Editor's note: This essay underwent major revision on 17-18 August 2023.
Member of Knesset Gilad Erdan famously refused to kowtow to President Barack Obama. He was clear that Israel was not the fifty-first state of the United States. The country existed in its own right and there was no need to spell that out. That was then.
In what Israel National News describes as “a sharply worded letter” to the United Nations Security Council on 9 May 2023, Ambassador Erdan asserts Israel’s right to defend itself. We must ask, what does it mean to exist, if you do not have the right to defend that existence? Indeed, it is possible to argue that the right to defend oneself is a prerequisite for existence, otherwise the existence is a sham, forfeit before it is even established.
To assert that Israel has the right to defend itself is to assert that Israel has the right to exist; to assert that Israel has the right to exist is to show that, in your own mind, that existence is in question. Therefore, to assert that Israel has the right to defend itself is to project Israel’s questionable existence from your own mind into the minds of others. Every country simply defends itself, without feeling the need to assert any right to do so, except Israel. This amounts to Israel apologising not only for defending itself, but for existing. It is simply another version of allowing ownership of your half of the cloth to be disputed.
Ambassador Erdan’s letter opens with a justification before a body not remotely interested in the right or wrong of Israel’s actions or positions. What the Ambassador read was not necessarily what his audience heard. An enemy of Israel Hellbent of her destruction might hear Erdan's words as follows:
Last night, in response to the barrage of over 100 rocket attacks launched last week (May 2-3) against the civilian population in southern Israel as well as numerous terror attacks carried out against civilians,
Look at how bad these terrorists are.
the IDF launched Operation ‘Shield and Arrow,’
We had no alternative but to act.
a targeted operation against senior members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip. …Israel acted in a precise and limited manner against senior military officials in the PIJ who were directly responsible for facilitating attacks and launching rockets and missiles against Israelis,
But we took extra special care to neutralise only the really, really, really bad people.
in order to protect Israel's citizens and thwart the planned attacks.
We had a legitimate reason.
[Islamic Jihad] uses the citizens of the Gaza Strip as human shields - they hide their rockets among the civilian population, use private houses as situation rooms and fire from dense urban areas.
Please understand the wider context. This handful of extremists put their own innocent civilians in danger.
It is a designated terrorist organisation by Australia, Canada, the EU, Japan, New Zealand, the U.K., U.S., and Israel.
Don’t just take our word for it. They really are bad. We're not alone in saying this. Other big names say so, too.
The operation was a targeted action against an active terrorist infrastructure,
Did I mention how careful we were and how bad they are?
which posed an imminent threat.
They fired 100 rockets, destroyed private dwellings, forced us to evacuate several cities. It was almost bad enough to be a threat.
The State of Israel is not interested in an escalation.
But please, please. Don't worry. This does not mean we intend to solve the problem. In fact, we give you our categorical assurance that we are not interested in solving the problem.
However, Israel has the right and duty to defend its people and sovereignty and will continue to do so vigorously.
However, just in case you're wondering, we are a state.
I call on the Security Council to condemn the indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israeli civilians launched from Gaza, and to support Israel in our legitimate right of self-defense.
Our right to self-defense, just in case you're wondering, is legitimate.
And so, just when we thought it could not get any worse, the Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations himself further weakens even his country's self-inflicted already weakened position, asserting the right to self-defence, still further by asserting the legitimacy of its right to self-defense, thus himself drawing even his own asserted right to self-defense into question.
The country that falls back from the right to not be attacked onto the right to defend itself, ipso facto asserts the right of others to attack her. By asserting the right to defend herself, Israel gives up the baseline and then, having abandoned that baseline, claims entitlement to it. The assertion that Ambassador Erdan’s letter should be making is that no one has the right to attack Israel. The assertion it makes instead is that Israel is less of a state than all other states.
The Ambassador's letter divides Israel's own cloth, its existence, in half and offers up one half, the right of self-defense, for dispute. Just how slippery this slope is once you get on it, the letter also demonstrates. Eldan takes even this disputed half, the right of self-defense, and cuts that, too, in half, by drawing the legitimacy of the self-defence he has just fallen back onto into question. His letter aids not only those who deny Israel's existence, but also those who deny her right to defend herself.
This is precisely the parlous condition Israel has come to: the world now rebukes Israel for interfering in the jihad against Israel and the Jews, exactly as Muslims have the right to kill the beaten dhimmi who dares to defend himself for interfering with the Muslim's right to beat or otherwise abuse him. According to one historic account amongst many:
The Jews are fond of frequenting the tombs of their forefathers, especially on particular days, to read their prayers in remembrance of the dead. Here advantage is taken of them again. They are rudely accosted and pilfered, and if resistance is made, they are beat almost to death, and this not by common highwaymen or Bedouin Arabs, but by men they may have been in the habit of seeing and talking with every day.
Once the right to not be attacked is asserted, the existence of even one rocket in Gaza, fired or not, fielded or not, assembled or not, is ample reason to destroy it and everyone and everything associated with it. It is beyond question that that rocket exists for one purpose only, made explicit by its owners at every possible opportunity. It is how they maintain credibility with the "innocent civilians" who dance in the streets every time the "handful of extremists" murders a Jew.
