At first glance, the question posed by our title appears ludicrous. After all, the Jewish people have a state, and went to great lengths to establish it. Israelis continue to sacrifice themselves in its defense and pay the highest income tax in support of the highest per capita military expenditures in the world. Jews in the Diaspora volunteer their treasure and energy defending Israel’s right to exist.
On further examination, however, the answer to the question is not as obvious as it first appears. Recent Jewish history raises serious questions about our willingness to accept the responsibilities inherent in state power. We must ask ourselves the following:
● Why, after 60 years, has Israel never declared its borders?
● Why, after five major victories, does Israel sue for peace, as if it were the defeated party, and prove unwilling to resist a single demand of a significantly weaker Palestinian foe?
● Why in the recent war in Lebanon did Israel fail to achieve a victory against so weak an enemy, and why did Israel’s government refuse to order the army forward after a month of deadly and unprecedented bombardment of Israeli cities?
● Why does Israel continue to allow the bombardment of its towns and the slaughter of its citizens around Gaza as it’s done for six years?
● Why, in a Gaza completely surrounded by and dependant on Israel, is Gilad Shalit still held hostage without consequence to the enemy?
● Why does Israel place its capital city up for negotiations and why – within its own sovereign territory – does the Jewish state allow its enemies to physically destroy the holiest sites in Judaism?
The only possible answer to these questions is that Jews do not really want a state, or, to be more precise, they do not want the responsibilities of power that come with it.
Yes, we enjoy the benefits of having a Jewish state. We relish seeing coins and stamps with Jewish themes. Jews everywhere are glad of the status and acceptance that come with having a sovereign state – but only if there is not a single voice raised anywhere in opposition.
So unsure are we of our rights to our land that individual Arab objections prompt the Israeli Supreme Court to order a protective border fence – one costing billions of dollars – destroyed and moved, not once but four times!
For 60 years Israel has avoided finalizing its borders so as not to offend enemies openly seeking its destruction. Also lest it offend anyone, the Jewish state stands by mutely while Jewish holy sites like the Temple Mount and Jacob’s Tomb are physically ravaged or destroyed, its cities rocketed, its citizens taken hostage and massacred.
Two hundred years ago John Stuart Mill wrote about an America then still struggling for its sovereignty:
A people may prefer a free government, but if, from indolence, or carelessness, or cowardice…they are unequal to the exertions necessary for preserving it, if they will not fight for it when it is directly attacked … they are more or less unfit for liberty: and … unlikely long to enjoy it.
Americans today enjoy the benefits of liberty only because they stood their ground and fought for it for two centuries. They fight for it still. On the other hand, nations that value peace over liberty enjoy neither. Having a Jewish state means not only enjoying and learning about our land, it means declaring its borders and defending them, even if the enemy objects, even if the entire world prefers otherwise.
Having a state means that we do not put our capital city, our holy city, up for negotiation. A state does not exist in the ether. It exists on land with a defined border, a capital city and sacred sites that are non-negotiable. A state educates and produces a citizenry ready to defend its sovereignty against all opposition. The state in turn holds the life and liberty of its citizens sacrosanct, not allowing them to be captured, bombed and slaughtered without consequence.
Jews today do not face an enemy with overwhelming power. What we face is our own unwillingness to shoulder the responsibilities of power. We Jews need to search our collective soul and ask: Are we ready for the responsibilities inherent in state power, or would we prefer to return to the more familiar moral purity of powerlessness?