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Thinking the Unthinkable: A Lamentation for the State of Israel

‘I believe the state of Israel may not survive. That its days are numbered. I can hardly bear to say it.’

Ron Rosenbaum
December 14, 2015
André da Loba
André da Loba
André da Loba
André da Loba

Nobody wants to say it aloud. Not even whisper it. The possibility that the state of Israel may not survive.

Oh, sure, hundreds of thousands have been chanting “Death to Israel” for decades, and we are accustomed to brush it off, live with it. Background noise. Comes with the territory. Sure it’s been tried, straight up invasions now and then, but the result has been so one-sided, Israel has demonstrated such overwhelming (and ever-increasing) military superiority, a loss hasn’t seemed like a real possibility.

But it’s not an impossibility. Try to imagine a world in which Israel no longer exists. After a heart-stopping moment you move on, thinking: If it hasn’t happened by now … And sure, the entire world has essentially turned on the Jewish state, driven by the false narratives of the hate-Israel types, and it’s clear there will be relatively few mourners internationally if it should happen. Things have become so turned around that hating the Jewish state has been a way for the world to absolve its guilt at allowing the slaughter of the Jews a few decades ago. Just like Hitler did, they will find a way to blame it on the Jews for bringing it on themselves. I guarantee it; the apologists for genocide have prepared the way by slandering the Jewish state for #GenocideinGaza while ignoring the explicit call for genocide in the Hamas charter.

No big deal. You’ll see the sewer of anti-Semitism that runs beneath the surface of social media vomit up the usual haters, who will emerge from said sewers spewing the usual filth.

And it could be argued this is how it’s always been, for the last 2,000 years or so: Every momentary place of refuge for the Jews destroyed. Yet somehow a shattered remnant has continued to survive.

But what if it’s different the next time? What if, cumulatively, the combination of a vastly different military situation in the hate-filled realm crowding the sliver of land on the Mediterranean coast—combined with the indifference or encouragement of the rest of the world finally staggers and strikes down everything that has been built on sand for those past few decades? Is there any guarantee of survival? That was always the hope: that things wouldn’t always be so precarious the way they were in 1948, 1967, and 1973. But once again they are—even more—precarious.

Is it unthinkable that the next time, or the time after that, the solution will become truly final? A single loss would amount to, as it would have on those occasions, a total loss. And what then?

Is it unthinkable? Or is it time to think about the unthinkable?


I don’t think it’s defeatist to think about it. It seems the better part of wisdom. And I suspect I am not alone in having thought of the possibility. In some dark moments, some others must think about it (aside from those who aren’t are wishing for it 24/7). Some may say you can think about it, but you shouldn’t speak of it, out of a superstitious dread that uttering it may bring it on more rapidly. How did that strategy of silence work out for us the last time?

Maybe the opposite is true. That it needs to be said, the possibility examined, the consequences considered. The sorrow anticipated.

So, I will say it. Though I don’t think it’s a probability. I think it’s a possibility that needs to be addressed.

I believe the State of Israel may not survive. That its days are numbered. I can hardly bear to say it.

Though I’m nonreligious, nonobservant, agnostic if not atheist, I love the Jewish people. I think of them as my extended family.

This does not mean I can’t love other people or can’t sympathize with their sufferings. It’s just not quite the same. And it has been not long, in the perspective of history, after 6 million of my extended family were murdered, that 6 million more now are in peril. Many of them descendants of those who sought refuge after that horror.

Sought refuge after the continent that killed them stole the survivors’ homes and wouldn’t allow them back. Sought refuge in a land that had been promised them. Not by God, please: I’m not a biblical Zionist, I don’t believe any God promised anyone anything; The Balfour Declaration did. The League of Nations Mandate did. The San Remo Treaty did. The United Nations did. Barack Obama did. (And for the record I’m a liberal Obama supporter and I believe him.) I don’t want any more promises. I just want my family to have a place to be safe.

