This paper will show how the history of the Jewish people has shaped the laws, institutions and policies of the state of Israel. Particular emphasis will be placed upon how present policies relate to past history, it being realized that an all encompassing view of the totality of Jewish history and the state of Israel is beyond the length and scope of this paper.
It should be realized at the outset that the very existence of the state of Israel is like a miracle to modern day Jews. Having been without a Jewish homeland for almost 2,000 years, the idea of a state of Israel with all the institutions and functions of an independent government was a dream carried on for centuries. This drive to set up the institutions of the Jewish state crystallized in the nineteenth and twentieth century when it became clear that European anti-Semitism would not allow the Jewish people to assimilate. The ideal of the utopian Jewish state which Theordor Herzl helped turn into reality used the democratic and socialistic thoughts of Moses Hess as its springboard, which no doubt accounts in part for Israel being a mixture of democracy, socialism and capitalism (Katz, 1968).
Still, once the Jewish state was established, it must be explained why socialist institutions were among the first established. While Israel has an established capitalist ethic, there is also the socialist ethic, which is most conspicuous in the Kibbutz, a place of communal living and communal farming. Explaining the emergence of the institution of the Kibbutz requires looking into the background of the early founders of the state of Israel. Basic to the thinking of some early founders of the modern Zionist movement was the socialism espoused by Karl Marx, a nonreligious Jew. Indeed, Moses Hess. one of the early founders of Zionism, had also worked with Karl Marx in developing the theories of socialism (Avineri, 1981:36-46).
Karl Marx even referred to early Zionist founder Moses Hess as his communist rabbi. Thus, there was an initial blending of Jewish concepts and socialist concepts in the movement known as Zionism, which sought to fulfill the Biblical dream of a Jewish homeland. Moses Hess advocated common property as the basis of social revolution, which no doubt was translated into the institution of the Israeli kibbutz when the modern state of Israel was founded. Thus, Hess is at least partly responsible for the institutional structure of present day Israel by conceptually linking the political forces of socialism with religion and Jewish national thought. In that context it is not strange to learn that Hess is considered ‘a founder of German Social ]Democracy and Zionist socialism (Avineri, 1981:36-46).
The fact that Israel could create institutions that stand apart from the rest of the world by promoting the collective Jewish existence may have its historical basis in the Talmud. Basically, the Talmud preserved Jewish identity. It was this unique identity that is still basic to the Jew. Moses Hess went on to point out in his book, Rome and Jerusalem, that the modern history of Jews in Germany was one without social and political equality. The democracy envisioned for the state of Israel would make up for this by establishment of a state with democracy, guaranteeing social and political equality to all (Avineri, 1981:23-35).
Add onto this Jewish identity the vision of Moses Hess in Europe that propelled modern day Israel into reality, and it is a mixture of religion and socialism much like the institution of the kibbutz that emerges. The new Jerusalem according to Hess was a socialist utopia with a new society having equality between men and women (the institution of the army in the modern state of Israel has equality for men and women, with both sexes having to be in the army) (Avineri, 1981:1-75; Hess, 1958:1-15).
The capitalist institutions of the modern Israel might have their roots in earlier history going back to the early Roman empire when Jews irked the Romans by always coming up with the money needed to buy their people out of slavery. Even in ancient Rome, the Jew was known as a trader and merchant involved in free capitalistic commerce. (Fast, 1968:200-250).
Having been periodically used and at–tacked in Europe, with its periodic outbreaks of anti-Semitism, the idea of separate Jewish institutions was reinforced and Jews became used to conflict. In Spain, many Jews were slaughtered or exiled by Christian authorities if they refused to convert to Christianity. Centuries before the Holocaust, German Crusaders were killing and raping Jews in response to Catholic bishops preaching hatred for the Jewish and Moslem infidels (Fast, 1968:192-250).
With this history of conflict and persecution, it should come as no surprise that the modern state of Israel should build up a strong military institution to defend itself.
Modern Israel is still defending itself from attacks, such as the Six Day War of 1967. This historic and continuing need for defending itself from its enemies has led Israel to adopting a policy of devoting 18% of its gross national product to defense. During the October, 1973, war, Israel increased defense spending to 32% of its budget. Prior to the 1967 war, Israel’s policy was to spend only 10% of its GNP on defense. One reason for needing to spend for defense is that technology is getting more sophisticated. The old weapons are no longer considered sufficient protection against hostile neighbors armed with high tech missiles. Egyptian foot soldiers carrying Sagger missiles that destroyed Israeli armored units in 1973 are part of the modern history of making defense policy so important (Marcuse, 1987).
Defense policies alone do not explain present day Israel. Israel feels that it has a Biblical claim to all the land that is part of Eretz Israel. But many of these lands are occupied by Arabs, which leads to a problem between the present Arab settlers and Biblical Jewish claims for the land. Hence, the Palestinian unrest so prominent in the news. The Israeli policy of settling these areas taken during wars with its neighbors has brought more hostility and increased the needs for defense of the new settlements (Martin, 1987).
Israel was created by refugees coming out of Eastern Europe with deep psychological bruises from the Holocaust. Being people who were being exterminated because of their religion, there is fear of again befalling fates worse than homelessness. In this way it can be understand that the seeming Israeli tough stance regarding formal peace negotiations and return occupied lands comes from a deep need not to be again put in a position where they are again subject to extermination by hostile neighbors. The Jews in Israel claim that Palestinian hatred predated the state of Israel. The fear of pogroms and terrorism against the Jews by the Palestinian Liberation Organization is very real. Having been constantly victimized, the Jewish policy has become one of strong military institutions and wielding power against those perceived as being hostile. Some would even say that anger, terror and suspicion have become a historic and current part of the Jewish psyche, underlying the current fears and military problems between Jews and Palestinians (Hartman & Nusseibeh, 1988).