Today is the 70th anniversary of the start of one of the greatest acts of heroism in the history of the world. On April 19, 1943, SS forces entered the Warsaw Ghetto to begin the final “liquidation” of the enclave in which hundreds of thousands of Jews had been herded. But instead of rounding up the tens of thousands of starving Jews, they were attacked by Jewish resistance forces that stalled their advance and set off a battle that would last for weeks. Two separate groups organized the resistance. One was the ZOB—The Jewish Combat Organization—a coalition that was largely led by left-wing Zionists. The other was the ZZW—the Jewish Military Union—led by right-wing Zionists. Both fought bravely in a struggle that could not alter the fate of the Jews of Warsaw but which nevertheless reminded the world that the honor of the Jewish people had been redeemed in even the most hopeless of circumstances.
Resistance to the Nazis was expressed in many ways, and we now understand that those who stayed with the elderly and children as well as those who died with dignity in other ways deserve to be remembered just as do those few who were able to take up arms against their murderers. But we rightly remember the Warsaw Ghetto fighters and all those who were able to resist the Nazis because their efforts were a symbol of heroism that has inspired subsequent generations of Jews to stand up against those who seek to carry on the hate of Hitler and his legions. The most famous moment of the revolt was the raising by the ZZW of the flag of Poland and the blue and white banner of Zionism over Muranowski Square. This was an event that even the Germans considered of immense importance since it showed their opponents were part of a nation they could not kill–a nation that would be reborn five years later as the State of Israel.
But in a curious act of revisionism, the New York Times commemorated the Ghetto Uprising today with an article that seeks to push back against this narrative and to replace it with one that downgrades the importance of Zionism in both the story of the Warsaw revolt and its place in Jewish history.
Is it worth the effort to debate those who question Israel’s legitimacy? In one sense, the answer has to be no. Israel’s right to exist should no more be a matter for debate than that of any other nation on the planet. If no one questions the right of Saudi Arabia to exist as a nation-state predicated on an extremist view of Islam (where practitioners of other faiths have no rights) or the rights of any European state, including those based on narrow ethnic identities (such as that of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, for whose benefit the United States went to war in 1999), then why should we bother even answering those who question whether the one Jewish state in the world is one too many?
And yet there are some instances in which there is no choice but to acknowledge such arguments and to answer them. The deluge of abuse directed at Zionism and Israel from much of the Arab and Muslim world is easily dismissed even if the sheer volume of these expressions and the way they have seeped into European popular culture have serious consequences. But when the New York Times devotes space on its website to an attempt by an academic to justify the position that Israel has no right to exist, attention must be paid. That’s what happened this past weekend when the Grey Lady published a lengthy article along these lines by University of Massachusetts philosophy professor Joseph Levine. Levine’s purpose was not just to try to prove that Israel shouldn’t exist but to claim that holding such a position was not anti-Semitic. He failed on both counts, calling into question not only the disreputable arguments that can be arrayed against Israel but also the Times’s decision to treat the question as one which is worthy of legitimate debate.
To listen to the arguments put forward by Harvard students to create what they call an “open Hillel,” their fight with the national Hillel group is about the right of young Jews to free association. The students say that rules mandating that the organization not partner with groups that support BDS—the anti-Zionist campaign that aims to boycott, disinvest and sanction the State of Israel—or host speakers that advocate such measures are unfair and limit their ability to have dialogue with Palestinians. To the thinking of the Progressive Jewish Alliance that is, according to the Forward, organizing the campaign against Hillel, such rules “stifle discourse” and discriminate against those who disagree with Israeli policies.
But this controversy isn’t about the deadening hand of a Jewish establishment determined, as leftists claim, to silence dissenters. Any Hillel branch that regards groups that are struggling to destroy Israel in this manner would in essence be declaring their neutrality not only about the continuation of the Zionist enterprise but that they can no longer be counted among those prepared to bear witness against the discriminatory ideology at the heart of the drive for BDS. Those who wage war on one people and deny the same rights they readily concede to any other group are advocating a form of bias. Such a bias when directed against Jews has a name: anti-Semitism.
A few days ago, a video was posted online of an anti-Israel protest at Portland State University. Following an increasingly common tactic among campus anti-Israelists, the protesters filled a few rows of the audience for a talk on Israel by CBN contributor Erick Stackelbeck with people wearing tape over their mouths and then silently walkingd out, holding signs and – in a few uncontrolled cases – shouting slogans.
As foolish as the protest looks, it would be unwise to dismiss its potential power or what it says about the nature of the view of Israel endorsed by a small yet committed minority at many American universities.
