On our legitimacy and viability

Most Israelis–at least 80 percent of the country’s population and 95 percent of its large Jewish majority–can’t decide whether to be amused, upset or satisfied with the region’s Ahmadinezhads and Nasrallahs when they assert that our country is illegitimate and will soon go out of business.

Amused, because we’ve been hearing this insulting and misguided argument for 60 years and today we enjoy more peace and prosperity and generate more creative energies than ever before. Upset, because these militant Islamist leaders are dead serious about trying to make good on their prediction. And satisfied, because in this our sixtieth year of independence and after countless Arab-Israel wars, not a single Arab state leader any longer echoes this extreme rhetoric.

In commenting on these doomsday proclamations–one can hardly dignify them with a specific reply–three issues seem particularly pertinent: international legitimacy, viability and the status of the Kurds of northern Iraq.

First, international legitimacy. The state of Israel enjoys more such legitimacy than most countries in the world. The Balfour Declaration was ratified by the League of Nations; the state itself was created by the United Nations. Very few existing states were brought into being by the reigning world bodies–the acknowledged custodians of international law. Anyone calling for Israel’s demise is thus directly violating the very "international legitimacy" that he/she usually claims to be upholding.

Yes, Israel has violated some international laws–as has just about every other country. And yes, the United Nations that created us has at times turned its back on us under the pressure of an automatic anti-Israel majority among its membership. Then too, there are Israelis and Israel supporters who prefer to base Israel’s right to exist solely on ancient history, religious writ or the Holocaust–all telling and highly persuasive arguments insofar as we are indeed a much-persecuted people living in its historic native land, but arguments that catalyze weighty counter-arguments on the part of our detractors. And there is the Islamist assertion that the land we dwell on is sacred Muslim land that will not tolerate a non-Muslim sovereignty, no matter what the UN says.

So we can’t convince everybody. But we are actually more "legitimate" than most sovereign states.

Second, viability. Israelis complain a lot, squabble and criticize one another a great deal–indeed, to a highly exaggerated extent. Don’t mistake these characteristics for weakness. Rather, they signal the inner strength of a people that is constantly querying its direction and searching for something better. When we don’t like our leaders–political or military–we replace them. When our policies don’t work, we replace them too until we get it more or less right. We are united in believing the Jewish people has a right to a state of its own, yet in the name of freedom of expression we have produced a few eloquent post-Zionist and anti-Zionist academics and artists who provide endless grist for the mill of our enemies.

Sometimes, as in the Second Lebanon War of summer 2006, we muddle through rather inelegantly. But we muddle through. Recently, most of us have concluded that our settlement policy in the West Bank and Gaza threatens to compromise the Jewish nature of our state and that our Palestinian neighbors also deserve a state. We dismantled the settlements in Gaza and we’ll do the same in most of the West Bank. We won’t allow ourselves to be trapped by either demography or geography.

Sixty years ago, the skeptics, naysayers, Jew-haters and fanatics could at least make a case that the newborn state of Israel was not viable. Then, we survived against the odds. But today?

Finally, the Kurds. The achievements of the Kurds of northern Iraq are very relevant to the issue of Israel’s legitimacy and viability. The Kurdish semi-independent entity in Iraq is the second instance in modern history of a non-Arab people, after generations of persecution and dispersion, asserting its right to national self-determination in its historic homeland in the Middle East heartland with the approval of the international community. The first instance is Israel.

If you can acquiesce in what the Kurds in Iraq have accomplished, you must accept Israel. If you can’t, that’s okay too as long as you leave us alone. But if you insist on predicting our imminent demise and trying to make it happen, then know that you are swimming against the tide of history, legitimacy and justice. And that we and all the other decent people in the world will stop you.