March 8, 2009
Commenting on the role the sovereign nation state plays in the western world vis-à-vis its role in the Islamic world, Samuel P. Huntington states “The structure of political loyalty among Arabs and among Muslims generally has been the opposite of that in the modern West. For the latter the nation state has been the apex of political loyalty.” He then adds “In addition, the idea of sovereign nation states is incompatible with belief in the sovereignty of Allah and the primacy of the ummah”. (Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and The Remaking of World Order, pp. 174-175). Thus, while in the West the concept of the sovereign nation state has enormous importance yet the idea of loyalty or belonging to a larger Pan-Anglo western nation has no relevance, in the Islamic world the situation is exactly the opposite.
Following this brief analysis of the West and Islam, it’s rather interesting when considering the Jewish perspective. For just as in the case of the Jewish calendar, which is a combination of the Islamic lunar and the Christian solar, so too here. In other words, for the Jewish people, like in Islam, there is the concept of the broader nation, am yisrael, while at the same time, like in the West, there is significance to the sovereign nation state, the Jewish state of Israel. Regarding these two aspects, since much has already been written about the problems facing the Jewish nation, specifically the divisions within Israeli society as well as Israel’s relations vis-à-vis Jews living outside of Israel, I would like to focus here on the concept of the sovereign nation state. Specifically, how much sovereignty does Israel really have on a political level and how is sovereignty perceived amongst the Israeli populace.
On the national political level, Israel certainly has some degree of sovereignty. Unlike the situation 2000 years ago when Israel was physically living under Roman rule, today Israel has its own state institutions such as a parliament, court system, army, etc. Moreover, Israel maintains diplomatic, cultural, and economic relations with countries throughout the world, participates in a variety of international forums, is a member of the United Nations, etc, etc. However, despite the outer appearance of full sovereignty, the last 15-20 years have told another story. In a progressively more blatant manner, the upper echelon of Israel’s political leaders have more or less said, both in words and in actions, that Israel must do as America says, regardless of whether or not this action is good for the Jewish state. Be it in reaction to Palestinian acts of terror, the nature and length of wars in Lebanon and Gaza, the sale of military equipment to China, etc, etc, the deciding factor is whether or not we have the ‘green light’ from America. Similarly, the near consensus to work towards the creation of a Palestinian state, the ‘two-state solution’, is sheepishly moved forward with hardly a dissenting voice, despite the obvious dangers to all, simply because this is what America wants. Apparently for many reasons, chief among them most likely economic and political, Israel’s leadership is hesitant, if not frightened, to go against the will of America. They simply fear the consequence of going against a superpower, even one which is relatively losing it dominance compared to other powers in the world. Nonetheless, and despite whatever rationalizations they might have, many of which might be justifiable for various reasons, their open display of unabashed adherence to the demands of American leadership questions the whole notion of whether or not we have true political sovereignty.
Another example that brought this question to the forefront was witnessed in the recent elections. Rather than seriously addressing the Israeli public about real issues and problems, the leading candidates invested a lot of time trying to prove who would work better with President Obama. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with having good relations with America and its president. However, when this becomes a central issue in the Israeli national elections, then certainly our whole status as a sovereign nation state becomes rather suspect.
Regarding the Israeli public, since their consciousness and mindset is heavily influenced by the words and actions of the ruling political establishment, it should come as no surprise as to how they feel. Although many will initially express statements and offer suggestions that appear to be more beneficial to the Jewish state than those that are heard from the political leadership, nonetheless they’ll frequently end such discussions by saying that “America will not allow us to do such and such”. For similar to the political leaders, they can’t imagine that we could actually do something which is in our best national interest without receiving the ‘green light’ from America. Once again, none of this is a surprise since the Israeli public does not live in a vacuum. They are heavily influenced by the country’s leadership, as well as by the messages and ideas that are continuously transmitted to them by way of the heavily biased media.
Clearly then, according to most Israelis the concept of having true political sovereignty is either considered as something unrealistic or simply is not thought about at all. However, perhaps the time has come for Israel to start thinking about this concept in a more serious manner. The world is changing and America’s status as the lone superpower is becoming reduced, a change that will surely affect America’s relations with many countries in the world, including Israel. Moreover, as America is forced to pursue policies in this part of the world that are in its best interest in order to save its teetering economic and political empire, it’s safe to assume that some of these policies will be detrimental to Israel. Obviously America is not to blame since America must, and rightly so, worry first and foremost about the needs of America. That’s the role of any truly sovereign state.
The point here is not that Israel should ‘switch allegiance’ to another world power, be it Russia or China, but rather should start taking notice of changing events and start looking inward. Such dependency and faithful compliance to another country, no matter what the policies of that country may be regarding Israel, will not help Israel to develop the internal strength that it so badly needs in order to deal with the host of complex issues and problems that it faces. Moreover, although it might be true that at this particular moment in time Israel cannot simply act as a 100% truly sovereign state and only do what is in its best interest, regardless of what the rest of the world might say, nonetheless Israel needs to start thinking in this direction. Changes in the physical realm are frequently preceded by, and are a direct result of, changes in the way one thinks, be it an individual or a nation. Finally, if Israel ever truly desires to fulfill its unique role in the world, then it will have no choice but to start thinking about itself differently and to realize why true sovereignty is in fact needed in order to fulfill this role.