By Rabbi Dovid Markel, Neirot Foundation
Whenever there is conflict or skirmish in Israel and the State acts to protect her Jews, one can expect to hear the usual slogans about Israel’s right to defend herself.
Across the spectrum, world leaders pay lip-service to this mantra—usually following it with a “but” that drastically qualifies and limits the initial statement of supposed backing of Israeli action.
One is sure to hear politicians and statesmen the world over proclaim: “Israel has a right to defend itself but it should practice restraint.” Or, alternatively, “Israel has a right to defend itself, but this current situation seems to be caused by Israeli incitement.”
So, while the nations seem to support Israel, they severely curtail the measure in which they actually deem that Israel is permitted to this self-defense. More often than not, these statements about Israel’s right to self-defense are self-serving, so that the politician can then stab Israel in the back and not be accused of being anti-Semitic.
On this bandwagon of the right to defend one’s self, jump Israeli politicians as well. They defend any act of Israeli force by saying that “Israel has the right to defend itself against those that seek to destroy her.”
Over and over, Israeli leaders declare, that now—after thousands of years of being the victim—the Jewish People have their own sovereign state, and they will never again be defenseless against those that hate her and seek to destroy her.
They therefore declare that as a sovereign state, they have a right to defend their citizens and need not tolerate vicious attacks.
I would like to suggest that the motto of “never-again” that was perhaps important in 1948,is not only mistaken today, but is somewhat dangerous. While the State of Israel must indeed do everything in its power to ensure that there never be another holocaust, its primary focus needs to be the flourishing of life, not the negation of death.
It is time for Israelis to mature past the point of “never-again” or the “right to defend themselves” and reach the step beyond it. Israel must take possession of its own story and control its own narrative—not in relation to the past or other nations, but of because of its destiny today.
A Step into Maturity
The story of the modern State of Israel is akin to an awkward teenager going through puberty. The teenager often struggles, trying to make sense of his or her personal identity, all the while being bullied by the class buffoon while others seek to define him or her.
Indeed, learning to become comfortable in one’s skin and actualizing one’s personal identity instead of constantly seeking approval from one’s peers, is the basic journey that most teens partake of.
Just as in the case of the bullied teen–while perhaps the first step of healing is the affirmation of finding the inner strength to confront one’s oppressor–in order for a person to become truly healthy, they must graduate to a next step and attain a reality where they cease defining themselves in their struggle, but define themselves for themselves.
For, a healthy person does not obsess over their right to defend themselves—only a victim does.
If an individual is emotionally healthy, they instinctively protect themselves and their family as a matter of course, and leave their obsessing to being who they are and who they wish to be as an individual.
When a person constantly declares their right to exist and their right to defend themself, it is a clear red flag that they have suffered unmentionable abuse, which has hardly been resolved.
The same can be said of Israel and the Jewish People.
Israel’s obsession with her right to defend herself and its constant need for the approval of the nations is reminiscent of the joke about the individual who declares that he is normal because he has a document to prove it. A person who needs a document to prove that they are sane—clearly isn’t.
So too, the need to constantly seek the affirmation, endorsement and approval of the UN or other nation states, is indicative of a deep insecurity in the national consciousness of the Jewish people. It is only because they themselves are wary of their own nationhood that they continually seek the sanctions of the nations around them.
The Jewish People living in the land of Israel need to cease their unhealthy mindset. Instead of repeatedly affirming their right to exist, they most just exist.
Only when the Jewish People are comfortable in their own skin, and cease to repeatedly define themselves in the manner that others see them, will they truly flourish in the Land of Israel.
Changing the Narrative
In order to act as a healthy nation, the general identity of the Jewish People living in the Land of Israel must go through a general narrative therapy to re-adjust their sense of self that has been bruised and battered in our long exile. Only through changing the way that we see our story will our Stockholm syndrome of seeking to please our abusers be stopped.