Anti-Semitism’s New Guise, Israel’s Exceptional Future

Bernard-Henri Lévy

Bernard-Henri Lévy

Bernard-Henri Lévy is a French philosopher and one of the most esteemed and bestselling writers in Europe.

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~ Also by Bernard-Henri Lévy ~

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In his new book, the French thinker explores the inner demon of modern anti-Zionism and contrasts it with the remarkable reality of the Jewish state.

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from The Genius of Judaism (Random House), published January 10, 2017.


The fact remains that anti-Semitism exists.

Some had thought it dead, obsolete, cast aside.


It is back.

Making new connections.

It has even begun to strike and to kill—to growing indifference—in French cities.

And, moreover, because observers of the phenomenon often seem blind to its new reality and, believing that they are confronting it, grapple only with its shadows, I see no option but to begin by describing the new guise of the oldest form of hate.

For, in the beginning, are words.

Anti-Semitism is a very special form of madness, one of the features of which has always been, at every step in its history, choosing the right words to make its madness look reasonable.

At bottom, it is a language of pure rage, of brute violence without logic, which knows that it is never more convincing, never so strong or blessed with such a bright future, as when it succeeds in dressing up its resentment in legitimate-looking clothes.

And the anti-Semite is someone who, at the end of the day, has always managed to make it appear as if the hate that he feels for some is no more than the effect or reflection of the love he claims to feel for others.

There was the time when the anti-Semite said, “I don’t hate the Jews so much as I adore the Lord Jesus Christ, whom the Jews so viciously abused.” That was the Christian argument against a deicidal people.

There was the time, epitomized by the Enlightenment and its methodical nonbelief, when the anti-Semite corrected the first proposition, going so far as to reverse it: “These people must be detested not because they killed Christ but because they invented him.” That was the agnostic if not atheistic anti-Semitism of those who, like Voltaire, faulted the Jews not for being deicidal but for having invented monotheism.

Toward the end of the 19th century, when the capitalist mode of production was firmly established, there arrived a third form of hate, which consisted of saying, “We don’t care if the Jews invented or killed Christ—we are not firm enough in our belief or unbelief to give this matter the importance that devotees on both sides gave it over the centuries. We are socialists. We care about the underdog and, filled with this concern, with our consuming love for the sacred common man, determined to find and break the chains that hold him down, we have no choice but to declare that the Jews are at the center of the most extensive system of extortion ever devised by man. And it is for this reason that we go after them.” That was the anti-Semitism of French polemicist Édouard Drumont, of the segment of the workers’ movement that opposed the pro-Dreyfus party, which was perceived as the incarnation of the “banker’s spirit” and the “mercantilist mind.” It is that of the socialists who saw Dreyfus himself as the clandestine conductor of the gang of “rapacious crows,” as the “yids of finance and politics,” or even as a naked pretext employed by the “Jewifying and swindling crowd” to “wash away all the stains of Israel” (from a manifesto dated January 19, 1898, and signed by most of the socialist pundits of that time, including the great Jean Jaurès). It is the socialism for imbeciles that swears not to have anything against Jews (really, nothing!) but everything (really, everything!) against “Jewish capitalism” using Dreyfus’s name to “rehabilitate” itself and “prevail” in the war it is waging against “the emaciated Christian nobility” allied with the “clerical” minority of the bourgeoisie (from the same manifesto).


More recently there was a fourth strain, contemporaneous with the triumph of the life sciences, which made possible a vision of the world unknown in ancient times (and, in particular, in the Christian age, when the monogenesis of the sons of Adam was never really disputed). That fourth strain was the racist vision of the world. “Like the socialists, we are neither Christian nor anti-Christian. We really don’t care whether the Jews are tied to the deadly world of money. But what is in fact worrisome is that they constitute another race, an impure, mongrel race. And we find ourselves in the regrettable position of observing the ravages that that race has caused in the healthy and beautiful Aryan races.” This is a wholly separate strain of anti-Semitism, distinct in its mottos and its consequences. Born with Renan, Vacher de Lapouge, Chamberlain, and Gobineau, it is the anti-Semitism that made possible Hitler’s Final Solution.

