Israel, Religion

Was Creating the State of Israel the Jews’ Worst Strategic Mistake Ever?

So often on the subject of the State of Israel, the debate is framed by moral questions.  This preferred focus is based on the axiom – both in left and right Zionist camps – that a Jewish state is tenable.
Maybe it just isn’t.  
It is useful to empathize with the enemy.  The enemy – activist fundamentalist Islam – is not the majority of Muslim people. 
But it doesn’t need to be.  Most Germans were not Nazis.  Most Russians were not communists. 
It simply doesn’t need to be most.  Especially now, when you don’t need a state to wage a war. Though having a few backing you certainly doesn’t hurt.
If I were a fundamentalist Muslim, I would do the basic math. 
I would figure that there are 1.2 billion Muslims, and 14 million Jews.  That if I went one for one, at the end of the day, there would be zero Jews, and 1.2 billion Muslims.
And though I would try to do better than one to one, I would be willing to sacrifice one hundred for one. The only thing that would restrain me would be my concern to retain the ability to fight another day.  Martyrs hardly hinder that possibility. Not with their odds and recruitment methods.
I do not see a happy ending here.  Not with a tough and expansive policy, not with a smaller Israel. 
For the fundamentalists, there is little reason to cut a permanent deal.  
They have 1.2 billion people to draw support from. With many states, of which many of those offer varying levels of support, even if minimal and peripheral.  Their hand grows stronger.  Ours grows weaker.  Terrorism is to fanatics and nations what the gun was for petite men versus strong men: a great equalizer.  For those seeking to inflict their will upon them. 
At least our believers have their faith to rely on when considering the future of Israel.
Our tradition promises us that Jerusalem will not fall a third time.
Or does it?
The Talmud warned us of our oath not to take back the land by force.  That if we did, that “our flesh will be made free like wild animals in the field.”
Good thing halacha can change and evolve, due to the excessive oppression of the nations of the world, the U.N. vote, etc. For we have the power to reinterpret Jewish law, and to declare this oath null and void.
Unless we’re wrong.  Unless we don’t. 
Then we may have a very big problem.

31 thoughts on “Was Creating the State of Israel the Jews’ Worst Strategic Mistake Ever?

  1. Defeatist thinking. I just don’t buy it. It is easy to write these doomsday scenarios but much harder to make them reality.

  2. OK – where on this earth, in this universe, can the existence of the Jewish people be justified by the numbers?
    A similar calculation justifies assimilation/genocide anywhere.
    Many politically active Muslims are making the same calculation – with regard to their “liberation” of Spain and Austria, and domination of Europe and sub-Saharan Africa.
    Does that mean all these nations should just roll up their tents before the Islamic agressor?
    This is patent nonsense.
    The fact is that the Islamic world is hardly united – Hamas have recently been met with harsh words and closed doors at several Arab capitols.
    In addition, it’s likely that Iraq will be a US protectorate for another decade, it’s Marshall Plan funded by its own oil – tilting the balance of power and cultural weight away from Saudi fundamentalism towards representative democracy. The “Arab Street” is a-changin’ – and is increasingly unlikely to blindly come to the Pali’s aid, or to listen blindly to your hypothetical fundamentalist jihadi.
    The Jews should long ago have disappeared if you go by the numbers. So? Considering that self-defense is an aspect of national identity in which we are a bit rusty – we haven’t been doing too badly.

  3. Israel is in compliance with the three oaths of Masechet Ketubot. Much religious Zionist scholarship exists on this (sorry, no sources off hand)

  4. How much can we ever really do at all. and for how long?
    maybe forever, we don’t believe smoking will kill us
    till it doesn’t.
    how long can we support the good thing we’re doing?

  5. slightly OT: I have been looking around on the internet and been having dificulty finding news on the invasion of Lebanon. This conflict can rightly be called the teflon war.
    Whining about the imminent annihilation of the Jewish people has been a gentile passtime for 2000 years. Don’t tell me Jews are gonna join in.

  6. get off oil and legalize drugs and islam ceases to be a threat … 1.2 billion muslims and no oil market = 1.2 billion starving muslims (as if most of them aren’t starving already)

  7. Kelsey, your logic does not hold up. You are assuming that 14 million scattered Jews have more a chance of survival against a murderous, genocidal ideology than 6 million bound together as a collective actor with one of the strongest militaries of the world.
    It seems to me that you’ve been in exile too long. Come over here, walk the streets. Are people scared? Some are, sure. But Israel knows it will pull through, by the strength of its outstretched arm and mighty hand if necessary.

  8. “The enemy – activist fundamentalist Islam – is not the majority of Muslim people. ”
    Wrong. Survey after survey has shown that the majority of Muslims want their countries to be governed by Shariah.
    Heck, even in Britain, where Islam is the religion of a small minority, 40 percent want Sharia in the UK, with only 41 percent opposed to the idea.
    Can you imagine British Jews being evenly split on whether the UK should be governed by halacha?
    How do you reach such a conclusion? Is there a factual, statistical basis? Or is this simply wishful thinking?
    I suspect the latter. Sure, not all Muslims are fundamentalist (heck, I’m friends with a handful), but the sooner we dispense with the myth that it’s a tiny minority of extremists, the sooner we can deal with this problem from an informed perspective.

  9. just pass the poison. We can make Jonestown look like a joke and Massada becomes the model.
    isn’t t that what they want?
    so hand it to them on a silver platter, life isn’t worth fighting for. We should let pure unaduleterated evil, real killers and murderers, real scum of the earth win.
    we should pack ourselves and drown ourselves in the sea.
    kelsey, you can be a real…oh well, nevermind.

  10. I dunno. “Might have been” is one of those statements that just castrates me on the spot. I think you need to look at “The Jewish Century” and this review by David Lazare.
    When you come down to it – what might have been is pretty useless.
    We are here, deep in the mire, living and breathing and trying to do something right. Or at least survive.
    Jews all over the world are at our mercy – that is, Jews all over the world are seen as responsible for what Israel is doing. Whether it is for good or for bad. So get your ass on over here and help us do it right!

  11. Israe is not a mistake because of the fear of annhilation by Muslim extremists, or Muslims in general. It is a mistake (it if is…) because it has not delivered what was the promise of political Zionism: to make us a national like all the others, and give us a homeland that will ‘normalize’ our status.
    It will NEVER deliver that, and many Jews don’t even want that, in part because of a religious mandate suggesting that we are not meant to be like other nations.
    The enmity of Muslims is besides the point. What do we want, loving Arabs that marry our sons, like in America?

  12. A similar argument: would America be a safer place were the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution never ratified? Let’s test it out — by banning all guns now. Why doesn’t this work? The guns don’t uninvent themselves, and we’re in a different situation than in 1789.
    So too here, much of this is moot. A dismantling of Israel is not the same as rewinding time to 1948. Ein hacha namei, looking in hindsight, perhaps a better thing to do would have been to develop Palestine and then gradually phase in a Jewish identity. Perhaps in hindsight, all the ppls houses should have been bought in front of international courts so as to preempt laws of return.
    The decried fundamentalists are riding on waves of hatred and are bastardizing the Qur’an as many ways as they need to to fit their desired targets. This would happen — pls see Iraq — whether we were singing HaTikva in Yerushalayim or giving zakaat in Al-Quds…

  13. Imagine Zionsim had never been thought up, and thus there was no Israel. Things would still not be all that great….
    There would still be Islamic Fundamentalism, only all the sephardim throughout the Islamic world would be on the receiving end of pogroms and terrorist attacks (much like Christians are now in Iraq and Egypt).
    Many of these communities would be feeling the pinch to migrate to the west – france, USA etc.
    Assimilation would be rampant in the west.
    Without the option of Aliyah, communities who are bailing (eg in LAtin America and South Africa) would not have the option of Israel: they would have to move to west. And thus they would not have the option of joining the Jews together to be a tightly bound collective (to paraphrase one of the above comments).
    There is also the the very real possibility that without Israel, the sense of ‘Jewish pride’ which we take for granted now, would not exist [as much of this came about after the victory of Israel in 1967], and there would not be the widespread acceptance of the idea that being Jewish is a living dynamic and powerful force.
    As long as we have each other there will always be hope!!

