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A Clear Post-War National Vision Means Returning to the Roots of Zionism

A damaged building lies in ruins, following an infiltration by Hamas terrorists who attacked Israel at a kibbutz in Kfar Aza, Israel, Nov. 8, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

Despite broad Israeli agreement on the immediate goals of the war as formulated by the cabinet, the debate over its ultimate objectives is intensifying.

This dispute will likely be reflected in the fundamental questions that will be asked post-war, and may also penetrate the discussions of the state inquiry committee that will undoubtedly be established. The committee will naturally address operational and technical questions, the workings of the IDF, General Staff, Southern Command, and Air Force, and regulatory relations between the IDF and the civil leadership. But the depth and scope of this crisis require a comprehensive cultural and spiritual rethinking of how we perceive ourselves and the enemy, focusing on the question of why the enemy fights and what we are fighting for.

Hamas and Hezbollah fight out of religious belief. By contrast, we are not clear on our reasons for uniting to fight wars beyond our desire to safeguard our existence and survival.

A.B. Yehoshua once posed an existential question: “Nation of Israel, for what purpose do you live?” Later, he clarified: “Survival is considered the most prominent aspect of the Jewish people … but it is not survival that is the prominent aspect, but rather how it is done, what its agenda is, what values it holds, and primarily, what its cost is.” (A.B. Yehoshua, Haaretz Books Supplement, 20.2.2013)

This question must be applied to clarify the central inquiry: Nation of Israel, for what purpose do you fight, and how do you fight?

I am not aware of a framework for a state inquiry committee that would know how to address such questions and critically examine the connections between them and the focal points of failure in the security system. Nevertheless, this inquiry, whether conscious or subconscious, will shed light on the investigation into everything that happened at the outset of the war and everything that will happen from its conclusion onwards in the context of the ongoing internal struggle in Israel over conflicting dreams.

What has Zionism achieved? The imposition of doubt

The sudden strike by Hamas thrust the Zionist idea back to the dilemma of its earliest days. It prompted an echoing of the doubt cast during Herzl’s visit: “You might solve the Jews’ problem, but you won’t solve the problem of Judaism.” On October 7, we were forcefully confronted with the fundamental Zionist question: What do the Jews want in the Land of Israel?

The current war, which has enveloped us all, is intertwined with the anxiety of the cultural war that erupted in Israel last year. The crisis of the Jews, which focuses on the question of physical existence, has become entangled with the crisis of Judaism, which has lost its spiritual path.

As early as 2005, Dan Meron touched upon the Zionist dilemma in his book Healing for Touching. A professor of 20th century Hebrew literature, Meron cast doubt on the ultimate goal of the Zionist enterprise, questioning what it has truly achieved since its inception:

…[T]he expectation of Zionism that the distancing of Jews from European societies and their concentration in their own country would lead to the disappearance of antisemitism did not materialize. Even the security of Zionism, which was supposed to be able to extricate the Jewish people from existential threats, leading to a new Jewish existential activism, did not come to fruition and may not reach the goal it set for itself…The historical development of Zionism and its success in achieving Jewish statehood have only led to the replacement of one type of existential threat with another. (Dan Meron, 2005, Healing for Touching, p. 63, translated from the Hebrew)

With these words, Meron raises two challenging questions about the state of Zionism, both of which have been debated since its beginnings.

In one dimension of the Zionist vision, Herzl sought a response to antisemitism. With his visionary breakthrough, he acknowledged that the Jews had not succeeded in finding a solution to the problem of antisemitism, even though they had exhausted every possible avenue, including assimilation. He believed that if the Jews could only gather in their own normal state, where they could be accepted as a nation among nations, a state among nation-states, it would bring an end to antisemitism.

We must ask whether over the hundred years since the beginning of the Zionist effort to gather the Jews in their homeland, Herzl’s expectation of the disappearance of antisemitism has been realized.

It appears that the opposite has occurred. Antisemitism has emerged in a new form that is more sophisticated, as it is shielded by a kind of vaccine: it is ostensibly not hatred of Jews as Jews, but merely criticism of the State of Israel. Yet fierce antipathy is directed against Jews worldwide whenever they voice complaints about actions that threaten the State of Israel, actions they feel endanger them as well. Jews around the world are thus forbidden to defend Israel or the Jews who live in it or be themselves the victims of antisemitism. The process that was supposed to solve antisemitism has instead generated, over the past two decades, a new and equally dangerous form of it. In this way, Meron argues, the Zionist vision has become caught in a deadlock.

In the second dimension, Zionism sought a response to the problem of the need to physically protect Jews, who have never ceased suffering persecution, pogroms, and other threats around the world. In this dimension as well, Meron raises a concern that has troubled many Israelis. There is a fear that despite Israel’s independence and military strength, Zionism has achieved nothing more than to replace one existential problem, like pogroms in Kishinev, with another one, like the Iranian nuclear threat that threatens Tel Aviv or the Simchat Torah massacre of the northwestern Negev. In essence, Zionism has merely swapped ailment A for ailment B.

Yet despite Meron’s reservations, to those who witness the combat spirit of the IDF soldiers and the full support of their parents, the Zionist narrative manifests itself in all its practical simplicity by demonstrating a readiness to fight without hesitation to defend the people and the country. This is a major historical achievement.

Cracks in the “Iron Wall”

A hundred years ago, in the article “The Iron Wall,” Ze’ev Jabotinsky laid the cornerstone for the foundations of Israel’s security perception. As early as 1923, he identified the motivations behind Arab resistance to the Zionist enterprise in the Land of Israel and proposed a strategic approach to achieving Zionist goals.

The relevance of his article to the security challenges of modern-day Israel can be summarized in three statements.

First: The Arab resistance and struggle against Zionism express a religious-nationalist struggle with enduring motivational roots. The idea promoted by the American government and European Union leadership that a positive, lasting solution to the conflict can be arrived at through suitable compensation and willing compromise has been repeatedly revealed as overly optimistic.

Second: The Arab struggle and adoption of terrorist methods and violence do not stem from economic hardship, poverty, and despair, as many in the West and certain prominent Israeli “peace-seekers” claim. Instead, it arises from the Arab hope that Zionist dominance can be consistently challenged and weakened until its ultimate demise. It is not despair that generates Arab terrorism but hope.

Third: In recognizing the first two statements as true, the concept of the “Iron Wall” negates the Arab hope of achieving gains through incessant resistance to the Zionist Israeli presence and authority.

In 1936, during a discussion at the Mapai Center, David Ben-Gurion stated that “there is no chance for an understanding with the Arabs.” Therefore, efforts should be directed towards an understanding with the British. He said, “What can push the Arabs towards mutual understanding with us? Facts! Only after we manage to create a significant Jewish presence in the Land of Israel, with a Jewish force that everyone will see cannot be moved, only then will the preliminary conditions for discussion with the Arabs be established.”

The language and spirit of these words express the Iron Wall position as articulated in Jabotinsky’s article: “As long as the Arabs have even a glimmer of hope of getting rid of us, they will not give up on this hope … A living people agrees to concessions on fateful questions whose importance is immense only when it has no hope, only when not a single crack is visible in the Iron Wall.”

In recent years, deep cracks have appeared in the Zionist Iron Wall. The goal of the current war should be to restore the Zionist Iron Wall and establish it with renewed strength for the next hundred years.

Within this context, the rehabilitation of the communities damaged in Hamas’s attack and the return of the communities to the Galilee and Negev are critical components in the reconstruction of the Iron Wall. This means far more than simply renovation and construction. Ben-Gurion wrote about the sources of strength for victory in 1948: “We reached victory through three paths: the path of faith, the path of pioneering creativity, and the path of suffering.”

These will be the paths to victory in today’s war as well.