Four forms of anti-Semitism, each distinct from the one that preceded it.

Four forms that had to differ in order to resonate with the spirit of the era, adapt themselves to the era’s capacities for action and perhaps to what it wanted to hear—and so to expand their audience and propagate optimally within the social echo chamber.

Forms that are like so many faces of the same demon spirit, which take over from one another, replace one another, and are, in Hegelian parlance, successively “relieved,” either because the earlier face was no longer consistent with the sensibilities or the ideological needs of the new period (What does a follower of Voltaire care about the theme of a deicidal people? What does a follower of Hitler care about eliminating oppression?) or because the mask cracks and the alibi can no longer disguise the plainly criminal foundation for which it has served as a screen (as in the moment when Jaurès, who not only signed but also wrote most of the manifesto of January 19, 1898, cautioning the proletariat against taking sides between the two “rival bourgeois factions” that were tearing each other apart over Dreyfus, understands the trap into which he has fallen and chooses Zola’s side) or because the mechanism put in place proves more criminal than anticipated (as was the case with the many anti-Semitic Catholics who realized, at the end, the unsuspected scale of the crimes committed in the name of Catholicism; as with the disciples of Maurras or even of Drumont, some of whom recoiled in horror before the evidence of the gas chambers and the reality of extermination!).

That is where we stand today.

That is precisely what is happening, once again, in the early years of this century.

True, there are still followers of the old forms of anti-Semitism. They are relatively few and weak, however.

Anti-Semitism can reappear as a major force only by assuming a new guise.

It can recommence firing people up and mobilizing them on a grand scale only by acquiring a new way of speaking and a new sales pitch.

And that, in fact, is what has been happening for the last two or three decades with the gradual articulation and accumulation of a set of propositions that are, I repeat, new enough not to be fatally compromised by the criminal scenes of the past and, even more importantly, appear to be in step with present-day sensibilities, emotions, and preoccupations—and even with current notions of what is just, true, and good.

Proposition no. 1: We have nothing against the Jews. We reject in word and deed the toxic ideology that was anti-Semitism in ages past. But we must regretfully point out that being Jewish seems, in a great many cases, to be defined by allegiance to Israel, which is (1) illegitimate, because it was planted where it did not belong, and (2) colonialist, racist, fundamentally criminal, and even fascist in its attempts to silence the voices of its opponents. And so, despite our goodwill and anti-racist vigilance, despite the sympathy that we have always had and continue to have, in principle, with this victimized people and its ageless ordeals, we do not see how we can consider those who call themselves Jews innocent of this fascism. This is the anti-Zionist argument. It goes as follows: “How nice the Jew seemed during the war the world waged for him. But then came Zionism and, with it, the conversion of victim into executioner and the tragic and ruinous dialectic by which the Jew declares war against the world. No, that is not acceptable.”

Anti-Semitism can reappear as a major force only by assuming a new guise. It can recommence firing people up and mobilizing them on a grand scale only by acquiring a new way of speaking and a new sales pitch.

Proposition no. 2: We have nothing (truly, nothing) against the Jews, they say. Their suffering over the centuries inspires universal compassion. But it strikes us that the central argument of Zionism— the argument on which the right of Israel to exist is based and justified, and which is trotted out like a “moral sledgehammer” (the phrase was used by German novelist Martin Walser during a 1999 debate over the form of the memorial planned for the center of Berlin) whenever one raises the objection of the unforgivable spoliation that lies at the source of that existence—is the chapter in their history of suffering referred to as the Holocaust. So, they continue, what about this “Holocaust”? Is it not obvious that it is a murky crime whose historical verity has yet to be fully established? A misfortune that, if not wholly imaginary, is exaggerated by survivors and the children of survivors, who have made it into a religion? And even if not imagined or exaggerated, even if the numbers are accurate and the killing procedures are as described in the abundant literature associated with the “Holocaust industry,” what are six million deaths on the scale not only of world history but of the wars of the 20th century? And what is the purpose of the insistent claim to be the survivors of an unprecedented crime, unique in the annals of history and incomparable to any other, if not to make people feel guilty and, in the name of an infinite debt, demand limitless reparations? The reader will have recognized the more or less radical facets of this strange rant, which we know as Holocaust denial, Holocaust revisionism, and negationism. And we can see how a second terrible complaint is set up: How pathetic that these unscrupulous people lay claim to a dubiously exceptional status in order to build a state the very principle of which is unjustifiable! Shame on these traffickers in cadavers, who stop short of no lie, no moral swindle, no trick of memory, to arrive at their criminal ends! They deserve not only hate but scorn, these brazen calculators who, to quash the legitimate objections that their underhanded actions inspire in good people, dare to manipulate something that, since time immemorial, humanity has held sacred: the memory of their dead.

