Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev writes: On March 9, 1933, brown-shirted Sturmabteilung went on a rampage. “In several parts of Berlin a large number of people, most of whom appeared to be Jews, were openly attacked in the streets and knocked down. Some of them were seriously wounded. The police could do no more than pick up the injured and take them off to hospital,” the Guardian reported. “Jews were beaten by the brown shirts until blood ran down their heads and faces” the Manchester Guardian noted. “Before my eyes, storm troopers, drooling like hysterical beasts, chase a man in broad daylight while whipping him,” Walter Gyssling wrote in his diary.
I know: you were outraged before you even finished the paragraph above. “How dare he compare isolated incidents here and there to Nazi Germany,” you are thinking to yourself. “This is an outrageous trivialization of the Holocaust.”
You are right, of course. My intention is not to draw any parallel whatsoever. Both my parents lost their families during World War II, and I need no convincing that the Holocaust is a crime so unique in its evil totality that it stands by itself even in the annals of other premeditated genocides.
But I am a Jew, and there are scenes of the Holocaust that are indelibly etched in my mind, even though I was not alive at the time. And when I saw the videos and pictures of gangs of right-wing Jewish racists running through the streets of Jerusalem, chanting “Death to the Arabs,” hunting for random Arabs, picking them out by their appearance or by their accents, chasing them in broad daylight, “drooling like hysterical beasts” and then beating them up before the police could arrive – the historical association was automatic. It was the first thing that jumped into my mind. It should have been, I think, the first thing that jumped into any Jew’s mind.
Israel in 2014, it goes without saying, is not “The Garden of Beasts” that Erik Larson wrote about in his book on 1933 Germany. The Israeli government does not condone vigilantism or thuggery, as the Nazis did for a while, before Germans started complaining about the disorder on their streets and the damage to Berlin’s international reputation. I have no doubt that the police will also do their utmost to apprehend the murderers of the Palestinian boy whose burnt body was found in a Jerusalem forest. I am even praying that they find that the killing wasn’t a hate crime at all.
But make no mistake: the gangs of Jewish ruffians man-hunting for Arabs are no aberration. Theirs was not a one-time outpouring of uncontrollable rage following the discovery of the bodies of the three kidnapped students. Their inflamed hatred does not exist in a vacuum: it is an ongoing presence, growing by the day, encompassing ever larger segments of Israeli society, nurtured in a public environment of resentment, insularity and victimhood, fostered and fed by politicians and pundits – some cynical, some sincere – who have grown weary of democracy and its foibles and who long for an Israel, not to put too fine a point on it, of one state, one nation and, somewhere down the line, one leader.
In the past 24 hours alone, a Facebook Page calling for “revenge” for the killings of the three kidnapped teens has received tens of thousands of “likes,” replete with hundreds of explicit calls to kill Arabs, wherever they are. The one demanding the execution of “extreme leftists” reached almost ten thousand likes within two days. These, and countless other articles on the web and on social media are inundated, today as in most other days, with readers comments spewing out the worst kind of racist bile and calling for death, destruction and genocide.
These calls have been echoed in recent days, albeit in slightly more veiled terms, by members of the Knesset, who cite Torah verses on the God of Revenge and his command on the fate of the Amalekites. David Rubin, who describes himself as a former mayor of Shiloh, was more explicit: in an article published in Israel National News he wrote “An enemy is an enemy and the only way to win this war is to destroy the enemy, without excessive regard for who is a soldier and who is a civilian. We Jews will always aim our bombs primarily at military targets, but there is absolutely no need to feel guilty about ‘disrupting the lives of, and killing or wounding enemy civilians who are almost entirely Hamas and Fatah supporters.”
And hovering above all of this are Benjamin Netanyahu and his government, who persist in portraying our conflict with the Palestinians in stark terms of black and white, good versus evil; who describe Israel’s adversaries as incorrigible and irredeemable; who have never shown the slightest sign of empathy or understanding for the plight of the people who have lived under Israeli occupation for nearly half a century; whose pronouncements serve to dehumanize the Palestinians in the eyes of the Israeli public; who perpetuate the public’s sense of isolation and injustice; and who thus can be said to be paving the way for the waves of homicidal hatred that are now coming to light.
