Review: The 7 Principles of Zionism, by Dan Illouz - The Objective Standard

The 7 Principles of Zionism: A Values-Based Approach to Israel Advocacy, by Dan Illouz. Lexington: CreateSpace, 2012. 144 pp. $8.71 (softcover).


Given that Israel’s legitimacy is regularly questioned in the media, a short book providing well-reasoned moral arguments defending Israel would be a useful addition to the library of any serious advocate of the state. Unfortunately, in The 7 Principles of Zionism: A Values-Based Approach to Israel Advocacy, Dan Illouz focuses primarily on the collectivist and nonessential historical arguments for Israel as the realization of “Jewish statehood” (p. 30) and spends few pages presenting genuine, objective moral arguments for its legitimacy.

Illouz presents the case for Israel from the perspectives of “Historical Justice,” “Legal Justice,” “Peace,” “Truth,” “Liberty and Freedom,” “Democracy,” and “Hope”—all of which serve as chapter headings in this short book. It is clear that Illouz believes the most significant argument in defense of Israel is from the perspective of historical justice, which he says is of “extreme importance” (p. 14). “In order to build an ethical defense for the State of Israel,” he writes, “one cannot ignore the historical circumstances that lead to the building of the modern state of Israel” (p. 11).

Illouz is at pains to prove a physical and spiritual connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel, going so far as to present what he regards as archaeological evidence of the connection, including the following:

The City of David is one of the most incredible archeological finds in the world. . . . In the first dig, Charles Warren found Hezekiah’s Tunnel. An ancient Hebrew inscription, the Shiloah Inscription, was found in this tunnel. . . . This find, as well as numerous others . . . show that this was the location of ancient Jerusalem and that this was a Jewish city. (pp. 16–17)

In addition, he quotes prayers from the Bible, offers historical poems, and provides other Jewish sources to illustrate the deep connection Jews have to the land over the many centuries of exile. Illouz cites, for example, this prayer recited at weddings by Jewish grooms throughout history:

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither, let my tongue cleave to my palate if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy. (p. 23)

Illouz aims to refute the notion that Israel is merely the recent result of a lot of Jewish refugees fleeing Europe after the Holocaust. It is, however, difficult to see how any of these historical details support the legitimacy of Israel. If Jews had returned to the land of their forefathers only to establish a theocracy or a biblical monarchy (as existed in Israel before the exile), no rational person would regard the state as legitimate. Furthermore, what is wrong with people arriving at a country with which they have no ancestral or historical connection and establishing a free state that ultimately protects the rights of all its inhabitants—such as the establishment of the United States? Illouz does not consider such issues.

When discussing what he regards as the legal case for Israel, he relies heavily on the notion of “international law,” which he believes provides an “objective” justification for the state:

While most people agree today that law is man-made and therefore a reflection of certain ethical approaches, it is still clear that international law allows us to frame ethical debate in a more objective way . . . it is very important to understand how the Zionist cause has not only been historically and morally justified, but also legally justified. (p. 40)

Illouz traces the details of this alleged “international law” from the famous Balfour declaration, in which “the British recognized the right of the Jewish people to a national home” (p. 41); to the subsequent granting by the League of Nations of a mandate to the British to help establish such a home in Palestine, through the 1947 UN Partition Plan, in which the UN General Assembly recommended “the partition of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab” (p. 44); to the more recent UN Resolution 242, which, following the 1967 Six-Day War, required the “withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict” (p. 49).

Some of these so-called “legal” arguments are helpful in the sense that they imply Israel’s moral right to self-defense. For example, with respect to the Six-Day War, Illouz quotes a legal historian: “Where the prior holder of territory had seized that territory unlawfully, the state which subsequently takes that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense has, against that prior holder, better title” (p. 48). Strictly speaking, however, there is no such thing as international law, as there is no such thing as a legitimate international government to make or enforce such law. Israel’s attempts to comply with such law amount only to attempts to comply with rules imposed on the state by other states, many of which are its enemies. Contrary to Illouz’s claims, international law does not and cannot provide objectivity to the defense of Israel, because such law is a myth.

The chapter focusing on peace is one of the better chapters in the book because it clearly shows that, far from being a warmonger, Israel has erred on the side of being too passive and even appeasing. Illouz describes several failed attempts by Israelis to bend over backward to appease Arabs by compromising on Israelis’ rights (e.g., Israel’s acceptance of the 1947 partition plan, which reduced the geographical size of Israel to a fraction of the original mandate), offering to withdraw from territory that Israelis legitimately occupied (e.g., following the Six-Day War and at the Camp David Summit of 2000), and actually withdrawing from territories (e.g., the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005), only to receive condemnation, violence, and terrorism in response. Illouz concludes, “Israel wanted peace, but instead, it got war” (p. 72). He also mentions the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan as illustrations that “peace is possible,” although, he notes, even in those cases “Israel received very little other than the assurance of peace” (p. 67).