  14. I think the most potent rebuttals here are Ben-David’s and Charles’s.
    Far be it from me, normally, to agree with Ben-David, but it is crucial to note that the Muslim world is not united. Absolutely crucial. Surveys may show that populations are broadly united on Palestinian-related issues, or even on Shari’ah, but guess what – not only are there multiple kinds of Islam, there are multiple kinds of “fundamentalist Islam.” To pose the conflict as between 14 million Jews and 1.2 billion Muslims is severely misleading. The conflict is between the State of Israel and its supporters and the Palestinians and their supporters, and between whoever thinks they can get some immediate political gain from intervening in some way. Far more likely than the collapse of Israel is the further subjugation of the Palestinians as more and more find life in the territories intolerable and drift into their own galut.
    Charles is right that Israel has failed in some very important ways, namely creating a safe place for Jews, solving antisemitism, etc. I would say, though, that it is not the failure to be “like all the nations” that has tripped Israel up, but the success. For “Zion can only be redeemed with justice.”

  15. Fundamentalist Islam is ravenous – and will not stop with the little snack that is the Jewish people … have they not declared war on Western decadence? So… let’s look at those numbers again … all those Americans and Canadians and Brits and French folks, Spaniards, Germans, etc. etc. etc. They, too, must join Dar Al-Islam … or else!
    I guess when Crusades II hits the front page – as Kelsey kinda predicts – the Jews might just find themselves on the Christian side of the barricades this time … ack!

  16. I’m a bigger nationalist that DrDan… I think the Jewish people are way more than a snack…
    We’re more like a box of handmade artisanal chocolate treats. Mmmm, so good! And when it’s gone, nothing, but nothing will ever satisfy the same way again.
    On a more serious note, my daughter lives in Ein Yaakov, pretty close to the border with Lebanon. She hears the sounds of war, and plays with her sisters indoors. She tells me, it’s all very scary – but in a calm voice.
    I on the other hand, am freaking out.
    My darling girl, next year in New York….

  17. We’ve been linking to some of the Arab blogs and forums discussing (in English) the current war here and here. (I’m not gratuitously tooting my own horn – there is some interesting discussion here.)
    Long story short, there is more sympathy for Israel than you would think. And being fed-up with Hezbollah and Hamas, and the feckless Palestinians.
    Zooming back to a regional level: the Arab bloc didn’t like Saddam and were glad we took him out, although they wouldn’t say so because there is this myth of pan-Arab unity. He was a loose cannon. They feel the same way about Iran (which isn’t Arab, but counts as Muslim in the same region). Nobody wants any of the other regimes to get too big for their britches. As far as I can see everyone but Iran (the crazy imperialists), Syria (as a client state of Iran) and Lebanon (as a colony of Syria) are sitting this one out. (Unless there’s some breaking news I don’t know about as I write this.)
    Everyone is getting tired of this shit, it isn’t as popular anymore among the masses, so acceptance of Israel may be closer than you think. Ironically, Iran’s excesses may be the catalyst for the whole region to say “enough.”

  18. they’re not united, but they don’t need to be. that f*&#er in iran might well send a nuke over if he gets his hands on one.
    i do believe in israel, and i pray hashem will watch over it, but i doubt we’ll ever keep it except by fighting and fighting and fighting some more, and deposing that f@#%er in iran (though the US won’t be able to do it – we’ve blown all our capital deposing our enemy’s enemy).
    i do have a question though: mobius, let’s legalize drugs by all means, but how does that help us re fundamentalist muslims?

  19. Never thought I shall find myself in agreement with our friend Ben David, but such is the mystery of life.
    David, If you are concerned for disappearing ways of life, lament large trees and mammals, which are likely to disappear in our life time. To the extremists’ chagrin, sorry state of the world will be largely dictated by the ‘American Zionist plot’ to rule the world by capitalism, while religious intricacies will play sub-plots and dramas. Terrorism by the disaffected will continue, and it is indeed a large feature on the evening news, but the global financial markets are the big guns nowadays. Silly little humans and their squabbles just make it messier.
    Incidentally, the real issues are social, and stem from the fact almost all of those hating this, that and the other are lacking access to food, or at least decent education. Empty stomachs and dull minds are the breeding grounds of fervent ideologies. The Madrassas just capitalize (haha) on that. That is also the reason why religious practice in general is on decline in the West, or rather, Mammon has replaced the old deities.
    The likelihood of Judaism to fall by the sideline has lots more to do with the conceptual co-existence of bibles and laptops than with competing religious narratives. This website here is a good example of the kind of dialogues and technology that are necessary for such survival, and it is the lacking of such renewal in the Muslim world (or rather its insignificance so far – this is where your numbers carry some weight) that perpetuate the myth of the war of civilizations.

