The Existential Threats to Israel

In response to Peter Beinart's essay heard round the Internet, which argues that young American Jews are being forced to choose their liberalism or their Zionism and that they are choosing the former, Spencer Ackerman writes that, taking Beinart's insight as a premise, the next question is what Israel should actually do.

The critical divide...It's about which threat Israel confronts is the actual existential threat—the one that will fundamentally shape Israel's continued survival and its place in the world. In the actually-existent 2010-era debate, it's a choice between whether you think a nuclear Iran is an existential threat or a binational state is an existential threat. It's perfectly possible to believe both, as an intellectual proposition, but I don't know anyone who really does, and if they're out there, they're not really shaping strategy in Jerusalem or in Washington.

I readily confess to not shaping strategy in Jerusalem or Washington, but I do know Spencer and I do believe that both a nuclear Iran and a one-state solution are threats to the existence of Israel, as I suspect Beinart does as well. To be more precise, I think a nuclear Iran is a threat to Israel's existence, just as the U.S.S.R.'s nuclear arsenal posed such a threat to the U.S. But that does not mean it ensures Israel's destruction. Nuclear deterrence may still work, after all.

On the other hand, permanent occupation of the West Bank creates a demographic situation that makes Israel incapable of being both a Jewish state and a democracy. Perhaps Ackerman and I would agree that the divide is over whether you think Iran or demographics is the bigger threat to Israel. If it's the latter, then making peace with the Palestinians and withdrawing from the West Bank is a higher priority than preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities (but try telling that to Bibi Netanyahu).

But, as Spencer notes:

Right-wing Jews and left-wing Jews and right-wing evangelical Christians and Republican politicians and so forth in the U.S. and Israel, as a practical matter, can fairly easily coalesce around confronting Iran. But the coalition of people who care about Jewish democracy is basically limited to liberal Jewish Zionists.

He is probably right, and that's a shame. Since Israel is the U.S.'s largest recipient of foreign aid, all Americans have a stake in whether it lives up to its responsibility to be a homeland for the Jewish people and its commitment to human rights and democratic values that are so often lacking in its region. That is, after all, why we are allies in the first place, is it not?

The Existential Threats to Israel | World