The collapse of the dream of peace

In his eulogy at the grave of Ro’i Rothberg in Nahal Oz in April 1956, Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan said: “A generation of pioneers we are, bareheaded, with steel helmets and the rifle. We cannot plant a tree and build a home. Our children will not have a life if we do not dig shelters…” The speech concluded with the statement: “Ro’i — the light in his heart blinded his eyes, and he did not see the flash of the mortar. The yearning for peace silenced his ears, and he did not hear the voice of the ambush…”

In the midst of the War of Attrition, at the end of the Command and Staff College course in 1969, Moshe Dayan stated his existential philosophy: “Rest and heritage are longed-for aspirations for us, not realities. And if we occasionally achieve them, they are only short intermediate stations — aspirations for the continuation of the struggle.”

Explaining the necessity of an endless struggle, he said: “The only basic answer we can give to the question ‘what will be’ is — we will continue to fight, just as we did in the past, and now too. The answer to the question ‘what will be’ must focus on our ability to withstand difficulties, our ability to cope — more than on absolute and final solutions to our problems. We must prepare ourselves mentally and physically for a prolonged process of struggle.”

These words differ significantly from those expressed by the Israeli leadership in recent decades. For instance, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, in his speech at the UN, chose to emphasize: “What Israelis want is a good life for themselves and their families and a future ready for their children.”

Moshe Dayan, despite his emphasis on normalcy, always highlighted the presence in our consciousness of the struggle. This was brutally expressed in his will, where he instructed his three children: “Serve the inheritance of the fathers each one, and the sword over your beds, and in the evening, it will become a legacy to your sons. And now, let each one take his backpack and stick and cross the Jordan in his own way…” (Yael Dayan, My Father’s House, p. 207).

Yael Dayan, representing a generation that has refused to reconcile with the inevitability of constant struggle, described in her book her deep dissociation from her father’s will: “I felt like a person banished from paradise, a curse more than a blessing. We were all destined to work the land and fight, and this was a commandment for our children.” (ibid.)

On Saturday, October 7, the dream of an Israeli paradise collapsed. With the war in Ukraine and even in Western Europe, it has become clear that despite hopes for peace everywhere, there is no paradise on Earth. As expressed in the Negev lullaby my mother sang to me in my childhood, “There is no deep silence without a weapon … sleep, son.”

The State of Israel is in one of the most difficult crises it has ever known. It suffered an unprecedented blow and is required to receive an unprecedented punishment. Asking to return to the familiar track after making technical repairs is asking to escape the true magnitude of the repair that is required. The national leadership of the State of Israel, together with the security system, must be committed in the face of this crisis to formulating a new national security concept.

After the surprise attack by Hamas on October 7, will residents of Rosh HaAyin and Kfar Saba lend a hand in the establishment of a Palestinian state that would turn them into border settlements akin to Nahal Oz or Metula? Any arrangement of the territory of Israel between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea that aims at a Jewish withdrawal from Judea and Samaria, an uprooting of Israeli settlements, and a defining of the eastern border of the State of Israel in the Rosh HaAyin-Kfar Saba region along Highway 6 would be a Palestinian national victory and an Israeli defeat.

Despite all our faith in the IDF and its capabilities, there is not now, and there will not be, an option to defend the State of Israel along the coastal strip. This fact must be brought to broad national consensus and placed at the center of the Israeli security perception.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen is a senior research fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He served in the IDF for 42 years. He commanded troops in battles with Egypt and Syria. He was formerly a corps commander and commander of the IDF Military Colleges. A version of this article was originally published by The BESA Center.

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Want to Talk to Your Friends About Jew Hatred? Read This Book

Noa Tishby. Photo: Courtesy

Considering the surge of Jew hatred in America today, two questions challenge the Jewish community: how did we get here, and where do we go next?

No single answer suffices, but a recently published book — Uncomfortable Conversations with a Jew by Noa Tishby and Emmanuel Acho — does an admirable job answering both questions. Their book is a chronicle of conversations between the two friends, one a white Jew, Noa, and the other a Black Christian, Emmanuel. In their dialogues, they explore the origins of the current surge of anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, and antisemitic sentiments in America today.

Noa explains that for millennia, the world shunned or exiled Jews wherever they landed, which forced them to adapt to diverse environments — physically, culturally, and spiritually. That’s how different Jewish ethnic communities evolved.

Although Jews are ethnically diverse, their detractors claim they gain an advantage because of their “whiteness.”

But Noa points out that this supposed whiteness has not protected them from antisemitic attacks in the past or in the present. Jews are a meager two percent of the American population, yet according to the FBI they are victims of more than 60 percent of all religion-based crimes.

Right-wing extremists do not consider Jews white; left-wing extremists consider Jews as privileged and white. The truth is Jews come in all colors and hues. There are white Ashkenazi Jews from Europe, and there are Jews of color from a variety of countries: Sephardic Jews from Spain, Beta Jews from Ethiopia, Cochin Jews from India, Kaifeng Jews from China, and Mizrachi Jews from the Levant and North Africa. Neither color nor DNA is a litmus test for Jewishness.

Noa deftly deflates the all-too-common canards about Jews: they are money hoarders, powerful, disloyal, cheats, bent on world domination, or greedy, dirty, evil, and race polluters.

She explains that when the dominant society holds those mistaken beliefs, regrettably it filters down to the targeted minority who begin to believe those falsehoods, and that leads to self-hatred. Although Jews have been champions for minority causes and supporters of the oppressed groups for decades, there is an absence of reciprocal support for Jews. In fact, the same groups that received help from Jewish allies have become antagonistic to the only Jewish State in the world, as well as to those who support her.

Noa and Emmanuel agree that the recent outrageous and disingenuous responses of university presidents, when asked if students and faculty calling for the genocide of the Jews is hate-speech, speaks volumes about their lack of moral clarity. The same lack of ethical values applies to the morally confused students and professors who justify and support the atrocities Hamas committed on Oct 7, while endorsing the terrorists’ call for the eradication of Israel.

Emmanuel was most curious to learn about the term Zionist, because it seemed to him to be the root of the tension between Jews and Palestinian Arabs.

Noa gave this succinct definition: “Zionism is the Jewish people’s right to have self-governance on parts of their ancestral land.” She added, “That’s it. It’s Israel’s right to exist.” And “anti-Zionism is the rejection of Jewish nationhood,” and that is a hallmark of antisemitism.

Emmanuel countered Noa’s explanation by saying that the Black community draws parallels between what they believe Jews did to the Palestinians, and what Americans did to Native Americans. Noa said that is not analogous, because indisputable archaeological evidence shows that the Land of Israel dates to antiquity and “the Jewish people are indigenous to the land.”  In short, the Jewish people reclaimed their ancestral land.

On the other hand, when the first Europeans landed on the shores of America, they found Native Americans, but not a trace of English, Spanish, Portuguese, or French artifacts, language, or culture.

Noa asserts that today, the very countries who expelled the Jews over the centuries, are now trying to deny them the land of their ancestors. And the United Nations, which helped found the modern State of Israel, is determined to destroy its own creation.

As for for the effort to boycott Israel, Noa says that it is entirely antisemitic, because it started before the establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948. In 1945, the Arab League called for a boycott of all Jewish products, not just Jewish products made in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, or Haifa — but all products made by Jews anywhere in the world. The boycott has never been about the land; it has always been about the Jews.

The battle against systemic antisemitism and systemic racism forged a natural bond joining Noa and Emmanuel. Emmanuel quipped, “Your career is what you are paid for, and your calling is what you were made for.”

In that sense Noa and Emmanuel “were made” to co-author this book, which is not for the faint of heart. But it delves into issues that polite company prefers to ignore, because it is easier to ignore this hatred of Jews than face the truth of the situation.

Since retiring from IBM Steve Wenick has served as a freelance book reviewer for HarperCollins Publishing and Simon & Schuster. His reviews and articles have appeared in The Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post, The Algemeiner, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Jewish Voice of Southern New Jersey. Steve and his wife are residents of Voorhees, New Jersey.