But now the children of Holocaust victims and survivors and the children of those who came to Israel as refugees from pogroms in Islamic lands (where is their “right of return”?)—now they too, face a future not merely bleak, but perhaps blank, empty, ended.

Think of this, then, as the prologue of a yet-to-be written Book of Lamentations.

I will be your designated mourner. This is my lament.


The great Jewish theologian Emil Fackenheim, whom I met with in Jerusalem while writing a book about Hitler, emphasized one thing above all to me.

Fackenheim emphasized the salience of what has come to be known as the “614th Commandment” (after the 613 of the Orthodox). A post-Holocaust commandment.

The 614th: “Thou shall give to Hitler no posthumous victories.”

And yet Hitler is on the verge of a posthumous victory. I thought of this when I saw one of a number of disgusting Hitler-themed posters that have been showing up at anti-Israel/BDS type rallies the last few years. Demonstrations, of course, that have nothing to do with anti-Semitism; they just happen to attract a lot of pro-Nazi, pro-Hitler people and posters. There was a photo of such a poster in one of the London papers that showed Hitler in uniform with a banner across it reading: “Hitler was Right.”

Hitler was not right. But, in the perspective of history, Hitler is right back.

Doubt it? Take a look at this photo of a store in Gaza that proudly has named itself “Hitler 2” and features giant statues of knife-wielding Palestinian “heroes” standing outside.

Hitler 2, a clothing store in Gaza City. (International Business Times)
Hitler 2, a clothing store in Gaza City. (International Business Times)

Of course we know from the Hamas Covenant (Article 7) the Gazan leadership explicitly makes it a sacred mission to murder all Jews, not just Israeli Jews. The world shrugs at this genocidal commandment.

Indeed one left-wing anti-Zionist Jew sought to “console” me by saying (seriously and of course in contravention of the plain words of the text) Hamas only wants to murder Israeli Jews, so the rest of us shouldn’t be troubled.

They haven’t had much success—yet—but they have most of the world taking their side or accepting the moral equivalence of the two sides.

Why do I say feel it necessary to bring the possibility of the destruction of the State of Israel out in the open?

Why do I lament a posthumous victory for Hitler that has yet to happen? (Although one could imagine him enjoying the prolongation of the torment of the Jews of Israel, however it ends.)

There were two recent developments that crystallized my thinking.

Two factors prompted me to this grim consideration.

The lesser one was the declaration of Iran’s Ayatollah Khameini shortly after the semi-ratification of the Iran nuclear deal:

“Some Zionists have said that due to the outcome of the nuclear negotiations, we have been relieved from worry about Iran for [the next] 25 years. But we say to them, you will essentially not see [what will happen in] the next 25 years, and with the grace of God, something by the name of the Zionist regime will no longer exist in the region.”

Yes, he’s made these blustery threats before. But there was something particularly chilling about the specificity of the number. Twenty-five years.

Not just that it happened to coincide with the expiration of the last of the attenuated inspection provisions and enrichment limitations called for by that treaty, however meaningless they may be. (I should probably mention I supported, the deal, not because it will prevent Iran from getting the bomb—I have no doubt they’ll cheat as they have before—but because marginally, on balance, it might buy some time and some advance warning intel.)

Still I am not one of the pollyanna optimists among the cheerleaders for the treaty who claim that even if Iran got the bomb it can be deterred by Israel’s own nuclear arsenal. Do I have to remind people of the sinister remark about this imagined deterrence by “moderate” Iranian leader, Ali Akbar Rafsanjani? He said that Iran could not be deterred because if there were a nuclear exchange, even if an Israeli retaliation resulted in the loss of millions of Iranians, millions more would survive, while most of the Jews in Israel would be dead.

Deterrence? Not always the best strategy with suicidal martyrdom seekers on what they consider a sacred mission. And remember they only need to get one hit, maybe a bomb lobbed off a fishing trawler off shore from Haifa or across the border of Hezbollah-land. Israel is a “one bomb state” as they say, and it would take a mere six minutes to accomplish what it took Hitler six years to get done.

