U.S. Jews should support Israel, not muddy the issues — by Earl Raab

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Some say this attitude is a sign of weakness, partly caused by an erosion in the zeal for Zionism among many Israelis. In a recent book “The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel’s Soul,” Israeli writer Yoram Hazon takes on those Israelis who think that the idea of an exclusive Jewish state is or always was outmoded.

That view is a born-again reflection of a general anti-nationalist theme common among many left-wing and liberal Jews in America and the Western world before the creation of Israel. Now revived in Israel itself by some of the so-called “post-Zionists,” this view is allegedly creeping into the Israeli culture.

That contention might seem to be supported by the Ma’ariv-Gallup Poll. Asked to choose one over the other, more than twice as many Israelis chose “a democratic state of Israel without a connection to Judaism” over “a non-democratic state of Israel with a strong connection to Judaism.”

In the May 29 issue of the Weekly Standard, the American Jewish writer Charles Krauthammer highlights the fatal fallacy at the heart of any negation of Israel as a Jewish state. He writes that “post-Zionism is really just Western counterculturalism applied to the Jewish question,” defining this counterculturalism as anti-nationalism, anti-patriotism and distrust of military power. He also points out that while America can survive a large portion of such counterculturalism from within, Israel cannot.

He might have gone further to emphasize, in contrast to some post-Zionists, the importance of military power in assuring not only Israel’s existence, but its pursuit of peace. We might well remember, for example, that the first big break for peace came when Egypt’s Anwar Sadat realized that he could not win militarily. And the struggle for peace today still depends on Palestinian and Arab respect for Israel’s military strength and its will to use such strength.

But the Palestinians and their friends may miscalculate the Israeli will to use its strength. For one thing, they may misread the polls, which have had one constant in recent years: support for a Palestinian peace agreement. However, while a solid majority of Israelis have strongly supported an agreement with the Palestinians, at the same time, they have said they do not trust the Palestinians to keep such an agreement.

That apparent conflict is significant. Whenever the distrust has risen — as a result of mass terrorism, for example — then the support of the Israelis for the peace process tends to become more conditional on strong protections. And their will to use counterforce rises.

It is a difficult and dangerous “survival game” in which Israel is engaged: all at once vigorously pursuing peace, maintaining the military option and avoiding miscalculations by the enemy about the strength of the Israeli will.

Some political and cultural changes are indicated for Israel, hopefully toward a state that is both democratic and Judaic — an option that was left out of the mid-May poll. That debate should and will continue with the proper participation of American Jews and even the post-Zionists.

But that debate should not be allowed to muddy the critical survival game with which the Israeli government is valiantly struggling at the moment. The main role of America, and of American Jews, is simply to support that struggle without adding to any possible miscalculations.