A protest against Israel in Melbourne, Australia, January 2009. Photo: Takver / Wikimedia

A protest against Israel in Melbourne, Australia, January 2009. Photo: Takver / Wikimedia

Proposition no. 3: Whether the Holocaust is a fiction or a detail does not matter. We will not be sucked, they add, into the irrelevant debate over the exceptional nature of the crime. Let us agree to accept the version of it fed to us by the new religion. Even so, there are two or three things that no one can possibly deny. There have been many other crimes in contemporary times, some of which are being committed right now under our eyes. One, in particular, involves the Palestinians, and, in this matter, the survivors of the Holocaust are not innocent, to say the least. Doesn’t all this noise about the Holocaust make one wonder about the absence of noise about these other crimes? Doesn’t all the light shone on those who died yesterday or the day before yesterday have the effect of obscuring the deaths occurring today and tomorrow? And the Jews—with their zakhor, their obsession with memory, the way they have of steeping us in a drama that everyone agrees is ancient, enveloped in the fog of old crimes, exempt from the law of forgiveness—are they not committing a third crime, a very specific and concrete one, the daily or almost daily cost of which can be measured, which is to muffle the voices of the tortured people of today; to ensure that, while noisily observing yesterday’s default, we are prevented from seeing, on our own doorstep, the faces of future victims still living and still able to be saved; to contradict the doctrine that “we are all victims,” that alchemization of suffering into pleasure is the real credo of our postmodern times; and, worst of all, to do all this shushing knowingly and by design, to deploy this profusion of resources, monuments, and injunction solely for the purpose of stifling the plea of the Palestinians (for example), which Israel has condemned to abject poverty and would, if it could, reduce to the status of second-class martyrs, eligible for a lower level of treatment, justice, and pity? That is the third argument, that of the competition of victims or—what amounts to the same thing—competitive memory: the idea that there is not enough room for us all on the stage where we remember eruptions of evil; the idea that a human heart is too small to hold more than one sadness, more than one grief, more than one outrage; the accusation that the Jews have been profiteers in misfortune, placing such great emphasis on their duty to remember only in order to drain the aquifer of available tears and leave none for anyone else, and certainly not for their principal adversaries.

This idiotic rhetoric needs to be disassembled.

And I will explain why none of its arguments stand up to a simple commonsense analysis.

But, for the moment, those are the three pillars, the three pivots, the three engines of today’s anti-Semitism.

Those arguments make up its only three chances of regaining control over hearts and minds on a mass scale.

Such is the generic form of any future wave of insanity that might claim to bring back the happy time when one could, in good conscience, march in the streets of Paris or elsewhere chanting, “Death to the Jews!”

In fact, the machine is recycling, here and there, bits of the old themes. Here, a reminiscence of Christian anti-Semitism, which can’t hurt if it allows us to saddle the Jews with a new “massacre of innocents” in Gaza, thus adding to the rap sheet against Zionism. There, a hint of Voltaire, when that tradition helps, as it does Noam Chomsky, to rally the values of tolerance, free inquiry, and methodical skepticism in defense of the ignominious Holocaust revisionism of Robert Faurisson. A twist of Socialism for Dummies is fine if that twist can, as in certain far-left circles, instill the feeling that the great separation imposed by the Zionist international (which, supposedly, distinguishes the “privileged” victims of the Holocaust from the “forgotten” victims in the Palestinian camp) suggests, however faintly, the class struggle of yore. Or even a pinch of racism might be useful, as when, in September 2000, at the time of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s visit to what some call the Esplanade of the Mosques and others the Temple Mount, Western Islamo-leftism adopted as one the thesis of the supposed “profanation” caused by the mere presence of a Jew on this site; or when, fifteen years later, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, took up the refrain of Jews’ defiling “with their dirty feet . . . Christian and Muslim holy places” and declared as “pure” every “drop of blood” shed in reprisal by the shahid “out of love for Allah.”

