'Israel Alone': What The Economist unwittingly gets right about the Jewish state

Jeff Jacoby writes below with feeling and I share that feeling.  Israel is of great emotional significance to me too. I am a Gentile Zionist if that is  possible. That has been so since my childhood.  I instinctively admire defeating the odds and I see Israel as precious and heroic.  Its aloneness is heroic

ON THE cover of the current issue of The Economist is an Israeli flag, covered in grime, being whipped by a sandstorm in a deserted land. The flag tilts precariously, and could fall over at any time. Above it, in heavy capital letters, are two ominous words: "Israel Alone."

The Economist has long been sharply critical of Israel, and its lead essay contains familiar fare. If Israel doesn't replace its government, the magazine warns, it could be facing "the bleakest trajectory of its 75-year existence." It acknowledges that Israel was justified in going to war against Hamas in October but scorns the "dire leadership" of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It concedes that there is no Palestinian partner with whom Israel could make peace, yet it urges Israel to do so anyway, by accepting a cease-fire and pursuing that tired old chimera, a two-state solution. The Economist admits Washington shouldn't try "to force Israel out of Gaza while Hamas could still regroup." It is sure that "a struggle for Israel's future awaits," of which "the battle in Gaza is just the start."

But is Israel alone?

If "alone" means Israel has no allies in the world, then it certainly is not alone.

Some officials who expressed strong solidarity with Israel immediately after the ghastly killings and abductions of Oct. 7 — President Biden and Senate majority leader Charles Schumer, for example — have, it is true, cooled their support in recent weeks, mostly under pressure from the political left, where anti-Israel animus runs deep. The United States refused to veto a United Nations Security Council resolution Monday calling for a temporary cease-fire in Gaza. The Canadian government announced that it would halt all arms sales to Israel.

Nevertheless, Israel retains plenty of defenders. Grass-roots support for the Jewish state in the United States remains solid. Among large swaths of the population — Republicans, evangelical Christians, and Americans 65 and older — it runs especially strong. Foreign leaders, such as British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, have been at pains to emphasize that their endorsement of a Gaza cease-fire does not lessen their solidarity with Israel as it fights a ruthless enemy. "In these dark hours my country stands by the people of Israel," Scholz said in Jerusalem this month. "Israel has the right to defend itself against the terror of Hamas."

Yet at a more profound level, The Economist's cover message is indisputably true. Israel has loyal friends of inestimable value. But ultimately the Jewish state stands alone because ultimately the Jewish people stand alone. For more than 3,000 years, almost everywhere Jews lived, they sooner or later found themselves isolated, demonized, ghettoized, dispossessed, or exterminated. Again and again they were compelled to wear symbols identifying them as Jewish. Again and again they were expelled en masse from countries where they had lived for generations. Again and again they were persecuted as heretics, barred from joining guilds, and forbidden to own land.

The pioneers of modern Zionism were convinced that only in a country of their own could Jews finally achieve the normality denied them for so long — the normality other peoples take for granted.

But they were wrong.

Israel has never been regarded as a "normal" country. Alone among the 193 members of the United Nations, it is the only one whose very right to exist is under constant assault. Jerusalem is the only capital city in the world where the vast majority of governments refuse to locate their embassies. Every other nation belongs to larger blocs of countries with which it shares historic, ethnic, linguistic, or religious bonds — they are Nordic, Francophone, Muslim, Slavic, African, Arabic, Latino, Buddhist. Only Israel stands alone.

In territory and population, the Jewish state is tiny, yet the passions it arouses — bottomless hatred from some, heartfelt admiration from others — are of an intensity worthy of a superpower. The same has always been true of the Jewish people. Their numbers are minuscule, just two-10ths of 1 percent of the human race. "Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of," wrote Mark Twain in a famous essay, "but he is heard of, has always been heard of."

What The Economist proclaims on its cover, the Biblical prophet Balaam, a non-Jew, proclaimed in the Book of Numbers. Attempting to execrate the Israelites, he intoned: "Lo, it is a people that dwells alone / And shall not be reckoned among the nations." In that singular description — a people that dwells alone — is encapsulated an essential reality of the long, long history of the Jews. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, the Jewish people — and the reborn Jewish state — are fundamentally alone, unlike the "normal" peoples and nations with whom they share the planet. Israel can never be just another country, like Belgium or Thailand. The Jewish state is alone; and that is both its blessing and its curse.



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