The View From Here | Long Before Europe, Israel Was Forced to Go it Alone


A half-century after the conclusion of the Six-Day War, a veritable cottage industry has sprouted seeking to derive all manner of lessons — whether strategic, political or spiritual — from the 50 years since the miraculous military victory that saw Israel expand its territory almost five-fold practically overnight.

The conclusions generally have ranged from the downright moronic — Nathan Thrall’s piece in last Sunday’s New York Times, which framed the victory as the beginning of a 50-year moral stain on the Jewish state, comes to mind — to the upbeat, if not entirely helpful.

Lost in many is an appreciation for just how transformative the experience was for Israel and the American Jewish community and just how revolutionary was the combined Arab defeat and Jewish reunification of Jerusalem. For me, if there’s one takeaway from the war, which officially concluded on June 10, 1967, it’s that the real motivator of any nation, entity or individual should be — just as it was 50 years ago — enlightened self-interest.

For years, self-interest has gotten a bad rap. Often confused as selfishness and thereby violative of the Golden Rule, self-interest is frequently seen as a vestige of the animal-like parts of our nature, the remnant of a long-gone time when the “law of the jungle” reigned supreme. True, self-interest is no high-minded ideal, but the fact is preservation of the self is actually the animating force of Hillel’s precept, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.”

Put simply, self-interest can just as easily motivate one to steal as it can motivate the same person to give. We can logically deduce the danger of not respecting property rights if we choose to value the protection of our own property. There is nothing inherently wrong in any person or country choosing to do that which is perceived to be in his or her best interest.

That’s why far from joining the global chorus of those gasping at the words of German Chancellor Angela Merkel — who told a rally last week that “the times when we could completely rely on others are, to an extent, over” — I instead recognized what has been a geopolitical and psychological truth since time immemorial. President Donald Trump, who unceremoniously — and stupidly — moved to take the United States out of the Paris climate accord, is not the first U.S. president to effectively turn his back on an ally.

President Barack Obama arguably did far worse in 2014, when instead of fulfilling the joint American and British pledge to defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity, he tepidly enacted sanctions against Russia in response to its annexation of Crimea.

“That’s not to say that Obama, in this case, is wrong,” I wrote at the time in a column for the Washington Jewish Week. “Would the American public countenance military action against the Russian army in Ukraine? I think not.

“That’s why, for all the warm feelings engendered by emotional pleas to a shared friendship and democratic spirit, sovereign nations don’t do things because of friendship; they act on the world stage according to their interests,” I added. “And regardless of any signed agreement, any profession of support or diplomatic promise of defense, if it was ever in Washington’s interest to let Israel go it alone against the Palestinians, other Arab nations or whomever, you can be sure it would do so.”

There’s even a precedent for Israel going it alone — the Six-Day War. Back then, mired in Vietnam, the United States was none too interested in springing to Israel’s defense against an Arab alliance that was enjoying funding, training and psychological support from the Soviet Union. And when it became clear that the United Nations was going to impose a ceasefire, Moshe Dayan chose to capture Jerusalem’s Old City.

Had he not acted, had he waited for support from others, the more than half-million young adults who have been able to pray at the Western Wall through Birthright Israel would instead have grown up with the image of the Jew and his homeland as irredeemably weak.

It would have been very easy for Israel to have become the Blanche Dubois of the Middle East, always depending “on the kindness of strangers,” but what the world saw in 1967 was the culmination of an effort begun long before Israel’s independence in 1948: The Jewish people and their Jewish state should, like all peoples and nations, take matters into their own hands when it is prudent to do so.

Come to think of it, that’s a lesson that all of us who are unhappy with American politics today should keep in mind.

Arguments in favor of the climate accord and against the president’s decision to back out of it have tended to focus on the good to be realized to the earth by reducing carbon emissions and the harm to befall humanity by failing to combat them. But none of that speaks to the individual person, whether he’s a voter in Michigan or the president of the United States.

This country faces tangible harm when it fails to join an international consensus.

Negotiations on future trade deals could prove more problematic, and allies might prove less willing to support the United States on everything from deterring cybercrime to sharing intelligence. And the economic consequences of falling behind other world leaders in green technologies could prove disastrous for American businesses.

But we didn’t hear much about those arguments. Consequently, unconvinced — and wrongly, I might add — that it was not in either the United States’ or his own self-interest to cooperate globally on combatting climate change, Trump decided to go it alone. Trump did what he thought he had to do, as will the European Union, as will Israel.

So should we all — at the polls, with our wallets, with our voices and with our actions.

Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at


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