This particular video is interesting mostly because Stackelbeck invites the protesters to take the tape off their mouths, stay for his talk, and then debate him afterwards. It’s an effective way to make them look foolish and is a tactic other pro-Israel speakers, faced with similar displays at other universities, should consider.
The death of the father of Israel’s prime minister will likely set off a wave of comment focusing on the influence that Benzion Netanyahu had on his son Benjamin and whether his passing will make the prime minister more amenable to pressure to make concessions to the Palestinians. But this popular interpretation of the relationship between the two men, which the prime minister rightly dismissed as “psychobabble,” misses the point both about the Netanyahus and the principles they embraced.
Benzion Netanyahu, who died in Israel today at the age of 102, was an important figure in Zionist activism and Jewish history in his own right. Benzion was a follower of Zeev Jabotinsky, one of the great figures in the history of Zionism whose Revisionist movement is the ancestor of the modern Likud. Many contemporary pundits saw him as a representative of a bygone era whose belief in the rigid ideology of that movement served as a human obstacle to peace, because they claimed his son would never embrace a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict as long as the father lived. This was false. Netanyahu signed peace agreements with Yasir Arafat during his first term in office in the 1990s and embraced the concept of a Palestinian state during his second. But the values and lessons his father did teach him will stay with the prime minister. The shame is that more Jews don’t understand them.
The Jewish People Policy Institute has just published a new paper by Shmuel Rosner and Inbal Hakman on the so-called Distancing Hypothesis, analyzing “trends of distancing and… policy proposals for strengthening the attachment of young American Jews to Israel in the time of the distancing discourse.” The 53-page PDF comprehensively evaluates current surveys, contains 77 footnotes, walks the reader through dizzying charts, and is worth reading just for the appendices.
The authors outline a series of straightforward recommendations, including an emphasis on the methodological and normative value of discussing “attachment” rather than “distancing.” Along the way they note:
There is no conclusive evidence of an erosion of U.S. Jewry’s attachment to Israel. On the contrary, the studies that included a longitudinal comparative examination indicate a sustained and even increased level of attachment. In short, there is no evidence of distancing as compared to the past.
In his review of Peter Beinart’s book The Crisis of Zionism, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal offers up what he calls a “harsh” critique. That would be one way to describe it. Devastating would be another.
Stephens eviscerates Beinart’s book by highlighting some of its errors, including false claims about the Sasson study (which measured how American Jews feel about U.S. support for Israel); asserting that Israel’s blockade shattered Gaza’s economy, with 90 percent of Gaza’s industrial complex closed in 2008 – even though the source of this claim is a study conducted by the IMF in 2003; relying on incomplete quotes by former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami; and insisting that the Egyptian leaders who have emerged in Hosni Mubarak’s wake have not called for Israel’s destruction. (Essam El-Eryah, who heads the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Egyptian Parliament, has said the Arab Spring will “mark the end of the Zionist entity.”)
“There’s more of this,” according to Stephens. “Much more. In fact, the errors in Beinart’s book pile up at such a rate that they become almost impossible to track.” Stephens then broadens his critique:
This week in The Forward, the usually superb Philologos sadly decided to give a bit of his intellectual heft to a topic that is becoming a bit of a meme for leftist Jewish writers of late: the supposedly discriminatory nature of Israel’s national anthem,”Hatikvah.” But these attacks on “Hatikvah” are themselves assaults on the liberal democratic values these writers claim to be upholding.
Philologos isn’t as sloppy as others and knows instinctively it would be unjust to throw out or rearrange “Hatikvah” so thoroughly that it would mean “accommodating the feelings of Arabs by trampling on the feelings of Jews.” Showing his poetic chops, he claims to have discovered a solution by substituting a few choice words that allegedly don’t change the song’s fundamental meaning for Jews but would nevertheless placate the Arab minority allegedly harmed by the song’s Jewish character.
More proof, as if any was needed after Sol Stern’s merciless evaluation in April’s COMMENTARY, that the alleged crisis in American Zionism is a psychodrama playing out inside Peter Beinart’s head and few other places:
Donations by U.S. Jews to Israeli nonprofits have doubled during the past 12 years, according to a first-of-its-kind study conducted by professors at Brandeis University. The study, scheduled to be completed in late April, disproves the widely held view by many Israelis that philanthropic donations from the United States have dropped over time due to economic and political reasons… [it] suggests quite the opposite.
The numbers are overstated a little bit – Ben Smith quickly noticed that the “doubled” claim doesn’t account for inflation — but otherwise conclusive.