Should Israel Be Feared or Loved?
In his masterpiece, The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli said the ideal leader is both feared and loved. If forced to choose, however, you should choose to be feared because it is more powerful.
You may agree or disagree with this view. But I bring it up now because it remains stunningly relevant in modern global politics. In fact, it illuminates a paradox in which the state of Israel now finds itself.
Israel, as philosopher Micah Goodman points out, yearns to be both loved and feared. Israelis want their country to be loved by the West, but feared by its Middle East neighbors. As he puts it,
“We want Western civilization to love us. We want Bono to sing songs about us.”
“We want Madonna to share stories on Instagram, about how much she admires us and loves us. That’s what we want. In the West, we want to be loved.”
“In the Middle East, we don’t want to be loved. We want to be feared. It’s a different emotion. We want that Hezbollah will have a panic attack when they think about the Israeli Defense Forces.”
“We want Iran to shiver when it thinks about the possibility of a military interaction with Israel. We want the Middle East to be in fear of us.”
His view makes sense. Geographically, Israel is part of the Middle East. It is a tiny dot in a vast example of predominantly Arab countries.
It needs a massively disproportionate focus on military readiness and expenditures to survive.
Culturally and economically, however, Israel has deep ties to the Western world. It has produced dozens of companies listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange.
Its standard of living and happiness rankings fall within the averages of most Western countries. So Israelis struggle to live in both worlds.
In normal times, living in both worlds is hard enough. In a time of war and terrorism, it is almost impossible. As Professor Goodman points out,
“There is a zero-sum game between these emotions [love and fear] because here’s how it goes: Everything that we are going to do to restore the fear is going to erode the love. Everything we do that will guarantee that the Middle East is afraid of Israelis, of these crazy, unpredictable Israelis...is going to make people in the West not like us, not love us.
The other way around, if we try to keep the West loving us and writing songs about us, we will not restore the fear of the Middle East from us. So it’s a zero-sum game."
Break the Zero-Sum Game
When Israel acts to restore the wall of fear Hamas punctured with its terrorism, as it must, the love and support from the West will decline precipitously. In fact, it has already started to do so.
So what can Israel do? And what do those of us–Christians and Jews–who love and care about Israel do? We can remember the moral clarity we feel now.
We can recall the shock and horror and utter pain we felt at the terrorism and inhumanity of Hamas.
And we can break the zero-sum game. We do not live in a perfect world.
Israel would not exist if it did not evoke some fear from its neighbors. Thousands of years of Jewish history prove this point.
At the same time, fear is not an end in itself. Living in peace remains the ultimate objective. So Israelis need our love and support.
In other words, fear and love must co-exist. Perhaps in a perfect world, love would always win out.
But that world has not yet arrived.