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Israel’s choice between risk and responsibility

By Rabbi Dow Marmur

JERUSALEM–Most Jews in the world are sure, or would like to be sure, that Israel has an unassailable case in dealing with the Palestinians. When the rest of the world, or at least much of it, thinks otherwise, Jews tend to ascribe it to two reasons: (1) the non-Jewish world has remained as hostile to Jews as it has always been; (2) the Jews in general and the government of Israel in particular, don’t know how to make Israel’s case sufficiently convincing, i.e. they are bad at PR (“Hasbarah” in Hebrew).

The issue is thus reduced to either Gentile anti-Semitism and/or Jewish ineptitude. Of course, when Jews are critical of Israel they must be self-hating, poisoned in the wells of anti-Semitism, even if some of them are committed Israelis.

The uncomfortable possibility that Israel may not have an unassailable case is usually discarded because it’s too difficult to handle. We don’t like to contemplate Israel’s dilemma: either giving the Palestinians what they want or to act like a bully to prevent them from getting it.

To give Palestinians what they want expressed in frequent threats by their leaders and allies, runs the risk of Israel being wiped off the face of the earth and Jews to face another threat to their very existence. When Israel tries to make sure that this doesn’t happen by using force against Palestinians, it’s bound to have to suffer the approbation of many other nations. In the words of a very good sermon (there are still such things now and again) that I heard recently, Israel’s choice is often between risk and responsibility.

This doesn’t mean that there’s no anti-Semitism or that Israeli PR couldn’t be better, but it does suggest that the fundamental issue is whether Israel can afford to take security risks or, in order to act responsibly, must take stern measures to ensure security.

It’s good at the latter. Each time there’re new terrorist threats in other countries, their leaders, openly or in secret, turn to Israel for advice and help. Thus, for example, the drones Israel has developed are now being sold to countries like Brazil, Russia, and probably many others. Soon no doubt the anti-missile rockets that Israel is reported to have perfected will also be in demand around the world.

This doesn’t mean that the Israelis don’t make mistakes or that all Israeli security measures are always needed. Nor does it mean that all Palestinians are behind the militant ambitions of many of their leaders. However, one thing about security is that you never know how much is enough and, therefore, to act responsibly one has to do more than the risks might warrant, especially with the benefit of hindsight.

Would situation be different had Israel not kept the territories it conquered in 1967? Perhaps, but we must not forget that the reason why it conquered them in the Six Day War was in response to a real threat to its very existence, which was repeated again on Yom Kippur 1973. Those who say that the conflict is endemic and will last as long as Israel exists may have a point. To ascribe its origin to 1967 is to misread history.

This doesn’t mean that Israel shouldn’t try to promote a Palestinian state able to assess its own risks and take its own responsibility. Thus the need to resume the peace process. At least the negotiations may make life easier and safer for Israelis and Palestinians alike. That would reduce both criticism from abroad and dissatisfaction from within. Even if the conflict can’t be (yet) resolved, it could be better managed.

Marmur is spiritual leader emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto.  He divides his time between Canada and Israel.

  1. carol ann goldstein
    January 10, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    I agree with:
    “This doesn’t mean that Israel shouldn’t try to promote a Palestinian state able to assess its own risks and take its own responsibility. Thus the need to resume the peace process.”

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