Commentary Magazine


Topic: Zionism

If European Jews Must Live in Fear, Why Was Netanyahu Wrong?

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu took a pasting from pundits and even some Jewish leaders when he reacted to the attack on Copenhagen synagogue by repeating his call for European Jews to “come home” to Israel. Many people were uncomfortable with the prime minister’s open advocacy for Zionism. But the problem goes deeper than that. Despite the recent violence against Jews in Paris and Copenhagen, denial about what even the U.S. State Department has termed a “rising tide” of anti-Semitism still exists. But yesterday’s comments by a German Jewish leader advising fellow Jews not to identify themselves by wearing yarmulkes while walking in certain sections of the country is yet more confirmation that what Europe is experiencing is a revival of Jew hatred that can’t be ignored. If Jews must live in fear even in a country that supposedly has learned the lessons of the Holocaust, then what hope is there for Jews on the Continent other than to seek protection elsewhere.

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Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu took a pasting from pundits and even some Jewish leaders when he reacted to the attack on Copenhagen synagogue by repeating his call for European Jews to “come home” to Israel. Many people were uncomfortable with the prime minister’s open advocacy for Zionism. But the problem goes deeper than that. Despite the recent violence against Jews in Paris and Copenhagen, denial about what even the U.S. State Department has termed a “rising tide” of anti-Semitism still exists. But yesterday’s comments by a German Jewish leader advising fellow Jews not to identify themselves by wearing yarmulkes while walking in certain sections of the country is yet more confirmation that what Europe is experiencing is a revival of Jew hatred that can’t be ignored. If Jews must live in fear even in a country that supposedly has learned the lessons of the Holocaust, then what hope is there for Jews on the Continent other than to seek protection elsewhere.

A new Pew Research Center study shows that Jews were harassed or oppressed by their governments in 77 of the 198 countries covered by the survey. That includes a frightening total of 34 out of 45 countries in Europe. Yet the problem with accepting the reality of European anti-Semitism arises from a reluctance to place the blame for this prejudice on the haters rather than the victims.

One example came this week from “Science Guy” Bill Nye, the popular science educator and television star. On Bill Maher’s HBO show Real TimeNye said that the problems of European Jews stem from their reluctance to make friends with those who hated them. Attacking Netanyahu’s Zionist stand, Nye said the answer was that Jews should do more “to get to know their neighbors,” as if the roots of centuries of European anti-Semitism was the unwillingness of the victims to undertake outreach to anti-Semites.

That was offensive enough, but an even better example of the mentality that tolerates this new wave of anti-Semitism came from a British Jews. Harry Potter Actress Miriam Margolyes told the Guardian, “I don’t think people like Jews” but blamed the current outbreak on Israel since it gave Britons an excuse to vent their true feelings because of anger about the Gaza war. Like most British artists Margolyes blamed Israel for defending itself against Hamas terrorism and said the backlash against Jews was therefore somehow understandable, if deplorable. Her stance was both uninformed and illogical but it reflects the attitudes of English and other European elites who have, in a strange confluence of opinion, come to share the prejudices of Muslim immigrants who have helped revive traditional Jew hatred on the continent.

Blaming the Jews for being clannish (the conceit of Nye’s bizarre comments) sounds more like 19th century anti-Semitism, but even if we only focus on the way anti-Zionism has allowed traditional hatred to undergo a revival, there is no longer much doubt about the fact that it is becoming open season on Jews on the streets of Europe. A viral video of a Jewish journalist strolling through Paris wearing a kippah being abused by passersby is one more confirmation of a trend that can only be denied by those with ulterior motives.

European Jews may still prefer to think of themselves as safe, free, and prosperous and the political leaders of their countries may often say the right thing about anti-Semitism. But if Jews can no longer walk the streets of Europe’s capitals while identifying themselves with their faith or fear to speak out in defense of Israel lest they face opprobrium, then they cannot pretend to be truly free. The choice whether to stay or to go is personal, and it is difficult for anyone to pick up and leave their homes even under duress. But, as it did throughout the 20th century, history continues to vindicate the cause of Zionism. The Jews of Europe cannot pretend to be secure or to be confident that worse is not in store for them. Netanyahu was right to speak up about them having a haven where they will be able to defend themselves. Those inclined to denigrate his remarks should stroll about Europe’s streets while identifying themselves as Jews before they speak.

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More Bad Advice From a False Prophet

After a career that stretches back to Israel’s birth, 91-year-old Shimon Peres is a revered national institution. His multifaceted work in helping to build the state and especially its defense establishment demands respect and admiration. So, too, does a record of public service that saw him serve in virtually every key position of responsibility in the Israeli government. Thus, when Peres speaks, he deserves a hearing. But as much as he should be considered the last of the country’s living founding fathers, his past performance as a prophet is as bad as his resume is impressive. Thus, when Peres tells us today that European Jews shouldn’t panic, that Middle East peace will happen in his lifetime, and that, far from worrying about Iran, we should think the Islamist regime’s days are numbered, these predictions should be dismissed as not only wrong, but dangerously wrong. The problem with Peres is not just that his optimism is foolish, it’s that all too many people in the corridors of power in Washington and Western Europe think he knows what he’s talking about.

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After a career that stretches back to Israel’s birth, 91-year-old Shimon Peres is a revered national institution. His multifaceted work in helping to build the state and especially its defense establishment demands respect and admiration. So, too, does a record of public service that saw him serve in virtually every key position of responsibility in the Israeli government. Thus, when Peres speaks, he deserves a hearing. But as much as he should be considered the last of the country’s living founding fathers, his past performance as a prophet is as bad as his resume is impressive. Thus, when Peres tells us today that European Jews shouldn’t panic, that Middle East peace will happen in his lifetime, and that, far from worrying about Iran, we should think the Islamist regime’s days are numbered, these predictions should be dismissed as not only wrong, but dangerously wrong. The problem with Peres is not just that his optimism is foolish, it’s that all too many people in the corridors of power in Washington and Western Europe think he knows what he’s talking about.

Peres served as the headliner at a Times of Israel event held Sunday night in New York and if his hosts were hoping that he would say something faintly newsworthy, the former Israeli president didn’t disappoint. He opposed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s calls for aliyah from Europe as being “political,” claiming that in doing so he was making Israel “a land of fear” rather than one of “hope.” Not satisfied with that astounding claim, he went on to claim that peace would soon break out in the Middle East, said he “trusted” President Obama to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat, opposed any “unilateral” acts against Tehran by the U.S. or Israel, and predicted that the Islamist regime in Iran would fall: “In 10-15 years, Iran will be out of water and thus out of ayatollahs, in my judgment.”

To which friends of Israel as well as supporters of the West can only say “amen,” even as they shake their heads in disbelief at the absurdity of much of what Peres said.

We might dismiss this as just a little more of the same optimism Peres has been selling for the last 25 years. Such statements are very popular, especially with American Jews who dislike being confronted with the intractability of the Arab-Israeli conflict as well as the awful scenarios that the Iranian nuclear program forces us to contemplate and he has done a brisk business peddling these notions among credible Western audiences for a long time.

But as ridiculous as Peres’s pie in the sky sermons may be, they are neither harmless nor without cost to Israel.

It should not be forgotten that this is the same man who not only promoted the Oslo Accords but also predicted in their aftermath that if everyone just tried hard enough, a “New Middle East” would soon arise that would allow Israel and its neighbors to become a new Western Europe. To those who asked him at the time why he was ignoring the reality of Palestinian rejectionism, support for terror, and the rise of fundamentalist Islam, he insouciantly replied that they were akin to those who “looked at the back of an airline ticket” and saw the disclaimers about crashes and other catastrophic outcomes. We should, he said, just trust the pilot and set back and enjoy the ride to peace. As the history of the following two decades proved, Peres wasn’t just wrong, he was willfully blind.

The cost of his mistaken policies wasn’t just paid in terms of the casualties that Israel suffered from the Palestinian terror offensives that Oslo enabled. It was also in a mindset in both Jerusalem and Washington that saw holding the Palestinians accountable for their incitement to violence and violations of the Accords as unhelpful to peace. Thus, when the inevitable explosions happened, both Israel and the United States were unprepared for what would follow and, to some extent, unwilling to face the reality that Peres had urged us to treat as details that would soon disappear.

The point here isn’t to point out his mistakes or to wonder at how his reputation as a wise man survived the implementation of some of the least-wise policies any sovereign state has ever devised and lived to tell the tale about. It’s that as long as Peres’s impressive Nobel Prize reputation survives intact, people listen to him and take his predictions and counsel seriously.

The mere fact that Peres is deprecating the obvious necessity to safeguard European Jewry in an era of rising anti-Semitism when their safety cannot be ensured by their governments is something that will be used to undermine the Zionist cause that he once served so well. His dismissal of the Iranian threat will be ammunition that the Obama administration will use to answer the cogent arguments against those sounding the alarm against its push for détente with a terror-supporting, genocide-threatening tyranny. As for peace with the Palestinians, surely even Peres should know better than to make such inane prognostications after Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas have turned down Israeli peace offers. But his sound bite will be resurrected not only to revive negotiations but also to buttress the efforts of those who will pressure Israel into dangerous concessions.

Shimon Peres’s lifetime of service to Israel may balance out the disastrous nature of some of the policies he advocated in the historian’s ledger. Prophets may never be honored in their own time, but unfortunately false prophets often are. So long as Peres is treated as an authority by the media and Western governments, his urging of more such fiascos on his successors is not only deplorable, it is downright dangerous.

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The Copenhagen Attacks and Zionism

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the attack on a Copenhagen synagogue last night by placing it the context of a rising tide of violent anti-Semitism. But, as he did after last month’s attacks in Paris, he said European Jews should draw conclusions from these events when he called on them to “come home” to Israel. In response the chief rabbi of Denmark criticized the prime minister saying that the statement was irresponsible and that terrorism wasn’t a reason to move to Israel. Some, especially Netanyahu’s many critics, view this exchange as yet another example of his seeking to take advantage of tragedies for the sake of boosting his poll ratings in a tight election race. But whatever you may think of Netanyahu, these attacks are both unfair and inaccurate. As the nation state of the Jewish people in their ancient homeland, Israel doesn’t exist solely as a refuge for Jews under attack. But the latest string of attacks on Jews in Europe, as the editors of this magazine wrote in our editorial in the February issue of COMMENTARY, do once again prove “the existential necessity of Zionism.”

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the attack on a Copenhagen synagogue last night by placing it the context of a rising tide of violent anti-Semitism. But, as he did after last month’s attacks in Paris, he said European Jews should draw conclusions from these events when he called on them to “come home” to Israel. In response the chief rabbi of Denmark criticized the prime minister saying that the statement was irresponsible and that terrorism wasn’t a reason to move to Israel. Some, especially Netanyahu’s many critics, view this exchange as yet another example of his seeking to take advantage of tragedies for the sake of boosting his poll ratings in a tight election race. But whatever you may think of Netanyahu, these attacks are both unfair and inaccurate. As the nation state of the Jewish people in their ancient homeland, Israel doesn’t exist solely as a refuge for Jews under attack. But the latest string of attacks on Jews in Europe, as the editors of this magazine wrote in our editorial in the February issue of COMMENTARY, do once again prove “the existential necessity of Zionism.”

Part of the pushback against Netanyahu’s statements and actions after both the Paris attacks and last night’s fatal shooting of a Jew guarding a Copenhagen synagogue stems from personal resentment of the prime minister who happens to be in the fight for his political life in the Knesset election that will be held next month. Here in the United States, supporters of President Obama and his effort to appease Iran have been bashing him relentlessly. In particular, the left-wing J Street lobby has initiated a campaign seeking to delegitimize Netanyahu, urging Jews to say that he “doesn’t speak” for them. Their stand is not only misguided on the issue of Iran; it also seeks to undermine the ability of the democratically-elected leader of the Jewish state to voice concerns about Jewish security in a way that only the person who holds that office can (something they won’t tolerate from the right if Netanyahu is replaced by someone from the left).

But Danish Chief Rabbi Yair Melchior was not engaging in that sort of attack. Rather, he seemed to view Netanyahu’s statement about the need for Jews to leave Europe as an attack on his community. As others said after the Hyper Cacher attack in Paris, the rabbi seems to believe that if Jews flee, the terrorists as well as the growing ranks of European anti-Semites win.

As the Times of Israel reported:

Rabbi Yair Melchior said, in response: “People from Denmark move to Israel because they love Israel, because of Zionism. But not because of terrorism.”

“If the way we deal with terror is to run somewhere else, we should all run to a deserted island,” Melchior said.

There is some truth to Melchior’s argument. Certainly Jews who immigrate to Israel from the United States are not fleeing injustice but are rather embracing Israel and Zionism. But does he really think the decline in the population of European Jews and the vast increase in aliyah in recent years is a statistical anomaly? As the Pew Research Center’s latest data reports, Jews are fleeing Europe. That is not just because of the alarming increase in violence against Jews but a product of the way anti-Semitism has once again become mainstream in European culture after decades of being marginalized, or at least kept under wraps, after the Holocaust.

Moreover, it is a plain fact that those who have made up every great wave of immigration to the Jewish homeland have been primarily motivated by necessity rather than an ideological commitment to Zionism. The logic of Zionism is not so much the very real appeal of its efforts to reconstitute a national Jewish culture and language but the need of the Jews for a refuge from the potent virus of anti-Semitism.

It would be nice to believe that in the enlightened Western Europe of our own day the fears about mobs crying “Death to the Jews” that motivated Theodor Herzl to write The Jewish State and found modern Zionism would no longer apply. But a Europe where the Jew-hatred of the Arab and Muslim world that was imported by Middle Eastern immigrants mixes with the contempt for Jewish identity and Israel that has become conventional wisdom among European intellectual elites is not a place where Jews can live safely.

Under these conditions, it is the duty of any prime minister of Israel to remind the world, as well as those faced with such a difficult decision, that Jews are no longer a homeless people that can be abused with impunity. The rebirth of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel not only gave the Jews a refuge that would have saved millions during the Holocaust. It also gave every Jew around the world, whether Zionist or non-Zionist, religious or non-religious, a reason to stand a little taller. Jews may choose to stay where they are, whether in an increasingly dangerous Europe or a place like the United States where, despite the existence of anti-Semitism, they can live in unprecedented freedom, acceptance, and security. But the existence of a home for Jews helps make them more secure. Anti-Semitism is, as we noted in our editorial, “a disease for which there is no cure.” But after Copenhagen, our conclusion is just as true: “The existential necessity of Zionism after Paris is not only a fact. It is a charge for the future.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu is right to note this fact. His critics, both in Europe and on the American left, should cease carping and seek to help him strengthen Israel against its enemies.

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Joan Peters and the Perils of Challenging the Palestinian Narrative

The death last week of author Joan Peters recalls one of the most intense and bitter literary controversies in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Her 1984 book From Time Immemorial set off a memorable scuffle between both Israeli and Arab writers. But like many such controversies the ultimate impact of the discussion did more to obscure the truth about the origins of the conflict over historic Palestine that she had set out to illuminate than shedding light on it. The moral of the story is that while Peters’s book was flawed, it might have prompted an important debate about one of the key assumptions of Israel’s critics. Instead, the angry pushback her volume received from liberals and Arab apologists served only to demonstrate that anyone who seeks to challenge the Palestinian narrative of dispossession by the Jews does so at their own peril.

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The death last week of author Joan Peters recalls one of the most intense and bitter literary controversies in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Her 1984 book From Time Immemorial set off a memorable scuffle between both Israeli and Arab writers. But like many such controversies the ultimate impact of the discussion did more to obscure the truth about the origins of the conflict over historic Palestine that she had set out to illuminate than shedding light on it. The moral of the story is that while Peters’s book was flawed, it might have prompted an important debate about one of the key assumptions of Israel’s critics. Instead, the angry pushback her volume received from liberals and Arab apologists served only to demonstrate that anyone who seeks to challenge the Palestinian narrative of dispossession by the Jews does so at their own peril.

Peters’s intention was to write a book sympathetic to the Palestinian refugees. But in the course of her research, she stumbled across an important fact that had hitherto received no notice from Westerners who opined about the Arab-Israeli conflict: though the Arabs claim to have possessed Palestine for many centuries, a significant percentage of their population in 1948 could trace their origins to immigrants who crossed into what is now Israel during the last years of Ottoman rule and during the era of the British Mandate for Palestine.

The idea that Arabs rather than just Jews arrived in the country during the period when Jews were working to build it up contradicts the basic conceit of all attacks on Zionism. Instead of the Palestinians losing a country that had been theirs “from time immemorial,” this revelation placed both sides in the conflict on a somewhat equal footing. If a great many of those Arab refugees who fled the country during Israel’s War of Independence were, at best, second-generation immigrants to Palestine then surely it would not have been so difficult to reintegrate them into other Arab countries just as Jewish refugees from Arab countries were resettled in Israel. But to admit that not all Palestinian refugees had roots going back for many centuries to what had become the State of Israel undermined the basic critique of Zionism. To those who wish to cast the struggle of these two peoples over the land as one of Palestinian victims and Jewish aggressors, the narrative of dispossession has taken on the aspect of a catechism that may not be questioned. Thus, by calling into question one of the basic Palestinian myths, Peters had committed an unpardonable sin for which she must be punished. And so she was.

The abuse that rained down on From Time Immemorial and its author in the aftermath of its publication provided a cautionary tale that has ensured that no one followed in Peters’s footsteps. But unfortunately the argument about the book wasn’t as simple as that. That’s because Peters made a number of serious errors in the course of her research that allowed critics to claim that the entire work was fraudulent. It wasn’t, but once any doubt was cast on the authenticity of any of the statistics she used, Peters’s detractors were able to simply shut down the entire discussion, essentially marginalizing what was otherwise a valuable intellectual exercise.

Scholar Rael Jean Isaac provided the best analysis of this controversy in a July 1986 article in COMMENTARY. Isaac unpacked both the motives of Peters’s foes as well as the mistakes she had made. As she noted:

Despite all the faults of Miss Peters’s critics, her book does indeed deserve some of the criticism it has received. Her handling of materials, particularly in the central section dealing with demographic issues, is flawed.

Peters misinterpreted a key passage in a British report and then repeated the mistake in what Isaac termed “a lethal systematic error.” As Isaac notes, the errors in the book called into question Peters’s “ability to evaluate evidence” and highlighted her “carelessness.” She also showed a capacity to ignore evidence that did not back up specific points she was trying to make.

The frustrating aspect of all this is that, as Isaac wrote:

There was no need for Miss Peters to overstate the precision or importance of her projections because there is overwhelming evidence, some of which (for example, in the studies of Fred Gottheil) she uses in her book, of extensive in-migration from the predominantly Arab to the Jewish-settled areas.

Indeed, even the most adamant of her Israeli leftist critics—Yehoshua Porath of the Hebrew University, who penned a highly influential takedown of From Time Immemorial in the New York Review of Books that essentially sealed its reputation as an unreliable polemic that was quoted in the New York Times obituary of Peters—did not dispute this basic fact. If there is a scholarly consensus that, “during the Mandate the country absorbed 100,000 legal and illegal Arab immigrants and their offspring—a figure that is not very different from Miss Peters’s estimates,” then as Isaac correctly noted, in spite of some errors, Peters’s thesis was “generally sound.”

But the basic truth at the heart of the book was lost as critics piled on and wrongly accused Peters of constructing a myth that sought to delegitimize and ignore the complaints of Palestinians. That many Palestinians came from other Arab countries in order to take advantage of the enormous economic buildup in the country as the Jews began the process of transforming the place into the modern nation it is today is no myth. But that fact has to be suppressed in order to sustain the false notion that the Palestinians were the ancient and indigenous people who were thrown out to make way for foreign Jewish interlopers. Indeed, the lesson dished out to Joan Peters and those who tried to defend her was that any doubt about the Palestinian narrative of grievance would be ruthlessly trashed.

Yet, as Isaac rightly noted in 1986, the emphasis on demographic issues missed the main point about the conflict. It doesn’t really matter how many of the descendants of the 1948 refugees can trace their ties to the country to prior to the early 20th century. Whatever their origin, the Palestinians now constitute a separate national group. Palestinian national identity has always been inextricably tied to a denial of the legitimacy of Zionism and opposition to Jewish sovereignty over any part of the country. But Peters chipped away at the myth that their claim was that of a people living on their own soil fighting against alien colonizers. For that she had to be attacked whether she made some mistakes in her book or not. If the facts muddied the waters and made the Palestinian narrative less compelling, then the facts must be ignored or argued out of existence.

More than 30 years after the publication of this book, the Palestinians and their increasingly virulent supporters are still locked into a narrative in which there is little room for compromise. They are no more willing to examine the truth about their origin myths today than they were then and that is the reason why they have continued to turn down offers for peace and statehood in order to persist in their futile struggle for Israel’s destruction. While Joan Peters’s book was far from perfect, it attempted to point the world and the Palestinians in a direction where they might realize that their futile anti-Zionist ideology was built on a foundation of sand that should be replaced with one more compatible with a policy of coexistence. She deserves to be remembered with respect and honor for that effort rather than the smears that were hurled at her.

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A Christian Defense Of Israel

I want to build on the thoughtful and timely post by Jonathan Tobin, in which he called attention to the catastrophe that is happening to Christians in the Middle East; why the outcome of the struggle over the region cannot be ignored; and why, in his words, “Christians should never think they could better the lives of their co-religionists by aiding efforts to destroy the other religious minority in the region: the Jews.” Jonathan made a compelling case speaking as a person of the Jewish faith; I’d like to speak as a person of the Christian faith.

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I want to build on the thoughtful and timely post by Jonathan Tobin, in which he called attention to the catastrophe that is happening to Christians in the Middle East; why the outcome of the struggle over the region cannot be ignored; and why, in his words, “Christians should never think they could better the lives of their co-religionists by aiding efforts to destroy the other religious minority in the region: the Jews.” Jonathan made a compelling case speaking as a person of the Jewish faith; I’d like to speak as a person of the Christian faith.

For Christians to become identified with the struggle against Zionism – and I’ve encountered individuals who have, to that point that it was the key factor in leaving a church I and my family were members of — is a profound moral error.

Set aside the fact that despite some obvious theological differences, Christians and Jews share a common history and affinity, from the Hebrew Bible to heroes of the faith like Abraham, Joseph, Joshua and Moses. And many Christians believe, for theological reasons (God’s covenantal relationship with Israel), that they cannot be indifferent to the fate of Israel. But as I mentioned, bracket all that. In judging Israel and its enemies, let’s use the standard of justice, which is the one liberal Christians who are highly critical of the Jewish state often invoke.

For one thing, even a cursory understanding of the history of the past 65-plus years makes it clear that the impediments to peace lie not with Israel but with its adversaries. And when it comes to the prolonged conflict with the Palestinians, it is they, not the Israelis, who are responsible for it.

(For those who blame the so-called “Israeli occupation” for Palestinian hostilities, I will point out, as I have before, that the PLO, which was committed to the destruction of Israel, was founded in 1964, three years before Israel controlled the West Bank or Gaza. In addition, the 1948 and 1967 wars against Israel happened before the “occupied territories” and settlements ever became an issue. And in Gaza in 2005, Israel did what no other nation, including no Arab nation, has ever done before: provide the Palestinians with the opportunity for self-rule. In response, Israel was shelled by thousands of rockets and mortar attacks and eventually drawn into a war with Hamas.)

The Palestinian people are suffering – but the reasons they suffer are fundamentally a creation not of Israel but of failed Palestinian leadership, which from beginning to end has been characterized by staggering corruption, brutality, oppression and anti-Semitism. Since the creation of Israel in the first half of the last century, not a single Palestinian leader has been willing or able to alter a culture that stokes hatred of Jews and advocates the eradication of Israel. Until that changes, there is no possibility for peace or justice. Palestinians must do what they have, until now, refused to do: make their own inner peace with the existence of a Jewish state. That they have not done so, despite the terrible human costs to them, tells you quite a lot.

Beyond that, it is a delusion for Christians to believe that life in the Middle East would be better if the enemies of Israel were to prevail. The movement that is targeting Christians for death isn’t Zionism; it’s Islamism. The historian Philip Jenkins wrote in Christianity Today last month “For Christians in the Middle East, 2014 has been a catastrophe.” That catastrophe hasn’t been caused by Israel, where Israel’s Christian citizens enjoy the full blessings of freedom and democracy.

Ask yourself a simple question: If you were a Christian, would you rather live in Jerusalem – or Tehran, Mosul, Damascus, or Riyadh? Would you rather live under the government of Benjamin Netanyahu or the rule of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi? Would you rather be photographed with a typical Jewish storeowner in Israel – or with a typical British national who has joined ISIS? The idea that Christians would prosper in the Middle East if Israel was weak and the mortal threats to Israel were strong is quite absurd.

But beyond even that, Israel is worthy of the support, admiration and even the affection of Christians because of the type of nation Israel is: democratic, pluralistic, self-critical, respectful of human rights, minority rights and other faiths, a bulwark against militant Islam, bone weary of war and willing to make extraordinary sacrifices for peace, unmatched by any other nation on earth. Blessed are the peacemakers, said a famous Jew many years ago, for they shall be called the children of God.

Israel is imperfect, like all nations in this fallen world; but it ranks among the most impressive and venerable nations that this fallen world has ever produced. Christians who care about their co-religionists in the Middle East, who care about justice and who hate injustice, must keep faith with the Jewish state. To break with it would be to break with their history and some of the key moral commitments of Christianity. And that is very much worth recalling as Christians the world over have, during the last several days, once again focused their attention on the Holy Land.

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Defending the Right to a Jewish State

The debate currently roiling Israel’s Cabinet over proposals to pass a law ensuring that it is a “Jewish state” is being roundly denounced by many of the country’s friends as well as its critics. The U.S. government responded in a high-handed manner to the discussion by demanding that Israel protect the rights of non-Jewish Israelis. The Anti-Defamation League says it is well meaning but unnecessary and some of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition allies are threatening to break up the government and send the country to new elections because of their disagreement with it. But as much as one can argue that Israel won’t be any more or less a Jewish state whether or not any such bill passes the Knesset, critics of the measure should understand that the demand for this measure is not frivolous. Those criticizing it are largely missing the point.

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The debate currently roiling Israel’s Cabinet over proposals to pass a law ensuring that it is a “Jewish state” is being roundly denounced by many of the country’s friends as well as its critics. The U.S. government responded in a high-handed manner to the discussion by demanding that Israel protect the rights of non-Jewish Israelis. The Anti-Defamation League says it is well meaning but unnecessary and some of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s coalition allies are threatening to break up the government and send the country to new elections because of their disagreement with it. But as much as one can argue that Israel won’t be any more or less a Jewish state whether or not any such bill passes the Knesset, critics of the measure should understand that the demand for this measure is not frivolous. Those criticizing it are largely missing the point.

As Haviv Rettig Gur explained in an excellent Times of Israel article, the claims by both sides in the argument are largely unfounded. Israel is already a Jewish state, albeit one in which the rights of every citizen to equal treatment under the law are guaranteed. Nor is it true, as Netanyahu’s unhappy coalition partners Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid charged, that the proposed drafts approved by the Cabinet would elevate the Jewish state concept over that of the democratic nature of that state.

What it would do is to incorporate into the country’s basic laws, which serve as an informal and entirely insufficient constitution, a basic truth about its founding that could actually serve as an important counter-balance to the proposed Palestinian state that peace negotiators seek to create alongside Israel. Though that state will be primarily racial and exclusive—Jews will not be welcomed or allowed to live there, let alone have equality under the law—but where Israel’s flag flies, democracy will prevail even as the rights of the Jewish people to their ancient homeland will be protected. Indeed, as Gur notes in his piece, the origins of the bills under discussion can be traced to efforts to make peace palatable to Israelis, not the fevered imaginations of right-wingers bent on excluding or expelling Arabs.

As Gur writes in reference to the charge that the Cabinet approved an extreme bill that undermined democracy:

But the cabinet decision on which the ministers voted did not “pass” the right-wing bills, as much of the Israeli media reported. It actually voted to subsume them, and thus de facto to replace them, with a larger government bill based on the prime minister’s 14 principles. And in principle 2-D of the decision, one reads, “The State of Israel is a democratic state, established on the foundations of liberty, justice and peace envisioned by the prophets of Israel, and which fulfills the personal rights of all its citizens, under law.”

There is no hedging, no distinction between what Israel simply “is” and what its “form of government” might be.

That said the critics have a point when they say this feeds into the anti-Zionist narrative being increasingly heard in the international media that seeks to falsely brand Israel as an “apartheid” or racist state. If even Israeli Cabinet members are capable of the sort of hyperbole that would brand it as a threat to democracy, you don’t have to have much imagination to realize what anti-Semitic foes of the country will make of it. Seen in that light, the push for the bill can be seen as, at best unnecessary, and at worst a needless provocation that could do harm.

But even if we factor into our thinking the danger posed by these libels, it does Israel no harm to remind the world that it has no intention of giving up its basic identity. Israel has not only a right but a duty to make it clear that as much as it is a democracy, it is also the “nation state of the Jewish people” whose rights must be protected as vigorously as those of any other people or country.

For far too long, those who have spoken up for Israel in international or media forums have downplayed the question of the rights of the Jews in the conflict and instead spoke only of the nation’s security needs. But when placed against Palestinian claims of their rights to the same country—when Hamas talks about resistance to the “occupation” they are referring to Israel within its pre-1967 borders—such talk inevitably seems inadequate. Friends of Israel are right to seek to promote the idea of a nation state for the Jews not so much because Israel’s laws need to be altered but because Zionism is itself under attack and must be vigorously defended.

Lastly, those who consider this some kind of colossal blunder on the part of Netanyahu don’t understand what is going on here. If Livni and Lapid blow up the government and force new elections, it is likely that both of them will lose ground while Netanyahu—who has no viable rival for the role of prime minister—is likely to emerge even stronger in a Knesset where the right-wing parties may be even more dominant and so-called moderates are marginalized.

Livni and Lapid would do well to lower the rhetoric and back down if they want to avoid going into an election having repudiated a measure that is, in the context of a country that is already a Jewish state, an anodyne proposal.

Israel won’t be any more Jewish or less democratic no matter whether or not this bill eventually becomes one of the country’s basic laws. But those casually weighing in on this debate from afar need to understand that at a time when the legitimacy of a Jewish state is increasingly under attack, Israelis are within their rights to make it clear they won’t give up this right.

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Real Estate, Jewelry, and the Israeli-Palestinian Dispute

Today’s publication of Defining Neighbors: Religion, Race, and the Early Zionist-Arab Encounter (Princeton University Press) by Jonathan Marc Gribetz, an assistant professor of Near Eastern studies and Judaic studies at Princeton, marks a minor miracle: it may well be the only book ever published with dust-jacket endorsements by both Ruth R. Wisse (a “brilliant study” and “an indispensable work”) and Rashid Khalidi (“prodigious research”). The publisher calls it a “landmark book,” one that “fundamentally recasts our understanding of the modern Jewish-Arab encounter.”

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Today’s publication of Defining Neighbors: Religion, Race, and the Early Zionist-Arab Encounter (Princeton University Press) by Jonathan Marc Gribetz, an assistant professor of Near Eastern studies and Judaic studies at Princeton, marks a minor miracle: it may well be the only book ever published with dust-jacket endorsements by both Ruth R. Wisse (a “brilliant study” and “an indispensable work”) and Rashid Khalidi (“prodigious research”). The publisher calls it a “landmark book,” one that “fundamentally recasts our understanding of the modern Jewish-Arab encounter.”

This post is not intended as a review, but rather a reflection on one of Professor Gribetz’s central insights. To call the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a “dispute over real estate,” he writes, is like calling a fight over a family inheritance a “dispute over jewelry and china”: in both cases, the description misses the crux of the matter. In his book, Professor Gribetz demonstrates that, from the beginning, the Jewish-Arab conflict was a “struggle over history and identity”–played out over land, but involving fundamental issues that have always transcended the apparent subject of the dispute.

In the early years, there were frequent expressions of commonality between Jews and Arabs, epitomized by the 1919 agreement between Chaim Weizmann, the head of the Zionist Organization, and Faisal Hussein, the leader of the Arabs. The agreement cited “the racial kinship and ancient bonds existing between the Arabs and the Jewish people” and declared Arab support for the 1917 Balfour Declaration and Jewish support for an Arab state adjacent to Palestine. Faisal thereafter wrote to Felix Frankfurter (then also a Zionist leader) that “we Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement,” and “will wish the Jews a most hearty welcome home.” That obviously did not last long.

Professor Gribetz ends his book by noting that while relations between Jews and Arabs worsened after 1919, his study itself shows that perceptions between peoples are not immutable; so it “stands to reason that they can improve as well.” He does not address what might lead to such an improvement, but perhaps we can determine what will be necessary by viewing his central insight in light of the peace proposals in the decades following the period he covers.

The 1919 Weizmann-Faisal agreement was never implemented, but in 1921 Great Britain divided Palestine and gave half to Transjordan. In later years, there were numerous two-state solutions proposed for the remaining half of Palestine, all of which ended exactly as did the 1919 pact:

(1) In 1937, the Jews accepted the two-state solution proposed by the British Peel Commission; the Arabs rejected it;

(2) In 1947, the Jews accepted the UN’s two-state solution; the Arabs rejected it;

(3) In 1967, Israel wanted to trade land for recognition and peace; the Arabs issued their three adamant “no’s”;

(4) In 1978, Israel agreed to Palestinian autonomy as part of the peace agreement with Egypt; the Palestinians rejected it;

(5) In July 2000, at Camp David, Israel offered the Palestinians a state; they walked away;

(6) In December 2000, Israel formally accepted the Clinton Parameters for a two-state solution; in January 2001, the Palestinians rejected them;

(7) In 2005, Israel removed every soldier, settler, and settlement from Gaza and turned the entire territory over to the Palestinian Authority; so far there have been three rocket wars on Israel from the land Israel gave the Palestinians to build a state;

(8) In 2008, the Israeli prime minister begged the Palestinian president to accept a two-state solution in which the Palestinians would get land equal to 100 percent (after swaps) of the West Bank and Gaza; the Palestinians walked away again;

(9) In 2009, the new Israeli prime minister formally endorsed a Palestinian state, implemented an unprecedented settlement construction freeze, and met a stone wall.

Nearly 100 years after the first two-state solution was endorsed by the Zionists, the current Palestinian president repeatedly states he will “never” recognize a Jewish state; refuses to endorse “two states for two peoples” as the goal of the peace process; and will not give a Bir Zeit speech to match the Israeli prime minister’s 2009 Bar-Ilan address that endorsed a Palestinian state. He demands more of the remaining jewelry and china, while maintaining a “right to recover” the rest and repeatedly “reconciling” with those dedicated to killing the other side of the family.

The problem in that scenario is not the jewelry and china. Those who read Professor Gribetz’s book will likewise learn that the real estate was not the heart of the initial Jewish-Arab encounter. Middle East peace will not arrive simply by drawing a line on a map, because the crux of this dispute has never been the real estate.

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From Heidegger to Gaza

Is there a connection between academic quarrels over the legacy of Martin Heidegger, one of the most influential German philosophers of the twentieth century, and the current conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip?

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Is there a connection between academic quarrels over the legacy of Martin Heidegger, one of the most influential German philosophers of the twentieth century, and the current conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip?

However spurious or bizarre that question may seem at first glance, an article by Michael Marder in the New York Times suggests that such a link does indeed exist. The source of what Marder describes as the “menacing chill forming around the work of Heidegger” also stalks attempts by philosophers, who work in an atmosphere of “ideological censorship,” to expose the nefarious nature of Zionism.

What’s involved here is a complicated story. Nonetheless, it is one that needs to be understood, if only because it illustrates the growing dominance of anti-Zionist opinion in academic and media discourse. Centrally, what it shows is that, to an ever greater extent, anti-Zionism in the academy isn’t so much a stance that one adopts in relation to the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel as it is a philosophical system for interpreting the persistence of conflict in the world in general.

With that in mind, we can better grasp what Marder is driving at in the claims he makes about Heidegger and his legacy. If there is one detail of Heidegger’s biography that is widely known, it’s that he joined the Nazi Party in 1933, at the peak of his career, and remained a member until the defeat of the Nazi regime. As far as Marder is concerned, that bald fact is an irritant, since it’s clear to him that there “is a profound disconnect between Heidegger’s anti-Semitic prejudice and his philosophy.” In other words, if you want to properly appreciate Heidegger’s oeuvre, it’s imperative to regard his Nazi affiliations as, to borrow the infamous words of the French fascist leader Jean-Marie Le Pen about the Nazi gas chambers, a “minor detail” in the history of the Second World War.

In discussing Heidegger’s “detractors, who are determined to smear the entirety of his thought and work with the double charge of Nazism and anti-Semitism,” Marder mentions only one–the French scholar Emmanuel Faye–for his temerity in suggesting that Heidegger’s key philosophical concept of Dasein (“Being-in-the-World”) should be reexamined in light of the philosopher’s anti-Semitism. Significantly, Marder does not refer his readers to Berel Lang, the American philosopher who authored a highly regarded book on Heidegger and the Jews. In that book, Lang asserted that “Heidegger’s silence” on the Jewish question before and after the Holocaust was a telling illustration of the “limits” on the thought of a man who, “more than any other twentieth century philosopher, attempted to break through the very notion of the limits of thinking.”

However, following this route into Heidegger’s writings is something of an inconvenience for Marder. It gets in the way of his insistence that the “smear” of anti-Semitism is a deliberate attempt to mask the value of Heidegger’s output, motivated by the same parochical Jewish imperatives that get in the way of a proper appraisal of Zionism.

