Israel / Semantics

When Michael Oren shifted the definition of “existential”

In 2009, Michael B. Oren, soon to become Israel’s ambassador to the United States, wrote an essay for Commentary examining seven “existential” threats the nation faced — noting first how infrequently “modern states were threatened with their survival” or wars were fought “to eliminate another state and its people.” Foremost among them was the theoretical loss of Jerusalem, without which Israel would be “rendered soulless,” becoming “merely another Mediterranean enclave not worth living in.”

This was an interesting shift in definition. It’s not that Israel would be — as is so often actively threatened — wiped from the map. But it would lose a thing many consider central to its essence, a thing without which it could no longer be considered itself. But what makes a thing itself? We’re brought right back to philosophical questions. What is a nation, really?

Nitsuh Abebe, “Apocalypse Now”, The New York Times Magazine (8 October 2017), 13.