No. 507 November 2003
A new critique of Israel proposes its elimination and replacement with a bi-national Palestinian-Jewish state. Israel’s new detractors doubt the legitimacy of Jewish statehood, though they say nothing about the validity of dozens of new states that have emerged in the last half century, many of which lack any firmly rooted national identity. The new attack on Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is particularly ironic since Jewish nationhood preceded the emergence of most modern nation-states by thousands of years.
The new critics of Jewish statehood neglect the fact that Israel’s communal expression – like that of many communal states around the world – in no way infringes the rights of minority citizens, who enjoy full equality under the law and the political system. They also ignore that this form of national expression is not unique; indeed, most states identify in some formal way with the religious or cultural heritage of their predominant communities. Yet only Israel is singled out for criticism.
Israel is the only state created in the last century whose legitimacy was recognized by both the League of Nations and the United Nations. The League of Nations Mandate did not create the rights of the Jewish people to a national home in Palestine, but rather recognized a pre-existing right – for the links of the Jewish people to their historic land were well-known and accepted by world leaders in the previous century.
By 1864, a clear-cut Jewish majority emerged in Jerusalem – more than half a century before the arrival of the British Empire and the League of Nations Mandate. During the years that the Jewish presence in Eretz Israel was restored, a huge Arab population influx transpired as Arab immigrants sought to take advantage of higher wages and economic opportunities that resulted from Jewish settlement in the land. President Roosevelt concluded in 1939 that “Arab immigration into Palestine since 1921 has vastly exceeded the total Jewish immigration during the whole period.”
Israel’s new detractors seek to delegitimize Jewish national rights by arguing that their assertion was an extension of European imperialism. In fact, Jewish underground movements waged an anti-colonial war in the 1940s against continuing British rule. Israel was an anti-imperialist force when it first emerged, while the Arab states were aligned with the imperial powers, their armies trained and supplied by the French and British Empires.
There was no active movement to form a unique Palestinian state prior to 1967. In 1956, Ahmad Shuqairy, who would found the PLO eight years later, told the UN Security Council: “it is common knowledge that Palestine is nothing but southern Syria.” In the early 1960s, many Palestinians looked to Egypt’s Abdul Nasser as their leader as much as to any Palestinian. Given the historical background, it is impossible to argue that the Palestinians have a claim to the Land of Israel superior to that of the Jews, as Israel’s detractors contend.
The new assault on Israel is partly based on ignorance of Jewish history in today’s highly secularized world. But it also emanates from a new anti-Semitic wave reflected in a public opinion poll by the European Commission showing Israel as the country most regarded by Europeans as a threat to world peace. The president of the European Commission, Roman Prodi – alluding to the anti-Semitic underpinnings that led to the poll’s results – said, “to the extent that this may indicate a deeper, more general prejudice against the Jewish world, our repugnance is even more radical.”
The New Anti-Zionists
Although Israel won its existence more than fifty years ago, a new and insidious critique has begun to spread, attacking anew the legitimacy of Israel’s very establishment as a Jewish state. The new line does not come from Tehran or Riyadh but, surprisingly from largely European intellectuals and certain voices on the fringe American Left, surfacing recently in The Guardian and The New York Review of Books. It proposes the elimination of Israel and is generally accompanied by calls to establish a bi-national Palestinian-Jewish state in its place.1 The new anti-Zionists invariably start with the claim that there are no Jewish rights to sovereignty in Israel, or that, in any case, Jewish nationalism is inherently unjust.
