David Landau writes: In Israeli political conversation one often encounters a much-used maxim: “He [an Arab leader who has offered a concession] is not a member of the Zionist executive, you know. And he’s not planning to become one…”
In other words, the concession, if it is indeed real, flows out of the Arab country’s interests, not out of its leader’s conversion to Zionist belief, a scenario that is evoked as a sort of joke. The Arab leaders have their own narrative and they aren’t suddenly buying into Israel’s.
This maxim is didactic as well as amusing. It has helped generations of Israelis to understand where they are in the world, in relation to regional rivals.
Not anymore. Not since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has actually begun demanding from the Palestinians – and presumably from the Jews, too – that they accept and endorse his version of Zionist belief regarding the identity and historical role of the modern-day state of Israel.
“Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, where the civil rights of all citizens, Jews and non-Jews alike, are guaranteed,” is how Netanyahu detailed his demand in his speech to AIPAC last week. “The land of Israel is the place where the identity of the Jewish people was forged. It was in Hebron that Abraham blocked the cave of the Patriarchs and the Matriarchs. It was in Beit El that Jacob dreamed his dreams. It was in Jerusalem that David ruled his kingdom. We never forget that, but it’s time the Palestinians stopped denying history.”
The Palestinians, of course, flatly deny that the Bible stories are history or that they give Israel a claim over the Holy Land. They deny that modern-day Israel is the real-estate successor of Biblical Israel.
But so do some Jews. They love Israel and are loyal and devoted to it not because its present leader or previous Zionist leaders declared it to be “the nation-state of the Jewish people,” but rather as the strongly and determinedly defended haven for all Jews everywhere in the wake of the Holocaust, and as the one state where the Jewish religion and Jewish culture are central components of the national ethos.
That makes them Zionist, but with no allegiance to Netanyahu’s imperious version of Zionism, nor to his effort to force it down Palestinian throats. [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.
M.J. Rosenberg writes: Nobody I know is interested in talking about Israel anymore.I think that may be because virtually all my friends are essentially pro-Israel and have supported Israel their entire lives. Now their attitude is “what’s there to say?” as if Israel was a friend with an alcohol problem who, despite everyone’s best efforts, simply chooses drinking to excess over being sober. You know the alcohol is killing him but you also know that it’s his considered choice to drink. He’s weighed the risks and chosen alcohol. There isn’t anything anyone can do.So you stop talking about him, other than the occasional sigh at the mention of his name. It’s wrong, but essentially you stop actively caring.That is the way it is with Israel. Nobody wants to discuss the new conditions Prime Minister Netanyahu keeps adding in his effort to defeat not the Palestinians but Secretary of State John Kerry’s effort to achieve peace. First the demand that Israel be recognized “as a Jewish state.” Then allowing the fanatic settlers in Hebron to remain along with the satellite outposts populated by the violent “settler youth.” Then there is keeping troops in the Jordan Valley, along the border with Jordan, thereby ensuring that any Palestinian state in the West Bank would be as sovereign and viable as the ghetto Israel created in Gaza. The latest: Netanyahu is hard at work trying to prove that President Mahmoud Abbas, who Netanyahu himself credits with preventing terrorist attacks against Israel, is, you guessed it, an anti-semite.Why waste time discussing these things? Everyone knows that these Netanyahu conditions are nothing but pretenses.
So we ignore them, even though we know Israel is committing suicide.
In fact, our indifference helps create the conditions for suicide. After all, if Jews don’t much care about Israel anymore, then who does?
Right-wing Christians? True, they “love” Israel but not nearly as much as they love the idea of banning abortion, discriminating against GLBT people, lowering taxes on the rich, erecting walls against immigrants, eliminating unemployment insurance, and winning the War Against Christmas. They like talking about Israel a lot (mainly to inoculate themselves against the charge of anti-semitism which most Jews sense they are) and as part of the active dream of some to convert the Jews. But that is about it.
No, the only Americans that Israel can count on is Jews and they are losing interest. Big time.
But, you say, Israel still can count on the politicians who look to AIPAC for campaign contributions. They aren’t going anywhere.
And that’s true. So long as there is money in it, one can count on Bob Menendez, Lindsey Graham, and the like to “stand with Israel.” But that will last only as long as there is money it. And that money will run out as the old Jews die off and their children choose other causes, causes that are not morally compromising. [Continue reading...]
Calder Walton writes: Recently declassified intelligence records reveal that at the end of the war the main priority for MI5 [Britain's domestic counterintelligence and security agency] was the threat of terrorism emanating from the Middle East, specifically from the two main Zionist terrorist groups operating in the Mandate of Palestine, which had been placed under British control in 1921. They were called the Irgun Zevai Leumi (“National Military Organization,” or the Irgun for short) and the Lehi (an acronym in Hebrew for “Freedom Fighters of Israel”), which the British also termed the “Stern Gang,” after its founding leader, Avraham Stern. The Irgun and the Stern Gang believed that British policies in Palestine in the post-war years — blocking the creation of an independent Jewish state — legitimized the use of violence against British targets. MI5′s involvement with counterterrorism, which preoccupies it down to the present day, arose in the immediate post-war years when it dealt with the Irgun and Stern Gang.
MI5′s involvement in dealing with Zionist terrorism offers a striking new interpretation of the history of the early Cold War. For the entire duration of the Cold War, the overwhelming priority for the intelligence services of Britain and other Western powers would lie with counterespionage, but as we can now see, in the crucial transition period from World War to Cold War, MI5 was instead primarily concerned with counterterrorism.
As World War II came to a close, MI5 received a stream of intelligence reports warning that the Irgun and the Stern Gang were not just planning violence in the Mandate of Palestine, but were also plotting to launch attacks inside Britain. In April 1945 an urgent cable from MI5′s outfit in the Middle East, SIME, warned that Victory in Europe (VE-Day) would be a D-Day for Jewish terrorists in the Middle East. Then, in the spring and summer of 1946, coinciding with a sharp escalation of anti-British violence in Palestine, MI5 received apparently reliable reports from SIME that the Irgun and the Stern Gang were planning to send five terrorist “cells” to London, “to work on IRA lines.” To use their own words, the terrorists intended to “beat the dog in his own kennel.” The SIME reports were derived from the interrogation of captured Irgun and Stern Gang fighters, from local police agents in Palestine, and from liaisons with official Zionist political groups like the Jewish Agency. They stated that among the targets for assassination were Britain’s foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin, who was regarded as the main obstacle to the establishment of a Jewish state in the Middle East, and the prime minister himself. MI5′s new director-general, Sir Percy Sillitoe, was so alarmed that in August 1946 he personally briefed the prime minister on the situation, warning him that an assassination campaign in Britain had to be considered a real possibility, and that his own name was known to be on a Stern Gang hit list.
The Irgun and the Stern Gang’s wartime track record ensured that MI5 took these warnings seriously. In November 1944 the Stern Gang had assassinated the British minister for the Middle East, Lord Moyne, while he was returning to his rented villa after a luncheon engagement in Cairo. Moyne’s murder was followed by an escalation of violence in Palestine, with incidents against the British and Irgun and Stern Gang fighters being followed by bloody reprisals. In mid-June 1946, after the Irgun launched a wave of attacks, bombing five trains and 10 of the 11 bridges connecting Palestine to neighboring states, London’s restraint finally broke. British forces conducted mass arrests across Palestine (codenamed Operation Agatha), culminating on June 29 — a day known as “Black Sabbath” because it was a Saturday — with the detention of more than 2,700 Zionist leaders and minor officials, as well as officers of the official Jewish defense force (Haganah) and its crack commandos (Palmach). None of the important Irgun or Stern Gang leaders was caught in the dragnet, and its result was merely to goad them into even more violent counteractions. On July 22, the Irgun dealt a devastating blow, codenamed Operation Chick, to the heart of British rule in Palestine when it bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which housed the offices of British officialdom in the Mandate, as well as serving as the headquarters of the British Army in Palestine.
The bombing was planned by the leader of the Irgun, Menachem Begin, later to be the sixth prime minister of Israel and the joint winner of a Nobel Peace Prize. On the morning of July 22, six young Irgun members entered the hotel disguised as Arabs, carrying milk churns packed with 500 pounds of explosives. At 12:37 p.m. the bombs exploded, ripping the facade from the southwest corner of the building. This caused the collapse of several floors in the hotel, resulting in the deaths of 91 people. In terms of fatalities, the King David Hotel bombing was one of the worst terrorist atrocities inflicted on the British in the twentieth century. It was also a direct attack on British intelligence and counterterrorist efforts in Palestine: both MI5 and SIS — the Secret Intelligence Service, also known as MI6 — had stations in the hotel. [Continue reading...]
Keith Kahn-Harris writes: It’s happening increasingly often: a prominent public figure makes a vituperative criticism of Israel, accusations of antisemitism follow and then come emphatic denials. This time it’s Roger Waters, the Pink Floyd vocalist, who has fanned the constantly glowing embers of controversy. Among other things, he has claimed that the “parallels [between Israel's actions against the Palestinians] with what went on in the 1930s in Germany are so crushingly obvious”, that the Israeli rabbinate views Palestinians as “sub-humans”, and that the “Jewish lobby” is “extraordinarily powerful”. This comes on the back of Waters’ long history of pro-Palestinian activity, including supporting a cultural boycott of Israel.
In response, Waters has been accused of antisemitism by firebrands such as Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and more measured voices such as Karen Pollock of the Holocaust Educational Trust. Waters vociferously denies antisemitism, complaining that defenders of Israel “routinely drag the critic into a public arena and accuse them of being an antisemite”.
So who is right? Is Waters guilty of antisemitism?
The problem with viewing the Waters controversy through the lens of the antisemitism debate is that it becomes a zero-sum game: whether his words were antisemitic or not. If they were not, then the assumption is that they would be acceptable.
Yet there are other ways to analyse discourse on Israel. What would happen if one temporarily (and, yes, artificially) removes the question of antisemitism and looks at Waters’ remarks the way one might look at other forms of political discourse? This leads to other questions: was Waters’ intervention useful? Were his words proportionate and reasonable? Should we take what he says seriously?
Accusations that Israel is behaving in a Nazi-like manner are hardly novel. In fact they are something of a cliche not just in the controversy over Israel but in a wide range of other debates. Godwin’s Law draws attention to the wearisome regularity with which Nazi Germany is invoked; for some, its corollary is that in any debate the first one to mention the Nazis has lost.
Not only is comparing Israel to Nazi Germany predictable, even the harshest reading of Israel’s actions shows that the analogy is completely over the top. Israel can arguably be accused of subtle and not-so-subtle forms of discrimination and even ethnic cleansing of Palestinians over its history, but it has never committed systematic mass murder and the existence of Palestinian citizens of Israel (albeit often marginalised) is something that no genuinely neo-Nazi regime could tolerate. [Continue reading...]
I suspect that part of the reason Waters and others grab the Nazi analogy is that breaking this kind of taboo is a kind of act of defiance through which someone can feel they are demonstrating an unswerving commitment to truth. It’s a way of attempting to say: I will speak the truth, whatever the consequences.
As Kahn-Harris points out, however, this particular choice of analogy is cliched — it also has the appearance (intentionally or not) of serving as a form of baiting.
There are numerous other “crushingly obvious” parallels Waters could have pointed to, such as the treatment of Native Americans by European settlers who asserted a God-given right to claim this continent as their own.
Then there are parallels that most observers in the West would apparently rather ignore, namely, those in Syria where after the Palestinian occupied territories, Israel, and Jordan, the largest exiled Palestinian population resides.
By whatever metric one chooses to use, the scale of destruction wrought by the Assad regime over the last two years dwarfs the crimes of the Israelis over the last 65 years, yet so many of those who express outrage over massacres in Gaza, appear unmoved when the aggressors are not Zionists.
Israelis have been fittingly scorned for professing a humanitarian sensibility as they “shoot and cry” (Yorim u’Vochim), but among Israel’s critics who are willing to hold up a mirror there may be visible a similarly flimsy humanitarian impulse.
We often seem more concerned about who fired the gun and who manufactured the bullet than who got killed.
This week, the New America Foundation hosted a discussion on the newly published, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, with its author Max Blumenthal. James Fallows writes:
I’ve been involved with New America since its beginning in the 1990s, initially as chairman of its board and still as a board member. New America puts on well over 100 events each year — in DC, New York, California, and elsewhere. To the best of my knowledge, this latest session was the only time we’ve been under public or private pressure to rescind an invitation for someone to speak. There could have been other cases, but I don’t know of any.
The event in question featured Max Blumenthal, who was being interviewed about his book on Israel, Goliath, by Peter Bergen, the well-known writer on war-and-terrorism topics. (Bergen is also a New America fellow; the latest of his many books is Man Hunt, about the bin Laden raid.) In the week before the event, items like this one in Commentary had said that New America should not provide a platform for what it claimed was destroy-Israel hate speech. Some members of the board got personal email pitches to the same effect.
I wasn’t involved in inviting Max Blumenthal, but having read his book before the session and now having heard him speak, I am glad that New America and its president, Anne-Marie Slaughter, stood by their invitation. That was the right call on general free-speech principles, and also because this book should be discussed and read. [Extra disclosures: Both Slaughter and Bergen are long-time friends of mine, as well as colleagues via the Atlantic, New America, and elsewhere. My wife and I have also been friends of Max Blumenthal’s parents for many years.]
The case against Goliath, summarized here, is that it is so anti-Israel as to represent not journalism or reasonable critique but bigoted propaganda; plus, that in being so anti-Israel it is effectively anti-Semitic. With a few seconds of online search, you can track down the now-extensive back and forth. The furor has certainly helped publicize the book, but to me those claims about it seem flat mischaracterizations. Goliath is a particular kind of exposé-minded, documentary-broadside journalism whose place we generally recognize and respect.
The purpose of this book is not to provide some judicious “Zionism at the crossroads” overview of the pluses and minuses of modern Israel. That is not the kind of writer Max Blumenthal is. His previous book, Republican Gomorrah, was about the rise of the Tea Party and related extremist sentiment within the GOP. In that book he wasn’t interested in weighing the conservative critique of big government or teachers’ unions or Medicaid. That’s Brookings’s job. Instead his purpose was to document the extreme voices — the birthers, the neo-secessionists, the gun and militia activists, those consumed by hatred of Barack Obama — who were then providing so much of the oomph within Republican politics.
That book was effective not because Blumenthal said he disagreed with these people. Of course he did, but so what? Its power came simply from showing, at length and in their own words, how they talked and what they planned to do. As Blumenthal pointed out in this week’s New America session, that earlier book argued, a year before the Tea Party’s surge victories in the 2010 mid-terms: these people are coming, and they are taking the party with them. His account wasn’t “balanced” or at all subtle, but it was right.
His ambition in Goliath is similar. He has found a group of people he identifies as extremists in Israel — extreme in their belief that Arabs have no place in their society, extreme in their hostility especially to recent non-Jewish African refugees, extreme in their seeming rejection of the liberal-democratic vision of Israel’s future. He says: these people are coming, and they’re taking Israeli politics with them. As he put it in a recent interview with Salon, the book is “an unvarnished view of Israel at its most extreme.” Again, the power of his book is not that Blumenthal disagrees with these groups. Obviously he does. It comes from what he shows. [Continue reading...]
Aeyal Gross writes: When discussing democracy in Israel, some people seek to distinguish between what happens within the Green Line and what happens beyond it – an undemocratic regime of occupation. They believe the occupation doesn’t weigh on Israel’s democratic character, both because it’s a temporary situation and because it has the distinction of taking place outside the state’s borders.
But the claim of temporariness has steadily eroded as the occupation nears its jubilee, and the claim that the situation is different and distinct from what happens inside the state has been eroding as well, given the similarity of many practices on both sides of the Green Line. This is exemplified by the cases of Susya and Umm al-Hiran.
The government’s decision to settle Jews on the lands of the Bedouin community of Umm al-Hiran entails evacuating and demolishing one of the state’s “unrecognized” villages – communities that, despite being inhabited by citizens of the state, have no master plan, and whose residents don’t receive basic services like water and sewage. Some of these unrecognized villages have existed since before the state was established, and some are the result of the expulsion of Bedouin citizens from their lands. Israel’s military government expelled Umm al-Hiran’s residents from their original village in 1956 and relocated them to the Nahal Yatir region. [Continue reading...]
The Washington Post reports: A small but growing movement by Jewish activists demanding the right to pray at the site of their destroyed temple, in the heart of this disputed capital’s Old City, is creating a potentially explosive clash with the Muslim world, which considers the spot holy and bans Jews from public worship there.
Each week, hundreds of Jews ascend the creaky wooden ramp built above the Western Wall and enter what is often called the most contested real estate on Earth. Many then embark upon a game of hide-and-seek with their police escorts — whispering forbidden prayers while pretending to talk into cellphones, and getting in quick but banned bows by dropping coins and then bending to pick them up.
Their proposals, long dismissed as extremist, are now being debated in the Israeli parliament and embraced by an expansionist wing in the ruling coalition government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
These political leaders, many in Netanyahu’s party, want Israel to assert more, not less, control over the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Old City, including the place known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary.
“We’re looking for it to be divided between Jews and Muslims,” said Aviad Visoli, chairman of the Temple Mount Organizations, which claims 27 groups under its umbrella. “Today, Jews realize the Western Wall is not enough. They want to go to the real thing.”
Two millenniums ago, this place was the site of the Jews’ Second Temple, destroyed in A.D. 70 by Roman legions under Titus, who cast the Jews into exile. The Western Wall, visited by 10 million people a year, is part of the remaining rampart built around the raised temple complex. Together, the wall and the site of the destroyed temple are the holiest landmarks in Judaism.
The same courtyard is home to al-Aqsa mosque, one of the oldest in Islam, and the Dome of the Rock, the golden landmark where tradition says the prophet Mohammad made his night journey to heaven.
For Palestinians and much of the Muslim world, any mention of changing the status quo at the site, the third-holiest in Islam, is incendiary. Protecting al-Aqsa has been a rallying cry for generations.
“This place belongs to the Muslim people, and no others have the right to pray here,” said Sheik Azzam al-Khatib, director of the Waqf, the Islamic trust that administers the site. Khatib said the mosque is a unifying symbol for the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims.
“If they try to take over the mosque, this will be the end of time,” Khatib warned. “This will create rage and anger not only in the West Bank but all over the Islamic world — and only God knows what will happen.” [Continue reading...]