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Did Israel Rise from a State of Nature?

December 11, 2010

In early November the University of Michigan Hillel presented me with the opportunity to attend the Jewish Federation General Assembly in New Orleans. The General Assembly (GA) is a premier annual North American Jewish conference, which attracts key Jewish Federation leaders, donors, and professionals as well as the leadership of partner organizations and other national Jewish organizations. The conference tends to feature recognizable figures from the political, business and non-profit realms. This year was no different, considering the GA hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, and Michael Oren, the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S.  The speeches of Netanyahu and Oren were extremely powerful and could be the topic of a controversial blog post, but it was Joe Biden’s speech that propelled me to create the following theory: Israel’s independence in 1948 came as a result of man’s need for government to escape a Hobbesian state of nature.


I think it’s safe to assume that the entire conference expected the vice president to assert the support of the Obama Administration in Israel’s fight against international criticism. Biden did not disappoint, as he vowed that, “Efforts to chip away at Israel will only be met by unshakeable opposition by the United States.” It seems that at conventions similar to the GA, American politicians repeat the same script trying to appease any doubts that Israeli lobbyists may have about the strength of the U.S.-Israeli political relationship. However, Biden’s presentation included an unexpected personal account about his relationship with Israel.


Biden reminisced about a meeting he had with former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir during his first trip to Israel as a U.S. senator. Biden recalled a moment during his first ever conversation with Golda Meir, a notoriously hard nose leader, where Meir drew him in close to relay an important message. According to Meir, Israel had a “secret weapon.” Naturally, Biden thought this was going to be a confession of an Israeli military advancement. Instead of a military confession Meir looked Senator Biden directly in the eye and stated that Israel’s secret weapon was that “we have no where else to go.” These words spoke deeply to the GA assembly because Jews have had no place other than Israel in the world since the diaspora began under the rule of the Romans thousands of years ago. This got me thinking about the creation of Israel in 1948.


Israel’s independence came as a result of the British-Palestinian Mandate’s collapse. However, the goal of the British-Palestinian Mandate, other than for the British to solidify a relationship with middle eastern countries such as Egypt and Iraq, was to impose law and prevent war in the lands that are now recognized as Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Unfortunately, Britain was more focused on personal gains than preventing a state of war within the mandate. Attacks between Zionists and Palestinians against one another and against the British were countless. For example, there was the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939, the Irgun (Zionist Military Organization) bombing of British headquarters at the King David hotel, and the Zionist massacre of the Palestinian town Deir Yassin.


According to Hobbes, the state of nature is in fact a state of war where no morality exists and everyone lives in constant fear. In this state, no one is really free and the weakest are capable of killing the strongest. Using the three aforementioned examples one can argue the British-Palestinian Mandate’s existence being a state of nature. The people, Zionist and Palestinian, within the Mandate lived in constant fear of attacks against one another. Morality was none existent as seen in Deir Yassin and the Arab Revolt. Lastly, the weak were capable of destroy the strong, as was seen in Irgun’s destruction of British headquarters.


Israel became an independent nation after living under the state of nature-esque ruling of the British. Thus, Israel’s government/sovereign, the Knesset, was in fact a creation to protect the people. In fact, the Knesset had its first opportunity to protect the people when seven nations attacked Israel on its first day of existence. Overall, my theory may be a bit radical and I apologize if it offends anyone (Israel is always a heated topic of discussion), but it should be recognized that this argument should not be linked in anyway to Israel post-1948. This post was meant to raise the question, was Israel’s independence a result of the twenty five year state of war and Hobbesian state of nature under the ruling of the British from 1923-1948.



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