Some people will draw a parallel between the ugly right wing violence that swept Israel after the Oslo Accords and today’s rising tide of dangerous racism, implicating Netanyahu in both: from his fiery anti-government speeches in Zion Square to Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination and from his harsh anti-Palestinian rhetoric to the outburst of horrid racism today. But that is an easy out. It is not Netanyahu who is to blame, it is the rest of us, Jews in Israel as well as those in the Diaspora, those who turn a blind eye and those who choose to look the other way, those who portray the Palestinians as inhuman monsters and those who view any self-criticism as an act of Jewish betrayal.
This comparison is surely valid: Edmund Burke’s maxim ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph [of evil] is for good men to do nothing’ was true in Berlin in the early 1930s and it will hold true in Israel as well. If nothing is done to reverse the tide, evil will surely triumph, and it won’t take too long.
Leanne Gale writes: As I made my way out of the Muslim Quarter, the dark alleyways suddenly seemed too quiet. Just moments before, crowds of ultranationalist Jewish celebrants had marched through this same space shouting “Death to Arabs.” Children had banged against shuttered Palestinian homes with wooden sticks and Israeli police had stood by as teenagers chanted “Muhammad is dead.” Now, all that remained were eerie remnants of their presence: “Kahane Tzadak” (Kahane was right) stickers plastered over closed Palestinian shops and the ground littered with anti-Muslim flyers. As Israeli police and soldiers began to unblock closures, Palestinian residents of the Muslim Quarter cautiously ventured outside. This is the only time I cried.
Jerusalem Day marks the anniversary of the Israeli conquest of East Jerusalem in 1967. The March of Flags has become an annual tradition in which thousands of ultranationalist Jewish celebrants parade through the city waving Israeli flags. It culminates in a dramatic march through the Muslim Quarter, generally accompanied by racist slogans and incitement to violence. Israeli police arrive in the area earlier in the day, sealing off entry to Palestinian residents “for their own safety.” Those Palestinians who live in the Muslim Quarter are encouraged to close their shops and stay indoors, while any Palestinian counter-protest is quickly dispersed.
Growing up at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Long Island, I have fond memories of Jerusalem Day. We celebrated every year with school-wide assemblies and dances, singing “Sisu et Yerushalayim” (Rejoice in Jerusalem) and “Jerusalem of Gold” with pride. Even in high school, I never knew the political significance of the day or imagined that my joy might be at someone else’s expense. Today, I know better. [Continue reading...]
Grant Smith writes: Newly declassified postwar Naval Intelligence files shine new light on a little-known chapter of U.S.-Israel relations. Massive supplies of American WWII military surplus under liquidation by the War Assets Administration were an irresistible target for Israel’s government-in-waiting the Jewish Agency and nascent military the Haganah in the years immediately preceding Israel’s declaration of statehood in 1948. The Jewish Agency was an organization contemplated as a vital actor for achieving that statehood in Theodore Herzl’s original Zionist vision. Explosives, advanced fighter, bomber and transport aircraft, and Jewish veterans culled from a list stolen from the U.S. Chaplain all entered a Jewish Agency pipeline stretching from the US to Mexico, Panama, Italy and Czechoslovakia to Palestine. The stories these newly declassified files tell not only foreshadow the institutionalized immunity of crimes committed in the name of Israel, but major challenges the US would later have to confront beyond displaced Palestinian refugees and simmering conflict – ongoing money laundering into US politics and Israel’s early desire to build nuclear weapons.
In late April, 1948 US Naval Intelligence became aware of the Jewish Agency’s attempted illegal export of 42 combat military aircraft engines through a front organization called “Service Airways.” The clandestine operation, headed by future Israel Aircraft Industries pioneer Adolph “Al” Schwimmer has been told in other accounts such as The Pledge by Leonard Slater. The Jewish Agency, operating out of an “American Section” in New York, had already been busted for illegally acquiring M3 demolition blocks. Schwimmer’s role was to acquire the best transport aircraft as well as P-51D fighters and B-17s for illegal shipment to Jewish fighters in Palestine. Secrecy was key. The Navy noted Schwimmer “has kept all information confidential inasmuch as he did not desire any publicity be given the fact that the Jewish Agency was purchasing airplanes in the United States, and that he specifically did not desire that any representatives of the Arab nation should receive the information.” [Continue reading...]
