OpinionJewish & Israeli Culture

Eliminate the ‘Diaspora mentality’

Israel and the Jews must accept that we will never be “normal.”

Israeli founding father and first prime minister David Ben-Gurion declares independence beneath a large portrait of Theodor Herzl, founder of modern Zionism, at the Tel Aviv Museum, today Independence Hall, on May 14, 1948. Photo by Zoltan Kluger/GPO.
Israeli founding father and first prime minister David Ben-Gurion declares independence beneath a large portrait of Theodor Herzl, founder of modern Zionism, at the Tel Aviv Museum, today Independence Hall, on May 14, 1948. Photo by Zoltan Kluger/GPO.
Raphael Harkham
Raphael Harkham is the chief development officer of Tikvah Israel and a doctoral candidate at Bar Ilan University.

There is much talk these days of a paradigm shift in Israel’s approach to its conflict with the Palestinians. It is held that after the current war is over, we will see “a new Middle East.” This may be true, but something else may ultimately shape the future of the Jewish state.

It is the crippling neurosis, common to Israeli and Diaspora Jews, known as “the Diaspora mentality.”

It is characterized by obsequiousness to and dependence on non-Jews for our safety and welfare, as well as a desperate longing for non-Jewish approval. It constantly causes us to ask: “What will the gentiles think?” It prompts a craving to be “normal.” It is the attitude of a people that acts out of fear.

David Ben Gurion once said, “Exile is one with utter dependence in material things, in politics and culture, in ethics and intellect.” He and many other Zionists saw a Jewish state as a potential cure for this through shlilat ha’golah—the negation of the Diaspora.

It stood to reason that the establishment of the State of Israel would terminate the “Diaspora mentality” by empowering the Jewish people and gaining them equal status in the community of nations. As the Israeli Declaration of Independence said, it was the “natural right for the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate.”

Today, Israel is certainly powerful, with an army that has defended its citizens successfully since its inception. We respond with strength and power to those who threaten our independence.

Nonetheless, the Diaspora mentality has not been liquidated. The purpose of a sovereign and independent state is to protect the welfare of its citizens. This means formulating and implementing policies dedicated to security and territorial integrity that prevent and preempt devastating violations of its sovereignty.

Unfortunately, for decades Israel’s strategic posture has been inadequate to this task. It has been purely defensive and reactive, characterized entirely by conflict management.

So, for more than 15 years, Hamas—a terrorist organization whose stated objective is the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews worldwide—was permitted to rule the Gaza Strip and rain down missiles on Israeli civilians. Israel’s policy towards this unacceptable situation was muted and defensive, which only emboldened Hamas. The pillar of our national security strategy was “deterrence,” a vague and indeterminate term that manifested itself in dependence on the enemy, measured only by the supposed “quiet” that was, in the end, just a return to the status quo following limited military action.

Our vaunted intelligence, time and money were spent on the Iron Dome and a multibillion-dollar security fence. This did nothing but increase our sense of siege. The question of why Israel continued to permit a proto-Nazi regime to entrench itself on Israel’s southern border was never answered.

The fact is that we in Israel and Jews around the world still consider it axiomatic that we are permitted to act only in response and never with initiative. We are resigned to a circumscribed sovereignty that began with incessant terror attacks, escalated into perpetual rocket barrages and culminated in the worst atrocity in Israel’s history. We have accepted that this is the best the Jewish people can do after 2,000 years of statelessness.

This is unbecoming, counterproductive and destructive to a sovereign state and its citizens. No self-respecting, self-reliant nation that pursues genuine self-determination would accept this—and none of them do.

Apologists for the status quo babble about “legitimacy” and “isolation.” They claim there is “no military solution” and that the “international community would never allow…” etc., as if Israel alone among the nations must consider international legitimacy and support more important than the lives of its citizens. This is a dereliction of the duty of the state. It has left us crippled.

As a result, we grovel before our ostensible allies, many of whom are only too happy to reap the benefits offered by the Jewish state but denounce and condemn us in international organizations and the court of public opinion.

Of course, Israel has allies and we should seek more of them, but not at the price of our security and Israeli lives. Nor should we submit to being held to standards our allies would never accept.

The truth is that, throughout our long history, no amount of accommodation has ever been enough. Our antagonists will never love us and no amount of Jewish blood will satisfy them. We will never receive the love and acceptance we so desperately desire. We can continue this exercise in futility, but we will only discover time and time again that it does not work.

We and our leaders must internalize the fact that a state has only one priority. It is not international recognition, acceptance or friendship, but rather the safety, welfare and prosperity of its citizens. Any state that does not accept this fundamental principle cannot expect and does not deserve to long endure.

Thus, we require the will and moral clarity based on our transcendent connection to the Land of Israel and the wisdom expressed in the book of Numbers: “It is a people that shall dwell alone and shall not be reckoned among the nations.”

As painful as it is and as difficult as it will be, we must accept that we will never be accepted or “normal” and act accordingly. The sooner we accept it, the better off we will be. The time has come to take the initiative and shape our reality. It is possible that we will end up alone and isolated—though it is very unlikely—but at least we will finally be masters of our own fate.

The stakes are high, but as early Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky once said: We must eliminate the Diaspora mentality or the Diaspora mentality will surely eliminate us.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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