Members of Israel’s secular elite–including renowned authors and former diplomats–have signed a letter that encourages European parliaments to recognize a Palestinian state. The letter, which was reportedly sent to the Belgian parliament on Sunday, comes after deadly Palestinian terror attacks, incitement by Palestinian leaders, and the collapse of the Palestinian unity government. It is self-deluded–and treasonous in effect, if not intent.
There is no other way to describe a gesture that is so callously indifferent to the lives of innocent fellow citizens, even if some of the signatories are among those who have sacrificed the most for Israel’s security in the past.
The letter relies on a fatally flawed premise: “Your initiative to recognize a Palestinian state will advance the peace prospects, and encourage Israelis and Palestinians to reach a resolution to the conflict,” it says.
History suggests the opposite. The actual response of Palestinians to Israeli concessions–whether bilateral, as in the 1993 Oslo accords, or unilateral, as in the 2005 Gaza disengagement–has been an increase in terror. The rise of international pressure on Israel has only encouraged Palestinians to harden their demands–and has also convinced many ordinary Israelis that world opinion is implacably biased against them and must be ignored.
Given that evidence, why are these leading Israelis encouraging foreign governments to recognize Palestine prematurely?
Some are opportunists, who have cashed in their Israeli careers for international acclaim. And some have simply despaired of prevailing in Israeli politics, where conservative parties are in the ascendant. Rather than make their case to fellow citizens, they now seek to trump them through international pressure.
It might be easy to draw the conclusion that Israel’s abandonment by its secular elite marks a serious threat to the future of the state. However, despite foreign threats and internal political turmoil, Israel has continued to enjoy both social cohesion and economic success. Israelis whose careers and self-image do not depend on the favor of international media and academia have learned to manage, and thrive, in the midst of uncertainty.
What the letter does indicate, however, is that secular nationalism, once the bedrock of the Zionist movement, is no longer sufficient to sustain Israel’s future. Without some religious component, Israeli national identity is ephemeral. The best case the secular elite can make for the country is that its enemies are bent on destroying it–and from the letter, it seems that the elite has stopped caring and is prepared to sacrifice the country for itself.
Religious nationalism offers a positive reason for Israelis to feel an attachment to the state: namely, that Israel is the land promised by God to the Jewish people, and that Jewish religious life finds its best expression there.
But religious nationalism brings its own challenges, as exemplified in the recent debate about a bill to define the country formally as a “Jewish state.” It is Israel’s secular institutions that have helped it thrive against the odds.
So the country faces a paradox: the values that helped make Israel a success are now among the greatest threats to its survival, while the faith that nurtures Israeli identity could become an obstacle to its future vibrancy.
That paradox is the result of decades of de-legitimization, and will not be resolved easily, much less with one Israeli election–still less by letters to foreign parliaments that serve only to isolate and endanger Israelis even more.
Senior Editor-at-Large Joel B. Pollak edits Breitbart California and is the author of the new ebook, Wacko Birds: The Fall (and Rise) of the Tea Party, available for Amazon Kindle.
Follow Joel on Twitter: @joelpollak