A few days ago, Ronen Bar, head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service, gave a lengthy presentation where he outlined Israel’s security problems. The presentation made waves all over the Israeli media not because there was new information about our enemies that was not known before, but because Bar blamed us for our problems, and not in the military sense, or because of some inherent problem with Israel’s intelligence service. The fault he pointed to was internal division.
Bar did not mince words: “From the intelligence that we have read, from the interrogations of attackers we have conducted, and also from many years of familiarity with our adversaries, wherever they are, we can say today without a shadow of a doubt that the political instability, the growing internal division, the breaking up of the historical common denominators, and the radicalized discourse — all these are a shot of encouragement to the countries of the axis of evil, to terrorist organizations, and to lone threats,” he said. “The prevailing feeling among our adversaries, Bar added, “is that our historic comparative advantage, the same one that stood to our credit for thousands of years and is our national resilience, is dissipating,” he added. “This insight should trouble us more than anything else.”
Clarifying what he meant by “national resilience,” Bar said, “[The] deep rift that is developing within Israeli society” is the “most complex” challenge it is facing. However, Bar also admitted, “In this matter the Shin Bet can only warn; it certainly cannot deal with it,” he said. “It is in the hands of each and every one of us.”
Bar is correct. Our weakness stems from our division. His statement said nothing new. Our very peoplehood is based on unity, we introduced to the world the concepts of mutual responsibility, solidarity; and unity, and we built a society whose kings taught not to change others, but to connect with them just as they are. In those days, “Love your neighbor as yourself” was not an election slogan; it was the prerequisite that enabled the proclamation of our people as a nation.
At the foot of Mt. Sinai, we heard the threat for the first time: Unite “as one man with one heart,” or the mountain will turn on you and bury you like a vault. Since then, every time we disunited, a different kind of “vault” had buried us. It started with Nebuchadnezzar II, who destroyed the First Temple and sent us to exile in Babylon, continued with General Titus, who destroyed the Second Temple and sent us to an exile that has only recently (partially) ended. In later times, King Ferdinand expelled us from Spain, and in the previous century, Hitler wiped out European Jewry almost in its entirety.
In all those calamities, Jewish division intensified prior to the onset of the evildoer’s onslaught. Moreover, in many such cases, Jews, or Jews who converted into another religion (or their parents) were among the fiercest and cruelest enemies of the Jews. The commander who led the attack on Jerusalem in the destruction of the Second Temple was Tiberius Alexander, a Jew who was born in Alexandria, and whose father built the doors to the Temple. Before he charged into Jerusalem, he slaughtered 50,000 Jews in his hometown Alexandria.
In Spain, the prime ideologist behind the Spanish Inquisition was Tomás de Torquemada whose parents or grandparents were conversos (Jews who converted into Christianity). Even when the Nazis came to power, there were German Jews who joined the Nazi Party and were avid followers of Hitler. And when Arab rioters slaughtered Jews in Palestine before the establishment of the State of Israel, mutilated their bodies, and violated the women before they butchered them, some Jews hailed those Arabs as heroes.
Berl Katznelson, among the prominent Zionist leaders of the Labor movement in Palestine before the establishment of the State of Israel, said about such self-hating Jews in May 1936: “Is there another nation whose members have come to such emotional and intellectual deformity that everything their nation does … is despicable and detestable, and everything their people’s enemies do, every murder and every rape [and there were countless] fills their heart with admiration?”
The current audacity of our enemies is therefore nothing new. It is merely a continuation of the same pattern we have seen throughout the history of our people.
The only way we can emerge from the cycle of destruction—because this is where it is leading—is to re-embrace unity “as one man with one heart.” This is our legacy; this is our only source of strength; and this is our only way to avoid another turning of the vault over our heads. As Bar said, “This insight should trouble us more than anything else,” and “It is in the hands of each and every one of us.”
For more on this topic, see my book 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘑𝘦𝘸𝘪𝘴𝘩 𝘊𝘩𝘰𝘪𝘤𝘦: 𝘜𝘯𝘪𝘵𝘺 𝘰𝘳 𝘈𝘯𝘵𝘪-𝘚𝘦𝘮𝘪𝘵𝘪𝘴𝘮, 𝘏𝘪𝘴𝘵𝘰𝘳𝘪𝘤𝘢𝘭 𝘧𝘢𝘤𝘵𝘴 𝘰𝘯 𝘢𝘯𝘵𝘪-𝘚𝘦𝘮𝘪𝘵𝘪𝘴𝘮 𝘢𝘴 𝘢 𝘳𝘦𝘧𝘭𝘦𝘤𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯 𝘰𝘧 𝘑𝘦𝘸𝘪𝘴𝘩 𝘴𝘰𝘤𝘪𝘢𝘭 𝘥𝘪𝘴𝘤𝘰𝘳𝘥.
The head of the Shin Bet, Ronen Bar. Wednesday, October 13, 2021. Photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO