November 28, 2006
If Israel Was the Result of the Holocaust, Maybe the Jews Should Move Back to . . . Europe?
Dear Friend of FLAME:
While at a doctor friend's house for dinner, the talk turned to Israel, whereupon my friend suggested that the whole "Middle East mess" could be solved by moving the Jewish state to "somewhere in Europe." Bemused, I asked exactly where in Europe he would suggest moving five million Jewish Israelis. "Germany," he replied. "They're the ones who caused the whole problem with the Holocaust." As amazed as I was by this proposal I must admit that I've since met others---mostly, like my friend, highly educated---who believe the same thing: The Jews descended on Palestine after World War II, created the state of Israel because they were driven from Europe by the Holocaust, and should somehow be returned to Europe.
To believe this is to adopt essentially the same argument as Iran's President Ahmadinejad, Hamas, and other radical Islamists: Jews have no historical claim to Israel, Zionism is a post-World War II development, Israelis are essentially displaced Europeans, and Palestine belonged to the Arabs before the Jews returned en masse. All four of these assumptions are flatly false---and easily proven so.
First, to assert that Jews have no historical or cultural connection to the Holy Land is absurd, starting with the fact that Jewish and Christian scriptures copiously document the beginning of Jewish history in Palestine some 4,000 years ago, continuing strong up to at least 2,000 years ago during Jesus' lifetime and beyond. (My doctor friend may perhaps be forgiven on this account, since as an Indian Hindu he may not have read these biblical accounts.) What some people may not be so clear on is that despite hundreds of thousands of Jews being driven from the Holy Land during Babylonian exile, Roman occupation, the Crusades and numerous other times in history, Jews have maintained a continuous presence in Palestine since the time of the Hebrews. Non-historians may also not be aware that the Jews' presence in the Holy Land predates that of the Arabs by approximately 2,700 years. Or that Jerusalem is mentioned hundreds of times in the Jewish and Christian bibles, but is never mentioned in the Koran. Palestine was and has always been the Jewish homeland.
Second, the notion that Zionism resulted from the Holocaust is refuted absolutely by the fact that the founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, convened six well-attended Zionist assemblies between 1897 and 1902. Starting in the 1880s, Jews from all over the world began returning (or fleeing) to Palestine---for reasons ranging from hundreds of years of anti-Semitic pogroms, second-class citizenship and unremitting persecution to a fervent desire to return to the cradle of their culture and religion. As early as 1936, the headquarters for the Zionist movement was transferred from Europe to Jerusalem. There's no doubt that the decimation of the Jewish people during the Holocaust added sympathy for and gave impetus to the establishment of a Jewish state, but this was surely not the primary motivation for Zionism.
The third myth---that Israelis are primarily of European stock---is also easily debunked. While it's true that for thousands of years Diaspora Jews multiplied and had a powerful influence throughout Europe, let's not forget that their forebears were originally driven north from the Middle East. Even more importantly, fully half of today's Israelis are dark skinned (and many are black), whose immediate ancestors hail from the Middle East and North Africa. These so-called Sephardic Jews also suffered centuries of persecution in their adopted lands and were equally anxious to return to the Jewish homeland.
The final assumption, that Palestine belonged to the Arabs before millions of Jews resettled there, is likewise false. Palestine was part of the Ottoman-Turk Empire during the 19th century and then part of the British Mandate until after World War II. Palestine was never an Arab state, nor did Arabs privately own a majority of this territory. Indeed, it has been firmly established that Jews settling in Palestine between 1880 and 1948 did not displace Arabs at all. Just as Native Americans may have resented Caucasians settling in the New World, these indigenous peoples did not "own" the vast, unsettled North American continent, and there was plenty of room for all. This is not to say that Native Americans in the New World or Arabs in Palestine were not at some historical junctures displaced, just as does it not say that Jews were not displaced in parts of the Middle East or Europe. What it does say is that when the Jews emigrated to Palestine, they found a largely desolate, under-populated and undeveloped land.
But perhaps most outrageous in this proposal on "what to do with the Jews" is its inherent denial of self-determination for the Jewish people. My doctor friend does not accuse India of imperialism because it holds Kashmir, or China because it rules Tibet. My friend does not demand that the U.S. return the territories it seized from Mexico, nor does he insist that the Turks divide up their country so the Kurds can have their own land. No, my friend and many others focus only on the Jews, calling them imperialists because they returned to Palestine to create a nation of their own, and demanding that Israel "return" this land to the Arabs. Other ethnic groups---all other ethnic groups---are apparently entitled to strive for their own state, but not the Jews. Other states are entitled in the course of history to develop unsettled territory or win it in wars, but not the Jews. This selective criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic at heart---indeed, it is anti-Semitic by definition, because it holds the Jewish people to a different standard than other nations or ethnic groups.
The article below, by Petra Marquardt-Bigman, reports on the latest articulation of this anti-Zionist sentiment, this time in a manifesto by a group of German academics. While the learned signatories to this document argue that the problem of the Holocaust was unwittingly and unfairly transferred to the Middle East, they (not surprisingly) do not propose that the Jews be returned to Germany. While claiming a special sympathy for the Jews, the academics fail to grant a special place for them, apparently believing that the Middle East is inherently Arab territory. Indeed, they do not address at all where the Jewish people---oppressed, then slaughtered in Europe, hated in the Middle East---should locate their state. Marquardt-Bigman is a German/Israeli citizen with a Ph.D. in contemporary history, focusing on European public opinion relating to the Middle East, Islamic terrorism, the US and Israel. She shows how insidious and inherently unfair such anti-Zionist analyses tend to be.
With friends like these...: German academics behind anti-Israel petition fail to grasp Mideast realities
As reported on Ynetnews last week, 25 German academics published a manifesto demanding a re-evaluation of the "special" relationship between Germany and Israel. The manifesto is entitled "Friendship and Criticism" and, while much of the text is indeed devoted to reassuring readers of the authors' friendship for Israel, there is ample reason to feel that with friends like these, Israel doesn't need enemies.
This is not due to the notion that Germans, as the principal perpetrators of the Holocaust, should not be allowed to openly criticize Israeli policies. But when a group of German professors chooses to go public with their criticism of Israeli policies and demands a re-thinking of Germany's supposedly unqualified support for Israel, one would expect that such a move is based on a well-informed and thoughtful understanding of Israel's situation. Indeed, the manifesto's authors themselves repeatedly invoke the need, even the duty, for "special sensitivity."
Unfortunately, it would rather seem that there is "special insensitivity" when the manifesto echoes President Ahmadinejad's argument that the establishment of the State of Israel constitutes a historic injustice against the Arabs:
"It is the Holocaust that has, for six decades, caused the continuous, and currently even unbearable, suffering of the Palestinians . . . countless dead, families torn apart, expulsion, and life in make-shift housing up to today have been the consequence." The text continues to argue that, without the Holocaust, Israel would not feel justified to ignore so intransigently the human rights of Palestinians and Lebanese, and without the Holocaust, Israel would not be backed in this--materially and politically--by the US.
By arguing that Israel owes its existence exclusively or primarily to the Holocaust, the authors of the manifesto seem to deny that Zionism was a legitimate quest for a Jewish homeland. Indeed, the manifesto emphasizes that the UN decision to "accept" the establishment of the State of Israel was taken still under the "shock" of the Holocaust and "against the Arab states."
According to the manifesto, the Middle East conflict has German and European roots, and it was through no fault of the Palestinians that "a part of the European problems was transferred to the Middle East". This has been said before in Farsi and in Arabic.
There is equally little "special sensitivity" when the manifesto’s authors state that they are "convinced" that Jewish intellectuals like Adorno, Einstein, Freud, Marx and Zweig—"of whom we are so proud and without whom German culture and the German contribution to the sciences would be so much poorer"—would subscribe to the principle that only respect for equality, human rights and international law can guarantee peace and the continued existence and security of Israel, Jews in the Diaspora, and the future Palestinian state.
It is indeed likely that these German-Jewish intellectuals would have agreed with this principle, but the problem that is overlooked by the professors who authored the manifesto is that there has been historically a severe shortage of Arab-Muslim intellectuals who agreed with this principle. In fact, just about two months ago, the Berliner Zeitung carried an article by an Iraqi-born intellectual who discussed the "Two faces of Arab intellectuals" and criticized Arab intellectuals for routinely condemning terrorist attacks in English, German, or French, and praising them in Arabic.
However, the authors of the manifesto clearly have little inclination to criticize Arabs or Palestinians. While there are unequivocal condemnations of suicide attacks and the launching of Qassams, the manifesto leaves little doubt that it is the suffering inflicted by Israel on Palestinians and Lebanese that is "unbearable."
Notwithstanding all the reaffirmations of friendship for Israel, the nine pages of the manifesto paint Israel as a victims' state that has become a cruel perpetrator, cynically trampling human rights and dignity in its lust for land; a mighty militaristic monster, propped up by 20 percent of America's foreign aid budget, oppressing, terrorizing and killing Palestinians and Lebanese at will.
Israelis and Jews tend to regard these kinds of charges with frustration and anger as just another manifestation of anti-Semitism. However, the motivation of the manifesto's authors is certainly neither religious nor racial anti-Semitism. Many of them are political and social scientists who work in the areas of peace studies and conflict resolution, and the manifesto was posted on a related website of the University of Kassel.
The website of the "Working Group for Peace Research" depicts the Middle East of Uri Avnery and Amira Hass, of the Israeli activists "Anarchists Against the Wall," of “European Jews for a Just Peace,” and Swiss professors from Bir Zeit University.
Palestinians Want Peace?
In this Middle East, the killing and kidnapping of Israeli soldiers by Hizbullah was "a welcome pretext" for Israel (and the US) to conduct a long planned war against Lebanon with the goal of eliminating Hizbullah's Iranian supplied medium-range missiles so that the US (and Israel) would have a free hand to attack Iran.
In this Middle East, the Palestinian "Prisoners' Document" fairly and squarely offered the Israelis a "colossal compromise" that was callously ignored by Olmert. In this Middle East, Hamas sincerely offered a "Pause for Peace"—the text is posted on the website, yet the text of the Hamas Charter is not.
Likewise, there is little on the website that would critically discuss the results of polls that show unequivocal popular support among Palestinians for Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel, for the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, and for the ambitions to emulate Hizbullah's "success" in Lebanon. If Palestinian extremism or anti-Semitism is discussed, it is rejected as unacceptable, but it is often also explained as an understandable symptom of despair.
No despair in Israel?
By contrast [the manifesto claims], there seems to be no despair in Israel: the Israelis who repeatedly voted for peace, who unilaterally withdrew from Lebanon and from Gaza, who just last spring voted for a government that planned to withdraw from most of the West Bank, are motivated only by despise [sic] and the desire to see the Palestinians humiliated, reduced to begging for a miserable existence in some cramped refugee camps.
So when the Israelis voted last spring for a prime minister who promised them "a country that is fun to live in" [the manifesto continues], they must have been itching to spend the summer in bomb shelters or on duty in Lebanon.
If this is how you see the conflict, no amount of academic expertise in peace research and conflict resolution will help you to resolve it. And if this is how you see the conflict, those who spend the summer in bomb shelters or on duty in Lebanon and were lucky enough to return home alive will, by and large, not really be inclined to see you as a friend.