But I don’t think the nuclear situation is the reason to be most alarmed. The reason to be most alarmed is that one or two hundred Israeli nuclear weapons cannot deter a single mind-poisoned Palestinian teenager from stabbing Jewish parents in front of their children..

Let’s focus on the children for a moment.

The second development that made me fear for the worst was—shortly after Khameini’s statement—coming across this:

A headline in the Algemeiner online, the digital resurrection of the venerable German Jewish publication. It was dated Nov. 3.


Sickening. Heartbreaking. But not to be ignored. Just a poll you say. Think about it though.

One month of stabbings. 80 percent. 64 percent.

Those poor kids.

This wasn’t a month of mass murder. But there seemed to be more levels to the stabbing acts and their consequence than mere numbers could capture.

All of Israel’s nukes could not deter these attacks, cannot wipe out the memories, restore the losses. Give comfort to the parents about the safety of their children. There is no Iron Dome for internal defense of the soul.

Talk about feeling precarious. Part of it is the way the Web has become weaponized. Note the Algemeiner headline says the factor that is terrifying Israeli children are “attack videos.”

It could be said to have begun with the IS beheading videos. The brazenness of flaunting a knife cutting a throat. Part of their horrific effect has been the fetishization of knifing that began with the knives drawn through the throats of IS captives, in episodes redolent of ritual slaughter. Ritual slaughter, a virtual religious rite.

One now urged upon all Palestinians as a sacred act from the pulpit of mosques devoted to “the religion of peace.”

The alleged use of knives by Jews was a staple of the most vicious anti-Semitic ideology. From the medieval blood libel about knifing little children to moisten the Passover matzo. And let us not forget the role of Shylock. For all the sanitizing of the blood libel done by historically ignorant modern directors and Bardolators, Shylock was about a Jew and knife. About a Jew supposedly—as in the medieval blood libels of William of Norwich and the like—driven by a wicked lust to knife a Christian “about the heart” for failure to pay a debt. Now, instead of the Jew holding the knife to the child, it’s the child holding the knife to the Jew.

Oh, yes, 2,000 years of Christian anti-Semitism does more to pave the way for this than radical Islam which basically parrots the worst blood libels of Christian anti-Semitism from Mein Kampf to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (cited approvingly in the Hamas charter).

What makes the stabbing Intifada so particularly horrific is that it is more than any military or guerilla warfare, not an “insurgency.” It is the ritual murder of Jews. , which is an entirely new form of anti-Semitic horror-show. The unholy sanctification even Hitler didn’t claim. He tried to hide his monstrous crimes. In Palestine, they are celebrated.

Why have they been so effective (80 percent/64 percent) as well as horrific? For one thing they are so personal. Nobody pushing a button from 1,000 miles away to launch a rocket. Just one human being plunging a blade into another’s flesh, in the name of religion and nationalism.

And then the other even more grave fact about them. In all likelihood they will never stop. They will never go away. Sure re-enforced police procedures might diminish the number for a while. But there is little likelihood there will come a day when a feeling of safety—however precarious it already was—will return. They haven’t killed all that many compared to the Second Intifada’s suicide bombs blowing up wedding and holiday celebrations. But they work. And the world is content to ignore or excuse them. Ignore them the way the Jews stabbed to death the day of the Charlie Hebdo killers were virtually ignored. Even liberal Jews are silent.

I read web and social media and it’s shocking how liberal Jews (I consider myself one, recall) so quick to righteously protest the sufferings of just about everyone else in the world, rarely have expressed any sorrow for the knifing of Jewish children. Sadly they seem to have been bullied by the BDS types, by the social media sewer of anti-Semitism, the Shylockization of Netanyahu. By the “moral equivalence” “cycle of violence” narrative. Can’t feel bad about murdered Jews if a right wing government’s in power. To the extent that if a liberal Jew speaks up for the murdered at a dinner party he is suddenly Sheldon Adelson. Or the Jew in the Annie Hall dinner scene abruptly finding himself clothed in Hasidic garb (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Or they’ve bought into the line that any desperate attempt at self-defense by the Jewish State is an atrocity, while any atrocity by its enemies is “resistance.”

