On the Whole, I'd Rather Be in Israel
Walter Russell Mead, one of America's leading foreign relations experts, recently came out with his annual rankings of world powers, and there were some surprises. Not least of which was Israel's ranking as the world's eighth strongest nation. That achievement is particularly amazing when one considers that Israel has approximately one-tenth the land mass and one-tenth the population of the next smallest nation on Mead's list. (Permanent U.N. Security Council members Great Britain and France do not even appear.)
Excitement over Israel's first ever placement on the list, however, must be somewhat tempered by the number seven entry, Iran. Iranian proxies, Mead notes, are "on the march across the Middle East, and the Shia Crescent seemed closer to reality than ever before," and may soon bring Iranian forces to Israel's border on the Syrian front. Meanwhile the "fruits of the nuclear deal continued to role in: high-profile deals with Boeing and Airbus sent the message that Iran was open for business. . . ." On the other hand, Iran faces 2017 without "one of the mullah's most important assets, President Obama."
Much of the credit for Israel's current position, particularly in the diplomatic sphere, goes to the much-maligned Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whose days in office may be winding down. Israel has gone from a "regional pariah to a kingmaker," writes Mead. "Privately, and even not so privately, many prominent [Sunni] Arab officials today will say that Israeli [military and intelligence] support is necessary for the survival of Arab independence."
Netanyahu has been able to pull that off while dealing for eight years with the most hostile president since Jimmy Carter. As Caroline Glick wrote with respect to the State Comptroller's report on the 2014 Operation Defensive Shield in Gaza, Netanyahu had to conduct the entire war under the watchful gaze of President Obama, who adopted the Hamas position from day one, when he urged Israel to enter into an early ceasefire based on Hamas's demands.
As cheering as it is to read of Israel's military, economic, and diplomatic strengths, however, I believe that Mead overlooks intangible factors of national morale that will be no less significant in determining Israel's success or failure. As Adam Garfinkle of The American Interest has observed, great powers do not decline because of external factors, but because of "internal social dysfunction." So it was with the Romans, and so it has been with every great power since.
Most crucially, Israeli Jews have not lost the will to live, something one could doubt about most Western nations. I'm reminded of this every time I leave the country, when I'm not forced to take off my belt and shoes to pass security. Israeli airport screening is still based on seichel, not on the dictates of political correctness that require equal scrutiny of six fellows in kaffiyahs and a 85-year-old grandmother from Dubuque in a wheelchair.
Israeli Jews boast fertility rates over one child per woman higher than any other country in the OECD. Indeed not one other OECD country, including of late the U.S., has a fertility rate of replacement level, and some are little more than half that. When large percentages of adults have no children, they have no investment in the future. An appeasement mentality follows as the night the day: If one has no stake beyond the span of his or her life, the preferred strategy will always be to buy time from those who would destroy you. Never mind that the enemies will eventually take over after you are dead and gone.
The huge difference in fertility rates between Israel and every other country in the developed world suggests another difference as well: that the Jews of Israel still believe that there is something important about their lives, something that they would like to transmit to future generations.
EVERY TIME I RETURN to my native America, I'm struck by how much it has changed from my youth and early adulthood – in particular, in the bitterness, partisanship, and contempt with which people of one political view tend to hold those of an opposite expression. I always come home to Israel relieved that I live here, and not exclusively because of the intensity of the Torah life.
The riots last week at Middlebury College, including physical attacks that injured a liberal professor who was escorting invited conservative speaker Charles Murray from the hall where he had been prevented from speaking, captures well the infantilization of the American university. None of the protesting students had read a word Murray has written, but they knew he was a "bad man" who had no right to speak and whom no one should be allowed to hear. American campuses are rapidly becoming populated by cultural commissars in training for whom John Stuart Mills' free marketplace of ideas is an antiquated, even dangerous, concept.
American university students, by and large, pass their first 25 years in extended adolescence, without ever having their assumptions (I would not dignify them as ideas) challenged by any real world experience. Most Israeli students, by contrast, begin university three years or more after high school. They are not there to party on their parents' dime, but to learn something practical that will allow them to earn a living. And many have faced life and death situations more than once. In short, they are no longer adolescents, and they cannot be so easily indoctrinated by aging radicals on the faculty.
