Six months into the war against Hamas, and we’re told Israel is more isolated than ever. But is it, though?

Israel has been engaging in self-defense against marauding or rocket-firing Palestinians intermittently over the past 60 years. In almost every instance, the word “isolated” has been incessantly deployed in media to describe the Jewish state’s standing after it acts to protect its own people among the “world of nations” or the “international community”—or whatever descriptor you might wish to use for those people and nations discomfited not merely by the existence of the Jewish state but by its intermittent and potent displays of Jewish martial force.

Pull back a little and view the relations of Israel with the rest of the world through a historical lens and you can see why the desire of the sclerotic “international community” to declare Israel isolated is without limit. What Israel is, what Israel does, what it says about the Jewish people and our place in the world—these are all something new. Entirely new. Unknown to anyone now living or to any of their ancestors going back 100 generations.

Jews literally did not have the means or the ability to defend themselves for more than two millennia. Now we do. And when we do, we become unnerving. The very phrase “Jewish army” was, since 70 C.E., the definition of an oxymoron. Now it conjures up something powerful, and the fact that it’s powerful at all means for many that it’s far too powerful. When Israel acts in its own defense, it alienates these people and these nations. And thereby “isolates” itself.

The “isolation” of Israel at the United Nations began immediately after Israel’s wildly successful preemptive war in 1967, when the act of writing and passing resolutions to control and contain Israel led inexorably to the infamous “Zionism is racism” resolution of 1975. Six years later, Israel again found itself “isolated” when it annexed the Golan Heights. As it happens, I was at the Palm Restaurant in Washington, D.C. having a job interview with Charles Krauthammer and Marty Peretz of the New Republic on the day the annexation was announced. Marty was known as a stalwart defender of Israel, and our luncheon table was visited a dozen times that day by D.C. grandees demanding that Marty explain this barbaric action, which to them seemed designed only to appease “right-wing” elements. Such an aggressive theft of Syrian territory would, the lobbyists and poohbahs and Council on Foreign Relations members declared, only serve to “isolate” Israel.

The effort to extirpate the PLO in Lebanon a year later led to further “isolation”—as the Reagan White House was eager to let it be known that Reagan himself had reportedly said “David has become Goliath” at a moment when he supposedly thought the Jewish state had gone too far.

Then came the “isolation” that followed Israel’s response to the rock-throwing Palestinian youth of the first intifada beginning in 1988. It retaliated harshly through a policy then–defense minister Yitzhak Rabin called “force, might, and beatings.” I remember Rabin, long before his assassination made him a martyr for an Oslo peace process he hadn’t trusted and seemed almost sickened by, roaring “you are wrong!” at Ted Koppel on his ABC show when Koppel declared Israel was isolating itself with its too-harsh tactics.

In the 1990s, every time an Israeli built a room on a house on the West Bank, the settler policy was said to be “isolating” Israel from the international community. And after three proposals for statehood were rejected by the Palestinians from 1998 to 2001, and Yasser Arafat began the terror war known as the second intifada, it was not the Palestinians who were “isolated” by their suicide bombings. No, it was Israel that was threatened with “isolation” because of its relentless and ultimately successful efforts to root out the bomb-making facilities on the West Bank.

Meanwhile, in 1999, Israel unilaterally exited the security zone it had maintained in Lebanon to prevent PLO attacks—a move that didn’t do much to end Israel’s steady state of isolation. Then, in 2006, Israel was forced to respond militarily once the Iranian proxy Hezbollah came to occupy the territory Israel had previously controlled and used the area to hurl bombs at northern Israel and kidnap Israeli soldiers.

See a pattern? Israel was attacked, Israel fought back…and you know what comes next. Its actions in Lebanon were initially supported by the United States, and the United States pretty much alone, for 34 days. Then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Israel it had to finish up and go home because things were just getting out of hand. If Israel were to fail to heed America’s counsel, she made it clear, the Jewish state would not only find itself “isolated” in the international community. It would cause a crisis in the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and left it to the Palestinians. Eight thousand Jews were forced to leave the homes they had built and the greenhouses they had constructed for farming. Palestinians sacked the homes and destroyed the greenhouses. Did this cause their isolation? Not at all. Gaza was served and coddled, as it had been for decades, by a United Nations agency called UNRWA solely dedicated to doing so. Hamas took over Gaza in short order and kidnapped Israeli soldiers and began firing rockets. In 2009, 2012, 2014, and 2021, Israel was forced by circumstance to roll tanks into the area it had once occupied and controlled militarily. Each time it did so, the world would tsk and wag a finger and isolate Israel again.