Here is where the Gaza conflict comes in. Readers of the Times may well have been puzzled by Marder’s claim that “opposition to Zionism and the thinking inspired by Heidegger” are united insofar as both incur the unscrupulous charge of anti-Semitism. In part at least, that’s the fault of the Times‘ editors, who didn’t think it necessary to advise their readers that Marder’s position on the Palestinian issue is what informs his approach to Heidegger.

Look a little more closely, and you will find that Marder is also the author of several opeds for Al Jazeera, with such titles as “Why settlements will lead to a one-state solution” and “Here is why deconstructing Zionism is important.” In the latter piece, he argues that “deconstructing Zionism is not just a critique; it is an exercise in unravelling its philosophical suppositions.” For Marder, the wider problem is that the false assumptions imposed by Zionist ideology–whether the subject is Heidegger or Israeli policy–block proper philosophical inquiry.

Where, though, is Marder leading us? He’d like us to think, as he says in his “deconstructing” piece, that he’s motivated by “intense concern for the Jewish Israelis, who are set on a path of self-destruction.” But before we take him at his word, let’s recall that he edited a book entitled Deconstructing Zionism with the Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo. Yesterday, Vattimo told the Italian network Radio 24 that Israel is “a bit worse than the Nazis,” and that, for good measure, he’d like to “shoot those bastard Zionists.”

In the current climate, it would be unwise to assume that Vattimo’s “bastard Zionists” are located only in Israel. What about those thousands of Jews in Europe who vocally identify with Israel, and who have been targeted by mobs in Paris, London, and Berlin? What about those scholars who “smear” Heidegger as an anti-Semite much as they do those self-regardingly courageous academics who, in the name of the Palestinians, speak “truth to power?” Are they among the “bastards?”

I can’t say for sure how Michael Marder would answer those questions. But if he wants to be consistent, he will need to tell us that just as Heidegger’s Nazi Party membership was an irrelevance, so is Vattimo’s shrill exhortation to grab a gun in defense of Hamas. The New York Times, doubtless, will readily offer him the space to do just that.

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A Disgraceful Smear: Blaming Judaism for Israel’s Fallen

I wasn’t planning on writing about Slate senior editor Allison Benedikt’s deeply ignorant screed against Israel this morning, both because of discomfort with rewarding click-trolling and because it was so obviously abhorrent that by the time I got around to it (the piece was posted last night) I would just be repeating others. But I think an important point is still being missed.

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I wasn’t planning on writing about Slate senior editor Allison Benedikt’s deeply ignorant screed against Israel this morning, both because of discomfort with rewarding click-trolling and because it was so obviously abhorrent that by the time I got around to it (the piece was posted last night) I would just be repeating others. But I think an important point is still being missed.

The piece centers on Max Steinberg, a “lone soldier” in the Israel Defense Forces who was killed by terrorists in Gaza this week. Steinberg is from Los Angeles, and after attending a Birthright Israel trip, felt connected enough to make aliyah. He joined the IDF. Benedikt strings these basic facts together and comes up with a creative, and thoroughly repugnant, theory: Birthright shares the blame in Steinberg’s death.

Here’s the crux of Benedikt’s case. You’ll notice two problems:

Though most trip alumni do not join the IDF (Birthright’s spokeswoman told me they don’t keep track), to do so seems like the ultimate fulfillment of Birthright’s mission—the ultimate expression of a Jew’s solidarity with Israel is to take up arms to defend it.

The first is that she leaps to quite a conclusion while admitting she has no data to back it up, as the Times of Israel’s Haviv Rettig Gur notes:

Let me help. The answer is “exceedingly few.” Fewer than 3,000 Americans make aliyah each year across all age groups — from a community of six million Jews. Only a few hundred are young adults, and only a fraction of these (excluding religious women, health problems, anyone over 26, among others) join the IDF.

Then there are those who join the IDF without becoming Israeli citizens via a program known as Mahal, a program that predates Birthright by decades. Hundreds of Mahal soldiers fought in Israel’s Independence War in 1948. Max was a Mahal soldier, one of an estimated 400 young people from English-speaking countries who join the IDF each year through Mahal to serve a shorter service of 1.5 years instead of 3. While Mahal fighters number in the hundreds, only a fraction could have been Birthright participants. At least one-third are classified by the army (based on their own self-identification) as “religious,” meaning that they had been raised in religious educational frameworks, and thus are unlikely to have gone on Birthright. Most Jewish religious schools take their students to Israel during high school, making them ineligible for free college-age Birthright trips.

But the focus on the data misses the other problem with Benedikt’s essay. Benedikt doesn’t have the data on Birthright alumni joining the IDF because she doesn’t need or want it. She’s making a more philosophical argument. She’s saying Birthright connects Jews to Israel, and the “ultimate expression” of this connection must be, in Benedikt’s mind, to pick up a gun and put on a uniform.

The real clue to why Benedikt’s piece is so repulsive is her closing. She writes:

You spend hundreds of millions of dollars to convince young Jews that they are deeply connected to a country that desperately needs their support? This is what you get.

Now we’re getting somewhere. It’s not about Birthright per se. It’s about connecting Jews to their ancient homeland–their historical identity, in other words. And that connection, if successful, leads–not always, but logically, in Benedikt’s mind–to Steinberg’s tragic end. “This is what you get,” she says. War, death–this is what happens when you help Jews connect to a crucial part of Jewish life, history, practice, and identity.

It’s not Birthright that killed Max Steinberg, in Benedikt’s telling. It’s Judaism. Compartmentalize your Judaism by separating yourself from the global Jewish community and from Eretz Yisrael–keep your people’s history hidden–and you should be OK. “Maybe Max was especially lost, or especially susceptible, or maybe he was just looking to do some good and became convinced by his Birthright experience that putting on an IDF uniform and grabbing a gun was the way to do it,” Benedikt offers, trying to explain Steinberg’s Zionism by ascribing it to mental weakness, to emotional instability, or to a moral naïveté that his fellow Jews took advantage of.

To teach a Jew about his people and his history, according to Benedikt, is to play a dangerous game. And this, she says, pointing to the death of a 24-year-old soldier, is what happens; “This is what you get.”

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Blaming Zionism: The Lydda Misdirection

Imagine the following headlines: “Zionism Enables Paraplegics to Walk Again”; “Zionism Leads Lifesaving Medical Efforts in Disaster-Struck Haiti”; “Zionism Helps Prevent AIDS in Africa”; “Zionism Saves Syrian Lives As Arab States Abandon Them”; etc. There is something awkward, clumsy about them. But most of all you have to imagine those headlines because you wouldn’t otherwise see them.

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Imagine the following headlines: “Zionism Enables Paraplegics to Walk Again”; “Zionism Leads Lifesaving Medical Efforts in Disaster-Struck Haiti”; “Zionism Helps Prevent AIDS in Africa”; “Zionism Saves Syrian Lives As Arab States Abandon Them”; etc. There is something awkward, clumsy about them. But most of all you have to imagine those headlines because you wouldn’t otherwise see them.

Yet we hear the opposite refrain: when Israel earns the world’s opprobrium, Zionism gets a black mark as well. This is what jumped out right away at me from Ari Shavit’s much-discussed chapter on Lydda in his new and widely praised book.

There has been a fascinating debate taking place at Mosaic Magazine on the chapter. It began with Martin Kramer’s essay challenging Shavit’s selective interpretation of events in the famous 1948 battle, which Shavit used to accuse Israeli forces of committing a massacre. Efraim Karsh followed that with his take on Lydda and revisionism, and now Benny Morris has responded with a pox on both the houses of Shavit and Kramer who, he says, offer partial truths in the service of agenda-driven history.

But aside from the historical question of what exactly took place in Lydda in 1948, there is the classification by Shavit of Lydda as Zionism’s “black box.” Here is Shavit:

Lydda is our black box. In it lies the dark secret of Zionism. The truth is that Zionism could not bear Lydda. From the very beginning there was a substantial contradiction between Zionism and Lydda. If Zionism was to be, Lydda could not be. If Lydda was to be, Zionism could not be. In retrospect it’s all too clear.

This idea of Lydda explaining Zionism–and remember, in Shavit’s telling this means exposing the vengeful violence at the center of it–helps the reader understand, if not approve of, Shavit’s statements about Zionism and Lydda throughout the chapter. With the battle looming, Shavit says that “as Zionism closes in on the valley of Lydda from the south, east, and north, it now prepares to conquer the city of Lydda itself.” Later: “By evening, Zionism has taken the city of Lydda.” And then: “Zionism carries out a massacre in the city of Lydda.”

It is this portrayal of Zionism that is so risible. The documented history of Lydda is murky, and though it’s clear Shavit cherry-picked his facts, his conclusion is not impossible. But he slanders Zionism by declaring it is, at its heart, inseparable from this violence.

Morris touches on this glancingly but effectively in his response piece. Morris leans toward Shavit’s opinion of what actually happened at Lydda, but he writes:

Lydda wasn’t, however, representative of Zionist behavior. Before 1948, the Zionist enterprise expanded by buying, not conquering, Arab land, and it was the Arabs who periodically massacred Jews—as, for example, in Hebron and Safed in 1929. In the 1948 war, the first major atrocity was committed by Arabs: the slaughter of 39 Jewish co-workers in the Haifa Oil Refinery on December 30, 1947.

That is a basic fact. In an earlier parenthetical pair of sentences, Morris offers his own “black box” of Zionism:

As an aside, I would suggest here a much more telling “black box” or key to understanding both Zionism and the conflict. It is Kibbutz Yad Mordekhai, where for four to five days in May 1948 a handful of Holocaust survivors held off the invading mass of the Egyptian army, giving the Haganah/IDF time to organize against the pan-Arab assault on the newborn state of Israel.

Shavit’s treatment of Zionism is one of inevitability: the agency of those involved is removed in favor of ideological predetermination. But it’s also, in a perverse way, a form of blame shifting. And if anti-Arab massacres are the inevitable result and defining characteristic of Zionism, then anti-Zionism would be the proper atonement. This is curious, because Shavit is most certainly not an anti-Zionist. Though he is a man of the left, he doesn’t throw his lot in with those who want to see Israel erased.

It’s cognitive dissonance, then, for Shavit. But not for those who will use his book and his declarations of Zionism’s “black box” to continue faulting the very movement for Jewish self-determination for everything that goes wrong in the Holy Land. And though Israel remains a force for good in the world, we won’t see a flurry of the reverse: declarations crediting Zionism for the fact that the world would be a darker place without it.

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Coming Apart at the Seams: the Anti-Arab Incitement Must End

The killing of an Arab teen, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, in Jerusalem last week has added a harrowing dimension to the tragic series of events in Israel. Police have not concluded their investigation, but they initially leaned toward the explanation that the killing was done by Israelis in retaliation for the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teens, whose bodies were discovered last week. The Israeli police have now made arrests that would seem to bolster that theory, with the Times of Israel reporting that “the investigation has led them to believe that the act was most likely carried out by Jewish extremists in revenge for the killing of three Israeli teenagers earlier in June.” If confirmed, it’s sickening; and those who worry about how this will affect Israel’s reputation in the international community are getting it exactly backwards: there is a more pressing concern than reputation at a time like this.

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The killing of an Arab teen, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, in Jerusalem last week has added a harrowing dimension to the tragic series of events in Israel. Police have not concluded their investigation, but they initially leaned toward the explanation that the killing was done by Israelis in retaliation for the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teens, whose bodies were discovered last week. The Israeli police have now made arrests that would seem to bolster that theory, with the Times of Israel reporting that “the investigation has led them to believe that the act was most likely carried out by Jewish extremists in revenge for the killing of three Israeli teenagers earlier in June.” If confirmed, it’s sickening; and those who worry about how this will affect Israel’s reputation in the international community are getting it exactly backwards: there is a more pressing concern than reputation at a time like this.

And I don’t just mean the killing, to which I’ll return in a moment. The outpouring on social media of anti-Arab incitement has been shocking. The encouraging aspect to this has been the official denunciation of such incitement, both from the government, united in its revulsion of the incitement, and from groups of private citizens speaking out against it. Also encouraging has been the reaction of religious leaders. The Times of Israel reports that former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar has spoken out against such lawlessness, and he makes a key point here:

Reaching out to “all our brothers, the people of Israel, the young among us,” Amar said, “I feel their pain. I feel the frustration. But we can’t lose our heads. There are soldiers, and policemen, and security forces, praise God. And we can rest assured that by the grace of God, they will take the correct and necessary steps” in response to the killing of the three Israeli students. …

Speaking to Israel Radio Tuesday, Amar said calls for revenge were liable to “destroy our nation from within.”