Avi Shlaim reviews The Idea of Israel: A History of Power and Knowledge by Ilan Pappe and My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel by Ari Shavit: Zionism achieved its greatest triumph with the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. The Zionist idea and its principal political progeny are the subject of deeply divergent interpretations, not least inside the Jewish state itself. No other aspect of Zionism, however, is more controversial than its attitude towards the indigenous population of the land of its dreams. Chaim Weizmann, the first president of the state of Israel, famously said that it is by its treatment of the Palestinians that his country will be judged. Yet, when judged by this criterion, Zionism is not just an unqualified failure but a tragedy of historic proportions. Zionism did achieve its central goal but at a terrible price: the displacement and dispossession of the Palestinians – what the Arabs call the Nakba, the catastrophe.
The authors of these two books are both Israelis, but they approach their subject from radically different ideological vantage points. Ilan Pappé is a scholar and a pro-Palestinian political activist. He is one of the most prominent Israeli political dissidents living in exile, having moved from the University of Haifa to the University of Exeter. He is also one of the few Israeli students of the conflict who write about the Palestinian side with real knowledge and empathy.
Pappé places Zionism under an uncompromising lens. In his reading it was not a national liberation movement but a settler colonial project imposed on the Palestinians by force with the support of the west. From this premise it follows that the state of Israel is not legitimate even in its original borders, much less so within its post-1967 borders. To correct the injustice, Pappé advocates a peaceful, humanist and socialist alternative to the Zionist idea in the form of a binational state with equal rights for all its citizens. [Continue reading...]
The Forward reports: The American Jewish community’s network of charity organizations is a font of Jewish power, a source of communal pride and a huge mystery.
We know that the network exists. We know that its federations, social service groups and advocacy organizations influence America’s domestic and foreign policy, care for the old, educate the young and send more than a billion dollars a year to Israel.
Yet until now we’ve had no idea what the network looks like.
Individual organizations file tax returns. Some umbrella groups offer information on their members’ work. But no one has measured the network as a whole: how much it spends, how much it raises, how it prioritizes causes, how much it gets from the government.
Now, the Forward has identified and reviewed tax documents filed by more than 3,600 Jewish organizations in the most comprehensive survey ever of the financial workings of this Jewish tax-exempt ecosystem. And the results are striking.
The Forward’s investigation has uncovered a tax-exempt Jewish communal apparatus that operates on the scale of a Fortune 500 company and focuses the largest share of its donor dollars on Israel.
This analysis doesn’t include synagogues and other groups that avoid revealing their financial information by claiming a religious exemption. But even without this substantial sector, the Jewish community’s federations, schools, health care and social service organizations, Israel aid groups, cultural and communal organizations, and advocacy groups report net assets of $26 billion.
That’s more than the Las Vegas Sands Corp., which owns casinos all over the world. It’s about the same as the CBS Corp. which owns 29 TV stations, 126 radio stations, the CBS Television Network and Simon & Schuster. The Jewish communal network of tax-exempt groups employs as many people as the Ford Motor Co.
And its $12 billion to $14 billion in annual revenue is more than the federal government’s 2014 appropriation to the U.S. Department of the Interior, which manages a fifth of all the land in the United States, runs the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the national parks, and administers Guam, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands. [Continue reading...]
Gideon Levy writes: This kind of talk could only take place in darkness; in beer cellars, at violent fringe demonstrations or at the headquarters of outlawed organizations. Only the extreme, fascist, neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic and xenophobic right would dare to breathe a word of it. Only skinheads and their masters would dare to speak of national purity and of defining their country based on ethnicity, religion, race, nationality or heredity.
No one would dare to say France for the French, America is all-American, Germany is a German state or Italy is a Catholic one. Anyone who did so wouldn’t be considered credible. These countries are democracies of all their citizens; their character is determined by the components of the entire population. Living in each are minorities, their numbers growing in this era of globalization and migration. No one speaks of a nation-state, of a state of one religion, of one racial group.
