The Times of Israel published my new article “Whoever Is President, Israel’s Security Depends on Itself”
If eventually elected, Joe Biden will clearly not give Israel what Donald Trump will give if he is elected for another term. But either way, and though it may be counterintuitive, Israel is the only country that can determine its own fate. If we do what we, Israel, must do, it will benefit us and the rest of the world.
President Trump has been very generous with Israel. He has given us more than any US president in history. In fact, he gave us more than we had asked him to or expected he would give. Biden has a different agenda and his administration’s support for Israel will not be a given.
Nevertheless, when the people of Israel behave as, well, Israel, in unity and mutual responsibility, they are not only safe, but are loved by everyone because by doing so, we serve as a role model and a proof that bridging differences and rising above hatred are both possible, and well worth the effort. That example is all that we need in order to be safe and sound in our country, and in good relations with everyone, and first and foremost with our neighbors.
Yet, when have we behaved like that? Have we ever been united? Perhaps sometime in the middle of the 3rd century B.C., before we started dividing into factions that inflicted on us the civil war known as the Maccabean War, and later the civil war that caused the destruction of the Second Temple and the exile of our nation from the land of Israel.
Back then, some 23 centuries ago, there was great unity in the people of Israel. It was a short hiatus in our internal conflicts, and probably the only time when we truly were “a light unto nations,” but it made a deep and lasting impact nonetheless. This was the time when Ptolemy II, King of Egypt, invited 70 Jewish sages to Egypt, to translate the Hebrew scriptures into Greek, teach him their meaning, and share their knowledge of spiritual governance based on unity and mutual responsibility. In his book The Antiquities of the Jews (Book XII), Flavius Josephus writes that Ptolemy “asked every one of them … political questions, tending to the good … government of mankind.” According to Flavius, the king was “delighted with hearing the laws read to him, and was astonished at the deep meaning and wisdom of the legislator.” Moreover, “When they had explained all the problems that had been proposed by the king about every point, he was well-pleased with their answers,” and said that “he had learned how he ought to rule his subjects.”
Not only Flavius documented the success of the Jews of the time in being an example of unity and mutual responsibility. The Mishnah (Mesechet Bikurim) delights in this solidarity: “All the craftsmen in Jerusalem would stand before them and ask about their well-being: ‘Our brothers, men of so and so place, have you come in peace?’ and the flute would play before them until they arrived at Temple Mount.” The book Avot de Rabbi Natan writes that every material need of every person who came to Jerusalem was met in full. “One did not say to one’s friend, ‘I could not find an oven on which to roast offerings in Jerusalem’ … or ‘I could not find a bed to sleep in, in Jerusalem.’”
The philosopher Philo of Alexandria portrayed the pilgrimages of Jews to Jerusalem as festivals of unity: “Thousands of people from thousands of cities—some by land and some by sea, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south—would come each festival … as if to a common shelter, a safe haven protected from the storms of life. …With hearts filled with good hopes, they would take this vital vacation with sanctity and with glory to God. Also, they would make friendships with people they had not met before, and in the merging of the hearts … they would find the ultimate proof of unity.”
But perhaps the most important lesson we can take from that period of unity is how other nations viewed our unity. The book Sifrei Devarim writes that people from other nations would “go up to Jerusalem and see Israel … and say, ‘It is becoming to cling only to this nation.’”
Regrettably, our union didn’t last. When division struck the Israeli nation, it began to weaken. This, in turn, led to the intervention of the Greek empire, which left us alone as long as we were united. As a result, the Maccabean (civil) war broke out between supporters of the Greeks and supporters of the priests. The Maccabees won a short-lived victory, but the disintegration of the nation deepened, leading to the outbreak of a fierce civil war inside the walls of Jerusalem, which paved the way to the conquest of the land by the Romans and the inevitable exile.
For this reason, Israel cannot rely on military strength for its survival, or on the protection of political leaders of other nations. It needs to maintain its military edge as long as it has not formed unity, but once the people of Israel, within the State of Israel, unite and become the role model we once were, if briefly, with or without the support of the US president, we will regain the nations’ approval as described above, and our conflicts with our neighbors will dissolve as if they never existed.