Thoughts On Israel, Part II

David Friedlander
5 min readMar 18, 2024

Start with Part I, here

Though established as a Jewish state, one 2022 survey found that “58 percent of [Israeli] Jewish citizens do not affiliate with any religious group.” That same survey found that “20 percent [of Israeli Jewish citizens] are ‘Zionist Orthodox,’ 11 percent ‘ultra-Orthodox,’ 5 percent ‘Reform,’ 4 percent ‘Conservative,’ and 2 percent ‘national Orthodox.’” If the majority of Israelis don’t consider themselves affiliated with any religious group and the remaining balance skews towards extreme religiosity, it begs the question, “who, or what, was Israel established for?” Is Israel a place to advance Jewish religious ideals, even if the majority of its citizens don’t identify as religious? Is it a state for a secular Jewish culture? Without a unifying text like the Bible, what does this secular culture represent? Is Israel an oriental outpost for maintaining the strategic economic interests of Israel’s benefactors like the US?

In attempting to answer the above questions, I am reminded of this quote by author Jack Rosenblum:

If one person tells you you’re a horse, they are crazy. If three people tell you you’re a horse, there’s a conspiracy afoot. If ten people tell you you’re a horse, it’s time to buy a saddle.

The quote speaks to the frequent rift between internal and external perception. In this case, Israelis and their supporters see themselves one way and much of the rest of the world another.

Let’s start with how Israelis generally see themselves, which is as historic claimants to the lands now called Israel. Indeed, there is good evidence that Jews ruled over the region that is modern Israel around three thousand years ago, albeit as twelve separate tribes. This claim is supported in various books in the Bible, which attest to how God promised the lands to Abraham and his descendants. Jewish rule more or less ended around the 8th century BCE, when a procession of conquerors — Assyrians, Babylonians, Macedonians, Romans, Ottomans, etc.—claimed the area for themselves.

There is also the modern justification for a Jewish Israeli state, which relates to the historical plight of the Jewish diaspora in the absence of a homeland. Often cast as useful villains and often subject to limited rights in their host countries, Jews have been persecuted and killed for time immemorial. The Holocaust represented an apogee of Jewish persecution, and Israel’s statehood three years after WWII’s conclusion was in many ways compensation for the centuries of pain and suffering. Seen in a less idealized light, Israel was also a convenient place for various nations to dump their Jewish citizens.

Before proceeding to how non-Israelis perceive Israel’s formation and maintenance, it’s worth examining the aforementioned rationales.

First, it’s a bit odd for a largely secular population to use God’s promise and Biblical-era proofs to support their claim on the land, and, as descendants of Abraham, Muslim Palestinians can make similar claims. Three thousand year old historical claims to land ownership are similarly specious. If this type of historic claim on land ownership were held as universally true, then North and South America and Australia and countless other conquered lands should be reoccupied by their ancient inhabitants, all of whom I am confident have land ownership claims — ones vouchsafed by their respective God, gods, deities, and myths — that are as robust as those used by modern Israelis. In fact, due to their relatively recent displacement and all the record-keeping that entails, the displaced populations of North and South America and Australia have far more claim on their former lands than Israeli Jews, who, for the most part, were genetically and culturally assimilated into their various host nations over the last three thousand years.

Israeli Jews claims on the land now called Israel is largely based on cherry-picked history. Political leadership in the region has always been shifting and resistant to homogeneous, hegemonic rule.

So why haven’t aboriginal Australians reclaimed their island from their pale conquerors? Well, because, unlike the mid-20th century or present-day Jewish diaspora, aboriginal Australians have no meaningful global political or economic power. No economic might, no land rights. Similarly, restoring aboriginal Australian rule from modern, colonial powers would not support — and would almost certainly hinder — Australia’s global economic power. Such is not the case with Israel. Replacing culturally and economically backward (from a Western perspective), religious Palestinians with economically connected, westernized, and secular Jews was a big win for increasing global economic growth in the Middle/Near East. In Israel, the West established a reliable partner to host military bases, maintain oil trade routes, and generally serve as an eastern outpost for western economic and cultural values.

The argument that Jews needed (and need) a protected region from centuries of persecution has more heft than the historic claim. From their enslavement in ancient Egypt to the Spanish Inquisition to the Holocaust and many other atrocities in between, Jewish persecution seems like a historic constant. And it seems reasonable for Jews to want a nationalized safe haven. But as I’ll expand on later, Israel’s safety was founded on, and has depended on the reduced safety for Palestinians, and to some extent, the rest of the world. In the same vein, with virtually all of its neighbors hostile to its very existence, how safe is Israel really? How safe is Israel if it was stripped of its allies’ money and weapons? My guess is it would crumble in less than a year without its western bodyguards. This is no academic point. Today, the US spends substantially more on foreign and military aid to Israel than any other world country. This dependence on free flowing foreign aid to fight and fend off internal and external enemies seems like a very unsafe arrangement.

Now that we’ve explored some of the key ways Israelis claim their right to the Israeli lands, let’s consider how the rest of the world sees it.

To be continued….



David Friedlander

Pondering the future, today. Housing, health, and lots of other stuff.