More importantly, Israel acquiescing in the existence of rockets and people who will fire them in Gaza (and now also Judea and Samaria), that is to say, not attacking them until after they have fired the rockets, is to acknowledge the right of those enemies to attack Israel. And since attacking Israel is a right that Palestinians explicitly claim, Israel, by allowing Palestinians, or anyone who claims that right, to accumulate the means of attack, indicates respect for their right to attack Israel. This, again, is the condition of the dhimmi, who must at all times respect the Muslim's right to abuse him.
The right to exist is inextricable from the right to defence. Therefore, once existing, the only right to assert is the right to not be attacked. This is the right that every country asserts. This is the baseline: its very existence. It is the whole cloth. The Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations could not give the cloth away fast enough.
Gilad Erdan’s letter is demeaning of both Israel and of the proud Jewish nation. At its centre is pathos, pre-emptive submission, the same pre-emptive submission that characterises the leaders of and spokespersons for diaspora Jews, in particular in the United States. On the umpteenth occasion of Israel allowing herself to be beaten back from integrating Judea and Samaria properly into the rest of Israel, American intellectual Daniel Pipes, in classic pre-emptive submission, advised:
Don’t toy with Mr. Trump's temper, don't infuriate Democrats and Europeans, don't alienate Arab leaders, don't inflame Palestinians, don't radicalize the Israeli Left, and don't add Palestinian citizens to Israel. …[don’t] further [worsen the] alienation of diaspora Jewry and increase their exposure to antisemitism.
In short, be Jews with trembling knees. Erdan’s letter continues this centuries-long tradition, briefly interrupted by Menachem Begin. Yet Israel’s leaders continue to be surprised that their enemies keep treating the Jewish state as if it doesn’t exist. Type “Israel” into the search box at Security Council Report, “Independent. Impartial. Informative,” and it offers: “Golan (Israel/Syria)”; “Middle East (Israel/Palestine)”; “Israel/Palestine”; “Middle East, including the Palestinian Question”, and so on and on, except for expressions like “Israeli Settlements,” when an adjectival existence is grudgingly conceded. This reminds one of motorway signs in the former German Democratic Republic showing the way to “Berlin, Hauptstadt der DDR” so as to avoid saying “Ost-Berlin,” an implicit recognition of West Berlin.
Certainly, there are enough people who do not recognise Israel’s existence, and many of them would dearly like to make that a reality. The UN is full of such people, and they will draw strength from Ambassador Erdan’s naïve letter to them. Israel, by her conciliatory fixations, nourishes them. Egregious as this act might be, it does not detract from any of Israel’s more than excellent preemptive actions, both within the country and abroad.
If anything, this short essay highlights how counter-productive talking about “the right to defend ourselves” is to the work of taking action to preempt attacks, actions that confirm Israel's strength, a prerequisite for respect in the region. Precedents exist. Imagine Saddam Hussein had dropped a nuclear bomb on Tel Aviv and Israel then retaliated by bombing the nuclear facility, claiming the right to defend itself. It is ludicrous. Israel should avoid such enfeebling talk and treat every threat as nuclear, for they all have exactly the same aim. The difference is only that they achieve their aims at different speeds.
For decades Israel’s "political simpletons," as Ze’ev Jabotinsky called them, have been labouring under the misapprehension that economic prosperity and material comfort will lure their nemesis, Muslim Arabs, into embracing them. The IDF handing over Har HaBaït to the vanquished Jordanians after the latter's aggressive war against Israel in 1967, the catastrophic Oslo Accords that saved the PLO from obliteration, and the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Gaza by none other than the Israeli government itself, stand as damning indictments of that idiotic certainty. The only certainty here lies with the Muslim Arabs, who see in these otherwise inexplicable Israeli action clear signs from Allah that they must be patient and will one day be rewarded with the destruction of Israel. It never seems to cross the minds of those Israelis complaining that they cannot find any Palestinian "partner for peace" that, while Israel has been pleading for peace for seventy-five years, no Palestinian has ever seen Israel as a partner for peace. There is a reason for that.
In another form, this misapprehension maintains that impeccable moral conduct on Israel’s part will lure the rest of the world into seeing Israel as a force for good. But it is much too late for that. The poison has long ago taken effect. No amount of impeccable moral conduct on Israel’s part now is going to impress anybody who already equates moral conduct with hating Israel and killing Jews, and that's a lot of people. Erdan’s letter of apology, justification, appeasement and pleading is to people uniquely insensitive to Jewish apology, justification, appeasement and pleading. It shows to Israel’s enemies exactly the kind of weakness that confirms them in what they do and encourages them to press on. Victory will be theirs very soon, insha-Allah. And in the meantime, Israelis keep dying.
Egyptian watchtower at Gaza Rafah border, Marius Arnesen - Flickr: Watch Tower, Rafa, Gaza/Egypt, CC BY-SA 3.0 no, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11106654
Spent rocket casings, Sderot, Marek Peters / www.marek-peters.comAdditionally you can support Marek Peters by Flattr. - self-made (http://www.marek-peters.com/fotos/krieg/qassam-raketen/), GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5629900
A kindergarten in central Israel during a rocket alarm, Israel Defense Forces from Israel - Operation Protective Edge, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34063283
United Nations Security Council, White House (Pete Souza) / Maison Blanche (Pete Souza) - The Official White House Photostream , Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8804907
Iron Dome battery, IDF Spokesperson's Unit, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=117478772