Israel and Enlightenment

Israel needs enlightenment. Despite its many technical and industrial successes, the Jewish State has yet to emerge from an entirely self-imposed blindness. Of what use is so much light of reason if there are no eyes, or if those with eyes resolutely keep them shut? The French <I>philosophes</I> liked to speak of a <I>siecle des lumieres</I>, a century of light, but Israel in the twenty-first cent

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Writing on the wall: Death to Jews
Writing on the wall: Death to Jews
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In 1784, when the Age of Reason had almost run its course, the philosopher Immanuel Kant defined enlightenment as "man's emergence from self-imposed tutelage," and offered as its motto, Sapere aude - "Dare to know." Yet, few took this motto very seriously and Diderot, in a moment of rare lucidity, exclaimed to Hume: "Ah, my dear philosopher! Let us weep and wail....We preach wisdom to the deaf, and we are still far indeed from the age of reason." Today, the world - always full of noise - is still largely a desert of understanding and the vast majority of nations continue to endure as if by accident, stubbornly indifferent to necessary expectations of serious thought. An example of this unreason, in certain respects, is the State of Israel.

Israel needs enlightenment. Despite its many technical and industrial successes, the Jewish State has yet to emerge from an entirely self-imposed blindness. Of what use is so much light of reason if there are no eyes, or if those with eyes resolutely keep them shut? The French philosophes liked to speak of a siecle des lumieres, a century of light, but Israel in the twenty-first century remains mired in the bruising darkness, captivated only by shadows of what is important.

What is important? First, Israel must learn to recognize that it can disappear. Such learning, in turn, will require that Israel begin to feel, palpably, the pain of its possible disappearance. Even today, even after the obvious failures of Oslo, Israel is generally unaware that it may be on a journey to the end of misfortune; that the consequences of its misnamed "Peace Process" are apt to be fatal. Second, Israel must recognize that things are as they are. The Arab world will always despise Israel, at least for the foreseeable decades. It follows that Israel must now reconcile itself to the persistent absence of peace and to the corollary persistence of war.

It must prepare to conduct war against shifting coalitions of Arab and Islamic states and to defeat such coalitions. Strategically and tactically, this means an obligation to fight offensively; to structure its Order of Battle accordingly; and to resist total dependence on inherently problematic systems of "multi-layered" defense. It also means having (a) the political courage to carry out, as needed, appropriate preemption; and (b) the legal awareness that such preemption can be entirely permissible expressions of anticipatory self-defense under international law.

Third, Israel must decide, soon, if it wishes to become a truly Jewish State, or whether it wishes to remain merely a State of the Jews. Now, after Oslo, the Jewish character of the State of Israel is partially withered and widely rejected, an ironic debility that should call into question the very reason for maintaining such a painful statehood. Too often, Israel has abandoned itself to the instant, to secular imitations that make it, alarmingly, like all other states. Too often devoid of Jewish meaning and Jewish faith (how many "Jewish" Israelis assert that they don't believe in God?), it sometimes carries forward without any real conviction, content to "fit in" the ordinary world. Not surprisingly, wherever it rejects the very lifeblood of its own Jewish particularity, Israel exudes a kaleidoscope of contradictions. In the end, such a characterless presence in the world may create a condition of indefensibility for which no military capability could ever compensate.

To be a distinctively Jewish State may, world-historically, be insignificant; indeed, it may be absolutely nothing, infinitely nothing. And yet, this is the only true and ultimate significance of Israel, so much so as to make every other significance an illusion. Israel is the state in which there still dawns the possibility of a thoroughly unique consciousness; that a nation's struggle, with its intimate and individual destiny, is never merely a matter of politics, but rather an absolute and sacred task. Tragic drama instructs us that the spheres of reason, order and justice are painfully limited and that no progress in science or technology can ever compensate for the "otherness" of the world. For Israel, the time has now come to escape determinedly from the primeval forest of evasion and to acknowledge, fully, that its enlightenment has intellectual, spiritual and military dimensions.
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Prof. Louis Rene Beres is author of many books and articles dealing with international relations and international law. His work on Israeli security matters is well-known to Israel's military and intelligence communities.