Thursday, May 04, 2006

Israel Makes Us Less Safe?

On a Hirhurim post about Holocaust theodicy, I'm participating in the comment thread about whether Israel makes us less safe.

I've heard this argument before, generally from people who are against the state of Israel. The common arguments they make for this proposition is that more Jews in Israel have died in the last 58 years than the rest of the world combined, that Jews are now located in one area, which is inherently less safe, that anti-Semitism was sparked in the Muslim world because of the creation of the State of Israel and that Iran now has nukes pointed at Israel.

I'm not going to quibble and challenge any of these propositions. The issue is how the question is phrased. When people say Israel has made Jews less safe, they usually assume that Jews in Israel are less safe than Jews elsewhere and therefore if there was no Israel, all Jews would be as a safe as they are in the Diaspora today. But this argument is flawed because the proper question is not whether Israel is safer than the Diaspora, but whether Jews less safe today with Israel than they would be without the State.

One reason why so many Jews live in Israel is because Israel is a place where Jews can easily go to escape persecution. The fact that Jews are safer around the world is directly linked to the fact that Jews in places less safe than Israel and the US left those places to go to Israel. If there was no Israel, over a million Jews would live in the Arab world, which is not such a safe place, for indigenous Arabs and minorities alike.

Moreover, where would all the displaced Jews of Europe have gone? The doors to most of the countries were still closed, and it's unlikely that the US or Western Europe would have accepted all of them. So it's quite possible that Europe would have sent the Jews to its colonies around the world in Africa and Asia, which are areas filled with internecine warfare. Other possible locations were South America (home of the eternal revolutions) and the Arab world, which does not top the safe list.

Let’s use notation. W1 is the world with Israel and W2 is the world without. We have no clue if any of these Jews in W2 would have been safe in these countries. In fact, it's unlikely that they would have been. To properly analyze the question we need to look at the risks posed to Jews in Israel in W1 and compare them to the risks those Jews in W2 would have faced. Now of course this analysis is difficult to do since predicting possible outcomes is always speculative. But the best way to do it is to calculate the possibility of the risk coming to fruition and multiply it by the extent of the harm (this is similar to the Hand test for the Holmes "clear and present danger" test for dangerous speech that was overruled in Brandenburg v. Ohio). For example, let's assume the risk of an Iranian nuclear attack in W1 is .1% and the harm of the attack is 50. That would put the total risk number at 5. Now let's assume the risk of a pogrom in Sudan in W2 is 1% and the harm is 5. Those risks then would be the same.

The risks facing a large number of Jews in Israel over the last 58 years and today in W2 is probably less than the risks facing Jews in Israel (and worldwide because of Israel) in W1. Massacres were common in these countries (Africa, Asia, and the ME) and although the harm would probably be less, the total risk would probably be at least equally as great.

Obviously reasonable minds could disagree with my analysis and attribute greater probability or greater harm to W1 than to W2. That's fine. But people need to understand that such an analysis requires a massive amount of research into the dynamics of the Arab world, as well as the other areas where Jews would live. It also must take into account how Israel's existence affects Jews in the US in terms of their willingness to put pressure on their government (would Jews in the US have had the pride and guts to challenge the Soviets to let the Jews go or challenge a hypothetical massacre of Jews in Liberia?). These are difficult questions and anyone who is sure that Israel has made Jews safer or less safe is probably not thinking about it enough or with enough depth.

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