  20. in the end of the story, all the victims have to be able to be victimizers, just for a moment, so that they can see how bad it is, how little it has to do with what they really want.
    how could we have resisted the chance to have everything god’s always been promising us?

  21. “get off oil and legalize drugs and islam ceases to be a threat … 1.2 billion muslims and no oil market = 1.2 billion starving muslims (as if most of them aren’t starving already)” :Mobius
    I’m pretty sure after a short while you’ll be calling for food aid to these countries.

  22. “Incidentally, the real issues are social, and stem from the fact almost all of those hating this, that and the other are lacking access to food, or at least decent education. ”
    I used to think the same way myself. But there is a lot of evidence to support the position that the real issues are ideological, not social. Many terrorists come from the middle-classes, not the lumpenproletariat. IMHO it is a matter of dashed expectations rather than material deprivation that drives people to political extremism and political violence whether of the right, left or religious variety.

  23. WEVS1
    Not so. The oft quoted case of the WTC atrocity, and in particular Mohamed Atta who was a well-educated son of a respected Egyptian family, and even the recently trumpeted phenomena of so-called ‘home-spun’ terrorists, which are usually (in the West) locally born and educated children of immigrants, are still relatively an unusual blip in the suicidal market place.
    The fact that cruelty is an inherent human disposition has been proven scientifically and is plenty apparent in the mirror our daily news provides, but it still take either some serious childhood damage, or extremely narrow and selfish perception (or both), to bypass the other inherent human trait – the ability to empathize with suffering. Having no hopes for a better future (and we are not talking just being poor but emotionally debilitated by despair) precursors the kind of psychological make up that allows for dreadful action to be seen justified, and it is no coincidence that a ‘better world’ is promised so lavishly (what do they say to the virgins, I wonder). And if it is so happens that a better future in the economic sense is not an issue, you will still find that a person capable of acts beyond the ‘normal’ range of human fallacies (road rage included), has subscribed – by coercion or isolationist immersion – to a very narrow version of the tribal code for Fear, Fight or Flight. And, occasionally, people who are just screwed up for what ever reason and get their kicks out of violent activities make their way to where violence is available. Mercenaries are a good example.
    June Chang, in her wonderful book about ‘state terrorism’ of a Maoist flavor (Wild Swans), says “When people are happy, they are kind”. For many of us in the West, it is hard to be happy with our lot, no matter how cushy that is. But for the majority of the people on the planet, the assurance of daily bread and a little hope for a better future for their children is enough to bring enormous satisfaction and sunny attitudes we can only wish for in our rainy days of greed and envy. One can only wonder what results could be gained by spending a fraction of this ‘War on Terror’ accumulating cost (now estimated at & Billion dollars a month!) on universities, hospitals and green houses…

  24. So this is me posting on Shabbos, just so I can be an even bigger waffler than most of us reformim get characterized as.
    I’ll admit that on 9/11, I had 2 thoughts. 1) Gee, I sure do hope the arrogant, elistist foreign policy that the US government has been executing gets a li’l attitude adjustment in the next few weeks, ‘cuz apparently we need it, and 2) I guess you gotta be pretty hungry and ticked to blow yourself up like that.
    Clearly, the people who are willing to commit acts of suicide terrorism are not happy with their lots in life.
    And yet, I’m not sure that either as Jews, or just as people in general, it’s necessarily our task to reach out to this kind of nutjob. I mean, honestly — how generous can you be? Sure, I can see that some future Jihadist candidates just need to be shown that there is more to life than strict adherence to religious dogma, accompanied by (or perhaps necessitating) the destruction of nonbelievers.
    But some — heck, many — just won’t listen to this sort of blather.
    We can try, but every effort we make is handicapped either by our being Jews or by our patent attempts to disract True Believers ™ from their holy obligations.

