The Twin Heresies

I must confess that I am guilty of the “twin heresies” of modern Jewish political life, as I reject the two prevailing fantasies that animate all peace processors and many others as well.

Fantasy #1: Peace is coming soon, perhaps with 1,5, 10 or 20 years.

Fantasy #2: The State of Israel cannot be destroyed, no matter what Jews, politicians or armies do.

I must dissent from both.

One of my first articles on these matters dates to 1994, and was entitled “The Peace Idol.” It described how the pursuit of peace was an idolatry, with its own set of rituals, commandments, holidays, saints, and, yes, sacrifices; how the process was self-justifying, and was therefore impervious to reason or countervailing notions; and how the idol demanded to be worshipped, and was relentless in its powers to convince otherwise rational people to act completely irrationally – abandoning the pretense of having red lines, inviolable interests and values, and even a clear articulation of diplomatic goals or a way to measure success.

Even when we think the idol had to shatter – in the wake of the Oslo debacle, failed surrender of land, terror, suicide bombings, lynching, kidnappings, brutal murder of captured soldiers, war in the cities, Gush Katif expulsion and its aftermath, the Lebanon fiasco, etc. – it still commands allegiance and deference, and expects more sacrifices. It lives on, like a vampire – almost impossible to slay.

Yet, after everything we have experienced in the last 15 years, the idol is stronger than ever, and Israel’s concessions are seemingly never enough. (The basic tenet of the Peace Idol is that if peace has not come, it is only because Israel’s concessions have not been sufficient.) Every promise has been breached, every expectation has not been realized – the same rugs of “no terror, no incitement, etc.” are sold multiple times to the gullible buyers, and it is on the market again now – and, nonetheless, there is not a shred of evidence that peace is any closer than it was 15 years ago. Indeed, all credible evidence indicates that peace is further away, that Israel has just been made more vulnerable, and that the Arab appetite to destroy Israel has just been whetted and indulged.

But this conclusion – that peace is not coming anytime soon, that we should stop looking for it and expecting that the next concession or two will succeed – is informed not only by the cold wind of reality but also by the soothing words of Torah. Rav Kook wrote (Orot Hamilchama) that war is an unfortunate but necessary component of life before the Messianic Era. “It obliterates evil, and the world becomes more perfected…The same generations that were involved in war in ancient times, and the men of those times – are the same great figures whom we cherish for their holy stature. All the events in the world are intertwined to bring the light of G-d into the world.”

Yes, Rav Kook notes the saddest aspect of this – the death of innocents – but our emotions do not dictate the reality, which is that man is imperfect, drawn to conflict, and only the naïve assume that war can be wished or negotiated away permanently. (Memo to President Obama.)

But the first heresy of modern times is to deny, renounce and reject that simple truth. Jews simply do not want to accept this, and many Israelis – those, like former PM Olmert, who are just “tired” – do not want to hear it, and undoubtedly many are motivated by congenial notions of the benefits of peace. Jews embrace this fantasy mostly because it is unpleasant to contemplate the converse. But unpleasantness does not make it any less true.

The second heresy is my belief that Israel is subject to destruction, certainly if it embraces policies that tend to weaken it and throw it at the mercy of its enemies. For this I have been accused of having a lack of faith and worse. I seem not to realize that, as I have been told, G-d would never allow Israel to be destroyed (since He “owes” us after the Holocaust), or that Midrashim indicate that Israel cannot be destroyed, or that Israel has nuclear weapons, or that it is too gloomy a prospect to even consider, and therefore it cannot happen.

This fantasy is as dangerous as the first, and in some way nurtures and underwrites the first. I do not know how G-d runs His world. All I do know is that He gave us a Torah to study and obey, and gave us minds with which we are empowered to make reasoned decisions about life. The same people who argue that G-d could not allow the State of Israel to be destroyed because of the Holocaust as the same people whose ancestors likely argued that G-d would never allow His Bet Hamikdash to be destroyed because… because, so they said. And the interpretations of Midrashim come and go (remember that Moshiach was coming imminently, after the first Gulf War in 1991, because of the Yalkut Shimoni ?) And if a powerful empire like the Soviet Union can implode before our eyes, then, as depressing as it sounds, it is not too far-fetched to envision a scenario where Israel succumbs to the combined might of a variety of hostile armies, or consents to its dissolution in a bi-national state of Palestine, or Israstine, or Palrael, or some other dire outcome.

Therefore, politics, diplomacy, statecraft, and military planning must occur in the real world and not the world of illusions and wishful thinking. Bad policy choices can have horrible, even fatal, outcomes, whether made by physicians, attorneys, rabbis or politicians. Those policy choices have to reflect our core values and interests, and politicians who adopt them should be embraced and supported – even if some are offended, and even if threats are made to surrender or else.

Yet, isn’t it possible that the Arab world will someday soon accept the existence of a Jewish state, and agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state on only a part of the territory they claim, and they will forever renounce the use of force and agree – for the betterment of their people’s lives – to live in peace, tranquility, harmony and mutual respect ? Isn’t it possible – just hear me out – that the Arabs will recognize that Jews also have a claim to part of the land, and that together they can make the desert bloom and usher in an era of tolerance and brotherhood for all mankind ?

Isn’t it ?

THAT is the power of the Peace Idol. It is relentless, and most unforgiving. It will not let go, unless you let go of it.

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One response to “The Twin Heresies

  1. The final chapter of the book “Warrior” explains this dilemma very well. Arik names it “What are you willing to give up for peace”. Maybe reprint the entire chapter here ?