In America -- particularly, but not exclusively, on the Left -- everything is judged by politics. Tablet Magazine recently published an open letter by some pipsqueak New England Patriots fan demanding that team owner Robert Kraft, as a Jew, the descendant of immigrants, supporter of Israel and someone who loved his late wife dearly, sever all public expressions of friendship with Donald Trump, who reached out to Kraft after his wife's passing. It's not just the tendentious nature of the young man's arguments that irritates. (He argues, for instance that no one who cares about Israel should ever consider voting for someone so ignorant of the Middle East as President Trump, even as he drops in an aside that former President Obama and his two secretaries of state virtually ensured that Iran will obtain the nuclear weapons it seeks to wipe out Israel.)
What grates most is the presumption that a man like Kraft, who has given millions of dollars in philanthropy and whose many virtues are well documented, can be reduced to his political views alone and called to account by anyone who ever tuned in to a Patriots game,
In Israel, we still have a lot of shared experiences that transcend politics, not the least of them being the common fate we share, living in the shadow of multiple threats to our existence. If the missiles start falling, they won't distinguish between Meah Shearim and Herzliya.
And though Israel has plenty of its own divisions and wide gaps in education and wealth, the large majority of Israeli Jews get to know Jews unlike themselves during their years of army service. The kind of bubbles that exist in America where people have never met close up anyone who thinks differently than them are far less likely to exist in Israel.
There is still enough social glue in Israel, including the sense of being part of an ancient people, which has endured much, but still looks forward to a brighter future, to hold us together in common purpose. And that's why I'm always glad to return home.
Failing the Analogy Test
In 2015, British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis travelled to a refugee camp in Greece, which he averred made him think of Auschwitz. On his visit, he wore a cap to hide his yarmulke. He had been warned that a yarmulke might enrage the camp's residents and endanger him.
The analogy between Muslim refugees flooding Europe today and desperate Jews seeking to flee the Nazi inferno breaks down over that last detail. No doubt many anti-Semites, in the period leading up to the Holocaust, feared that an influx of Jews would contaminate their country. But no rational person thought that Jews would seek to harm the country that gave them succor or attack its citizens. Historically, Jews have increased the prosperity of every country to which they immigrated.
Further, Jews were eager – perhaps too eager – to assimilate and become patriotic citizens of whatever country would let them in. By the time of Holocaust, millions of Jews had successfully integrated into American society, and many had fought in America's wars. So, too, in Western Europe.
None of these generalities apply to Muslim immigrants to Europe, and, to a lesser extent, the United States. That's a statement of fact, though it's one that can be punished by fine or jail in many European countries – and truth is no defense. Young women in Germany and Sweden, for instance, are warned by the authorities not to "provoke" young Muslims, with their Western attire.
And of all those threatened, no group is more threatened than Jews. Jews are fleeing in droves from France, which has Europe's largest Muslim population. In tolerant Sweden, Jews can no longer live in Malmo, whose population is over 40 percent foreign-born Muslims. The Israeli Davis Cup team had to play in an empty stadium in Malmo for fear of Muslim riots. Even the left-wing Huntington Post acknowledges that "extremely large number[s]" of Muslim immigrants bring with them "virulent anti-Semitism."
And high percentages of Muslims have failed to assimilate in Western Europe. "No-go" zones dot many urban centers. And even where first-generation parents immigrated to carve out a better life, the second generation has often been radicalized.
The analogy to fleeing Jews breaks down in another way as well. Jews had no place to go except those countries that already had substantial Jewish populations. There are over sixty majority Muslim nations in the world. Yet they have not opened their doors to the refugees from Syria and elsewhere.
So too with the Palestinians. Since 1948, tens of millions of people fleeing from ethnic strife have found refuge in other countries. None retain refugee status for years, not to mention generations. Only the Palestinians were never welcomed by their fellow Arabs, and have been forced to live as permanent refugees in miserable camps until today.
Everyone wants to feel noble. And how better for a Jew to prove his nobility than by showing that we would never have behaved as did those countries that turned us away. But when almost every major Jewish organization in Europe and the United States denounces restrictions on Muslim immigration, in the name of the Holocaust, at the risk of harm to themselves and their countries, they are not being noble. They are just being stupid.