  25. I’m posted on Shabbos too. Shabbat Shalom peoples.
    “Not so. The oft quoted case of the WTC atrocity, and in particular Mohamed Atta who was a well-educated son of a respected Egyptian family, and even the recently trumpeted phenomena of so-called ‘home-spun’ terrorists, which are usually (in the West) locally born and educated children of immigrants, are still relatively an unusual blip in the suicidal market place.”
    Komai, I must respectfully disagree. I’ve done a bit of research on this subject and most of the evidence produced by social scientists (not anecdotal comments) points to the conclusion that poverty does not cause terrorism. It’s a common assumption but it is simply not the case. Whether Islamist groups like Al Queda, or secular terrorists such as ETA, PFLP, etc. many of these people come from the middle classes and quite a few of them have some level of post-secondary education. These are not the “masses” as is so often assumed. To simplify, these terrorists—whether religious or secular—have a vision of the “good life” that is not reflected in contemporary society i.e. reality. They are quite often educated people who have utopian expectations of their society that are not being met and they resort to violence to achieve their goals.
    In Policy Review Online ( Walter Laqueur at the International Research Council at the Center for Strategic and International Studies writes, “It is not too difficult to examine whether there is such a correlation between poverty and terrorism, and all the investigations have shown that this is not the case. The experts have maintained for a long time that poverty does not cause terrorism and prosperity does not cure it. In the world’s 50 poorest countries there is little or no terrorism. A study by scholars Alan Krueger and Jitka Maleckova reached the conclusion that the terrorists are not poor people and do not come from poor societies. A Harvard economist has shown that economic growth is closely related to a society’s ability to manage conflicts. More recently, a study of India has demonstrated that terrorism in the subcontinent has occurred in the most prosperous (Punjab) and most egalitarian (Kashmir, with a poverty ratio of 3.5 compared with the national average of 26 percent) regions and that, on the other hand, the poorest regions such as North Bihar have been free of terrorism. In the Arab countries (such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but also in North Africa), the terrorists originated not in the poorest and most neglected districts but hailed from places with concentrations of radical preachers. The backwardness, if any, was intellectual and cultural — not economic and social.”
    Alberto Abadie an Economist and Professor of Public Policy at Harvard’s JFK School of Government agrees, “In the past, we heard people refer to the strong link between terrorism and poverty, but … when you look at the data, it’s not there. This is true not only for events of international terrorism … but … also for the overall level of terrorism, both of domestic and of foreign origin.” Prior to conducting the study, “Abadie believed it was a reasonable assumption that terrorism has its roots in poverty, especially since studies have linked civil war to economic factors. However, once the data was corrected for the influence of other factors studied, Abadie said he found no significant relationship between a nation’s wealth and the level of terrorism it experiences.” (
    As far as totalitarian states, they are a different matter with different dynamics than those of terrorist groups. In the case of totalitarian states, those with the radical utopian vision of the good life are insiders, they control the mechanisms and institutions of power. In the case of ETA, PFLP et al., they are outsiders. This is a key distinction that must be taken into account.
    “But for the majority of the people on the planet, the assurance of daily bread and a little hope for a better future for their children is enough to bring enormous satisfaction and sunny attitudes we can only wish for in our rainy days of greed and envy.”
    I agree it is enough for them (the parents). It’s the children who have rising expectations and want those expectations met expediently. They are ripe for being sucked in by all manner of f-ed up ideologies. That’s where the troubles start.
    Anyway, here’s something to consider. There are billions of poor people living on this planet but for some reason terrorism is clustered most heavily in a few regions of the world and by no means in the countries with the worst poverty. Just something to think about.
    Here is the study referred to by Laqueur:
    Poverty Does Not Cause Terrorism
    A study by Alan Krueger, from Princeton University, and Jitka Malečková, from Charles University, reached empirical conclusions showing terrorism does not come from poverty.
    I also suggest having a look at the study by Alberto Abadie at Harvard:
    Poverty, Political Freedom and the Roots of Terrorism
    This article provides an empirical investigation of the determinants of terrorism at the country level. In contrast with the previous literature on this subject, which focuses on transnational terrorism only, I use a new measure of terrorism that encompasses both domestic and transnational terrorism. In line with the results of some recent studies, this article shows that terrorist risk is not significantly higher for poorer countries, once the effects of other country-specific characteristics such as the level of political freedom are taken into account. Political freedom is shown to explain terrorism, but it does so in a non-monotonic way: countries in some intermediate range of political freedom are shown to be more prone to terrorism than countries with high levels of political freedom or countries with highly authoritarian regimes. This result suggests that, as experienced recently in Iraq and previously in Spain and Russia, transitions from an authoritarian regime to a democracy may be accompanied by temporary increases in terrorism. Finally, the results suggest that geographic factors are important to sustain terrorist activities.
    Noach writes, “Clearly, the people who are willing to commit acts of suicide terrorism are not happy with their lots in life. And yet, I’m not sure that either as Jews, or just as people in general, it’s necessarily our task to reach out to this kind of nutjob. I mean, honestly — how generous can you be?”
    You’re absolutely correct, Noach. People in general should not allow their suppositions (poverty causes terrorism) to cloud what is actually happening (terrorists commit acts of terrorism). Furthermore, as Jews, we should always be aware (to paraphrase):
    “If you are kind to the cruel, you will be cruel to the kind.”

