It feels a bit grubby to address an argument that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly employed to deny the legitimacy of the state of Israel. But in this instance the Iranian president has said something on behalf of a surprising number of people—people who may not agree with Ahmadinejad’s tone, or the choice of words he employs, but who at bottom are sympathetic to core of Ahmadinejad’s case. He recently used Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day, the annual hate-Israel festival of the Muslim Middle East inaugurated in 1979 by Ayatollah Khomeini, to offer once again his final solution to the problem of the existence of Israel: Hold a referendum on the “settlement of Zionists in Europe or in big lands such as Canada and Alaska so they would be able to own their own land.”
In Ahmadinejad’s telling, Israel was created because of European Holocaust guilt—ignore his psychotic logic, which also holds that the Holocaust never happened—and so not only is Israel an illegitimate presence, but it is one that Europe and the West have a responsibility to remove. There are of course many layers of absurdity here: the fact that Zionism predates the Holocaust by more than a half-century, the Biblical promise of Israel to the Jews, the fact that the Balfour Declaration was issued in 1917, that there has been a Jewish presence in Israel for thousands of years, and that it grew substantially in waves of aliya that started in the 19th century—never mind all of that. Ahmadinejad, with an obviously false note of curiosity, wonders why Jews won’t just go somewhere else.
Chaim Weizmann, the renowned chemist, Zionist statesman, and founding father of Israel, answered exactly this question in Great Britain in the years before the Balfour Declaration. A member of the House of Lords asked him, “Why do you Jews insist on Palestine when there are so many undeveloped countries you could settle in more conveniently?” Weizmann said: “That is like my asking you why you drove twenty miles to visit your mother last Sunday when there are so many old ladies living on your street.”