Indeed they are. Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau echoed the sentiment: “The discourse about revenge is wrong morally, ethically and halakhically,” Lau said, adding: “We have to trust that the security forces will do their job properly and not think at all about taking revenge which can lead the entire region down a dangerous path.”

There need be no strategic consideration in denouncing the murder of an innocent boy. But beyond its own obvious moral repulsiveness is the question of what, if it’s true Israelis were responsible, they thought they were doing. Terrorism eats away at the fabric of civic life. Incitement rots the soul of a nation. We say this about Palestinian murder and incitement, and we say it for a reason.

Again, there are differences of course. The Israeli state does not condone it, and does not encourage it. And the voices of Lau and Amar have been tremendously important here, because they show that the leaders of the Jewish faith do not condone it. Israel’s founders had something to say about this as well. And though it may surprise those who have bought into a false reading of Israeli history, the figure we ought to look to for guidance here is Vladimir Jabotinsky.

When the Peel Commission in 1937 published its proposal to divide the land, it included the possibility of transferring Arabs out of the slice it apportioned to the Jews. It was not the left that recoiled from this but Jabotinsky. As Hillel Halkin writes in his new biography of Jabotinsky:

Nor was Jabotinsky enticed by the idea of Arab resettlement. People might call him an extremist, he said, but at least he had never dreamed of asking Arabs in a Jewish state to emigrate. If there would not be enough room for Arabs in a partition state, this was only because neither would there be enough room for Jews. It would be a “death sentence” for Zionism.

Jabotinsky did not believe the Arabs would be willing to peaceably accept the proposals for partition or coexistence. He was right, and violence followed. But he did not himself reject the idea of coexistence, nor did he think Zionism countenanced it. Jabotinsky also opposed, almost to the end of his life, terrorism against Arab civilians:

On a brief stopover in Alexandria in July 1937 to meet Revisionist leaders from Palestine on his way back from a second South African tour, he reportedly told them, “I see nothing heroic about shooting an Arab peasant in the back for bringing vegetables on his donkey to Tel Aviv.”

From his perch in Europe, Jabotinsky at first thought reports of Jewish terrorism against Arab civilians might be rumors to discredit the Revisionists. He said:

As far as I’m concerned, Palestinian Arabs in Tel Aviv are [as though] in their own home, because otherwise I can’t imagine law and order in Palestine. But even if this guideline isn’t followed, I could still forgive [the Jews involved] if they had gone [to the Arabs] and politely asked them to leave without laying hands on them. If there were blows or shoves, or seven Jews ganging up on one Arab, I only hope that our people [i.e., Revisionists] weren’t part of it. I would consider such a thing beastly, even if it happened during a pogrom [of Arabs against Jews].

Jabotinsky had, from a distance, lost command and control of his followers. But even when he, reluctantly, tried to rationalize Jewish violence, his excuses wouldn’t hold today and he almost certainly wouldn’t offer them because of what Amar said. The Jews fighting for a state in Palestine became desperate, as the British authorities’ response to terror was appeasement, and as the British sought to close immigration to those fleeing genocide, thus handing out death sentences to Jews by the thousands even as they were being eradicated at their points of origin.

Today the Jews of Israel have a state and the right of return and an army to defend themselves. The grief and anger being felt in Israel is understandable. The incitement with which it has recently manifested is, as Amar said, a self-destructive act–a betrayal, and not a defense, of the Jewish people.

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Massacre at Lydda?

“In thirty minutes, at high noon, more than 200 civilians are killed. Zionism carries out a massacre in the city of Lydda.” That lapel-grabber, from Ari Shavit’s bestselling My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, is the departure point for my essay at Mosaic Magazine, “What Happened at Lydda.”

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“In thirty minutes, at high noon, more than 200 civilians are killed. Zionism carries out a massacre in the city of Lydda.” That lapel-grabber, from Ari Shavit’s bestselling My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, is the departure point for my essay at Mosaic Magazine, “What Happened at Lydda.”

I won’t summarize the piece, which will run at the top of the magazine site for the month of July. When I first read Shavit’s account, I thought it sounded forced, and so I searched for other interviews with the same people he spoke to twenty years ago, when he collected his material. (Most of the subjects are dead.) A fairly quick search yielded results: I found a trove of additional interviews in public archives. On their foundation it’s possible to construct an entirely different story: not of a vengeful massacre by “Zionism,” but of collateral damage in a city that turned into a battlefield.

Sound familiar from the recent history of Israel? It should. This is a story that repeats itself every few years. I don’t know exactly what happened in Lydda on July 12, 1948, because the testimony is contradictory. But Shavit has vouched for the accuracy of his work down to the last fact and detail. Read the essay and see whether I’ve planted a seed of doubt.

Some will say that Shavit’s book, on balance, is good for Israel, and so should be entitled to an exemption from this sort of criticism. The confession of sin married to expressions of love for Israel may be what many American Jews need just now, and I make no judgment about the book as a whole. But the same argument for silence was made when American Jews needed to believe that Israel could do no wrong. And while confession is good for the soul, confessing the supposed sins of others—in this case, the Palmah officers and soldiers of the Yiftah brigade who conquered Lydda—must be done judiciously. After all, most of them can no longer speak.

My motive hasn’t been to protect Israel’s honor against the charge of massacre. There are some well-documented instances from 1948. It’s just that Lydda isn’t one of them. From a narrative point of view, it’s appealing to combine the stories of the largest expulsion and the largest massacre. But that’s a little too tidy, and when the past appears tidy, it deserves another look.

As a historian, I know something about the rules, but as I admit in the article, I’m not a historian of 1948 (or even of Israel). My expertise is the rest of the Middle East. That’s why I placed the essay at Mosaic Magazine, which solicits responses by experts. I’m eager to ignite a debate among people who have made this era their lives’ work (and, of course, Shavit too). There’s also a comments feature, for anyone who might have an interesting insight. I urge you to read my opening move, and I’ll be posting more pointers as appropriate.

And as a bonus for getting this far in this post, here are links to some remarkable photographs of Lydda at the time of its capture, taken by Boris Karmi (1914-2002).

Mula Cohen (1923-2002), commander of the Yiftah brigade. Shavit portrays him a sad figure, but he looks like he’s on top of the world here.

• A portrait of a smiling Israeli soldier against the backdrop of the “small mosque,” epicenter of the alleged massacre.

• Yiftah brigade soldiers take a break in Lydda.

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French Anti-Semitism and the Specter of “Humanitarian Zionism”

Last week, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve made a very smart observation about terrorism in France that other Western officials would do well to consider. On May 24, a man, believed to be 29-year-old Mehdi Nemmouche, shot and killed four at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. After Nemmouche’s arrest about a week after the crime, authorities began using the term “lone wolf” to describe him–including Cazeneuve. But Cazeneuve now thinks that was a mistake and, as JTA reported, had this to say on the term:

The term suggests an assassin or terrorist who is working independently of partners or any larger framework.

But actions such as Nemmouche “begin a long way back,” he said. The processes of radicalization, Cazeneuve added, “have to transcend many stages,” including procuring weapons” and “arriving in conflict zones or terrorism.” He concluded by saying: “What I want to say is that accomplices are important here not only in the procurement of arms that terrorists use. This leads me to think, without any reservation, that the ‘lone wolf’ is anything but.”

Western officials like to use the term “lone wolf” both for self-serving reasons (to avoid blame) and to try to calm the public (there’s no conspiracy afoot, no persistent danger, etc.). But not having an immediate and knowing accomplice is not the same as acting completely alone, and Cazeneuve seems to realize this. In Western Europe, it is especially important to understand how and why crimes like this happen because European Jewry is under attack more consistently and brazenly than has been the case in decades. As the largest European Jewish community, France is something of a test as to whether European Jewry has a future. And right now it’s failing that test.

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Last week, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve made a very smart observation about terrorism in France that other Western officials would do well to consider. On May 24, a man, believed to be 29-year-old Mehdi Nemmouche, shot and killed four at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. After Nemmouche’s arrest about a week after the crime, authorities began using the term “lone wolf” to describe him–including Cazeneuve. But Cazeneuve now thinks that was a mistake and, as JTA reported, had this to say on the term:

The term suggests an assassin or terrorist who is working independently of partners or any larger framework.

But actions such as Nemmouche “begin a long way back,” he said. The processes of radicalization, Cazeneuve added, “have to transcend many stages,” including procuring weapons” and “arriving in conflict zones or terrorism.” He concluded by saying: “What I want to say is that accomplices are important here not only in the procurement of arms that terrorists use. This leads me to think, without any reservation, that the ‘lone wolf’ is anything but.”

Western officials like to use the term “lone wolf” both for self-serving reasons (to avoid blame) and to try to calm the public (there’s no conspiracy afoot, no persistent danger, etc.). But not having an immediate and knowing accomplice is not the same as acting completely alone, and Cazeneuve seems to realize this. In Western Europe, it is especially important to understand how and why crimes like this happen because European Jewry is under attack more consistently and brazenly than has been the case in decades. As the largest European Jewish community, France is something of a test as to whether European Jewry has a future. And right now it’s failing that test.

Cazeneuve was also speaking about a man named Mohammed Merah, the gunman involved in a brief crime spree in Toulouse that included murdering Jews. This week in France, Merah’s name was reportedly found spray-painted in a message praising him. In fact, the phrase “this week in France” is rarely followed by good news, and for Jews the phrase has taken on an even more ominous tone.

On June 11, Tablet reported on “the third disturbing incident from [the] French capital” so far that week, and then listed all the anti-Semitic incidents in Paris in 2014 for good measure. Each such story tends to bring a round of recollections on social media sites of readers’ latest stories of French anti-Semitism.

It’s easy to see how such incidents proliferate when each is treated as a “lone wolf” attack. The willful blindness practically ensures it will continue. It’s possible that a shift in attitude such as Cazeneuve’s will make a difference, though it would take a cultural shift for the correct approach to be prevalent enough to turn the tide. It’s easier to pretend the tide isn’t there.

What does that mean for French Jewry, and for European Jewry? As to the former, JTA also noted last month a survey showing that three-quarters of French Jews are considering leaving the country. More than half the respondents said “Jews have no future in France,” and nearly all (more than 95 percent) said anti-Semitism there is “worrisome” or “very worrisome.” As for what it means for European Jewry, this part of the story is pertinent:

Ninety-three percent said the French state had no efficient means for countering “Islamic exclusionist and pro-Palestinian propaganda,” whereas 93.4 percent said French mass media are partially responsible for France’s anti-Semitism problem. Roughly three-quarters said French Jewish institutions were helpless to stop anti-Semitism.

To take those three points in order: According to Brown University’s Maud Mandel (no relation–that I know of, anyway) “France houses the largest Jewish and Muslim populations living side by side outside of Israel.” That bodes ill, obviously, for Muslim-Jewish relations in Europe in the future (though there are certainly aspects of this that are specific to France). On the second point, European mass media is broadly hostile to the Jewish state, so it’s unlikely any strife caused by the press would be limited to France. (Ahem, BBC.) On the third, I’m not sure what the Jews of France expect, outside of their own private army. Jewish institutions in many cases could do much better than they are, but it’s doubtful they can singlehandedly change the hearts and minds of Europe’s Mehdi Nemmouches and Mohammed Merahs.

If there is any strength to be had in numbers, then France’s treatment of its Jews shows how easily that strength can be negated. The packed aliyah fairs in Paris and the rate of French aliyah itself raise the specter of what Jabotinsky once called “humanitarian Zionism.” If such a Zionism is necessary in 2014, Europe has failed its Jews once again.

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More on SJP at Vassar College

Last week, I wrote about the Vassar chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, which quoted an anti-Semitic author, writing for an anti-Semitic publication, to this effect: “Of course, mainstream media hasbarats have been around for decades, as have ‘hasbaratchiks,’ fifth-columns in foreign governments who subvert national policies to serve Israel.” I learned about the episode from Rebecca Lesses of Mystical Politics, whose follow-up posts are also worth reading. David Schraub and Petra Marquardt Bigman have also commented.

The Vassar SJP has now issued an apology of sorts: “we did not vet the original posters of some of the content we reblogged close enough this past week, and only focused on the content.” Last week, they dismissed criticisms this way: “if the idea is alright, who cares where they [sic] come from?” But they now understand that the “sources, no matter the content, can be triggering to many in our audience.”

The Vassar SJP is therefore counting on an assumption that David Schraub’s post questioned in its very title, that one is “Innocent Until Proven Nazi.” As Schraub puts it: “Suppose Vassar SJP had posted the exact same material, only it wasn’t attributable to an avowedly white nationalist website? Would the reaction have been the same? For some of us, sure: we know anti-Semitism when we see it. But for others, it seems that the Nazi link is a crutch — without it they find it very difficult to even raise the prospect of anti-Semitism.”

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Last week, I wrote about the Vassar chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, which quoted an anti-Semitic author, writing for an anti-Semitic publication, to this effect: “Of course, mainstream media hasbarats have been around for decades, as have ‘hasbaratchiks,’ fifth-columns in foreign governments who subvert national policies to serve Israel.” I learned about the episode from Rebecca Lesses of Mystical Politics, whose follow-up posts are also worth reading. David Schraub and Petra Marquardt Bigman have also commented.

The Vassar SJP has now issued an apology of sorts: “we did not vet the original posters of some of the content we reblogged close enough this past week, and only focused on the content.” Last week, they dismissed criticisms this way: “if the idea is alright, who cares where they [sic] come from?” But they now understand that the “sources, no matter the content, can be triggering to many in our audience.”

The Vassar SJP is therefore counting on an assumption that David Schraub’s post questioned in its very title, that one is “Innocent Until Proven Nazi.” As Schraub puts it: “Suppose Vassar SJP had posted the exact same material, only it wasn’t attributable to an avowedly white nationalist website? Would the reaction have been the same? For some of us, sure: we know anti-Semitism when we see it. But for others, it seems that the Nazi link is a crutch — without it they find it very difficult to even raise the prospect of anti-Semitism.”

The Vassar SJP has backed off not even a little from the claim that the “idea is alright,” where the “idea” is that Israel’s defenders, whether on the right or the left (neither Lesses nor Schraub is on the right and the former has explicitly distanced herself from COMMENTARY) are or are deliberately in league with fifth columnists, or traitors. Indeed, the SJP, which has asserted that its apology came late “due to finals week” found time, in what it called “Communique #1” to accuse its critics of being paid agents of the Zionist conspiracy. They “know that the manufactured misrepresentation of our mission does not occur in a vacuum” and are  “aware of the watchdog organizations who pay alums and students to generate slanderous claims against pro-palestinian activists.” They “find it an appalling irony to be accused of supporting white supremacy by those who support the racist Israeli regime,” whose “agenda is comprised of policies that work towards exterminating Palestinians and African migrants.”

The apology was followed up, remarkably, by a new posting, since taken down, of a Nazi propaganda poster depicting, among other things, a big-nosed man clutching a money bag. When called on this latest misstep by Lesses, SJP Vassar saw no problem at all: “it’s from a blog showcasing various types of historical propaganda.” In other words, just as Schraub suggested, they think that they can be accused of spreading anti-Semitism only if they lift material directly from a known anti-Semitic website. The idea—here that greedy Jews are part of a monstrous America—is, once again, “alright.”

The attitude of the Vassar SJP is oddly blithe, as if they do not know they are playing with fire. But they are. Consider another post about the African-American activist Stokely Carmichael, taken from a site called Disciples of Malcolm. Carmichael is quoted to the effect that Martin Luther King was “confused” when he associated anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. But King, Carmichael adds, was depending on progressive Jewish support, or the support of “Zionists who did not say they were Zionists.”

Carmichael was also wont to say “the only good Zionist is a dead Zionist.”

If SJP has a faculty adviser, this may be what we in the education biz call a “teaching moment.”

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The Misleading Nakba Narrative

In recent years the international community has come to accept the Palestinians’ Nakba narrative in which Israel’s birth is treated as a “disaster” and indisputable proof of the need to pressure Israel. While it is possible to sympathize with the tale of Palestinian suffering in the wake of the creation of Israel without seeking to delegitimize Zionism, all too often those who adopt the notion that the events of 1948 were a “disaster” treat Israel’s creation as an original sin that requires the world to bow to all of the Palestinians’ demands.

But what is most troubling is that many on the Jewish left have adopted this same point of view. As Joshua Muravchick wrote in a definitive article on the subject in the June 2013 issue of COMMENTARY, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has been “Trashing Israel Daily” for years. But its editorial last week days before the celebration of Israel’s Independence Day, which called for the state to not only accept the Palestinian narrative of victimization for which Israel bears sole responsibility but have it taught in its schools, was so over the top it prompted one of the country’s veteran left-wing thinkers and advocates of peace with the Palestinians to call them out.

Shlomo Avineri, a leading Israeli scholar and at one time the director general of its Foreign Ministry, was among the first in the country to advocate negotiations with the PLO in the 1970s when such dealings were illegal. As such, his credentials as an advocate of negotiations and reconciliation with the Palestinians are impeccable. But Avineri was shocked at what he read in a paper whose opinion columns often read more like Palestinian propaganda than anything else. His dissection of the editorial that was published today is must reading for anyone who cares about peace or about the truth. While acknowledging that the history of the conflict is complex, he believes those who accept the idea that Israel alone is responsible for Palestinian suffering are wrong.

He writes:

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In recent years the international community has come to accept the Palestinians’ Nakba narrative in which Israel’s birth is treated as a “disaster” and indisputable proof of the need to pressure Israel. While it is possible to sympathize with the tale of Palestinian suffering in the wake of the creation of Israel without seeking to delegitimize Zionism, all too often those who adopt the notion that the events of 1948 were a “disaster” treat Israel’s creation as an original sin that requires the world to bow to all of the Palestinians’ demands.

But what is most troubling is that many on the Jewish left have adopted this same point of view. As Joshua Muravchick wrote in a definitive article on the subject in the June 2013 issue of COMMENTARY, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has been “Trashing Israel Daily” for years. But its editorial last week days before the celebration of Israel’s Independence Day, which called for the state to not only accept the Palestinian narrative of victimization for which Israel bears sole responsibility but have it taught in its schools, was so over the top it prompted one of the country’s veteran left-wing thinkers and advocates of peace with the Palestinians to call them out.

Shlomo Avineri, a leading Israeli scholar and at one time the director general of its Foreign Ministry, was among the first in the country to advocate negotiations with the PLO in the 1970s when such dealings were illegal. As such, his credentials as an advocate of negotiations and reconciliation with the Palestinians are impeccable. But Avineri was shocked at what he read in a paper whose opinion columns often read more like Palestinian propaganda than anything else. His dissection of the editorial that was published today is must reading for anyone who cares about peace or about the truth. While acknowledging that the history of the conflict is complex, he believes those who accept the idea that Israel alone is responsible for Palestinian suffering are wrong.

He writes:

Some facts of history really ought not to be left to historians. The attempt to ignore them is morally flawed — and morality is, rightfully, the driving spirit behind the editorial. It is a fact — one that should not be “a matter for historians” — that in September 1939, Germany invaded Poland and not the other way around. It is a fact that on December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the United States and not vice versa. It is also true that what is called the Nakba is the result of a political decision by the Palestinian leadership and the Arab states to reject the United Nations partition resolution, to try to prevent its implementation by force and to attack the Jewish community in the Land of Israel before and after the state’s establishment. Of this, the editorial says nothing.

Thus, the context of the founding of the State of Israel is presented in the editorial exactly as it is presented in Palestinian and Arab political discourse — with total disregard of the political and historical reality in 1947 and 1948. Usually, Arab discourse simply never mentions the partition resolution, just as it never mentions the violent opposition to its implementation. Such denial from the Arab side might be understandable — but in Haaretz? In case anyone forgot or does not know, I suggest going to the newspaper’s archives and reading the headlines from November 30, 1947 and the daily news from the subsequent months. They are full of reports of Arab violence and the beginnings of armed Arab resistance to the establishment of the State of Israel, first by the Arab militias (the “gangs”) inside the country and later via the coordinated invasion by Arab armies when the British Mandate ended on May 15, 1948. The editorial says not a word about that, just as Arab discourse prefers simply to wipe those historical facts from memory.

Avineri also points out the hypocrisy of the effort to brand Israel has having been born as a result of original sin:

Was the Nakba an earthquake? A tornado? A tsunami? It was the tragic result of an Arab political decision to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state in the portion of the Land of Israel that had been under the British Mandate, just as the expulsion of 12 million ethnic Germans from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary after 1945 was the tragic result of German aggression in 1939 and later in 1941, when it invaded the Soviet Union. In both cases, masses of innocent civilians paid the price of their leaders’ aggression. But if anyone today tried to describe the expulsion of millions of Germans from Eastern Europe as a “disaster” that had nothing to do with the Third Reich’s aggression, he would rightly be called a neo-Nazi.

By ignoring the real reasons Palestinians suffered, those who buy into the Nakba narrative tilt the diplomatic playing field against Israel and legitimize the efforts of those who seek to promote boycotts of Israel or its destruction. Burying the truth about the Nakba makes it difficult if not impossible to understand contemporary Palestinian violence.

One can certainly understand, but not justify, the general Palestinian and Arab opposition to the Zionist enterprise. That is the nature of national conflicts, although this opposition had more aspects of murder and terrorism than other national movements did. Palestinian terrorism against Jewish civilians is not the result of the post-1967 years of occupation. It was part of the 1929 riots and the Arab uprising of 1936. It is true that on the one hand, we cannot conclude from the grand mufti’s presence in Berlin during World War II that Arab opposition to Zionism was identical to Nazism. But on the other hand, to ignore this fact and leave it to historians is a distortion of history. It is part of the concrete historical consciousness of both Jews and Arabs.

Avineri’s cri de coeur about the way Haaretz has joined the assault on Zionism should be heeded not just by those who seek to defend the Jewish state but also principally by those who are troubled by its presence in the West Bank and ardently desire a two state solution. Peace will remain impossible until the Palestinians reject a conception of national identity that is inextricably linked with the effort to destroy Israel. As long as Palestinians treat the Nakba as an excuse to delegitimize Israel, the sea change that will make peace viable won’t happen. Those Jews and Jewish institutions that seek to validate this false Nakba narrative are putting off the day when peace will come, not hastening it.

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Why Ed Miliband Won’t Drop the Z-Bomb

The Jewish leader of Britain’s Labor party is currently in Israel expressing his support for the country, just as Prime Minister David Cameron did back in March. Yet for all his platitudes about his support for what he refers to as the “Jewish homeland” and his repeated references to his own family background, you won’t catch Ed Miliband referring to himself as a Zionist. (He almost did it once, but has certainly learned his lesson since.) The simple truth is that for a politician on Britain’s left, referring to oneself as a Zionist would be nothing short of political suicide. And Miliband is undoubtedly of the left; conservative pundits in the UK delight in referring to the Labor party leader as “Red Ed,” but more to the point Miliband has openly declared himself a socialist. How telling that Zionism—the national liberation movement of the Jewish people—is considered so much further beyond the pale than an ideology like socialism, which has a rather troubled record to say the least.

During a Q&A session with a group of Israeli students at the Hebrew University Miliband was questioned on whether or not he considers himself to be a Zionist. Knowing already the consequences of answering in the affirmative, he instead sidestepped the question by saying that he sees the matter in terms of his family, his grandmother having come to Israel following the Holocaust. Miliband’s coyness on the matter is warranted, for this is a subject on account of which he’s been burned before. Asked on a previous occasion if he considered himself a Zionist, he was reported to have responded, “Yes, I consider myself a supporter of Israel.” However, Miliband’s Zionism lasted less than 24 hours, with his office—no doubt seized with panic—releasing a prompt “clarification,” or rather a retraction.

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The Jewish leader of Britain’s Labor party is currently in Israel expressing his support for the country, just as Prime Minister David Cameron did back in March. Yet for all his platitudes about his support for what he refers to as the “Jewish homeland” and his repeated references to his own family background, you won’t catch Ed Miliband referring to himself as a Zionist. (He almost did it once, but has certainly learned his lesson since.) The simple truth is that for a politician on Britain’s left, referring to oneself as a Zionist would be nothing short of political suicide. And Miliband is undoubtedly of the left; conservative pundits in the UK delight in referring to the Labor party leader as “Red Ed,” but more to the point Miliband has openly declared himself a socialist. How telling that Zionism—the national liberation movement of the Jewish people—is considered so much further beyond the pale than an ideology like socialism, which has a rather troubled record to say the least.

During a Q&A session with a group of Israeli students at the Hebrew University Miliband was questioned on whether or not he considers himself to be a Zionist. Knowing already the consequences of answering in the affirmative, he instead sidestepped the question by saying that he sees the matter in terms of his family, his grandmother having come to Israel following the Holocaust. Miliband’s coyness on the matter is warranted, for this is a subject on account of which he’s been burned before. Asked on a previous occasion if he considered himself a Zionist, he was reported to have responded, “Yes, I consider myself a supporter of Israel.” However, Miliband’s Zionism lasted less than 24 hours, with his office—no doubt seized with panic—releasing a prompt “clarification,” or rather a retraction.

Yet, it is noteworthy that while it was unthinkable for the Jewish leader of the Labor party to confess Zionism, non-Jewish members of the Conservative party have been more unabashed in identifying themselves as Zionists. When he was himself leader of the opposition David Cameron described himself as a Zionist (although one wonders if he would still do so openly now that he is prime minister), and similarly the education secretary, Michael Gove, has defended being a Zionist as well as having long been a vocal supporter of the Jewish state.

As a politician on the left, however, Miliband finds himself in a far more complicated position. Hostility to Israel extends far beyond the radical left in Britain, with several members of the parliamentary Labor party and significant sections of the Trade Union movement actively campaigning against the Jewish state. And after all, Miliband won the race for the party’s leadership in part because he had the backing of the Trade Unions. For many of these people, Jews are tolerated provided they first establish their credentials as being anti-Israel. By expressing support for Israel in the way that he has done on occasion, Miliband is already entering dangerous territory, to come out as a Zionist Jew too might well be more than certain key constituencies could stand.

As already mentioned, Miliband has had no such qualms about calling himself a socialist and has even claimed that he is all about bringing back socialism, something that will sound pretty unsettling to many voters. Of course there have been many strands of socialism and no one would wish to suggest that Miliband has ever expressed support for the regimes that have practiced its more authoritarian and genocidal incarnations–unlike, say, Labor’s deputy leader Harriet Harman, who has expressed praise for Fidel Castro, or another prominent voice in the party, Dianne Abbott, who claimed that Chairman Mao had done “more good than bad.” Indeed, Miliband’s father Ralph was a prominent Marxist theorist and it is quite conceivable that if Ed were to refer to himself as a Marxist then he’d cause less controversy within his party than if he announced himself as a Zionist during his visit to Israel.

It might well be asked if there’s any meaningful difference between calling oneself a strong supporter of Israel as opposed to an out and out Zionist. And the answer is yes; thanks to a determined campaign, that word is now sullied with so many undesirable connotations. The truth is that, for many on the British left, the United Nations’ “Zionism is racism” ruling was never really overturned. But at anti-Israel events and rallies, Zionism is not only declared a form of racism but rather is knowingly equated with Nazism. Images of swastikas stamped over the Star of David are common at anti-Israel demonstrations, while protestors have given the Nazi salute and had even begun goose-stepping while targeting one Israeli-owned business. It is then no exaggeration to say that there are those for whom declaring oneself a Zionist would be akin to endorsing National Socialism. No wonder that Ed Miliband is going out of his way not to drop the Z-bomb.  

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At the Heart of the Jewish State Issue

As we learned last weekend via Bloomberg, President Obama is obsessed with the idea that Israeli intransigence is the reason there is no peace in the Middle East. Obama’s whitewashing of the rejectionism of the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas is shocking in its single-minded determination to ignore both recent history and the current state of the negotiations. Israel has already shown its willingness to accept a U.S. framework for continued talks despite their justified misgivings about the direction of the negotiations. Meanwhile the Palestinians have given every indication that they won’t buy into the framework because they fear it will commit them to the one thing they have repeatedly shown no interest in accepting: peace.

Further proof of that comes today from the New York Times in the form of an op-ed from a leading Palestinian academic explaining why his people could never agree to one of the key points in the framework: recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. Ali Jarbawi of Bir Zeit University gives a number of reasons why the Jewish state demand is a non-starter. But the Palestinians would probably be better off if they gave up trying to explain why that is so. The more we understand about the Palestinians’ objections to this condition, the less likely peace will ever be agreed to, no matter what the terms.

Not entirely by coincidence, the Times editorial page endorsed the Palestinian position on the Jewish state today. But the paper was far more concerned with seconding President Obama’s stance and ignoring Israel’s past offers of statehood turned down by the Palestinians (in 2000, 2001 and 2008) and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s repeated statements about his willingness to accept a two-state solution if it meant real peace. Their dismissal of the Jewish state demand, which has been accepted by both Obama and Secretary of State Kerry, is however, a key point that should alert readers to the fact that the paper’s supposed concern for Israel’s future is less than sincere. But those wishing to understand the Palestinian’s reluctance to accept the necessity to merely say a few words in exchange for tangible concessions in terms of land from Israel need to read Jaberi’s article to understand why this seemingly trivial concern is actually at the heart of the dispute.

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As we learned last weekend via Bloomberg, President Obama is obsessed with the idea that Israeli intransigence is the reason there is no peace in the Middle East. Obama’s whitewashing of the rejectionism of the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas is shocking in its single-minded determination to ignore both recent history and the current state of the negotiations. Israel has already shown its willingness to accept a U.S. framework for continued talks despite their justified misgivings about the direction of the negotiations. Meanwhile the Palestinians have given every indication that they won’t buy into the framework because they fear it will commit them to the one thing they have repeatedly shown no interest in accepting: peace.

Further proof of that comes today from the New York Times in the form of an op-ed from a leading Palestinian academic explaining why his people could never agree to one of the key points in the framework: recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. Ali Jarbawi of Bir Zeit University gives a number of reasons why the Jewish state demand is a non-starter. But the Palestinians would probably be better off if they gave up trying to explain why that is so. The more we understand about the Palestinians’ objections to this condition, the less likely peace will ever be agreed to, no matter what the terms.

Not entirely by coincidence, the Times editorial page endorsed the Palestinian position on the Jewish state today. But the paper was far more concerned with seconding President Obama’s stance and ignoring Israel’s past offers of statehood turned down by the Palestinians (in 2000, 2001 and 2008) and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s repeated statements about his willingness to accept a two-state solution if it meant real peace. Their dismissal of the Jewish state demand, which has been accepted by both Obama and Secretary of State Kerry, is however, a key point that should alert readers to the fact that the paper’s supposed concern for Israel’s future is less than sincere. But those wishing to understand the Palestinian’s reluctance to accept the necessity to merely say a few words in exchange for tangible concessions in terms of land from Israel need to read Jaberi’s article to understand why this seemingly trivial concern is actually at the heart of the dispute.

Let’s first dismiss the claim made by both the Times and Jarbawi that this demand by Israel is an innovation on Netanyahu’s part whose purpose is to derail the peace process. But there’s nothing new about it. The original 1947 United Nations partition resolution stated that the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River was to be divided between an Arab state and one it designated as a “Jewish state.” If the Palestinians are now reversing their adamant rejection of partition by saying they will be satisfied by an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza, there should be no problem accepting this term.

But they can’t and Jarbawi doesn’t shy away from explaining why. The Palestinians can’t say the words “Jewish state” because to do so would force them to give up their historical narrative in which they see themselves as victims of history who can only be made whole by annulling the results of Israel’s War of Independence. This is not merely a matter of Israelis stating their sympathy for the losers in that war and. The key principle of Palestinian nationalism is rejection of Zionism and the existence of Israel no matter where its borders are drawn. If Palestinians agree that a Jewish state has a right to exist that means they are forever giving up their dreams of extinguishing it. That seems unfair to Jaberi because it means the 1948 refugees and their descendants will be deprived of their dream of “return” which means the end of Israel as a Jewish state. But without accepting this will never happen the Palestinians are, at best, merely agreeing to a pause in their war against Israel and not in concluding it.

Jarbawi then makes the specious point that agreeing to Israel being a Jewish state would compromise the rights of Israel’s Arab minority. Jaberi knows very well this is a red herring since Israel’s basic laws hold that it is both a Jewish state and one in which ethnic and religious minorities have full rights. Israeli Arabs are equal before the law in Israel, serve in its Knesset, government and its judiciary. There is no conceivable scenario under which those rights will be annulled even in the event of war, let alone the outbreak of peace. But his real objection to this point comes in the following paragraph when he says his real worry is that even if those conditions are confirmed, Palestinians fear that a peace treaty might mean that Jews living in the West Bank who wish to remain in their homes in the event of peace would be given the same rights that Arabs have in Israel.

A savvy Palestinian propagandist might have been willing to concede the right of Jews to live in the West Bank as a protected minority in a Palestinian state, but not Jarbawi. Speaking for what is mainstream, indeed, the virtually unanimous opinion of Palestinians, the academic says Jews have no right to be there and therefore cannot be accorded the equal rights that Arabs have inside Israel. Their vision of peace is apparently one in which a Jew-free Palestinian state exists alongside an Israel flooded by Palestinian refugees who would vote the Jewish state out of existence.

While Obama, Kerry and the Times are mindlessly blaming Netanyahu for fighting a two-state solution he has already accepted, the Palestinians persist in laying down terms for peace that are not only unrealistic but demonstrate that the end of their century-old conflict with Zionism is still at the top of their agenda. Two little words would be enough to convince the world that the Palestinians are sincere about peace even though Israel has good reason to doubt Abbas’ sincerity or his ability to make a deal stick even if he signed one. But the more the Palestinians explain why they cannot say them the more obvious it becomes that peace is not their objective.

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Of Zionism and Camels

The idea that anyone might use research about camels to attempt to invalidate Zionism may seem rather far-fetched. But at the avowedly anti-Israel Guardian newspaper, anything is worth a try. The author of the piece in question, Andrew Brown, has set upon a recent story featured by the New York Times and National Geographic who themselves have seized upon research from two scholars at Tel Aviv University which has suggested that domesticated camels may not have existed in the Levant in the time of Genesis.

Brown parades this as proof positive that the camels mentioned in genesis must be a fiction. From there Brown’s impeccable line of reasoning just runs and runs. The camels in Genesis are made up, and if they are made up then the Bible is made up, and if the Bible is made up then everything else in the Bible is made up, which means promises to Abraham and his descendants about the inheritance of the land were made up, which means the foundations of Zionism are made up, and so, whatever one might say about the modern State of Israel, its foundations, which Brown dismisses as emotional, are made up and invalid. You follow?    

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The idea that anyone might use research about camels to attempt to invalidate Zionism may seem rather far-fetched. But at the avowedly anti-Israel Guardian newspaper, anything is worth a try. The author of the piece in question, Andrew Brown, has set upon a recent story featured by the New York Times and National Geographic who themselves have seized upon research from two scholars at Tel Aviv University which has suggested that domesticated camels may not have existed in the Levant in the time of Genesis.

Brown parades this as proof positive that the camels mentioned in genesis must be a fiction. From there Brown’s impeccable line of reasoning just runs and runs. The camels in Genesis are made up, and if they are made up then the Bible is made up, and if the Bible is made up then everything else in the Bible is made up, which means promises to Abraham and his descendants about the inheritance of the land were made up, which means the foundations of Zionism are made up, and so, whatever one might say about the modern State of Israel, its foundations, which Brown dismisses as emotional, are made up and invalid. You follow?    

While it may not be wise to engage such people on such matters as to whether the history of domesticated camels does or does not invalidate the Bible, there are a couple of brief points to be made here. For one thing, the research cited in all of this only appears to concern specific copper smelting sites in the Negev’s Aravah Valley. What the study seems to show is the date at which domesticated camels were probably introduced to work at that specific site, which by all accounts is some several centuries after the time at which the Patriarchs and their camels are believed to have been moving through the surrounding region.

Now, perhaps the Methodist Sunday school I attended was deficient, but I don’t seem to recall anything about the Patriarchs participating in the copper smelting industry. Indeed, it seems like somewhat of a stretch altogether to say that because there were no camels working at a specific copper producing site prior to a specific date, therefore no one kept domesticated camels in the entire region before that date either.

Yet, if that extrapolation is too much, what to make of Andrew Brown’s still more far-fetched contention that the probable absence of camels at an ancient copper smelting site in the Aravah Valley somehow invalidates the modern day movement to secure a Jewish national home? Brown writes with relish about how the story in the Times will no doubt upset “Christian fundamentalists,” a hint about what is most likely really at work here. For, with the Guardian serving as Britain’s preeminent left-wing daily, Brown is sure to stress in his piece that there is far “less evidence for the historical truth of the Old Testament” than there is for the Koran.

Europeans in general, and the left there in particular, have become fiercely hostile to Judeo-Christianity and its values. Over recent decades many of them have come to perceive Zionism as an active effort to validate and reaffirm the very same Bible that so many of them have spent so long arguing against and attempting to drive out of their societies. They believe that by establishing a state in the land of Israel, Jews are seeking first and foremost to fulfill a biblical commandment. I recall once attending a tumultuous public lecture by Benny Morris at the London School of Economics. Morris was trying to explain to his audience that Zionism had begun as a secular movement. The audience was having none of it and during the Q&A the arguing went back and forth on this point that they had become so stuck on. They would not be dissuaded from their conviction that Zionism and Israel is a religious and theocratic project, one essentially comparable with jihadism.

The way in which this aggressive dislike of biblical religion can so easily translate into a seemingly untamable hatred of Jews more generally, including Jews today, was evidenced by an outburst by the liberal television personality and would-be intellectual Stephen Fry, when during an interview he exclaimed, “The ten commandments are the hysterical believings of a group of desert tribes. Those desert tribes have stored up more misery for mankind than any other group of people in the history of the planet, and they’re doing it to this day.” Whether or not these desert tribes had camels by this point, disappointingly Fry doesn’t say.

If camels have the slightest chance of helping to invalidate the twin evils of Zionism and the Bible then the Guardian and its readers are only too pleased hear all about it. Brown asserts stridently, “The history recounted in the Bible is a huge part of the mythology of modern Zionism. The idea of a promised land is based on narratives that assert with complete confidence stories that never actually happened.” Of course, the Jewish religion and collective memory has played no small part in the development of Zionist thought, but as one reader wrote in the comments section of a blog monitoring the Guardian, “Modern Zionism has nothing to do with the camels of Abraham but everything to do with European anti-Semitism so perfectly represented by Andrew Brown and the Guardian.”  

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Does the U.S.-Israel Alliance Have a Future?

Perhaps a week when the U.S. secretary of state told a Senate committee to “stop listening to the Israelis” and to ignore their concerns about the existential threat from the Iranian nuclear program wasn’t the best timing to write about the importance and the permanence of the U.S.-Israel alliance. But bad timing or not, my post about the rumblings from some in Israel about an alternative to their ties to the only true superpower in the world has provoked some interesting comments and led me to think a bit more about the topic as well. In fact, weeks such as the one we’re currently experiencing may be the best time for those who care about the relationship to explore how to shore it up and the stakes involved for both countries. Even as Kerry seems to be doing everything to downgrade the relationship, it’s important to point out that not only is there no rational alternative to it from Israel’s point of view but that it is of vital importance to the United States as well.

First, let me address the question of whether it is wise to inextricably link Israel’s wellbeing to America’s standing in the world. Martin Kramer wrote here that he agreed with me that it is dangerous for anyone in Israel to even consider trying to play China or Russia off the United States in a vain attempt to outmaneuver Washington when it comes to questions like the nuclear peril from Iran. But he disagreed with this passage from my post:

Israel’s long-term safety must be seen as linked to the ability of the United States to maintain its status as the leader of the free world. Even at times of great tension with Washington, Israelis must never forget that it is not just that they have no viable alternatives to the U.S. but that American power remains the best hope of freedom for all nations.

Kramer believes that American power, like all power, “waxes and wanes.” He goes on to write the following:

More than six years ago, before Obama even declared his candidacy, I told the Conference of Presidents that “America’s era in the Middle East will end one day,” and that “it is possible that in twenty years’ time, America will be less interested and engaged in the Middle East. What is our Plan B then?” Obama accelerated that timetable, but the long-term trend has been clear for years. And one doesn’t have to be a “declinist” to realize that the United States can lead the free world and still write off the Middle East, which isn’t part of it. That’s precisely the mood in America today.

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Perhaps a week when the U.S. secretary of state told a Senate committee to “stop listening to the Israelis” and to ignore their concerns about the existential threat from the Iranian nuclear program wasn’t the best timing to write about the importance and the permanence of the U.S.-Israel alliance. But bad timing or not, my post about the rumblings from some in Israel about an alternative to their ties to the only true superpower in the world has provoked some interesting comments and led me to think a bit more about the topic as well. In fact, weeks such as the one we’re currently experiencing may be the best time for those who care about the relationship to explore how to shore it up and the stakes involved for both countries. Even as Kerry seems to be doing everything to downgrade the relationship, it’s important to point out that not only is there no rational alternative to it from Israel’s point of view but that it is of vital importance to the United States as well.

First, let me address the question of whether it is wise to inextricably link Israel’s wellbeing to America’s standing in the world. Martin Kramer wrote here that he agreed with me that it is dangerous for anyone in Israel to even consider trying to play China or Russia off the United States in a vain attempt to outmaneuver Washington when it comes to questions like the nuclear peril from Iran. But he disagreed with this passage from my post:

Israel’s long-term safety must be seen as linked to the ability of the United States to maintain its status as the leader of the free world. Even at times of great tension with Washington, Israelis must never forget that it is not just that they have no viable alternatives to the U.S. but that American power remains the best hope of freedom for all nations.

Kramer believes that American power, like all power, “waxes and wanes.” He goes on to write the following:

More than six years ago, before Obama even declared his candidacy, I told the Conference of Presidents that “America’s era in the Middle East will end one day,” and that “it is possible that in twenty years’ time, America will be less interested and engaged in the Middle East. What is our Plan B then?” Obama accelerated that timetable, but the long-term trend has been clear for years. And one doesn’t have to be a “declinist” to realize that the United States can lead the free world and still write off the Middle East, which isn’t part of it. That’s precisely the mood in America today.

That’s a sobering thought and the possibility can’t be entirely discounted, especially with figures such as Senator Rand Paul rising to prominence in a Republican Party that has become a bulwark of the alliance in the last generation. Moreover, he’s right when he says that the history of Zionism teaches us that in order to survive, the movement has had to be flexible in its alliances with world powers. A century ago, many Zionists were looking to tie their future to that of the Ottoman Empire. A few years later, after the sick man of Europe collapsed, they cast their lot with a British Empire. But after a few short years when London seemed ready to make good on the promise made in the Balfour Declaration, they were abandoned. Gradually America became the focus of Zionist diplomacy, but until that alliance became a reality after the Six-Day War, Israel relied on a brief yet crucial period of Soviet friendship during the War of Independence and after that a fruitful friendship with France that lasted until 1967.

Israel’s leaders must, as Kramer says, be prepared for all eventualities and they should not, as I wrote, be blamed for seeking to foster ties with other countries. But the problem with planning for a theoretical period of American withdrawal from the world is that the answer to his question about a “Plan B” is that there isn’t one.

Though he is right to assert that the point of Zionism is, to the greatest extent possible, to make sure that Israel can defend itself, no “agility” or ability to “read the changing map of the world” can substitute for an alliance with America. Without a strong United States that is engaged in the world, Israel will not disappear. But it will be weaker and far more vulnerable. For Israel there is not and never will be—at least in the foreseeable future—a viable alternative to the alliance with the United States.

But the key question here is not so much whether Israel appreciates how important the U.S. is to its future—and there’s every indication that Israel’s leaders understand that—but whether Americans understand how important the Jewish state is to it.

The flip side to this discussion is that for all the talk from anti-Zionist conspiracy theorists like those who promote the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” in which the Jewish state is supposed to be the tail that wags the American dog, we don’t talk enough about how Israel is a valued ally of the United States.

After the end of the Cold War, the value of having what many consider to be a regional superpower allied with the United States has been largely ignored. But the notion that the U.S. doesn’t need strong allies in an era in which it is challenged by Islamist terrorism as well as rogue states like Iran is farcical. Moreover, the traditional meme of critics of the alliance—that Arab states are hostile to the United States because of its friendship with Israel—has been exploded both by the Arab Spring and the regional concerns about Iran that have made it clear that they fear Tehran more than they do the Jewish state.

Israel’s intelligence capabilities have long been a boon to the U.S. But its technological resources—both in terms of military and commercial applications—are now just as if not more important. Israel, the “start-up nation,” is a vital partner for the U.S. economy.

But even if we ignore the utilitarian aspects of this friendship, it should be remembered that the core of American foreign policy has, contrary to the slanders of the left, always primarily been moral rather than a nation bent on conquest or empire. As such it needs nations that share its democratic values. That means Israel remains part of the select few countries that will always be natural allies. It is true that Israel cannot always count on the U.S. to do the right thing at the right time. Nor can the U.S. assume that Israel will disregard its interests in order to serve American convenience. But the relationship is both mutual and rooted in something stronger than Lord Palmerston’s famous dictum about permanent interests. Support for Israel is part of the political DNA of American culture. The same is true of Israel’s affinity with its fellow democracy.

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Superpower Outage

Jonathan Tobin rightly dismisses as dangerous any Israeli attempt to play China or Russia off the United States out of frustration with the Iran policy of the Obama administration. When it comes to dealing with the immediate threat posed by Iran, only Washington has superpower leverage, and if Israel wanders off the reservation, it will only damage itself.

But Jonathan makes a further claim: “Israel’s long-term safety must be seen as linked to the ability of the United States to maintain its status as the leader of the free world. Even at times of great tension with Washington, Israelis must never forget that it is not just that they have no viable alternatives to the U.S. but that American power remains the best hope of freedom for all nations.” This “linkage” is problematic, and its acceptance could blind Israelis to what they need to do to survive through the next half-century.

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Jonathan Tobin rightly dismisses as dangerous any Israeli attempt to play China or Russia off the United States out of frustration with the Iran policy of the Obama administration. When it comes to dealing with the immediate threat posed by Iran, only Washington has superpower leverage, and if Israel wanders off the reservation, it will only damage itself.

But Jonathan makes a further claim: “Israel’s long-term safety must be seen as linked to the ability of the United States to maintain its status as the leader of the free world. Even at times of great tension with Washington, Israelis must never forget that it is not just that they have no viable alternatives to the U.S. but that American power remains the best hope of freedom for all nations.” This “linkage” is problematic, and its acceptance could blind Israelis to what they need to do to survive through the next half-century.

The problem with American power, like all power, is that it waxes and wanes. We have become used to the notion that U.S. preeminence in the world and the Middle East is a constant. But it isn’t so. Geography has rendered the United States the most self-contained superpower in history. As a result, it goes through manic bouts of interventionism and isolationism, and sometimes awakens to the responsibilities of its power too late. It did so during the Holocaust, and it did so during the first years of Israeli independence, when the fledgling Jewish state had to look to the Soviet Union and France for the arms essential to its defense. The simple truth is that Israel cannot rely on the United States to do just the right thing at just the right time. That’s at the heart of the crisis of confidence between the United States and Israel over Iran, and its sources run deeper than the particular world view of Barack Obama.

More than six years ago, before Obama even declared his candidacy, I told the Conference of Presidents that “America’s era in the Middle East will end one day,” and that “it is possible that in twenty years’ time, America will be less interested and engaged in the Middle East. What is our Plan B then?” Obama accelerated that timetable, but the long-term trend has been clear for years. And one doesn’t have to be a “declinist” to realize that the United States can lead the free world and still write off the Middle East, which isn’t part of it. That’s precisely the mood in America today.

Hedging has been a fundamental principle of Zionism from its inception. That’s how it managed to outlast the fall of two empires that dominated the Middle East in the pre-state decades. When political Zionism emerged, the Ottoman Empire still held sway over the land, and Theodor Herzl went as a supplicant to the sultan’s palace in Istanbul. As late as 1912, the future first prime minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, and the future second president of Israel, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, went to Istanbul to study Ottoman law, on the assumption that they would have to build the Yishuv under the same Ottoman power that had ruled the country for four centuries. (Here they are, looking like the deputies to the Ottoman parliament they planned to become.) A few years later, Ottoman power collapsed. Fortunately, Chaim Weizmann had laid the foundations for the support of the Allied victors, above all the British, whose empire now expanded to encompass the core of the Middle East.

British dominance in Palestine lasted for thirty years, during which London became the center of Zionist political activity. Britain was the mother of democracy, bastion of freedom, and home to a strong tradition of philo-Judaism and Christian Zionism. Much was made of “shared values.” But Britain, after facilitating the remarkable growth of the Yishuv, backtracked on its commitment to Zionism at the very moment of paramount Jewish need. It was Ben-Gurion who understood that the world war would bring down the British empire across Asia and Africa, Palestine included, and who sought an alliance with the ascendant United States. Still, years would pass before the United States would admit Israel to a “special relationship,” leaving Israel to fend for itself in the world’s arms market. That insecurity drove Israel to ally with Britain and France against Nasser’s Egypt—to Washington’s chagrin—and to build a nuclear capability with French assistance—in defiance of Washington.

Those days may seem distant, and Israel and the United States have had an extraordinary run. But history stands still for no people, and if our history has taught us anything about geopolitics, it is this: what is will not be. However enamored we are of the status quo, Israel needs a Plan B, and it has to consist of more than editorially flogging America for failing to maintain its forward positions in the Middle East. The State of Israel, like Zionism before it, must be agile enough to survive a power outage of any ally, and to plug in elsewhere. If Israel’s long-term safety really did depend on America’s will to govern the world, then it would be a poor substitute for Judaism’s own survival mechanism, by which the Jewish people outlasted the fall of countless host empires. But Israel’s future depends upon something within its own grasp: its ability to read the changing map of the world, to register the ebb and flow of global power, and to adapt as necessary.

Let us pray for the perpetuation of America’s power to do good in the world. Let us prepare for something less.

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