A Brief Word on Why Israel Matters

On the occasion of its 73rd birthday

The following is a revised version of an earlier newsletter, published back when there were far fewer of you here to read it. It is not the only answer to this question, but it’s one that speaks particularly to me.

Israel turns 73 today. Its population stands at 9.3 million, 6.9 million of them Jews. The vast majority of those are refugees and descendants of refugees from Europe, the Holocaust, the Middle East, Africa, and the Soviet Union.

In other words, Israel is the most successful effort to save Jews from persecution in human history. And it was accomplished by the Jewish people themselves in their historic homeland.

There are many days of the year when Jews like me agonize over and critique the policies of the current Israeli government. Today is the one day a year when we celebrate the extraordinary achievement of Israel, and remind ourselves of a crucial reason why those arguments matter.

Simply put, thanks to Israel, there are literally millions of Soviet, Middle Eastern, and European Jews who would otherwise be dead, imprisoned, or forced to suppress their identity, who are instead living free lives under their own power and protection.

Indeed, the Jewish state—and its assurance of Jewish security and flourishing—is the main reason that the Jewish population has finally almost rebounded back to its numbers before the Nazi genocide.

As Albert Einstein put it in his last speech:

The establishment of this State was internationally approved and recognised largely for the purpose of rescuing the remnant of the Jewish people from unspeakable horrors of persecution and oppression…

Thus, the establishment of Israel is an event which actively engages the conscience of this generation.

None of this is meant to deny the legitimate struggle of the Palestinian people for a similar home of their own. On the contrary, anyone who truly understands what statehood has meant for the Jews, a dispersed and disdained minority community, should understand its utter necessity for Palestinians.

Rather, the above explains why Israel is so important to so many Jews; why we fiercely defend its existence even when critical of its policies; and why we view with suspicion those who call to boycott it.

Because we know that without Israel, so many of us would not be here, or would not be free to be as we are. And that matters—and is worth fighting for.

Chag Ha’atzmaut Sameach.

When I first wrote this piece, this newsletter had just launched. Today, this revised version is reaching thousands more readers. It’s one of those moments that reminds me how fortunate I am to have each of you in this thoughtful community.

If you aren’t already subscribed, or would like to become a paying subscriber to support this work and gain access to subscriber-only content, please feel free to do so here:

In other news, I think I figured out how the blood libel got started

Recommended Reading

• A new article in the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies makes an expanded academic version of my argument against European efforts to ban kosher/halal slaughter and circumcision. The gist: that these ostensible attempts to protect animal or human rights conveniently only impose their costs on marginalized minorities, but not the broader society, enabling the majority to signal its virtue without actually paying any price for it.

• In his new newsletter, Charlie Warzel smartly diagnoses how Twitter’s “Trending Topics” feature exacerbates some of the site’s worst dynamics, from the viral spread of conspiratorial content to the harassment of random individuals over their tweets. I’d add that this isn’t the only feature of the site which does this: so do Twitter’s algorithm-recommended tweets, which rile people up by putting inflammatory content in front of them that they never asked for.

• For those who weren’t able to tune into the live event after I plugged it, here is the recording of last month’s conversation between Arun Viswanath, the multi-talented Yiddish translator of Harry Potter, and UC-Berkeley’s Robert Alter, the renowned English translator of the Hebrew Bible.

Thank you for reading this edition of my newsletter. If you liked what you read and want to support this work, please do share it with your friends and subscribe: