When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse. – Osama bin Laden
All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it’s impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer. – Niccolò Machiavelli
It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that anti-Jewish expression of all kinds – ordinary Jew-hatred, antisemitic violence, and anti-Zionism – throughout the world are at their highest levels since the end of the Second World War.
Theodor Herzl and others thought that the normalization of the Jewish people – the change from “rootless cosmopolitans” living in other peoples’ homelands to a settled people in its own land – would bring about an end to the phenomenon of Jew-hatred.
It did not. People didn’t hate Jews any less, and the Jewish state simply provided another focus for hatred and another target for violent antisemitism.
It was also thought that if the traumatic events of the Holocaust and their historical roots in Jew-hatred were known throughout the world, there would be a wave of moral revulsion that would put an end to antisemitism. In simple terms, 1) Jew-hatred leads to mass murder, 2) mass murder is bad, 3) therefore, Jew-hatred is bad. So Holocaust museums were built, educational programs mandated, films made, and so forth.
This may have had some temporary effect, at least on overt expressions of Jew-hatred, which became socially unacceptable for a time. But it did not change hearts, and now, some years later, even the effect on overt expressions of hatred has dissipated.
For those who like to put the entire blame for the Holocaust on Hitler, the Nazis, or even Germany, I note that many British officials acted – before, during, and after the war – as though they would rather see Jews dead than in Palestine. Similar observations apply to the actions of US President Roosevelt, who had to be dragged kicking and screaming to do the minimum possible on behalf of Hitler’s victims. I don’t know or care what was in the hearts of these people, but they were aware of the Holocaust and their actions were deliberate.
Jew-hatred, both the individual kind and the kind that expresses itself as hatred of the Jewish state, is dangerous to the continued survival of the Jewish people. Indeed, many of its practitioners are acting consciously with the destruction of our people as a goal. They know what they are doing and are effectively using modern technology and psychological techniques to attack us.
As Jews, we have two general options: we can acquiesce to the disappearance of the Jews as a distinct people through a combination of violent oppression and suicidal assimilation, or we can try to preserve it.
I take it as a given that the Jewish people should survive as a people, and I place my obligation to the Jewish people ahead of my obligation to humankind in general, just as I prioritize my family over the other inhabitants of my neighborhood. These are moral axioms, first premises; if you don’t agree with me, I have no further arguments to convince you of them (and probably you should stop reading).
I wish to present a general framework for the preservation of the Jewish people. I am not proposing specific tactics, or even overall strategies – just some general principles, inspired by the writings of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Kenneth Levin, Niccolò Machiavelli, and others: I call it the Strong Jew Doctrine. I introduced the concept here, and it has application both in the schoolyards and college campuses of the West, and on the battlefields of the Middle East.
It’s based on the idea that honor, respect, and deterrence are critical for survival, and these properties – which actually inhere in those that meet and confront us, friends and enemies – depend on our use of power or our hesitance to do so.
The Jewish people have both gained and lost from their diaspora experience; but during centuries as a powerless minority, it developed an inferiority complex which interferes with its use of power, now that we have it. Over the years, Jews became accustomed to trying to buy safety with money, negotiating from a position of weakness, depending on the protection of others, and developing the capability to suffer. These strategies sometimes succeed in saving our skins and sometimes not, but they worked against obtaining the respect of others, especially our enemies. They reinforced the antisemitic conception of the Jew as weak, sneaky, and contemptible – and as someone it is permissible to attack.
We don’t have to use those methods anymore. Today we are a people with an economically and militarily powerful homeland.
When challenged, whether by a neighborhood antisemite, the UN, or Hezbollah, a Jew or a Jewish state should respond in a way that takes into account not only meeting the particular challenge, but also maximizing the respect and deterrence that accrues as a result of our actions (our enemies, in particular, should experience fear and be deterred from future attacks). In this way, we not only hurt our enemies, but become the “strong horse.” The objective should be to obtain respect, not pity.
Sometimes what we must do to maximize respect is not consistent with European understandings of humanistic morality or international law. These are hard decisions, and there is no definitive general answer. Is it more important to avoid being accused of war crimes – which will happen regardless of what we do – or to reduce the risks faced by our ground troops in urban combat? This very question regularly comes up when the IDF is forced to enter Gaza or Arab towns in Judea/Samaria, and the army bends over backwards in the humanitarian direction. We would reduce the number of violent confrontations and our own casualties if we acted more aggressively when they did occur.
Here are some principles that either derive from or are consistent with the Strong Jew Doctrine, along with some examples of their application in personal and geopolitical situations:
- Self-reliance is better than dependence. Accepting American military aid may seem to be advantageous for Israel, but we can do without it, it makes us dependent on an unreliable partner, and has numerous other deleterious effects.
- It’s good to have passive defenses against aggression, but only an active response can provide a non-temporary solution. You can prevent a bully from hitting you by keeping your guard up, but you can only make him stop by hitting him back. Iron dome can protect a city, but it doesn’t motivate the enemy to stop firing rockets (indeed, it encourages him to fire more rockets in an attempt to overwhelm the system).
- Never pay tribute or ransom. Some Israeli “security” officials argue that improving the humanitarian situation in Gaza or helping the PA meet payrolls helps prevent conflicts. Wrong: paying our enemies or introducing aid of any kind frees up funds for military purposes and sends a message of weakness. They are enemies.
- Take revenge when appropriate. We live in the Middle East. Allowing members of other tribes to kill our people and to receive relatively mild penalties send the message that killing us is permissible. Allowing the PA to pay terrorists in our prisons encourages terrorism.
- Restraint is not an indicator of strength. It is often the opposite. Letting Hamas burn southern Israel sends the message that we are too weak to stop them.
- Use collective punishments when appropriate. Polls consistently show that the majority of residents of Gaza and the PA support violence against Israel. Many towns in the PA are dominated by clans associated with Fatah or Hamas. They provide direct support for terrorists. Why shouldn’t they pay a price?
- Reprisals should always be disproportionate. When a bully hits you, hit him back harder. As Machiavelli recommended, when you have to hurt someone, hurt him so badly that he will not be able to get revenge.
- Messaging should emphasize our strength, not our victimhood. Reports of terror attacks should stress that all the terrorists were eliminated on the spot (and they should be!), not how painful the attack was for us.
- Never make threats that we are not prepared to carry out.
It may seem paradoxical, but the more aggressive we are, the less Jew-hatred there will be. People and nations give lip service to meekness, but honor comes from boldness and exercise of power. At the end of the day, it’s the strong horse that gets respect.