An End to Diaspora Morality

Adjusting to the existence of a Jewish state will take at least two or three more generations. Thus, the very meaning of being a 'Jewish, democratic state' in the 21st century and beyond is subject to a slow learning curve that cannot be accelerated by a priori reasoning.

The establishment of the State of Israel constituted a rupture in Jewish history. After being in exile 2000 years and successfully adjusting to statelessness, the Jews experienced a near-miracle: The age-old dream of reestablishing a state in their land was realized. Six decades later, however, it is clear that the Jewish people has not yet made the difficult adjustment to the radical change in reality.

Adjusting to the existence of a Jewish state will take at least two or three more generations. Thus, the very meaning of being a "Jewish, democratic state" in the 21st century and beyond is subject to a slow learning curve that cannot be accelerated by a priori reasoning. But there is some learning that cannot wait, for the very survival of the state depends on it. This is the case with the morality of statecraft befitting a Jewish state.

The image that many Jews have of "Jewish values," especially in the United States, is one of liberalism, humanitarianism and equitable treatment of "the other." Whether or not it correctly reflects the essence of Jewish tradition, this image shapes Jewish opinions and other peoples' expectations of Israeli policies. But this is a dangerous application of Exile values to a new reality.

I am not speaking about the appropriateness of a two-state solution or the right of an organization such as J Street to attempt to influence U.S. policies. My concern is on a deeper level, namely the values by which Israel's actions should be determined and judged.

To put it bluntly, however politically incorrect: Statehood in the world as it really is often requires compromising on important values in order to meet realpolitik needs that serve higher values. Some of the compromises involve "getting one's hands dirty," while others involve letting go, however reluctantly, of ideological aspirations and what some see as transcendental commandments.

Thus, the expansion of Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria to fulfill divine command reflects an Exile mentality, dangerously transplanted to Israel. This is all the more perilous because such dogmatic thinking often leads to a distorted view of reality. One example is Philip II of Spain's defiance of his advisors' warnings of bad weather when he sent the Armada against England; the king said he trusted in Jesus to protect a fleet that was battling heretics.

"Dirty hands" statecraft includes the need to hit enemies hard even when it may endanger many civilians. Condemning such actions because they contravene modern laws of war that are inadequate to the realities of confrontations with savage enemies is also a reflection of Exilic morality rather than appropriate values of statehood.

The real issue is not whether or not to be "moral," but rather which moral norms should have priority. For a state-in-the-making facing implacable enemies, a state morality that is very different from individual morality is needed. To those who still think in Exile terms and are unaccustomed to having a Jewish state, this state morality can easily appear to be amoral or even immoral.

Israel faces some enemies that regard war as a way of life and who want to eliminate it and would not hesitate to engage in genocide against it if they had the means to do so. The moral justification of Israel's actions as a whole in Operation Cast Lead - as distinct from incidents that were what Clausewitz called unavoidable "friction," but which still must be condemned - escaped the legal minds of Justice Richard Goldstone and his colleagues. And many other Jews failed to realize the unpleasant but unavoidable truth that to obtain security, states must behave in ways that suit the nature of their enemies rather than following reality-ignoring criteria such as "proportionality."

Not long ago, at a meeting of distinguished intellectuals, the following thesis was proposed and widely supported: "Only moral states survive." This, I am sorry to say, is just not true, as even a cursory study of history demonstrates. We all should strive to change global realities, in line with the commandment of tikkun olam - "mending the world." But until then, Israel's moral duty is to do whatever is necessary to maintain its existence, whether or not the specific actions are themselves moral in a humanitarian sense or conform to outdated norms of international law. All this is subject to realpolitik cost-benefit calculations, such as potential damage to Israel's image - but I am dealing here with the moral calculus, which comes first.

Harsh measures that are essential even as they hurt uninvolved civilians, however morally justified under the circumstances, must be accompanied by regret and soul-searching. But, still, given the exigencies of Israel, they are often morally justified. Jews everywhere must adjust their Exile values to this requisite of assuring the long-term existence of Israel, which in turn is essential for the future of the Jewish people. Once peace is achieved, Israel should strive to become a "light unto the nations." But until then, Israel's realities justify a state morality that includes "dirty hands" (as is the case with many countries facing enemies, as expressed in the concept of raison d'etat), however hard it may be for those still captive to Exile morality to accept.

Yehezkel Dror was founding president of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute and is professor emeritus of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.