  26. “One can only wonder what results could be gained by spending a fraction of this ‘War on Terror’ accumulating cost (now estimated at & Billion dollars a month!) on universities, hospitals and green houses…”
    Actually, hundreds of millions, if not billions, of US dollars and Euros have poured into the Palestinian Authority with little or no benefit to the Palestinian people due to the graft and corruption at all levels of the PA. And it isn’t unique to non-state actors like the PA. Countries with incredibly high rates of poverty are routinely given aid by the West. The majority of the people in these poorest nations continue to live in poverty while elites in those countries—whether a left or right-wing government controls the state—live quite well. At this time, transparency and accountability are more crucial for economic development than increasing funding. And, in some cases, it is necessary to decrease or cut funds to certain groups or governments altogether.
    Education is important. But just as important as the money is the type of education. In fact, it is more important. The Saudi government spends hundreds of millions of dollars on educational projects throughout the Islamic world. Unfortunately, rather than supporting a worldview of global prosperity through trade and intellectual interaction they support reactionary fundamentalism and global jihad. The United States can and does donate money for educational projects in the Islamic world but how is that money spent and on what kinds of programs? In other words, once the resources are allocated, who determines *where* the resources are allocated? In most cases—except for the weakest of states—it’s the national government. So, education is great but not if its primary function is indoctrinating members of society into a radical totalitarian ideology. We need to support educational projects that support the liberalization of the Islamic world. How can we support those liberalizing forces?
    My point is these problems are much more intractable than curing smallpox or polio. We cannot solve these problems simply through increasing spending and promoting economic development. As during the Cold War we confront an ideological foe with imperial aspirations and one committed to our elimination. But, in agreement with historian Efraim Karsh, I do not view the contemporary struggle with the Islamists as a “Clash of Civilizations.” At the moment, it is more a clash within Islamic civilization. After all, the vast majority of the victims of Islamist terrorism and state-violence are Muslims themselves.
    Hospitals? Yes, absolutely, hospitals are very important. Greenhouses? If you’re talking about the Palestinians, I don’t think they are much interested in our gifts of greenhouses these days. You know what happened to the greenhouses in Gaza, right?
    For a liberal internationalist argument in support of the war on terror please see:
    The Euston Manifesto
    and the following books:
    Peter Beinart. The Good Fight: Why Liberals—and Only Liberals—Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again. Harper Collins, 2006.
    Paul Berman. Terror and Liberalism. W.W. Norton, 2004.
    Oliver Kamm. Anti-Totalitarianism: The Left-Wing Case for a Neo-Conservative Foreign Policy. Social Affairs Unit, 2005.
    Will Marshall (ed). With All Our Might: A Progressive Strategy for Defeating Jihadism and Defending, Liberty. Rowman & Littlefield, 2006.
    For reviews of these books and much, much more please see:

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