In yesterday’s Haaretz, Mira Sucharov uses my book Jews and the Military as a means of opening a conversation about how Jews in the diaspora perceive their country’s armies versus the IDF, and how service in the former is symbolically far less meaningful than service in the latter:
(The article is probably behind Haaretz’s firewall but I have posted it in its entirety via Twitter and Facebook.)
Professor Sucharov’s discussion touches on a related point that is worth dealing with directly: does the sovereign state of Israel, and in particular its powerful military, render Jews in Israel safer than those who dwell beyond its borders?
Jews visiting Israel from abroad almost invariably feel safe when in Israel. They are in a state dominated by a substantial Jewish majority, a state where Jews need never deny or hide their Jewishness or fear being persecuted because of their religion or nationality. The ubiquity of armed Israeli soldiers is an eloquent sign and source of this feeling of being powerful, in charge, and at home. A psychological sense of security translates into a sense of personal safety.
Since the state of Israel was founded it has taken in millions of Jews who faced persecution in the Middle East, North Africa, eastern Europe, and the former Soviet Union. In recent years there has been increased Jewish immigration from France, where many Jews have been shaken by horrific, albeit isolated, incidents like the murder of a rabbi and three Jewish children in Tolouse in March of 2012. And in the past months there has been a spurt of Jewish immigration to Israel from Ukraine, whose Jews are not fleeing persecution so much as pervasive uncertainty about the country’s future.
Yet at the same time Jews in Israel and the diaspora alike fear for the country’s security and long-term survival. Since the state was established, over 20,000 Israeli soldiers (the vast majority of them Jewish) have died, and another 4000 civilians (again, mostly Jewish) have died during wars or at the hands of terrorists. As many as 100,000 Israeli veterans are considered disabled. These numbers dwarf the number of Jews in the diaspora who have been killed or wounded in terrorist incidents since 1948.
Today Israel is vulnerable to rocket bombardment from southern Lebanon, and there is widespread fear that despite ongoing negotiations with the international community, Iran may develop a nuclear weapon, which, the government claims, would place Israel in existential danger.
So where are Jews safer – in the diaspora or in Israel? What does it mean to be “safe”? Is safety a matter of physical security or is it more a state of mind?