The truth is that one can now be anti-Semitic only by being anti-Zionist; anti-Zionism is the required path for any anti-Semitism that wishes to expand its recruiting pool beyond those still nostalgic for the discredited brotherhoods.

The machine also throws in, here and there, a few additional elements that are relatively new, such as the heightened tendency to perceive conspiracy, broadened into a worldview, a philosophy, almost a metaphysics. No longer just: “The Jews dominate the world and control the media” (even though The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which continue to be published, cited, and treated as holy writ in many parts of the world, were exposed 80 years ago as a fake). But now: “The Jews are forgers who control the great narratives through which the history of the world is not only told but made.” (From Moscow to Ramallah, Durban to Damascus, and, often enough, alas, in Madrid and Paris, aren’t many people convinced that “world Jewry” fabricates accounts that suit its purposes, suppresses those that contradict its version of contemporary history and its underside, and, in short, manages for its own greater advantage the “era of the eyewitness”?) And then there is the new form of warfare of which the BDS campaign (for “boycott, disinvestment, sanctions”) is fast becoming the chief weapon—as when one refuses, in the manner of Brian Eno or Vanessa Paradis, to sing in Israel; as when one contemplates, like FIFA, banning Tel Aviv’s soccer team from international matches; as when the British National Union of Students comes out in favor of a boycott of “occupied Palestine”; as when a Spanish music festival censures a singer for the sole reason that he is Jewish and refuses, before his performance, to pledge allegiance to the “Palestinian cause”; and as when squads of monitors patrol supermarkets in Europe to make sure that no products bearing the seal of the new infamy have slipped in. What are we talking about here if not isolating, delegitimizing, and excluding the Jewish state and Jews in general?

But the three major drivers are those that I cited.

They are the three arguments that enable the old hate to regain its youth and permit our contemporaries to be anti-Semites without feeling awkward about it.

The problem is not how to determine, as you hear in the media, whether you have “the right” to criticize Israel or whether it is possible to be “anti-Zionist without being anti-Semitic.” The truth is that one can now be anti-Semitic only by being anti-Zionist; anti-Zionism is the required path for any anti-Semitism that wishes to expand its recruiting pool beyond those still nostalgic for the discredited brotherhoods.

The question is no longer simply whether the Holocaust deniers are sincere or perverse, ill-informed or fully aware of manipulating historical sources: The suggestion of Jewish trafficking in memory; the accusation of inventing, exaggerating, or simply exploiting the hypothetical suffering of one’s own people; the idea that the Jews might be profiteers not of war but of the Holocaust, obsessively cultivating their memories for the sole aim of covering up their own crimes—all of these offer anti-Semitism a new reserve of good conscience and innocence.

Armed with that reserve, it becomes unnecessary, in the course of a demonstration of support for Gaza, to excuse, minimize, or even acknowledge the shouts of anti-Jewish hatred or the stars of David converted into swastikas. The reality is that there are only a few ways to be anti-Semitic today, only a few solutions that enable anti-Semitism to escape from the secret circles within which the defeat of Nazism confined it and to re-create something resembling the embryo of a mass movement. And one of those ways is to establish the image of an unscrupulous people using their own history to crowd out the history of others, to create a vacuum around themselves and smother the tremulous voice of its Palestinian “competitors.” The coming anti-Semitism will burn the fuel of the competition of victims or it won’t ignite at all. It will establish the idea of a monstrous people who suck the air from around others, preventing them not from breathing but from complaining and from having their complaints heard: It will do this or it will fail.

It is so tiresome to have to defend Israel.

So distressing to have to present the same evidence over and over.

Not that Israel is irreproachable, of course.