The knifings will never stop because once the power of personalized terror is realized, it’s hardly necessary to keep up the pace. The possibility will haunt every walk in the street, every trip to the market, every stroll in a public place. At any moment, the 10-year-old child of the “other,” your neighbor, might stab you. The gas station attendant might stab you. His daughter might stab you.

Because let’s face it no two-state solution is—if it ever was—going to overcome the incessant Palestinian state and religious incitement to murder Jews, celebrate the murderers as martyrs in the cause of destroying the “Zionist entity”—a phrase which captures in its dehumanization (“entity”) a license to kill. A two-state solution that preserves a “Zionist entity” will never have peace. I think we know that now. It’s sad. But it’s true.

It is not “the occupation” the blame-the-Jews crowd (many Jews among them) deplores. It is the very existence of Jews anywhere from the Jordan to the Mediterranean.

I have to laugh—bitterly—when I read accusations that Israel is an apartheid state. The Palestinians want a Hitlerite Judenrein state, however much violence it takes to accomplish it. Not separation, elimination. They say so openly. Read the translations of what is being preached in the mosques and declaimed by the Palestine Authority. People can’t seem to accept that if there ever was a chance for a solution, there is none now. Two state, one state, no. It’s not going to happen. It’s the false idol of “solutionism,” fronting for the glide path to a final or semi-final solution.

No “political settlement” is going to end the threat of knife murderers. Try to think of how you’d feel if you were a parent in Jerusalem, deciding whether to take your children for a walk these days. When anyone in your neighborhood could be carrying an easily concealed knife.

And think about it from the perspective of a French family. Suffering increasing harassment, murder, hate rallies, virtual pogroms. Remember, it was not so long ago Benjamin Netanyahu called upon French Jews to escape an increasingly murderous environment and come to Israel. But now?

Yes, even after the Paris terror attacks—which were not aimed at Jews—it is possible to think the offer of a safe haven is an illusion. Look at the geopolitical situation now.

To the north in Lebanon, there is Hezbollah with estimates of up to 100,000 missiles, fortified now by Iranian, Syrian, and probably Russian arms.

We used to be told that Hezbollah was deterred because it would be easy, child’s play for the Israeli air force to wipe them and their weapons out. But now things are more complicated. Especially since they are now allied with a nuclear superpower on the ground. The risk of engaging even conventional Russian weapons will not be lightly taken. If Hezbollah doesn’t have a free hand, it has an umbrella.

Then to the East there is IS, busy now cutting the throats of Kurds and the like. There have been signs of destabilization recently in “solid” ally Jordan (murder of American anti-IS “trainers”).

But when they’re done there would the Palestinian Authority have the ability—or the will—to stand up to the Islamic State? Or would they welcome them to join the fight against the “Zionist entity.” It could happen in a flash. There are already indications of IS presence in the West Bank and Gaza—and no shortage of IS fanatics from all over the world right across the border in Syria, of course. The beheaders will sooner or later be a few miles from the city limits of Tel Aviv.

To the south there is still Hamas with their sacred mission embedded in their covenant to murder every Jew they can find.

And then to the West there is the Mediterranean where any properly equipped fishing trawler has the capacity to lob a nuclear weapon onto Haifa. Slim chance? Maybe. But it only takes one to succeed. One to be smuggled through a tunnel somewhere.

And then there is the danger within. Who cannot imagine a “Paris type” attack ravaging Jerusalem or Tel Aviv?

This is the situation Netanyahu invited the French family into. His intentions were good. The situation has changed. As some strategic thinkers have arguedIsrael, which had once been well prepared to deal with Arab national armies, now has the far more difficult task of dealing with “asymmetric warfare” threats like knifings.


