intensified between
Jews and Arabs. In 2002, just as in 1948, there is no clear concept of
national borders, and it is ethnic rather than political factors that play
most potently in the entire area. A growing number of Israel’s Arab
citizens identify with their Palestinian brethren while the State of Israel
often treats Arab Israelis as if they were enemy aliens. The euphoria that
followed victory in the Six-Day War, and which seemed to vindicate the
Zionists’ vision and practice, has vanished altogether.

After decades of conflicting nationalist efforts from both sides, it is the
entire area from the Jordan to the sea, not just the West Bank and Gaza,
that requires a solution. New Jerusalem suburbs of Gilo or East Talpiot,
Jewish cities of Ariel or Emanuel built on the lands conquered in 1967, are
hardly different from cities in Israel proper. Their evacuation in an
eventual territorial settlement would be a human drama of major
proportions. “Transferring” Arab population into Jordan and Egypt, an
option accepted by about one-half of Israelis, would be equally cruel,
senseless, and probably impossible. The partition or separation that some
Israeli policy-makers, including former Prime Minister Ehud Barak,
continue to support is no longer feasible since Jews and Arabs are too
interspersed across the entire disputed territory.

The frustration of the Palestinian Arabs, who are deprived of most
avenues of political expression, has naturally developed into a fixation on
national independence à l’israélienne. Yet another nation-state—a
Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza—may only cause more pain
and rancor. Dismantlement of settlements, forced transfers of population
and other usual appurtenances of establishing nation-states in ethnically
heterogeneous areas would likely ensue. Rather than a new nation-state,
a liberal political structure based on citizens’ equal rights and,
consequently, their self-interest, may have more chances to succeed.

Israelis of very different political views, such as the nationalist Moshe
Arens, a former defense minister, and the more conciliatory Meron
Benvenisti, a former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, agree that separation of
the Jews from the Palestinians is just a myth that regularly comes to the
surface after major acts of terror. In the same sense, surveys show that
Israelis and Palestinians expect to maintain strong economic ties.
Moreover, conflicts are easier to settle between neighbors than between
nations.

Abrahamia: An Alternative to Ethnic Nationalism

One promising arrangement could be a confederation of independently
governed areas or cantons, to be established in the territory between the
Jordan and the Mediterranean. Abrahamia (or Ibrahimia) may be a good
name for the new confederate state since it would recall an important
common ancestor recognized by Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Such a
state could be modeled after Canada or Switzerland. Good use could be
made of elements of the Ottoman rule, which had managed diversity and
preserved peace in the region far better than most of its successor states
(be it Serbia, Turkey, Israel, or Lebanon). Democratic confederate
structures tend to moderate ethnic or national tensions. Abrahamia could
consist of cantons sovereign in matters of culture, education, worship,
internal security, and local law. Such a structure would also enable
Orthodox Jews and secular Hebrews, whose relationship is also
profoundly acrimonious, to live their lives according to their customs and
beliefs, without the irritating interventions of the state.

Foreign affairs, defense, monetary matters, and communication would be
entrusted to a confederate government elected by all citizens. The
sensitive issue of defense could be resolved by stages. During the first
years the armed forces should remain mostly under the control of the
Jewish cantons since Jews, not Arabs, have been threatened with the
prospect of being “thrown into the sea” by neighboring countries. But the
army, a bulwark against foreign aggression, should be prohibited from
being used as a police force within the confederation. Cantonal police
units and a nominal confederate police, initially aided by an international
contingent, should maintain public order and ensure peaceful relations
between diverse cantons. As memories of the bitter past recede into
history—and this may take less time than many imagine—the defense
forces should fully incorporate all citizens.

The Law of Return, which now allows any Jew in the world to become a
citizen of Israel upon arrival (and sometimes even before), should be
broadened to include Palestinian Arabs who would be entitled to reclaim
their homes or obtain compensation for lost property. To do so, the lands
held by the Jewish National Fund, over 90 percent of the total territory,
should be sold without discrimination to Jews and Arabs. Compensation
for lost property would constitute a major source of funds to help Arabs
buy real estate and reduce the existing development gap between the two
groups. Economic disparities fuel violence no less than nationalist
passions, but when the economic divide coincides with the ethnic one,
violence is simply unavoidable. Income gaps must be bridged for such a
confederation to take root. Just as a German may now freely buy a
property in Alsace after thousands died in wars disputing that territory, a
Palestinian Arab should acquire equal rights and obligations, and be free
to settle wherever he can rent or legally acquire property. This will give
him, currently the most disenfranchised, a real stake in the success of the
confederation.