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As Threat of Hezbollah War Rises, Here’s What You Should Know About Israeli-Lebanese Relations

Mourners carry a coffin during the funeral of Wissam Tawil, a commander of Hezbollah’s elite Radwan forces who according to Lebanese security sources was killed during an Israeli strike on south Lebanon, in Khirbet Selm, Lebanon, Jan. 9, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Aziz Taher

Israel’s relations with Lebanon have historically  been less hostile than with some of its other neighbors — despite having no formal diplomatic ties.  Today, however, the Israeli-Lebanese border is an extremely dangerous place, with widespread concerns about a major war breaking out in the near future.

So, how did we get here?

Israel’s War of Independence began in 1947 as a civil war between Palestinian Arabs, supported by irregular Arab forces from across the region, and Jews. After David Ben-Gurion declared the Jewish state on May 14, 1948, the armies of five neighboring states, including Lebanon, attacked Israel. The pretext was to  “protect Palestine” — but they had their own agendas, which was to destroy Israel and grab as much land as they could.

After the war, Israel reached an armistice agreement with Lebanon on March 23, 1949. Israel’s armistice agreements with Arab states were not final peace treaties, because Arab leaders still refused to accept the Jewish State’s existence.

For decades, Israel heard little from Lebanon, the only neighbor that did not attack Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War.  One reason Lebanon was the least antagonistic was its significant Christian population, which made the Lebanese leadership less susceptible to the anti-Israel hostility in other parts of the region.

The 1970s were a terrible era for Lebanon, for a myriad of reasons. The country effectively lost its independence and became dominated by Syria, a Soviet client state. Making matters worse, Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) settled in Lebanon after being expelled from Jordan.

The PLO wreaked havoc in various ways, including targeting Israeli communities near the border with rocket fire and other attacks. This provoked the devastating 1982 Lebanon War between Israel and the PLO, which was fought on Lebanese territory.

While the IDF was successful in compelling Arafat and the PLO to leave Lebanon for Tunisia, a new force filled the vacuum in southern Lebanon: Hezbollah, a terrorist group and proxy of Iran’s extremist regime.

Hezbollah wasted no time creating terror locally and internationally. On October 23, 1983, just a year after the conclusion of Israel’s war with the PLO, a Hezbollah suicide bombing at an American Marine barracks in Beirut murdered 241 American service members. The attack is just one of several  devastating suicide bombings that have been carried out by Hezbollah.

Hezbollah’s suicide bombing murdered 85 people at a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires on July 18, 1994. That Argentina has never successfully prosecuted anyone for the crime is indicative of the depth of Hezbollah’s penetration in South America.

As the culmination of meetings beginning with the Declaration of Principles in September 1993 and the Oslo Accords, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yassir Arafat met at the Camp David Summit in July 2000, to negotiate an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Arafat ultimately rejected a proposed two-state solution that would have established an independent Palestinian state in all of Gaza and almost all of the West Bank — a decision President Clinton called a “colossal historical blunder.”

Two months earlier, the IDF withdrew from southern Lebanon, after spending nearly two decades keeping terrorist threats away from Israel’s northern border. Some analysts believe Israel’s unilateral disengagement played a role in stiffening Arafat’s resolve to reject a final peace agreement. Wait long enough, his thinking went, and the Israelis will simply abandon territory. The upside of Israel’s withdrawal was that withdrawal fulfilled UN Security Council Resolution 425.

The next major flashpoint in Israeli-Lebanese relations was in 2006, when Hezbollah kidnapped and killed three Israeli soldiers while simultaneously launching rockets into Israeli communities as a diversion. This aggression sparked a 34-day conflict between Hezbollah and Israel that was also fought in Lebanon, and constituted the most recent major escalation in the area, until October 7.

Lebanon hasn’t been a fully independent state since the 1970s due to Syrian and Iranian (Hezbollah) interference. In their effort to destroy Israel, outside forces largely destroyed Lebanon.