In America the denialism takes the form of moral equivalence—both sides need to take “risks for peace.” Easy to say when “taking risks” means for the Israelis the risk of their sliver of survivability, their entire existence in return for promises on paper. Look how well the withdrawal from Gaza “risk for peace” worked out. Risks for peace with a people committed to your elimination.

Or it takes the form of just cruelly turning the back on the plight of this particular imperiled branch of the family. As in the great sage Jacob Neusner’s urging American Jews to end “obsession” with the Holocaust and the shadow it casts over Israel. We’re doing fine in America! Let’s get back to “Jewish Culture”—to (metaphorically) dancing the Hora. To focusing on the micro-exegesis of the Torah. Don’t let the downer news from the Middle East spoil the party! Let those losers in Israel with their annoying obsession with survival sort it out.

The vise is tightening. Around Israel. Within Israelis. I have abject admiration for the spirit that has kept them strong and made them the most democratic state in the region. But can this spirit last forever?

So, does all this portend the end? I don’t know. I do think it portends the end of optimism. I’m not trying to be a prophet. I’m not even assuming but simply assessing the worst-case scenario. What is Plan B? What if things work out very, very badly?

Don’t think about it? I’m assuming they are thinking about it there in some sub-sub-basement cyber insulated room in an outlying office of Mossad, where worst case scenarios are handled with care. The same place where they play out scenarios for degrees of nuclear retaliation, perhaps.

I’m not sure how to think about it. About how it happens or what happens after it happens. So think of these as more lamentations than predictions. But I can see an endless debilitating state of war, settling nothing but causing unending suffering.

I can see an internal weakening, a veritable civil war between secular Jews and Bible-crazed Jewish terrorists.

Or something even more dramatic, a conventional war that ends in Israel’s defeat. Worse, a war that escalates—if it’s going badly on the conventional level—to the nuclear level. When I imagined such a scenario in my book on nuclear war, Russia was a distant nuclear power. Now that both nuclear super powers are bombing targets close to Israel’s borders and are on hair-trigger alert protocols, the possibility of something going wrong escalates. A small nuclear war would be more likely than a large one, but of course the most recent estimate was that in such a “small war” a billion people worldwide would die from the atmospheric devastation to crops, meaning starvation that would ensue.

Or the death of Israel might not become that violent and dramatic. It just could mean a slow crumbling under the pressure, under the strains of internal religious-versus-secular conflict. Perhaps BDS will succeed economically as it has culturally. The top one percent of the talent will be snatched up by universities and medical centers perhaps.

I can see increasing immigration of Jews of all sorts from Israel. Get out when the getting’s good. While the getting is still possible. The German Jews in the 1930s just could not conceive of what Hitler wanted to do, until Kristallnacht made it crystal clear and even then many would not hear the worst-case scenario. Not that it helped many who did. But some owe their lives to it.

I wish I could even see Jews as refugees, but unlike the Syrians they’d have no place to go.

The vile anti-Semitic propaganda that has made them the villains of the occupation (after an invasion that sought to destroy the Jewish State, but nobody mentions that) leaving them with nowhere to go, few who will take the demonized people.

Just as before.

The big question: Would America turn its back the way it did the last time? I don’t know. These are lamentations not prophecies.

And who to blame? More than anything I’d blame religion. I’d blame the variety of religion that values old stones over living souls, this temple, that mosque. Don’t step here, don’t pray there or we’ll kill you in the name of God. I’d blame the way anti-Semitism has become a religion.

And I’d blame the cruel joke of “Western civilization” exposed for the slaughterhouse it was in World War I, which made World War II and Hitler possible. The silly recent contretemps over whether a time-traveler should kill “baby Hitler” merely illustrates how he haunts us still.

Hitler: Not right, but right back at you. “Hitler 2” his dream, his “posthumous victory” is now so near.


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Ron Rosenbaum’s books include Explaining Hitler, The Shakespeare Wars, and Those Who Forget the Past, an anthology of essays on contemporary anti-Semitism.