Not that it is forbidden, as the frauds endlessly assert, to “criticize” Israel.

But in the face of so much bad faith, in the face of a systematic campaign of delegitimization that has no parallel on the world political scene, in the face of the role that this demonization of the Jewish state plays in the construction of the new anti-Semitic machine, how can one not respond by proclaiming the virtues of Israel?

An example of virtue: It is well known among political scholars that a democracy is not built in a day but rather is reached at the end of a long road and after severe labor pains. Hesitations, reversals, and convulsions are, alas, more frequent than progress, as evidenced, among many possible examples, by Iraq, Libya, and Hungary, the last being a great nation freed from the communist yoke but still struggling toward complete democracy.

Now, to that law (and it is a law) there is an exception. And that exception takes the form of a people of diverse origins who, one fine day, find themselves in the land of Israel. Some are Jews from Libya, some from Iraq. Some are men and women from the Soviet Union, where no one had the faintest idea of what democracy means. Some are immigrants from empires—Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian—where they may have had a vague idea of it but no real experience to validate it. And, please, let us hear no objections that the survivors who disembarked at Jaffa, Haifa, or Tel Aviv were the elite of those empires, their finest flowering, democrats by nature and culture, the crème de la crème. Many of them were as deprived, impoverished, and humiliated as one can imagine. They arrived—if they arrived—after a crossing on ships of fortune not very different from those that land on the Greek island of Kos or on Italy’s Lampedusa today.

A group of former Buchenwald inmates on board a refugee ship in Haifa, July 1945. Photo: Wikimedia

A group of former Buchenwald inmates on board a refugee ship in Haifa, July 1945. Photo: Wikimedia

And so they land, these survivors, amid harsh surroundings. There they are, bands of exhausted immigrants, half-dead from hunger and thirst, boarded and inspected while at sea, threatened with shelling, sometimes sent as far back as Germany, parked in floating jails or in holding facilities in Cyprus monitored not by Nazis but by RAF fliers; there they are, before they get their land legs back, somehow summoning the energy to make a gesture that one finds only in books: They make a social contract! And it works! And a society emerges from that gesture, from that contract. A democracy is created, without too much hesitation, without any of the spasms that were believed to be the rule whenever one improvises a government of laws. Political science is proved wrong: A republic, the genuine article, is born overnight.

Another example: Democracies have an Achilles’ heel. Even the oldest and best established among them have a terrible problem that so far remains without solution. And that problem is the impurity not of their origins but of the mix of people of which they are made. E pluribus unum is the American motto, drawn from Virgil, and it makes the accommodation of ethnic pluralism the most pressing of obligations. But how many obstacles are met on the way! How many decades of urban riots, standoffs between racist whites and racist blacks, the Ku Klux Klan, Black Power—the raised fist of the ghetto at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968, the Attica Prison uprising put down bloodily by a militarized police in 1971. Is there any assurance that the election of a mixed-race president, 37 years later, marks the end of the story? The race riots in Ferguson and Baltimore would seem to indicate that fifty years after the epic battle for civil rights, the wound remains open and victory elusive.

I know a country that has found a solution to the problem of multiethnicity, not a perfect solution but better than in France or the United States.

A “pluralistic republic,” say the French, looking back on a long history inhabited by so many different peoples, each with its own memories but bound together in an integrative project that differs from the American communitarian impulse but that has had its own moments of glory and success. But that project is clearly in crisis, with the machine designed to manufacture French citizens competing with an opposing machine that is producing ghettos and stigma. That legendary opening to the other, a form of French generosity that is, according to Descartes, the correlate of self-respect—is it not finding its limit in the lack of self-respect with which a growing number of French citizens seem to view themselves? As the lost territories of the republic expand, as acts of incivility and barbarity proliferate there, and as the children of the “Black, White, Arab” generation leave home to take up jihad, the social bond unravels.