Curiously, this campaign is accompanied by no corresponding questions about the validity of any other of the more than 190 states that belong to the UN, whether they resemble Israel or not. There is no such scrutiny of the mini-states of Europe – from Liechtenstein to the Vatican – or the multi-tribal states of Africa, many of which are breaking down. Nor is there any questioning of the rights of expressly Catholic, Protestant, or Muslim states to exist. The exclusive focus on Israel raises troubling questions about the real motives of these commentators. As Michael Gove, assistant editor of the Times of London, recently noted: “I do not know how newspapers can get away with it. You can have criticism of the State of Israel but it is entirely different to say it shouldn’t exist. It is applying to the Jew a different standard than you apply to anyone else.”2
Equally remarkable, for all the singular focus on Israel, the attack on Jewish statehood avoids even the slightest consideration of the specifics of Israel’s case. The attackers fail to examine the legal or political consequences of Israel’s national expression as a Jewish state (perhaps because they find none) with regard to its non-Jews, religious and racial equality, or the civil and political equality of all citizens. They also ignore the specific historical circumstances and perils that gave rise to the need for Israel to identify Jewishly. In short, it is an attack on Israel without regard to the cost, benefit, or uniqueness of Jewish statehood – indeed, without any grounding at all. That becomes clear after a brief examination of the history, the law, and the facts surrounding Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.
The Rights of States and the Rights of Israel
International law has traditionally held that in order to be defined as a state, political communities must meet four qualifications: First, there must be a people; second, there must be a territory; third, there must be a government; and fourth, there must be a capacity to enter into relations with other states. In advocating Israel’s admission to the UN in 1948, the U.S. representative to the UN Security Council argued that Israel fulfilled these conditions. In fact, the new attacks on Israel’s rights are particularly ironic since Jewish nationhood preceded the emergence of most modern nation-states by thousands of years. Still, today’s discourse has created doubts about the basis of Jewish peoplehood and the connection of the Jewish people to Israel’s territory. Whether the new assault on Israel is a byproduct of the radical secularization of certain intellectual circles who have no understanding of Jewish history, or whether it emanates from a more insidious anti-Semitism that has been re-born, its handmaiden is the general ignorance that is rampant about Israel’s unique roots.
The Jewish claim to a right of sovereignty in the Land of Israel (Eretz Israel; Palestine) emerged in the last century for three essential reasons:
First, it was not a new claim, but rather a reassertion of a historic right that had never been conceded or forgotten. Even after the destruction of the last Jewish commonwealth in the first century, the Jewish people maintained their own autonomous political and legal institutions: the Davidic dynasty was preserved in Baghdad until the thirteenth century through the rule of the Exilarch (Resh Galuta), while the return to Zion was incorporated into the most widely practiced Jewish traditions, including the end of the Yom Kippur service and the Passover Seder, as well as in everyday prayers. Thus, Jewish historic rights were kept alive in Jewish historical consciousness.
Second, the security of the Jewish people in the diaspora became completely untenable as the threat from anti-Semitic persecution and assault was replaced in the twentieth century with the threat of actual annihilation – or genocide – as demonstrated by the Holocaust. While this threat initially was focused in Europe, it soon extended to the Middle East, as newly independent Arab states came to view their ancient Jewish communities as European foreigners and systematically violated their basic human rights, either by denying them protection or by confiscating their properties. From the 1840 Damascus blood libel to the 1941 farhud (pogrom) against the Jews of Baghdad, an uneasy Arab-Jewish coexistence that existed earlier collapsed even before the rise of the State of Israel. Far from receding, the danger of rabid anti-Semitism persists, thereby necessitating a strong Jewish state that can serve as an ultimate refuge for Jews under threat, anywhere. The Jewish people have learned that they must not return to a state of powerlessness.
Third, the steady growth of assimilation threatened to eliminate Jewish communities worldwide. The existence of a Jewish state, whose public culture is based on the unique practices of the Jewish people, is the best guarantor for Jewish continuity – both religious and non-religious – and the birth of a new Jewish civilization that can continue to contribute to the world community.3
Israel’s Historic Basis: The Unbroken Jewish Connection with the Land of Israel
Israel is the only state that was created in the last century whose legitimacy was recognized by both the League of Nations and the United Nations.4 The League of Nations Mandate that was issued by the victorious powers of World War I did not create the rights of the Jewish people to a national home in Palestine, but rather recognized a pre-existing right, for the links of the Jewish people to their historic land were well-known and accepted in the previous century by world leaders from President John Adams to Napoleon Bonaparte to British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston.5 These rights were preserved by the successor organization to the League of Nations, the United Nations, under Article 80 of the UN Charter. The ancient, even biblical, association of the Jewish people with the Land of Israel was accepted in the Judeo-Christian tradition as a historical axiom.