But this kind of talk is fashionable in Israel. It’s legitimate and even Zionist: a Jewish state. Only in Israel are individual rights and the character of the state determined by origin, like having a Jewish great-grandmother. The hell with members of minority groups – most of whom were born here.
This kind of talk has also become a basic condition for the negotiations with the Palestinians. It’s just a cheap excuse, of course – one more obstacle on the road to reaching a peace agreement, heaven forfend. But the disease’s malignant symptoms are deeply encoded in Israel’s DNA.
Israel is returning to the ghetto, building its own neo-ghetto with its own two hands. Welcome to the Israel Ghetto; it built the walls and fences that surround it long ago, and the mental and cultural walls are on the way. What was done to the Jews for generations, the Jews are now doing to themselves: judging people by their ancestors and withdrawing into a ghetto-state whose nature will be determined by its degree of purity. [Continue reading...]
Rami G. Khouri writes: In my discussions on Palestinian-Israeli negotiations with various informed audiences around the United States during the past month, the question that comes up most often is about how the Palestinians can, should or will respond to the Israeli government demand that they must recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” The prevalent Arab and Palestinian demand is to rule out any such recognition, on several valid grounds, such as: The Jewish state concept is not defined, it does not take account of the Palestinian Arab and other non-Jewish Israelis, it does not address the implications of such recognition for the U.N.-acknowledged rights of Palestinian refugees, and it does not have any basis in international law or diplomatic norms related to how states recognize each other.
These points do not seem to impress the Israelis, who have made this more central to their demands for any permanent peace agreement. Israel also seems to have convinced the United States to come down on its side, as the American president, secretary of state and other senior officials have routinely referred to Israel as “the Jewish state of Israel” or some other such formulation.
It is not clear if Palestinians will cave in and accept the Israeli-American demand as they usually do, for three main reasons. First, the demand comes in the context of final-status negotiations that aim to resolve all outstanding disputes, so there is likely to be some room for give-and-take in any final agreement. Second, the “Jewish state” concept remains undefined, and its clear definition, coupled with agreement on the rights of the Palestinians and non-Jewish Israelis, could pave the way for some mutual acknowledgments that satisfy both sides. Third, a central negotiating demand such as this that springs up suddenly after over six decades of warfare seems to be a proxy concept that reflects deeper issues that must be resolved. [Continue reading...]
Andrew Brown writes: There are 21 references to camels in the first books of the Bible, and now we know they are all made up.
Some of them are quite startlingly verisimilitudinous, such as the story of Abraham’s servant finding a wife for Isaac in Genesis 24: “Then the servant left, taking with him 10 of his master’s camels loaded with all kinds of good things from his master. He set out for Aram Naharaim and made his way to the town of Nahor. He made the camels kneel down near the well outside the town; it was towards evening, the time the women go out to draw water.”
But these camels are made up, all 10 of them. Two Israeli archaeozoologists have sifted through a site just north of modern Eilat looking for camel bones, which can be dated by radio carbon.
None of the domesticated camel bones they found date from earlier than around 930BC – about 1,500 years after the stories of the patriarchs in Genesis are supposed to have taken place. Whoever put the camels into the story of Abraham and Isaac might as well have improved the story of Little Red Riding Hood by having her ride up to Granny’s in an SUV. [Continue reading...]
Eva Illouz writes: [T]he critiques of Israel in the United States are increasingly waged by Jews, not anti-Semites. The initiators and leaders of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement are such respected academics as Judith Butler, Jacqueline Rose, Noam Chomsky, Hilary Rose and Larry Gross, all Jews.
If Israel is indeed singled out among the many nations that have a bad record in human rights, it is because of the personal sense of shame and embarrassment that a large number of Jews in the Western world feel toward a state that, by its policies and ethos, does not represent them anymore. As Peter Beinart has been cogently arguing for some time now, the Jewish people seems to have split into two distinct factions: One that is dominated by such imperatives as “Israeli security,” “Jewish identity” and by the condemnation of “the world’s double standards” and “Arabs’ unreliability”; and a second group of Jews, inside and outside Israel, for whom human rights, freedom, and the rule of law are as visceral and fundamental to their identity as membership to Judaism is for the first group. Supreme irony of history: Israel has splintered the Jewish people around two radically different moral visions of Jews and humanity.