Similarly, those Jews who consider it a religious commandment to
populate the entire Land of Israel should be free to settle anywhere
between the Jordan and the sea, by legal means of course and without any
special privileges. For this to happen, individual safety and individual
rights of citizens should become the main priority of the new federation.

The majority of secular Israelis who simply want “to be a free people in
our land” (as Israel’s anthem now puts it) can continue to live “Israeli style”
in their cantons. Confederate authorities should do nothing to ensure
their Jewishness, since matters of worship and education will be exclusive
privileges of the constituent cantons. Such an arrangement will not only
alleviate the conflict between Jews and Arabs, it will also eliminate the
tension that the State of Israel has fomented trying to subject its Jewish
citizens to the strictures of religious law.

Details of such a confederation may take a while to work out, and even
longer to implement. At this point it is a suggestion, an outline of an idea
that breaks the cycle of ethnic exclusivity and ends the bloody zero-sum
game. It is important to move Israeli and Palestinian political thinking
away from the notion of nation-state towards the concept of
confederation, an idea that was quite popular in both camps prior to
1948, and, according to recent surveys, is still popular among many
Palestinians.

A Role for World Jewry

After five decades of exasperating conflict in the Middle East, world Jewry
can play a major role in transforming the current situation along the
proposed lines. Many Western Jews have been active for years in diverse
rapprochement activities that bring Arabs and Hebrews, Muslims,
Christians, and Jews together. They run joint prayer sessions and
interconfessional discussions, even a joint Jewish-Muslim program to
teach tolerance on the basis of respective religious texts. European and
American Jews have brought expertise, commitment, and even-
handedness to a number of non-governmental projects that foster
understanding and respect of difference. Most of these joint activities
have survived the current upsurge of violence, which in itself is a sign of
their success. Jewish academics, businesspeople, psychologists, rabbis,
and social workers from various countries have helped the cause of
tolerance in Israel for years, and their role, as well as that of members of
the Palestinian diasporas, can only gain in importance in the new
confederation.

Diaspora Jews should help transform the structurally fragile State of Israel
into a more stable and viable political configuration. They should make
their real voices heard in the European Union, Russia, and the United
States. The vast majority of Jews are citizens of these political entities,
which gives their governments more than a geo-strategic interest in
settling the Arab-Israeli dispute. These governments, particularly when
encouraged by their respective Jewish communities, could try to convince
the Israeli public to transform the nation-state and the territories it
occupies into a confederation that would ensure the safety of all its
inhabitants. They can also make it clear to the Palestinians that such a
confederation, rather than a quilt-like nation-state criss-crossed by
Israeli highways, is in their best long-term interest. The challenge of
making this conceptual shift is substantial. But it must be met in order to
free our thinking of the murderous nationalist stranglehold.

At the same time, measures shall be devised to offer Israeli Jews a refuge
in various diasporas. The feeling that they have nowhere to go, that Israel
is the last frontier, that only Israel can offer Jews physical safety, has
fuelled despair not only among Israeli Jews but also among many Jews
who choose to remain in the Diaspora. These are vestiges of Zionist
myths that have to be reassessed in pragmatic, rather than ideological,
terms. The possibility of a major military flare-up, perhaps including
weapons of mass destruction, together with the current terrorist violence
may push many Israeli Jews to look for refuge elsewhere. It would be
tragically irresponsible of Jewish communities to insist that Israelis should
fight to the bitter end. Those governments that are most likely to offer
refuge to Israeli Jews must understand that, by offering a choice to Israel’s
Jews to rebuild their lives in their countries, they reduce the degree of
despair and weaken the incentives for violence in the region.

A two-pronged approach, on the one hand encouraging the
transformation of the nation-state of Israel into an Abrahamia based on
equality of opportunity and, on the other hand, offering Israel’s Jews an
option of settling in other industrial countries, is likely to reduce violence
and to encourage stability. It will weaken one of the most enduring
conflicts of our age and will help restore Judaism as the focus of Jewish
existence. Interminable (and sterile) discussions of the latest political and
military moves in Israel dominate the daily experience of most Jews. This
should cease, leaving Jews the peace of mind to face important issues of
Judaism that have been eclipsed by news bulletins from the Middle East.
The Jewish return to history on-board a tank has only endangered Jews, in
body and in spirit. Shedding nationalist illusions of power should enable
Jews to focus on another kind of return to history: a return to the Torah
with its manifold interpretations and hope for all humanity. If we believe
the Jewish tradition, this will also be the best way to ensure Jewish
presence in the Land of Israel.