Well, I know a country that has found a solution to the problem of multiethnicity, not a perfect solution but better than in France or the United States. I know a society composed of Americans and Europeans, Russians and Ethiopians, Jewish and Muslim Arabs, and, among the latter, citizens who embrace the great national story as well as citizens who contest it. I know a society—Israel, again—where citizens of Arab origin may openly advocate the disappearance of the very state that guarantees them a life that three-quarters of them (according to polls) would not trade at any price for a life in a neighboring Arab country. And I know that this same society is structured in such a way that the members of the minority in question enjoy, with one exception (that of obligatory military service), all of the civil rights accorded to every other Israeli citizen; that they are represented in parliament in proportions unheard of in any Western democracy; that they speak a language that is the official second language of the country; that they produced one of the five justices on Israel’s Supreme Court, the loftiest institution in the country; and that, when an Arab family in Baqa al-Gharbiyye decided to settle in one of the famous “colonies” in Galilee intended exclusively for Jews, the Supreme Court ruled four to one in its favor, on grounds that “equality is one of the fundamental values of the state,” that “local governments must accord equal treatment to all those under their authority,” and that “Jewish and non-Jewish citizens of the state of Israel have equal rights and obligations.”

And, finally, a third example that, far from rendering Israel illegitimate, satanic, and fascist, should be celebrated as exemplary by serious anti-fascists.

In all of the world’s democracies, there is a limit condition that, when encountered, appears to cause them to lean toward declaring a state of emergency or of exceptional circumstances in which some of the rules have to be suspended. That limit, which is well known and has been analyzed by generations of commentators, is war.

A fighter from the IDF Armored Brigade's Reconnaissance Unit takes aim during a training exercise. Photo: Abir Sultan / IDF

A fighter from the IDF Armored Brigade’s Reconnaissance Unit takes aim during a training exercise. Photo: Abir Sultan / IDF

In France during the war in Algeria, it did not take long at all for the nation’s leaders, its elites, its lifeblood, the leaders of the major parties, and the intellectuals to resign themselves first to torture, then to the suspension of press freedoms, and later to bloody suppression—in the center of Paris—of the right to assemble and demonstrate.

And in the United States in 2001, a single act of war—a particularly spectacular and bloody one, to be sure—was enough to usher in an era marked by the Patriot Act, by the establishment of a special prison in Guantánamo, and by the reign of intelligence agencies that quickly reverted to some of the darkest practices of a system (invented by J. Edgar Hoover) that made spying on citizens a normal and enduring function of government.

To that pattern—one that, as Hannah Arendt’s “global civil war” has spread, is becoming more or less universal—there is also an exception. As in the previous two cases, the exception is Israel, a nation that had not been in a state of conflict for six weeks, as George Bush’s America was when it passed its anti-terrorist legislation, or for six years, as was the France of the Fourth Republic when it lost what remained of its honor in the requisitions of the Jeanson trial and later, on October 17, 1961, in the Paris murder of a still-unknown number of Algerian demonstrators by police, but for 67 years—that is, since the day when its population of immigrant ghosts, of walking skeletons, staggered out of the holds of the Exodus and decided to enter into a social contract and form a nation—and despite all that, despite a lifetime spent under a state of siege, has somehow managed to remain faithful to its democratic founding principles.

There is not a newspaper in the world that treats the Israeli government more harshly than do Tel Aviv’s.

Not a hospital or a university in Israel that, in the darkest hours of the two intifadas or during the wars in Lebanon and Gaza, yielded to the apartheid temptation and ceased treating Jewish and non-Jewish Israelis equally.

Hospitals that today, in the Golan Heights and elsewhere, are treating and saving, without a hint of discrimination, hundreds of Syrian refugees in flight from the twin terrors of Bashar al-Assad and Daesh.

These dreamers gave birth to an unprecedented phenomenon, that of a revived land, a blooming desert, a miracle of rationality and hope under the stars. This state has not reneged on its contract and has not, despite its flaws and errors, lost all the inspiration of its pioneers.

Courts that, when men fall short, when violations of human rights are documented, when it appears that the barrier that protects the country from terrorism encroaches on the territory of the Palestinian villages of Beit Jala and Battir or infringes on the livelihood of the inhabitants of the Cremisan Valley, or requires, as occurred near Bil’in, the uprooting of groves of hundred-year-old olive trees, accept and hear the cases, rendering independent decisions.

Freedom of opinion and assembly scrupulously respected even in time of war—full-fledged war—as when the Arab villages of Tirah and Kafr Manda were organizing demonstrations of solidarity with the enemy—and I mean the enemy.

And an army about which I have often said, and repeat here, that even if it, like every army, has its rogue soldiers, even if it occasionally commits grievous errors (which usually are adjudicated by Israeli military and civil tribunals), overall it remains faithful to a military ethic based on the twin principles of protecting its own soldiers while also minimizing the number of civilian casualties on the enemy side.

I am aware of the debates on this subject that rage in the Israeli press.

I read, like everyone else, the story about the pharmacy in Gaza City that was targeted in error; I know about the café in Khan Yunis that was thought to have been an arms depot; I am aware of the many civilians who, in the confusion of combat, have been taken for terrorists.

And I am not one of those who take lightly the accounts of soldiers from the Yitzhak Rabin military academy or those affiliated with the nongovernmental organization known as Breaking the Silence, who (anonymously, by the way, which makes the accounts difficult to verify) speak of “disproportionate” use of force, “indiscriminate” firing contrary to the military’s code of ethics, and a “precautionary principle” that, applied to zones where jihadists use the civilian population as human shields, may clash with the principle of tohar haneshek, or “purity of arms,” which is the moral foundation of the Israel Defense Forces.

But that foundation exists.

The lapses, when they are known, are always investigated by the military police and, when borne out, met with appropriate sanctions.

And the best-informed observers, serious reporters who have covered Israel’s wars, know that in this utterly unique army there are few strategic or even tactical decisions that are not subject to real-time review, analysis, and approval by judges specially appointed for this purpose. This “judicialization” of the battlefield, the presence of legal officers alongside soldiers and their commanders, the possibility that, in the midst of an operation, a court can assert jurisdiction over an inappropriate order, an objective deemed inconsistent with ethics, or, of course, a crime—these are not widespread phenomena. But it does explain the equally unusual initiative of the American general Martin Dempsey, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in sending a delegation of high-ranking officers to Jerusalem in 2014 to study what he called the “extraordinary lengths” taken by the IDF to “limit collateral damage and civilian casualties” in the war against Hamas.

None of that exonerates Israel for violations of the rules that it has set for itself, violations that are, by definition, too many.

Nor is there any question of exempting the elected authorities from their most urgent tasks, beginning with that of making peace with the Palestinians and even, if necessary, offering the “straight-up peace” based on the two-state principle and the Geneva-plan parameters that I outlined thirteen years ago, in the presence of the leading voices of the “peace camp” (a principle that I continue to believe is the only one capable of inducing each side to recognize the rights of the other while also halting the inexorable march toward a binational state that is the undisguised aim of Israel’s most cynical enemies).

And it must not exempt Israel from a necessary metaphysical reflection on Israel’s place and significance in the economy of messianism that is the true heart of Jewish thought: Is Israel a fulfillment or a denial, a preparatory step or a ruse? Is it part of the messianic story or a sidestep?

But, for the moment, that is not the question.

The question is to know where the Jewish state dreamed by Theodor Herzl and realized by David Ben-Gurion fits within the grammar not of being but of nations.

And the answer is that this state was born from the love of an obscure advertising man for a suffering people of which he knew little; that it was baptized with the name given to that people by poets and psalmists whom he had probably never read; that it was built by dreamers who, while they were reinventing Hebrew, gave themselves new names inspired by splendid figures from the Bible and brought to this arid country the power of their lyricism, their knowledge, their spiritual and bookish competence. The answer is that these dreamers gave birth to an unprecedented phenomenon, that of a revived land, a blooming desert, a miracle of rationality and hope under the stars. The answer is that this state has not reneged on its contract and has not, despite its flaws and errors, lost all the inspiration of its pioneers.

That in a world so profoundly splenetic and disenchanted these beings have managed to survive, that they have had and retain a vitality and a passion both fanciful and practical—those achievements give Israel a dimension that escapes many contemporaries and makes its national epic an adventure in which, putting politics aside, a part of humanity’s destiny is playing out.

Banner Photo: Boris G / flickr