Sharansky criticizes the current Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, for his generous offer to Arafat in 2000, as well as former prime minister Ariel Sharon for his Gaza Disengagement. Sharansky relates how Sharon and Barak tried to convince him to support their initiatives. Both argued that if the Arabs reacted negatively to their gestures, the world would support Israel. Both arguments proved disastrously wrong.
Defending Identity is an easy to read introduction to a hawkish Middle Eastern foreign policy. But Sharansky’s views suffer from some of the very faults for which he criticizes his opponents.
Sharanky’s first fault is his endorsement of a Palestinian state. Though he always includes the caveat that a Palestinian state must be democratic, this is just as naïve as the Gaza Disengagement and the Oslo process he criticizes.
Sharansky refuses to recognize that a democratic Palestinian state may simply not be possible or compatible with Israel’s survival. Palestinians have abused every democratic right they have been granted, using free speech to incite Jew-hatred and murder.
A Palestinian state would also discount Jewish identity and rights by barring Jews from portions of the Land of Israel. Sharansky opposes the expulsion of Jewish settlers to make way for a Palestinian state. But all proponents of a Palestinian state advocate such an expulsion. Given this consensus, how exactly does Sharansky think a Palestinian state is to be built, if not on the ruins of Jewish communities?
While Sharansky would probably admit that there are identities that cannot be allowed to thrive, like Nazism or Islamic extremism, he cannot bring himself to admit that Palestinian national identity threatens Israel’s survival. The core of Palestinian nationalism and its only unique characteristic is its extreme hatred for Jews and a desire to destroy Israel; the Palestine Liberation Organization was founded before Israel captured the disputed territories in 1967, and anti-Jewish pogroms began before the state was even established.
Even if Israel could mold Palestinian society and identity to its liking and Palestinians accepted Israel’s existence, there is no guarantee this would last forever or even for a short time. It would be impossible for Israel to implement a permanent “iron wall” against anti-Jewish elements in Palestinian society.
Even the civilized and cultured Weimar Republic, surrounded by other Western democracies, voted itself and its democratic ideals out of existence. All signs point to even a purportedly democratic Palestinian state doing the same.
Aside from the direct danger posed by a Palestinian state, it would also likely be another terrorist satellite or launching pad for Israel’s enemies in future wars.
A Palestinian state would only provide a mechanism, even if democratic, for the murder of Jews and destruction of Israel. Despite his various caveats on what it should look like, in endorsing a Palestinian state Sharansky only legitimizes the very leftist agenda he protests.
Sharanky’s second fault is his failure to discuss what role Jewish identity – i.e., Judaism – should play in Israeli society.
He praises the role of identity in American society, but America’s diverse ethnicities are not interested in destroying each other, while Israel’s primary minority group seeks to eradicate the Jewish presence. While an American founding ideal is to create an inclusive immigrant society, Israel’s is to be a refuge for one specific people, whose identity has been endangered by 2,000 years of persecution and assimilation.
If Israel adopted the Jeffersonian wall of separation between church and state, as many Israeli secularists advocate, it would be impossible for Israel to remain a Jewish state. There would be no barrier to non-Jews becoming citizens and eventually overrunning the state. There would also no longer be any basis for its purported mission to serve as a haven for Jews.
Sharansky positively cites Theodore Herzl’s Altneuland, which described a Jewish state where people speak German and celebrate European culture. But this society was stingingly and rightly criticized as not being Jewish enough.
Moreover, as Yoram Hazony explains in The Jewish State: the Struggle for Israel’s Soul, Altneuland was a utopian novel composed for propagandistic purposes and not intended to serve as a model for Zionist policy or the Jewish State. As Hazony demonstrates, all of Herzl’s other writings and actions emphasize his belief that Judaism was to play a strong role in the new Jewish state.