Thinking The Unthinkable
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Thinking The Unthinkable

Editor & Publisher of The NY Jewish Week.

Forgive me, but for the last several weeks I have had a deeply disturbing thought that I can’t shake, but have not shared — namely that there is no guarantee the State of Israel will survive forever.For someone who has grown up with the Jewish state, not knowing a time when there was no safe haven for Jews fleeing persecution and for Jewish souls seeking a spiritual core, the very thought of a world without Israel, God forbid, is too upsetting even to consider.

The ramifications of such a tragedy speaks to the essence of who we are as Jews and how we relate to our people, our Creator and ourselves.Indeed, it seems almost blasphemous to mention the possibility of a world without Israel. But we can no longer take for granted that Israel’s government and military can continue to overcome the murderous intent of some of its neighbors, and that the citizens of the Jewish state can go on enduring the disruption, fear, isolation and trauma of violent attacks aimed at killing them and their spirit.After witnessing the month-long conflict with Hezbollah this summer, with thousands of rockets launched against the cities, towns and homes of Israel, the Israel Defense Forces’ inability to destroy the terrorists without inflicting widespread casualties on Lebanese civilians, and the international community’s perverted refusal to distinguish between the perpetrators and the defenders, I was filled with despair.

Adding to that feeling was the realization that Israel’s enemies are relentless, committed to continuing their attacks until their mission is accomplished, however long it may take. Israelis have shown remarkable fortitude and unity over the need to defend their country by aggressively pursuing their attackers, but how long can such attitudes prevail?Over the last several years, Israel’s very right to exist as a Jewish state has been questioned openly in Europe, first among academics and then in the media and later among the populace. Now that same insidious line of thinking has found its way to the U.S., and not just among those on the far left. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen recently described Israel as “a mistake,” noting how “creating a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims (and some Christians) has produced a century of warfare and terrorism of the sort that we are seeing now.” Soon after, Kurt Anderson, writing in New York magazine, referred to the “incovenient truth” of Israel’s creation — “the great unfortunate fact” about its being “carved by the UN out of Arab land in 1947.”These writers are not enemies of Israel, but their premise — that the Jews seized Arab land to create a state — negates thousands of years of Jewish history and the moral rationale for the Jewish people to have a state of their own.

It drags us back to the question of Israel’s right to exist almost six decades after it was answered — or should have been — once and for all.The war with Hezbollah is not over; the current cease-fire is but a pause in the fighting. Even if a United Nations force is cobbled together, it will not attempt to disarm Hezbollah or prevent the militia from receiving arms and supplies from Syria. What’s more, Hezbollah’s success in launching sophisticated rockets against Israel did not go unnoticed by Hamas. The two groups have deep differences, but their hatred of Israel and determination to destroy it ultimately unites them. And the scenario of both terror groups simultaneously targeting Israeli cities from the north and south, driving people into bomb shelters throughout most of the country, is as plausible as it is frightening.Even with their ability to kill and wreak havoc, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza do not represent an existential threat to Israel. But their primary supporter, Iran, does. There is no reason to believe that the president of Iran does not mean exactly what he says when he proclaims his government’s intention to develop a nuclear bomb and use it to wipe Israel off the face of the map. If there is anything we have learned from Hitler and the Holocaust it is that when a powerful despot declares his intention to annihilate the Jews, take him seriously.

Israel knows that best of all, and assures that it will not allow a nuclear Iran to make good on its threat. We can only admire such fortitude, encourage the U.S. to ensure such a scenario can never come to pass and pray that Israel is never tested.This is not the first time I have worried for Israel’s survival. I still remember the chilling threats of Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser to drive Israel into the sea in 1967, on the eve of the Six-Day War, and the sinking, alarming feeling I had on learning of the Arab armies’ surprise attack on Israel during Yom Kippur services in 1973. For the next several days, as the forces of Egypt and Syria pressed their assaults from the Sinai and the Golan Heights, there was a very real sense that Israel could be defeated. And defeat meant not just a military setback, but the destruction of the Jewish state. But gradually the tide of battle turned, Israel won the day and thoughts about her survival receded.But those thoughts are back, and I bring them up not to shock or depress anyone, but to suggest that we must come to appreciate even more the gift and miracle of a Jewish state, and do all in our power to ensure its survival, growth and strength. Forever.

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