Credo quia absurdum. “I believe because it is absurd.”
How, then, shall we Jews survive in such a distorted and meshugana world, both as individuals, and as the always-fragile Jewish State? In our collective form, shall we truly “Seek peace, and pursue it,” when our enemies’ brand of “sanity” lies relentlessly in genocide and war? Or should we just reluctantly resign ourselves to ceaseless conflict as the unavoidable expression of sanity in an undeniably insane world?
“Seek peace, and pursue it.” A clear Jewish imperative. At the same time, to seek peace where it is evidently unattainable – as it is today, with the Palestinians who “love death” while harboring their undiminished hatred of Jews – could be literally fatal to Israel. Recalling the unforgivable Oslo and Road Map Agreements (the latter still dear to President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton), shall it now be Israel’s position to accept a “peace” that places it in mortal danger, and then still hope for a miraculous rescue?
Here we should remember the potent words of Rabbi Yanai: “A man should never put himself in a place of danger and say that a miracle will save him, lest there be no miracle, and if there be a miracle, his being thus saved will diminish his share in the world to come….” (Talmud; Sota 32aand Codes; Yoreh De’ah 116) These particular words apply, strictly speaking, only to “a man,” but it would be hard to argue persuasively that they should not now apply even more importantly to the Jewish State. We Jews must assuredly show forbearance in searching for peace -if necessary, even long and arduous and unreciprocated forbearance – but certainly not infinite forbearance.
It is not just our enemies who show us no mercy and who “love death,” who make us unsafe. The triumph of the absurd (the world of Chelm or the world of Kafka?) can be found also in “sober” actions of the United Nations. Consider, just for example, that back on January 11, 2005, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan (appointed to his position after making possible the 1994 genocide in Rwanda) established a formal registry to record Palestinian claims of damage blamed upon Israel’s security fence. This registry was mandated by the UN General Assembly in a resolution issued by special emergency session. Payments were to be made by “Israel’s existing compensation mechanisms.”
So, in our meshugana world, Israel builds a security fence to protect its citizens from wanton murder, and the UN chooses to condemn not the murderers, but the security fence. Where was the UN’s call for a registry of Jewish claims arising from Palestinian barbarism? This important question had been raised initially by ZOA National President Morton A. Klein, and by Stephen Flatow, the father of Alisa Flatow, a 20-year-old American citizen and Brandeis University student who was murdered in Israel by a suicide bomber on April 9, 1995.
Now Israel has a new prime minister. Soon, Mr. Netanyahu will have to make some especially important decisions. Above all, these crucial decisions will concern both ongoing Iranian nuclearization (a genocidal threat that has been effectively ignored by the UN), and creation of a Palestinian state. Confronted by an alarming awareness of enemy plans, what will Prime Minister Netanyahu choose to define as appropriately “sane” national behavior?
Sooner or later, barring pertinent preemptions, certain Arab states and/or Iran will likely acquire nuclear weapons. Should this be allowed to happen, these enemy states – possibly together with certain of their sub-state proxies – could fall upon Israel in an utterly apocalyptic frenzy of destructiveness. It follows that Israel must now do everything in its power to prevent Arab/Iranian nuclearization.
A Hasidic tale instructs us that we shall only be able to determine the hour of dawn – when the night ends and the day begins – when we can look into the face of another human being and recognize in him a brother, a real brother. Until that moment, night and darkness shall remain with us. Understood in terms of the State of Israel, this tale should remind us that in the best of all possible worlds, we humans, all of us, will finally be able to go beyond the most primordial forms of tribalism, and acknowledge, triumphantly, our basic Oneness: “The dust from which the first man was made was gathered from all the corners of the world.” (Sanhedrin 38b)
For the moment, such an acknowledgment would be both premature and suicidal. Our enemies simply don’t share a generous vision of cosmopolitan coexistence, and we cannot afford to be more “humane” about the “Road Map” at the predictable cost of collective disintegration. Instead, for now, Israel must harden its resolve and its capacity to preemptively remove certain Arab/Iranian weapons of mass destruction.
Following recommendations of Project Daniel, Israel should also act promptly to codify a formal strategy of anticipatory self-defense in its national strategic doctrine. And if preemption should fail, for one reason or another – operationally, or simply by decisional default – Israeli deterrence of existential attack should include explicit and credible threats of nuclear retaliation against multiple high-value enemy targets – that is, identifiable major cities in the Arab/Islamic world.
We learn from Rabbi Kook that “the loftier the soul, the more it feels the unity that there is in all. And when the thought of unity grows stronger, the light of loving and forgiveness appears.” Yet, Rabbi Kook – who had even explored such cosmopolitan notions in Buddhism and other religions – was keenly aware of their “real world” limitations. Perhaps, in the future, all of humanity will finally witness the “light of loving and forgiveness” and begin to understand that war and terror are “meshuga.” Here, witnessing the hour of a true dawn, each individual will be able to look into the eyes of another and affirm in him or her, the real brother or sister.
Until such time, however, we Jews must continue to act realistically and courageously, even if this should mean a seemingly endless dependence upon military power and vigorous self-defense. Such dependence would be entirely consistent with the international law of self-defense, with our own Torah-based obligations on self-defense at Exodus 22:1 and – when faced with a choice between life and death, “the blessing and the curse,” our immutable imperative is to “choose life.” (Deuteronomy 30:11-20.)
Copyright © The Jewish Press, April 10, 2009. All Rights reserved.
LOUIS RENÉ BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is author of many books and articles dealing with Israeli security matters and international law. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for THE JEWISH PRESS, and was chair of Project Daniel.