Israel's Future in Doubt

Two analysts apply logical criteria to Israel’s current situation, assessing the impact of domestic and international strife, and aren’t sure they see a future.

Yisrael: Atid Mutal Besafek ‏(Israel: A Future in Doubt‏) by Richard Laub andOlivier Boruchowitch. Resling, 202 pages, NIS 80
‏(Originally published in French, in 2010, as “Israel: Un Avenir Compromis”‏)

This book is a “must-read,” at a time when numerous warnings and even apocalyptic predictions about the multiple divisions confronting Israeli society are being sounded. Richard Laub and Olivier Boruchowitch offer us a lucid and meticulous evaluation of Israel’s chances of surviving as a national entity in the medium term − that is, over the next decade or two. Without concealing their regard both for Israel and for the Palestinian aspiration to statehood, Laub and Boruchowitch − the former a U.S.-based international business consultant, the latter a French journalist and philosopher − analyze, with exemplary balance, the factors that will determine the survival of Israel and Zionist ideology.

Certainly, not a few people think that Israel is already on the verge of collapse, as the mission of gathering the majority of the Jewish people in Israel − the very essence of Zionism − is losing ground. For one, the chances of Jewish mass migration from stable countries are poor. Second, the United States, and even Germany, are the preferred destinations for Jews who do decide to leave their countries of birth. And finally, the number of young and professional Israelis living abroad seems to be on the increase.

Merkel Yad Vashem - Tomer Appelbaum /BauBau - April 2012
Tomer Appelbaum /BauBau

Furthermore, many people feel that Israeli democracy itself has been under challenge in recent years.

These points, however, are not the primary focus of “Israel: A Future in Doubt.” Instead, the authors concentrate on internal and external conditions and scenarios that could negatively determine the country’s future if its leaders fail to deal with them properly.

Laub and Boruchowitch point to seven variables that, according to their model, can determine the feasibility of Israel as a Zionist and national entity, devoting one in-depth chapter to each. The first of these is the persistence and varieties of anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist sentiments, which they say have their sources not only in Western cultural and religious history, but also in Israel’s own actions, for instance, the use of the memory of the Holocaust to justify many of its military and diplomatic actions. Israel’s rogue behavior vis-a-vis the Palestinians in the territories also stirs up and increases hostile sentiment.

Evil disciple of Western imperialism

The second variable is the rise of Muslim fundamentalism, which sees Israel as an offshoot and evil disciple of Western imperialism. This trend, the authors argue, will strengthen over time and produce situations that precipitate ideological, diplomatic and even military attacks on Israel.

The third factor touches on the ongoing lack of stability in Arab and Muslim countries hostile to Israel. The so-called “Arab Spring” will not necessarily translate itself into an acceptance of Israel’s existence in the Middle East. In fact, the opposite could very well take place: Even partial modernization and stabilization might enable Arab and Muslim countries that today are at odds with each other to consolidate into a single and unified force against Israel.

For further reading:

Islamic Studies / Apocalypse quite soon
The Israeli nomad in search of the promised land
Thinking through Israeli statecraft

The fourth variable in the Laub-Borochowitch model is modern military technology, which makes a destructive and combined attack on Israel feasible from a great distance. Israel will be unable to − as it did in the past − count on being able to conduct its wars on enemy territory. Its big cities and strategic locations will be more vulnerable than they were in the 1991 Gulf War.

The fifth component of this dark scenario focuses on a lessening of international support, particularly that of the United States. New generations of leaders will arise who aren’t burdened by any guilt over the Holocaust ‏(a trend, suggest the authors, that Israel contributes to by politicizing this tragic event). The policies of Western countries can also be expected to change in light of the rapid ascent of countries like China, India and Brazil, and the continuing need for raw materials that Israel is not able to supply. In these circumstances, reasons of state can be expected to prevail.

At the same time − and this is the sixth variable − world opinion will be more hostile to Israel as it becomes clear that its real intentions are to annex and nationalize the territories conquered in 1967, without its offering citizenship to their Palestinian residents. This hostility will only grow if Diaspora Jewry supports and funds any Israeli aggression aimed at annexing parts of the territories or is perceived as doing so.

The seventh constraint identified by the authors as threatening Israel’s existence is geography. The country is small and narrow; in the event of a concerted attack employing advanced technological means, the damage to its strategic sites will be disastrous.

Beyond these seven external factors, Laub and Boruchowitch also note the many schisms in Israeli society that weaken it from within. Demographics favor the non-Zionist population groups − Haredim and Arabs − and also the settler community, whose members are increasingly gaining influential positions in politics and in the army. This trend implies that the degree to which an effective government is free to operate or a sober decision-making process able to prevail will only diminish in the future.

The world ‘smiled’ on Israel

Prof. Elie Barnavi offers the writers measured support in his introduction to the book. He says that the world “smiled” on Israel until 1967 because the country offered generous help and aid to African and Asian nations that had been victims of Western imperialism. However, since then, this amiable attitude has waned, as “the one who had been the paradigmatic victim of Nazi barbarism took its turn in causing indescribable suffering to the Palestinians.” He notes that what he calls the “Auschwitz reprieve” has ended and the David who bravely fought enemies and helped friends has become an oppressive Goliath.

At the same time, Barnavi ‏(a former Israeli ambassador to France‏) does not share the radical pessimism inherent to the Laub-Boruchowitch model. He notes, for instance, that there is no example in our age of a nation-state becoming extinct, and that in any case, Israel is well-armed and equipped with doomsday weapons − remarks that provide cold comfort, to say the least. Not a few nations fell apart and were rebuilt during the 20th century and “doomsday weapons” may invite as well as deter frightful attacks.

Of all the topics considered in this book, the most interesting are the increasing fragility of international support for Israel and the social schisms it faces. According to the authors’ analysis, Israel can rely on the support of the West only so long as no major changes take place in the collective memory, demographic structures or national interests of the latter. But of course, these factors are always changing. If Israel acts politically and militarily according to its own logic and interests, why should other countries not do the same?

As to the current, worrisome divisions within Israel, it should be said that the shared feeling of being “a country under siege” blurs them to some degree. However, structural instabilities will occur if the precarious security situation is mismanaged or the government persists in failing to attain a satisfactory arrangement with the Palestinians.

In looking to recommendations, the authors believe that it’s incumbent upon Israel to separate religion from the state. Such cleavage will be beneficial for all sides. Implementation of policy, on the one hand, will be free of metaphysical or theological considerations, while the Orthodox population, on the other, would restrict its practices to its private spaces, while “rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” Certainly, this is just one advisable step.

This book must not be ignored. No doubt, Judaism will continue to exist in the Diaspora, but it is questionable whether Zionism, or a country based on Zionist ideals, can continue to exist if the variables which make up this model are not confronted − directly and rationally.

Prof. Joseph Hodara teaches in the social sciences department of Bar-lIan University.