For eight years, Israel faced a president in Barack Obama who really, really disliked it. Oh, he said he didn’t. But we all knew he did, and we also knew there were people in America and elsewhere who loved him because he did. His vice president is now president, and for a time he seemed to be different. He was different. And then he stopped being different and started being threatening, in his own impotent way.

So here we are. Again. Israel. Isolated.

And what have these decades of isolation chronically flaring up whenever Israel takes up arms in its own defense wrought? All this terrible, terrible isolation—what has it wrought? How has Israel been damaged, hurt, affected, tormented, and terrorized by the poor opinion in which it seems to be held by so many?

Not much.

In 1967, Israel had a GDP of $4 billion and was among the poorer nations on the earth. By 1977, its GDP had quadrupled to $16 billion. In 1988, it tripled the 1977 number and reached $50 billion. It hit $100 billion in 1994 and $200 billion in 2007. By 2023, Israel’s GDP was $535 billion, and it was, depending on how you count, the 25th-, or the 27th-, or the 30th-richest country on earth. All in all, Israel boasts an economy 125 times larger than it was before the Six-Day War, with a per capita income of $47,000 a year.

So maybe there is a certain type of rueful wisdom to be taken from these undeniable statistics. Maybe the thing is, Israel doesn’t need the support of the international community and the Council on Foreign Relations and the panel on Washington Week in Review and the jawboners at the Aspen Institute and the billionaires who drink ambrosia from the boots of tyrants at Davos. Maybe the thing is, Israel is a nation that has had this miraculous rise because it has a purpose, which is something most other countries do not have or need, and something that Thomas Friedman and his ilk are (again) too unnerved by to understand.

Israel is engaged in a purpose that is both world-historical and outside history. It exists as a refuge and haven and homeland for the world’s most stateless people, and its claim to statehood is not just due to its need for protection but based in part on a literally transcendent claim. That’s why I say it exists outside history as well.

To ensure the continuity of its existence, Israel must act. First, it must beat back those who would destroy it and who have been coming at it relentlessly since the day it was founded—genocidal evildoers whose Amalekite faces are now showing themselves even in America, really for the first time in our history.

Second, it must not only survive but thrive, because the fulfillment of its purpose depends upon it slowly making Jewish power a simple and undeniable and enduring reality in a world that has not known such a thing before—and is, as I said before, unnerved by it.

That was, in fact, happening during the 2010s with the Abraham Accords—until that progress was halted in part by a bizarrely feckless Biden administration that decided to hinge our national policy toward the world’s most important oil-exporting nation on the murder of a single person in a consulate in Turkey several years earlier. The fact that Israel had grown the way it had grown and shown how to be an innovative nation in a region mired in backwardness was its calling card.

But perhaps it was too focused on hurrying time along. For over the course of the past decade, Israel somehow found itself, like the sightless Samson in John Milton’s imagining, “eyeless in Gaza”—and made itself vulnerable to the worst single event in its history. At least Samson had been blinded by enemy Philistines; Israel’s leaders blinded themselves. They didn’t see the gathering danger because they wanted to look elsewhere and do other things.

Its response has, yet again, isolated Israel. That isolation is wearing away at the determination of some Israelis to see this war through to victory or is causing them to despair that there can be victory. It is a hateful thing, the isolation. It is unjust, it is foul, it is hypocritical, and it is, of course, anti-Semitic at its root.

But as the past six decades have shown us, when it comes to Israel’s purpose as both a change agent in history and a representative of a force outside of history, the isolation doesn’t matter at all. They—we—are not isolated. They—we—are chosen.

Photo: AP Photo/Ariel Schalit

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