To this day, more than 60,000 Israelis are internally displaced from their homes in the north due to over countless thousands of rocket, missile, and drone attacks in northern Israel, the vast majority of which were fired by Hezbollah, since October 7.

This is the picture that the American public should familiarize itself with as all-out war between Israel and Hezbollah looms.

The lack of historical context, media bias, and disinformation on social media has created mass confusion during this escalation, just as it has during the October 7th war. With a 24/7 news cycle bringing content without context, understanding this history is necessary to properly understand what Israel is up against in the region.

Rabbi Matthew Abelson is executive director of RabbisUNITED, a non-denominational Rabbinic division of StandWithUs, with hundreds of members dedicated to fighting antisemitism and supporting a safe and secure State of Israel, the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people.

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Despite Vast Evidence to the Contrary, Media Is Still Pushing Lies About Food Availability in Gaza

Aerial view shows a World Central Kitchen (WCK) barge loaded with food arriving off Gaza, where there is risk of famine after five months of Israel’s military campaign, in this handout image released March 15, 2024. Photo: Israel Defense Forces/Handout via REUTERS

We’ve been through this before.

In June, the IPC Famine Review Committee said there is no famine in the Gaza Strip as of yet. The UN subsequently acknowledged the IPC’s latest report. HonestReporting has also done its due diligence to understand what is really happening in Gaza.

But now, UN special “experts” are still claiming there’s “no doubt” that there is a famine:

With the death of these children from starvation despite medical treatment in central Gaza, there is no doubt that famine has spread from northern Gaza into central and southern Gaza.

They also despicably repeated the lie that Israel is committing a genocide, even after though the biased International Court of Justice (IJC) decided that Israel’s fight against Hamas in Gaza is not considered a genocide.

To begin with, UN officials or those claiming to be UN experts cannot just declare an accusation of this nature in an unofficial capacity. Second, it’s all just opinion.

That’s all it took, however, for the media take the lead. They apparently think that it’s impossible to understand the inference that there must be a famine if bodies like the IPC put out real data reports every few months over whether or not there is evidence of a famine in Gaza.

But who cares about logic, right?

Journalists understand very well how the public consumes information, and they know how it views bodies like the UN — that people take their word as an official authority. Yet, the media continue to publish articles, irresponsibly portraying the statement of these UN “experts” as if it is an official UN one.

Or take this CNN piece, which makes it seem like the claim of a famine is an official UN statement:

The recent deaths of more Palestinian children due to hunger and malnutrition in the Gaza Strip indicates that famine has spread across the entire enclave, according to a United Nations statement, citing independent experts.

These “experts” are part of UN Special Procedures, and they are volunteers, not official UN staff.

Therefore, many of these people are public about their own personal opinions, like one UN special rapporteur, antisemite Francesca Albanese.

Francesca Albanese has previously apologized after antisemitic posts on her personal social media profile were uncovered and has likened the Jewish state to Nazism.

More on Albanese’s deeply compromised background from @UNWatch‘s @HillelNeuer.

— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) July 10, 2024

One of Albanese’s most recent offenses was being caught lying about Gaza casualty figures via her X account (formerly Twitter) by making false claims about the contents of a letter in The Lancet, which made a careless estimation that 186,000 deaths could be “attributed” to the Gaza toll — even though this hasn’t happened or been proven by any body.

Another “expert,” Michael Fakhri, has a history of allowing his bias to cloud his judgment.

Michael Fakhri. As @SimonPlosker noted in 2021 in @Jerusalem_Post, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the right to food spent his time promoting the boycott campaign against Israel while ignoring human rights abuser states that let their people starve.

— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) July 10, 2024

Some of the UN special rapporteurs signed off at the bottom of the letter seem to even have little relevance outside their volunteer work at the UN. Nonetheless, when one sees “UN experts” in the headline, they don’t realize that these people don’t represent the UN in an official capacity.

The public also doesn’t know that some, like Albanese and Fakhri, have an anti-Israel agenda. The biggest question then remains: when will the media take caution before spreading the propaganda of agenda-driven “UN experts?”

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

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