Importantly, Illouz points out that the concessions Israel makes as a result of international pressure are seen by the Arab world as weakness and do not lead to peace. He believes that if “the world would start supporting Israel as a peace loving country and strengthening it, then war would stop and peace would then be present in the Middle East” (p. 74).

In the chapter on “Truth,” Illouz spends several pages debunking various anti-Israel lies, including the claim that Israel commits the “crime of apartheid,” which Illouz defines as “the state-sanctioned and state-generated degradation of one or more ethnic groups, based on an assumption of racial inferiority” (p. 91). Illouz easily refutes this absurd claim by showing scenes from everyday Israeli life that are obvious counterexamples, such as Jews and Arabs shopping in the same stores and enjoying the beaches together. He also lists several examples of the numerous Arabs who have achieved prominent positions within Israel, such as Salim Joubran, an Israeli Supreme Court judge. Illouz notes that, “In a system of apartheid, Arabs would not attain these positions” (p. 91). These and other examples of Israelis of various races and religions enjoying such freedom provide compelling evidence that Israel is a substantially rights-respecting state. This is one of the stronger parts of the book. Unfortunately, however, Illouz does not identify this substantial freedom as a consequence of Israeli respect for the principle of individual rights—which, in turn, he fails to identify as the essential reason for the legitimacy of the state.

In the brief chapter on “Freedom and Liberty,” Illouz shows how Jews, finally freed of the many legal restrictions imposed on them during the Middle Ages, attempted to enjoy their newfound freedom via assimilation. Their slogan became “Be a Jew in your home and a man outside it” (p. 110). But, explains Illouz, the attempt failed. He recounts the rise of European nationalism in the late 1800s, during which time anti-Semitism persisted and Jews faced such violence as pogroms in Russia, and he provides examples such as the anti-Semitic railroading of French Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jew who was falsely accused of selling state secrets to the Germans.

Here, Theodor Herzl, “the founder of Zionism” (p. 112) enters the picture. Illouz writes that Herzl, having witnessed the Dreyfus affair, concluded that

Jews could not be “a Jew in their homes and German outside of it” (the new slogan of the emancipation). And, with the rise of nationalism, being only “a man” outside of the home was not enough anymore. You had to be German! (or French, British etc.) Jews were a nation and therefore they could not be German nationalists since they had another national history. . . . The only way for Jews to reach freedom was through national freedom. Only then would they also gain individual freedoms. (p. 112)

Why then not advocate immigration to the United States, the country where Enlightenment ideas were taken far more seriously than Europe, and where throughout the 19th century Jews (and many others) were able to live without the kinds of restrictions that existed in Europe? Unfortunately, Illouz does not address this question.

Toward the end of the book, Illouz argues that the fact that Israel is a Western-style democracy is a strong point in its favor. “[A]s long as individual freedoms are also protected, democracy can be seen as the best ethical option” (p. 119). He also points out that Israel is “one of the few countries in the Middle East where Arabs have a right to vote and participate in the election of their leaders” (p. 121, bold in original). Indeed, the relative freedom that all Israelis—whether Arab, Jew, Christian, or atheist—enjoy is the best argument for the legitimacy of the state of Israel. Would that Illouz had concentrated on this crucial point and concluded his book on it.

Instead, he concludes with a short chapter on how Israel is the realization of the 2000-year hope of Jews in exile to return to their “home,” “a great hope that is being realized” (p. 127). The chapter is meant to be inspirational, but as an argument for the legitimacy of Israel it falls utterly flat. The idea that Israel properly belongs to Jews because it was once their home is no more valid than the argument that America properly belongs to Native American Indians.

In the introduction, Illouz announces his intention to “present the positive case for Israel” and demonstrate that Israel is “one of the most moral nations in the world” (p. 4). Although the book does contain useful refutations of myths about Israel, and other interesting information, Illouz substantially fails to achieve his purpose. By spending large swaths of his book on bogus or nonessential arguments, he dilutes the effectiveness of the one argument that is essential. That argument is that Israel, regardless of how it came to be or whether a particular ethnic group regards it as their historical homeland, is a legitimate, sovereign state and the most moral nation in the Middle East because it is the only nation in that region that substantially respects the rights of all its citizens to their own lives, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

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