Where Is Israel Going?

This article appeared in Die Zeit of Hamburg on August 20. Dr. Goldmann, for many years president of the World Jewish Congress, died on August 29 at eighty-seven and was buried on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

Israel’s presumptuous invasion of Lebanon and the siege of Beirut will have unforeseeable consequences, most of them negative; yet some may turn out to be positive.

To begin with the negative. By its actions Israel has isolated itself politically more than ever before. It stands practically alone as far as the United Nations and world opinion are concerned. Only the United States still supports Israel, thus risking permanent alienation of the US from the Arab world. Undoubtedly, Israel will gain a military victory. However, in view of its over-powering strength in comparison with the PLO, Israel has little reason to be proud of this. It is possible to win battle after battle and still lose a war. The German language has an expression for this: “totsiegen” (winning oneself to death).

Up to now, every military victory on the part of Israel has only resulted in new political difficulties, particularly the incredibly quick victory in the Six Day War, which led to the present situation. Furthermore, this is the first time that Israel is involved in a war in which it is clearly the aggressor. For this reason the government does not have the unanimous support of its population. On the contrary, a minority has vehemently protested the invasion.

But nothing in this world has only bad consequences. Israel’s invasion of Lebanon might have two positive effects, neither of which Begin could have foreseen or wanted. First, the PLO might realize both that it has to give up its military aggression, i.e., terrorism against Israel, which obviously has no chance of succeeding, and that setting up a government in exile would transfer the struggle to a political level. Secondly, there is the possibility of a profound clash of opinions between Israel and the United States which may force the US to redefine its policy in the Near East. Such a redefinition would probably lead to Begin’s fall and a change in Israeli politics. Despite their arrogance and stubbornness the Israelis are smart enough to understand that without the support of the United States they have no chance to succeed with their politics of aggression.

The long-term consequences of the Lebanon venture could turn out to be of even greater importance. This war constitutes a turning point in the history of the Jewish people. It touches upon the center of the question which has pre-occupied the world for centuries: the so-called Jewish question, the question of the relationship between Jews and non-Jews.

There was a short period when not only the optimists but also realistic politicians had good reason to hope that the Jewish question would no longer be an issue. Today this expectation has turned out to be an illusion.

Two unprecedented events—one negative, the other positive—had justified the …

This article is available to subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Premium Subscription — $94.95

Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.