Analysis from Israel

In many ways, the year that just ended was a difficult one for Israel–a war in Gaza, terror in Jerusalem, escalating international opprobrium, a slowing economy. Perhaps that explains why so little attention has been paid to the fact that last year also marked the achievement, for the first time in Israel’s history, of one of Zionism’s longtime goals: In a year where immigration to Israel hit a 10-year high, a majority of the immigrants, for the first time ever, came from the West. In other words, for the first time ever, most immigrants came to Israel not because they had no other options, but because they wanted to come.

Granted, rising anti-Semitism in Europe contributed to the immigration surge; Jews from France, where anti-Semitism has increasingly turned violent, constituted more than a quarter of the 26,500 immigrants. But there’s another factor as well, epitomized by the identical and completely unsolicited comments I independently received from citizens of two different European countries at last week’s Limmud UK conference: Europe, they said, feels dead. Israel feels alive.

And it’s worth noting that neither of the speakers came from one of the continent’s economic basket cases. They came from Britain and the Netherlands, two of Europe’s stronger economies.

Indeed, as Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky pointed out, until not long ago, even French Jews who wanted to leave Europe preferred to go to Montreal. Today, as many as 70 percent choose Israel–and the number is likely to keep growing. A year ago, the Jewish Agency ran one immigration information seminar a month in France, Sharansky said. Now, it runs two a day.

I don’t know whether Tel Aviv’s building boom really outpaces construction in European cities, or whether Israelis really smile more than Europeans–both factors my Limmud interlocutors cited as contributing to their impression of Israel’s vibrancy. But one thing they said is certainly correct: You see more children in Israel than you do in Europe. In fact, Israel is the only country in the Western world with a birthrate above replacement rate.

And in that sense, their assessment is literal truth: Europe’s aging, shrinking population condemns it to slow oblivion, whereas Israel’s relatively high birthrate (3.05 children per women) means it is constantly rejuvenating itself. The very fact that Israelis, unlike Europeans, are still bringing children into the world is a sign that they still believe Israel has a future.

And clearly, many Diaspora Jews do as well–because nobody, no matter how badly he wanted to leave Europe, would opt for Israel rather than another Western country if he didn’t consider Israel an attractive country with a bright future.

“Here you have for the first time, a clear thing,” Sharansky said. “There is a massive exodus from a community in the free world, which has all the doors open to them, and they are choosing Israel.”

It’s a Zionist dream come true. And a wonderful beginning to 2015.

Originally published in Commentary 

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The Red Cross Destroys the Laws of War

The International Committee of the Red Cross, self-appointed guardian of the laws of war, has embarked on an exciting new online project: destroying the very laws it ostensibly seeks to protect. Of course, the ICRC would put it differently; it would say it’s teaching the laws of war. The problem is that the “laws” it teaches aren’t the actual laws of war, as codified in international treaties, but a made-up version that effectively denies countries any right of self-defense against enemies that fight from positions inside civilian populations. And it is thereby teaching anyone unwilling to concede the right of self-defense that the laws of war should simply be ignored.

When Israel Hayom reported on the “Don’t Be Numb” project last week, it sounded so outrageous that I suspected reporter error. But the project’s website proved even worse.

The website has four sections – “behavior in war,” “medical mission,” “torture” and cultural property.” But the big problem is the first one, which consists of three questions users must answer correctly to receive a “medal of integrity.”

Question number one: “You’re a military commander. The enemy is hiding in a populated village across the front line. Can you attack?” The correct answer, according to the website, is “no.”

This is simply false. The laws of war do not grant immunity to enemy soldiers simply because they choose to hide among civilians, nor do they mandate avoiding any military action that might result in civilian casualties. They merely require that civilians not be deliberately targeted (the principle of distinction), that reasonable efforts be made to minimize civilian casualties, and that any such casualties not be disproportionate to the military benefit of the operation (the principle of proportionality).

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