If we are to find an appropriate analogy to understand the rift inside the Jewish people, let us agree that the debate between the two groups is neither ethnic (we belong to the same ethnic group) nor religious (the Judith Butlers of the world are not trying to push a new or different religious dogma, although the rift has a certain, but imperfect, overlap with the religious-secular positions). Nor is the debate a political or ideological one, as Israel is in fact still a democracy. Rather, the poignancy, acrimony and intensity of the debate are about two competing and ultimately incompatible conceptions of morality.
[W]hat started as a national and military conflict has morphed into a form of domination of Palestinians that now increasingly borders on conditions of slavery. If we understand slavery as a condition of existence and not as ownership and trade of human bodies, the domination that Israel has exercised over Palestinians turns out to have created the matrix of domination that I call a “condition of slavery.”
The Palestinian Prisoner Affairs Ministry has documented that between 1967 and 2012, Israeli authorities arrested some 800,000 Palestinians by power of the “military code.” (A more conservative assessment from Israeli sources documented that 700,000 Palestinians were detained between 1967 and 2008.) This number is astounding, especially in light of the fact that this represents as much as 40 percent of the entire male population. When a large part of the adult male population is arrested, it means that the lives of a large number of breadwinners, the heads of a family, are disrupted, alienated and made into the object of the arbitrary power of the army. In fact, which nation would create a Prisoner Affairs Ministry if imprisonment was not such a basic aspect of its life?
These facts also mean that a significant portion of the non-incarcerated population lives under the constant fear and threat of imprisonment. [Continue reading...]
The genocidal policies of the Nazis resulted in the deaths of about as many Polish Gentiles as Polish Jews, thus making them co-victims in a Forgotten Holocaust. This Holocaust has been largely ignored because historians who have written on the subject of the Holocaust have chosen to interpret the tragedy in exclusivistic terms — namely, as the most tragic period in the history of the Jewish Diaspora. To them, the Holocaust was unique to the Jews, and they therefore have had little or nothing to say about the nine million Gentiles, including three million Poles, who also perished in the greatest tragedy the world has ever known. — Richard C. Lukas, preface to The Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles under German Occupation 1939-1944
We are surrounded today by fictions about the past, contrary to common sense and to an elementary perception of good and evil. As The Los Angeles Times recently stated, the number of books in various languages which deny that the Holocaust ever took place, that it was invented by Jewish propaganda, has exceeded one hundred. If such an insanity is possible, is a complete loss of memory as a permanent state of mind improbable? And would it not present a danger more grave than genetic engineering or poisoning of the natural environment?
For the poet of the “other Europe” the events embraced by the name of the Holocaust are a reality, so close in time that he cannot hope to liberate himself from their remembrance unless, perhaps, by translating the Psalms of David. He feels anxiety, though, when the meaning of the word Holocaust undergoes gradual modifications, so that the word begins to belong to the history of the Jews exclusively, as if among the victims there were not also millions of Poles, Russians, Ukrainians and prisoners of other nationalities. He feels anxiety, for he senses in this a foreboding of a not distant future when history will be reduced to what appears on television, while the truth, as it is too complicated, will be buried in the archives, if not totally annihilated. — Czeslaw Milosz, 1980
The Polish-American poet John Guzlowski writes: My mother wasn’t an educated woman. She had no college, no high school even. She couldn’t read the books that argue about who was and who was not in the Holocaust.
When I was growing up, she never said she was in the Holocaust. She wasn’t a talker, but she talked a little about what happened to her family. Her mother and sister and the sister’s baby were killed by German Soldiers and Ukrainian neighbors. She had two aunts who died in Auschwitz with their Jewish husbands. My mother spent a couple years in a slave labor camp in Germany. There were Jews and non-Jews in her camp; people suffered and died there. She didn’t talk about any of this much, and when she did she didn’t use the word “Holocaust.”
This changed as she got older. Toward the end of the 1990s, she started talking about how she was in the Holocaust. I think part of this might have come from the fact that people in general, not historians or academics but “just plain folks,” were using the term more often. They had seen Schindler’s List and Life is Beautiful and Holocaust and other films about the Holocaust. I heard her using this word and saying that she was in the Holocaust. She said this to Christians (she was Catholic) and Jews alike. Maybe it was a sort of short hand for her. She was getting older and it was harder for her, I think, to try to explain to people that Polish Catholics also were in death camps and slave labor camps like their Jewish neighbors.
Was my mother right to use this word “Holocaust”? Did she have a right to use this word?
I think she had a right. When my father tried to talk about what happened to my mother during the war, he couldn’t say much. Sometimes, he would start crying, and all he could say then was, “She suffered so much.”
I have an education, and I’ve read about the debate concerning the word “Holocaust.” I think I can lay out some of the arguments from each side in a rudimentary sort of way given the complexity of everything that happened in World War II. One side feels that the Holocaust is what happened to the Jews alone. This side feels that the Nazis and their anti-Semitic allies in all countries worked to eliminate the Jews, and that what happened to the Jews was unique. The other side of the argument has it that Non-Jews by the millions from all of Europe suffered and died alongside the Jews, and that the term Holocaust should apply to all of those who suffered and died in the camps.
So, you ask, what do I think about using the word “Holocaust.” First, I’d have to say that I would never have told my mother that she wasn’t in the Holocaust. I think she had a right to describe her experiences in any way that she saw fit. She was there, she suffered. If she felt she was in the Holocaust, I wouldn’t argue with her.
Second, let me say, that I believe that what happened to Jews was different from what happened to non-Jews. Jews were singled out for immediate destruction. They suffered, they starved, they waited, they died, they waited, they died. Non-Jews who were considered non-Aryan (the Poles, the Italians, the Russians, the Rumanians, the Czechs, and others) were not singled out for immediate destruction. They suffered, they lingered, they starved, they waited, they died, they waited. My father used to talk about the difference between the death camps that the Jews were in and the slave labor camps he was in this way: The Jews, he would say, were in the death camps; he was in the slow-death camps.
To me, it doesn’t seem necessary to spend time discussing the word “Holocaust” and whether it’s applicable to what happened to my parents and other non-Jews.
I think about the Jewish dead and I think about the non-Jewish dead. They are dead.
What I know of hell comes to me primarily from my reading of Dante’s Inferno. In his hell, no one is untouched by pain. Everyone suffers. Some suffer more. Some suffer most. What I know of pain and suffering teaches me that I cannot judge the suffering and pain another feels. I can try to ease that pain and suffering. That is pretty much all I can do.
Let me also say this, I think that all of us who talk about what happened in those dark years of Hitler’s ascendancy and power and the Holocaust and suffering he helped to bring about finally cannot fully understand what happened or what it felt like or what it was like. In this respect, all of us, despite our very best efforts, cannot know what the Holocaust was. We are finally tourists in the kingdom of the Holocaust. We look, we wonder, we cry, we look, we turn away, we look again.
Ferrari Sheppard writes: The mind has a way of making traumatic experiences seem like distant dreams to those who survive them. As it goes, the more traumatic the experience, the quicker the paramedics in one’s mind rush to dress wounds, resuscitate and stabilize the victim; the victim being you.
Since returning from Palestine 36 hours ago, I find myself confronted with feelings of detachment and minimization of what I encountered. My subconscious has decided the horrors I witnessed in the ‘Holy Land’ were nothing serious–horrors which include a 26-foot-tall concrete wall enclosing the Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank, and the sniper towers seemingly on every other corner of this open-air prison.
This was my first trip to Palestine–most westerners call it Israel, but I’ll address that topic shortly. I had never been to the country, but I read enough to know the basics: Palestinians and Israelis were fighting over land. The Israeli government was formed in 1948 as part of a vision set forth by a secular European colonial political movement called Zionism, founded by Hungarian Theodor Herzl in 1896. Herzl, an atheist, sought to free the Jews from European oppression and anti-Semitism, with the ultimate goal being the creation of a Jewish state. He first proposed East Africa’s Uganda as the location of the Jewish state. This proposal also found the approval of the British government which controlled Palestine since the First World War. Herzl, however, later identified Palestine as the country of choice. I knew this.
The history of Palestinians was something I was familiar with as well, only because in high school, my friend’s parents were Moroccan Jews with staunch right-wing Zionist views. They’d go on about how Palestinians were worth shit and how they were sucking off the land they stole, and how they were not from Palestine, but Jordan. Truth be told, my friend’s parents’ passion about their ‘homeland’ made me sick. As a black person living in the United States, I could not relate to their love for their proclaimed homeland because I never had one. My ancestors were captured from various regions of Africa and forced onto ships bound for the Americas. Therefore, when questioned about the geographic origins of my ancestors, my answers were as vague as Africa is big. [Continue reading...]
Uri Avnery writes: Of all revolutionary movements of the 20th century, Zionism was the most successful and enduring. Communism. Fascism and dozens of others came and went. Zionism endures.
But is Israeli society really Zionist, as it claims loudly and repeatedly?
Zionism was basically a rebellion against the Jewish existence in the Diaspora. In the religious sphere, it was a reformation more profound than that of Martin Luther.
All prominent Jewish Rabbis, both Hasidic as anti-Hasidic, condemned Zionism as a heresy. The People of Israel were united by their absolute obedience to God’s 613 commandments, not by any “national” bonds. God had strictly forbidden any mass return to the Land of Israel, since He had exiled the Jews for their sinful behavior. The Jewish Diaspora was thus decreed by God and had to remain, until He changes His mind.
And here came the Zionists, mostly atheists, and wanted to bring the Jews to the Land of Israel without God’s permission, indeed abolishing God altogether. They built a secular society. They held abysmal contempt for the Diaspora, especially for the Orthodox “ghetto Jews”. Their founding father, Theodor Herzl, held that after the foundation of the Jewish State, no one outside it would be considered a Jew anymore. Other Zionists were not quite so radical, but certainly thought along these lines.
When I was young, many of us went even further. We disclaimed the idea of a Jewish State, and spoke instead of a Hebrew State, connected only loosely with Diaspora Jewry, creating a new Hebrew civilization closely connected with the Arab world around us. An Asian nation, not identified with Europe and the West.
So where are we now?
Israel is re-Judaizing itself at a rapid pace. The Jewish religion is making a huge comeback. Very soon, religious children of various communities will be the majority in Israeli Jewish schools. [Continue reading...]
Ali Jarbawi writes: Since Ariel Sharon’s death, the Israeli media have been grumbling about the lack of an official Palestinian response — and in particular from the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.
But what can Israelis possibly expect a Palestinian president — or any Palestinian for that matter — to feel toward Mr. Sharon? Are they supposed to celebrate his sponsorship of violence and bloodshed against them throughout his long military career? Or laud his expansionist colonialist policies against them during his long political career?
Only out of respect for the stature of death itself was the official Palestinian response of silence appropriate. Many believe that a full accounting for Mr. Sharon’s violent and bloody history was warranted — nothing less than what Human Rights Watch did when it issued a statement expressing regret that he had died without facing justice for his crimes against Palestinians. [Continue reading...]
Avi Shlaim writes: Ariel Sharon, who died on Saturday after eight years in a coma, was one of Israel’s most iconic and controversial figures. His long and chequered career as a soldier and politician largely revolved around one issue: the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbours. As a soldier he was involved at the sharp end of this bitter conflict. As a politician he became known as “the Bulldozer” on account of his contempt for his critics and his ruthless drive to get things done. Sharon was a deeply flawed character, renowned for his brutality, mendacity, and corruption. Yet despite these flaws he holds a special place in the annals of his country’s history.
Sharon was an ardent Jewish nationalist, a dyed-in-the-wool hardliner, and a ferocious rightwing hawk. He also displayed a consistent preference for force over diplomacy in dealing with the Arabs. Reversing Clausewitz‘s famous dictum, he treated diplomacy as the extension of war by other means.
The title he chose for his biography aptly summed him up in one word – Warrior. Like Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, Sharon was essentially a fighting machine. His critics denounced him as a practitioner of “gun Zionism”, as a perversion of the Zionist idea of the strong, fair-minded, and fearless Jew. To the Palestinians Sharon represented the cold, cruel, militaristic face of the Zionist occupation. [Continue reading...]
In a profile of Ariel Sharon written by James Bennet that appeared in the New York Times in 2004, Sharon indicated that he didn’t see Israel as simply a homeland for the Jewish people but rather that the perpetuation of Jewish identity depended on the ability of Jews to isolate themselves from non-Jews.
For those who regard assimilation as a threat, it’s hard to imagine that they can really embrace the idea of peaceful co-existence — be that peaceful co-existence with Palestinians, Arabs, or anyone else. Why? Because peace inevitably leads to the collapse of barriers and if the enduring existence of ones identity is seen as dependent on the perpetuation of such barriers then the enmity which sustains division is preferable to peace.
In the 50′s and 60′s, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding prime minister, took a shine to the brash leader of Israel’s commandos. Much to the irritation of Sharon’s superior officers, Ben-Gurion would invite him for private chats in his office or even his home. Ben-Gurion’s papers reflect a fatherly interest in Sharon, whom he referred to as Arik and whose roguishness both charmed and worried him. During this period, Ben-Gurion was in his 60′s and then 70′s, Sharon in his 20′s and then 30′s. Their chats followed a tender pattern. Sharon would describe and sometimes defend his exploits. He would complain about his superiors. While lending a sympathetic ear, Ben-Gurion would gently relay to Sharon some of those officers’ concerns, and his own, about Sharon’s behavior. Prodded by Israel’s white-haired founder, Sharon would admit that he lacked discipline and even that he lied, sometimes to Ben-Gurion himself.
“An original, visionary young man,” Ben-Gurion noted on Jan. 29, 1960. “Were he to rid himself of his faults of not speaking the truth and to distance himself from gossip, he would be an exceptional military leader.”
On Nov. 24, 1958, Ben-Gurion recorded an unusual encounter with Sharon. Sharon was just back from 13 months of military study in England. “This was the first time he met with Jews, and he is anxious about the future of our relations with them,” Ben-Gurion wrote in his journal. By “Jews,” he meant non-Israeli Jews living in the Diaspora. Born and raised in what is now Israel, Sharon had not encountered such Jews before.
“The Jews in England are not accepted in the English clubs and golf courses, and they have to situate themselves in Jewish institutions,” Ben-Gurion wrote, recounting Sharon’s impressions. Sharon, he continued, was astonished that these Jews nevertheless did not feel “any personal connection of any kind with Israel.”
It was an insight with a great impact on Sharon. He still speaks about it. When I quoted the passage from Ben-Gurion, it triggered an 18-minute monologue about his fears for the survival of the Jews. “I have many worries, but something that really bothers me is what will happen with the Jews in the future — what will happen to them in 30 years’ time, in 300 years’ time, and with God’s help, 3,000 years’ time.” He laughed. “But I don’t think that then I’ll have to take care of that.”
Returning to his stay in England, he recalled how British officers aimed their anti-Semitism at British Jews but not at Israelis. “It was a kind of an attempt to draw a distinction between Israel and Israelis and ‘their own Jews,’ I would say — Jews in the Diaspora,” he said.
“That worried me,” he continued. “It worried me. I didn’t like it.” He added, “I felt it’s going to be a danger.”
That is classic Sharon: the sweep of the sense of duty, the depth of the tribal consciousness, the sensitivity of the antennae to any threat, maybe real, maybe merely perceived. He regards Israel as a worldwide Jewish project, and he did not want to see any divergence in the Israeli and Jewish identities.
After a few years, Sharon thought the problem went away. “I would say the European countries — maybe others as well — they started to treat us as Jews,” he said. In other words, the danger receded as European Christians began treating Israeli Jews with the same prejudice with which they treated Jews at home. It seemed an odd source of comfort.
Sharon plowed on. A Jew, he said, can only “live as a Jew” in Israel. There were many fewer mixed marriages, he said. “All the time I worry — and I check it all the time — that Jews, I would say, might disappear,” he said. That is, the threat to Jews’ survival exists if they are physically in danger or not. If they are safe and welcomed where they are, they are threatened with assimilation.