From the pogroms to the Holocaust to the ongoing attacks by Arabs, Palestinians, and Muslims today, Jewish people have been oppressed, persecuted, and murdered for being Jewish. Whether regarded as members of a race, a religion, or a culture, Jews have been subject to a kind and degree of vitriol and violence unmatched by any other group in history. Yet, despite the relentless assaults against them, Jews have managed to survive and even to thrive.
One of the ways in which Jews have persisted against all odds is by establishing and maintaining the state of Israel, which was founded in 1948, three years after the Holocaust. Whatever the other justifications for its founding, Israel was to be a home and a safe haven for Jews: a nation in which they could live, think, produce, and prosper.
And Israel became just that.
The Virtue of Israel
The Israelis converted deserts and swamps into centers for science, technology, engineering, and agriculture. They created desalination and water purification systems, pharmaceutical plants, biomedical devices and therapies, and myriad other life-serving values. In so doing, the Israelis raised the standard of living not only for themselves, but also for virtually everyone on the planet. From flash drives to pill cameras to bacteria-resistant textiles to cherry tomatoes, Israelis have rained life-serving values on the world.1
How have Israelis done this? Most fundamentally, they’ve done it by means of reason—by observing reality, conceptualizing their observations, hypothesizing, experimenting, and employing the principles of logic. And what has made their exercise of reason possible? Israelis have been able to think rationally and act accordingly because they have established and maintained a government and a legal system dedicated substantially to the protection of individual rights.
Although Israel is not perfect in this respect (no country today is), its government protects its citizens’ and residents’ rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Israel is a parliamentary republic with elected officials; an independent judiciary; freedom of conscience and speech; and equality before the law for all people, regardless of race, religion, philosophy, gender, or sexual orientation. In these respects, relative to other countries in the Middle East, Israel is a beacon of reason, freedom, and civility.
And Israel’s respect for individual rights is no accident. The aim of protecting rights was built into the very fabric of the state from its beginning. Israel’s founding document, its Declaration of Independence, articulates this purpose explicitly:
THE STATE OF ISRAEL . . . will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions. . . .
WE APPEAL . . . to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.2
Such principles and aims were set forth not only in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, but also in speeches by its primary founder and first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. In Israel, Ben-Gurion explained,
there will be non-Jews as well [as Jews]—and all of them will be equal citizens; equal in everything without any exception; that is: the state will be their state as well. . . . The attitude of the Jewish State to its Arab citizens will be an important factor—though not the only one—in building good neighborly relations with the Arab States. If the Arab citizen will feel at home in our state, and if his status will not be in the least different from that of the Jew, and perhaps better than the status of the Arab in an Arab state, and if the state will help him in a truthful and dedicated way to reach the economic, social, and cultural level of the Jewish community, then Arab distrust will accordingly subside and a bridge to a Semitic, Jewish–Arab alliance, will be built.3
Such are the basic ideas on which Israel was founded. Although collectivist and socialist elements were present in Israel’s system from the start (and still are today), the state was founded most fundamentally on the idea that the government is to “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants.”
Since its founding, Israel has further codified these ideas in its laws and policies. This is why not only Jews and men, but also Arabs, Muslims, Christians, atheists, and women are free to think, to speak their minds, to pursue their values, to start businesses, to vote in elections, and to run for political office. Whatever its imperfections, Israel is essentially a rights-respecting nation.
If the protection of individual rights is the moral purpose of government (and it is)—if the requirements of human life constitute the standard of moral value (they do)—and if the use of reason to live and prosper is the essence of moral virtue (it is), then Israel is a morally good nation.4
This is a large part of the reason that Arab and Muslim states and jihadist groups relentlessly attack Israel—just as it is the primary reason they attack America and Western nations in general. But, in the case of Israel, an additional motive is driving their aggression: Israel was founded by Jews as a safe haven for Jews—and Arabs and Muslims (by and large) harbor a special hatred for Jews. Why this is so is a subject for another day. But, as we will see, hatred of Jews—including eagerness to murder them—is rampant among Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East and northern Africa. And it is a fundamental motivating factor in their aggression against Israel.5
A Brief Recounting of Arab and Muslim Aggression Against Israel
On May 14, 1948, the British mandate over Palestine expired; the United Nations partition plan, which divided Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state, went into effect; and Israel declared its independence. The next day, five surrounding Arab and Muslim states—Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq—attacked Israel from the south, the east, and the north in a concerted effort to destroy the nation and kill its Jewish population.
In the ensuing nineteen-month war, 6,373 Israelis—1 percent of the Israeli population at the time—died fighting for their lives and their independence.6 Even so, Israel won the war, and the Israelis began the process of building their rights-respecting nation as planned.
But the Arab and Muslim states in the region . . .