The body and the soul of Israel

By Dow Marmur

Jerusalem (March 22, 2017) – The received wisdom in Israel today is that Iran is the greatest threat to its security, perhaps to its very existence. Prime Minister Netanyahu is the most vociferous proponent of this view; he speaks of it often, perhaps never more forcefully than when he addressed the United States Congress, and further annoyed President Obama, before the Iran deal was made. But he’s by no means the only one. At a recent conference, the IDF Chief of Staff and the Head of the Mossad spoke along similar lines.

Even if Iran abides by the agreement that prevents it from deploying nuclear weapons – which many people doubt – it is developing rockets that are able to reach Israel; some of them have already Hebrew “messages” on them.

Iran also continues to strengthen Hezbollah to the north of Israel and Hamas to its south with the intention that its proxies will demoralize the Jewish state, even if they can’t defeat it. The recent forays by the IDF into Syria to stop the delivery of Iranian lethal weapons to Hezbollah and the sporadic Israeli counterattacks to rockets being fired from Gaza should be viewed in this context.

The refusal to address the Palestinian issue promulgated by hothead right-wingers in the government of Israel may lead to the collapse of the democratic State of Israel

However, at the aforementioned conference, a former Head of the Mossad, Tamir Pardo, who only last year spoke forcefully of the Iranian threat, is now quoted to have stated that “the failure to pursue a two-state solution is Israel’s single existential threat.”

Pardo told the conference that “Israel has decided not to choose, and is hoping that the conflict [with the Palestinians] will one day resolve itself, or that the Arabs will disappear in some kind of cosmic miracle.”

There’s much to suggest that the internal threat as described by Pardo is potentially more lethal. For whereas the Iranian situation has brought a number of Arab states that hate Iran closer to Israel, the refusal to address the Palestinian issue promulgated by hothead right-wingers in the government of Israel may – God beware – lead to the collapse of the democratic State of Israel.

Even the Trump administration, arguably more supportive of Israel than its predecessors, seems to be aware of it. Contrary to the expectations of the settlers and their advocates in the government of Israel, the Americans seem to refuse to give the Israelis a free hand in building more homes in the territories, which would bring in more Israelis and squeeze out the Arabs, particularly around Jerusalem.

Perhaps Trump’s people know better than Israelis that though Israel may know how to defend itself against Iran, because America will be by its side, the Jewish state won’t be able to save itself from the devastating effect of indefinite occupation. Iran “only” threatens the body of Israel, the occupation is poisoning its soul.

I surmise that most Jews in Israel and abroad prefer to affirm the Iranian threat and to ignore the threat that Pardo spoke about. It’s much easier to point to the enemy outside – Iran – than to face the enemy within – ourselves corrupted by right-wing ideology and Messianic fantasies.

Despite heavy losses and much suffering in its previous – and, God beware, future – wars, Israel has grown into a mini power. It’s much less likely that it’ll be able to survive the kind of threat that Pardo warns us against.

Rabbi Dow Marmur is Rabbi Emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. He lives in Jerusalem.

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