From a legal standpoint, an opportunity arose to assert these historically recognized rights. Since 1517, Eretz Israel had been under the sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire; when the Ottomans lost to the British in 1918, in the Treaty of Sevres they surrendered sovereignty over their Asiatic territories outside of Turkey. A vacuum of sovereignty was created in which the historic claim of the Jewish people could be raised. Yet the Jewish people themselves had begun raising it much earlier.
Since the loss of the Second Jewish Commonwealth to Roman legions in 70 CE, and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the Jewish people never lost their connection to the Land of Israel (Palestine). The land, in fact, was never claimed to be the unique home of another nation, but rather was a province of other larger empires. As the renowned historian of the Middle East, Bernard Lewis, has written:
From the end of the Jewish state in antiquity to the beginning of British rule, the area now designated by the name Palestine was not a country and had no frontiers, only administrative boundaries; it was a group of provincial subdivisions, by no means always the same, within a larger entity.6
In the interim, the Jewish people never stopped exercising their claim to the land. Lewis, in fact, notes “there had been a steady movement of Jews to the Holy Land throughout the centuries.”7 In 135 CE Jews took part in the Bar Kochba revolt against imperial Rome and even re-established their capital in Jerusalem. Defeated by the most brutal of the Roman legions under the command of the emperor Hadrian, Jews were forbidden to reside in Jerusalem for nearly five hundred years. Once a year on the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av, they were allowed to weep at the remains of their destroyed Temple at a spot that came to be called “the Wailing Wall.” In the meantime, the Roman authorities renamed Judea as Palestina in order to obliterate the memory of Jewish nationhood.
During this period, the Jewish national center shifted from Judea to the Galilee, where hundreds of synagogues were erected from the Mediterranean to the Golan Heights. Jewish law was then codified in the Mishnah by Judah Ha-Nasi. Despite the catastrophic losses in Jewish lives during the wars against the Romans, Jews still constituted the majority of the population of the Galilee in the fourth century. In the Upper Galilee village of Pek’in there remained a continuous Jewish presence from the Roman era to the rise of the State of Israel.
With the defeat of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine) by Persian armies in 614, the Jewish people recaptured Jerusalem and made it again their capital briefly. Yet Byzantine rule was soon restored and Jews were forced again to vacate Jerusalem until the defeat of the Byzantines in 638 by the Islamic armies of Caliph Omar, who again opened the city for Jewish resettlement. Eretz Israel became a part of successive Muslim empires – the Rashidun (the immediate followers of the Prophet Muhammad, who ruled from Medina), the Umayyads (who ruled from Damascus), the Abbasids (who ruled from Baghdad), and the Fatimids (who ruled from Cairo).
Under Islam, Jews were to be protected as a “people of the book,” but were nonetheless forced to pay discriminatory taxes like the jizya (poll tax) and the kharaj (land tax). The crushing burden of these land taxes led to a loss of Jewish land control in the Galilee during the first several centuries of Islamic rule. During the Crusader occupation of Eretz Israel, many Jews were physically slaughtered, especially in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, the great Jewish scholar and poet Rabbi Yehuda Halevi (1075-1141) still called for the mass immigration of Jews to the Land of Israel.8
The beginnings of Jewish recovery in Eretz Israel started with the defeat and expulsion of the Crusaders in 1187 by the Kurdish Muslim warrior Salah ad-Din who, like Caliph Omar, allowed the Jews to resettle in Jerusalem. For example, between 1209 and 1211, three hundred rabbis made their way from France and southern England to settle in Jerusalem, once it was safe again to do so. They were joined by rabbis from North Africa and Egypt. The great Jewish scholar Nachmanides (Ramban) erected a synagogue in Jerusalem in 1267 that still stands in the Old City.
In the thirteenth century, Jewish families restored the community of Safed, which would become the international center for the study of Jewish mysticism by the sixteenth century. Reinforced by their rising numbers, Jews became assertive again about their claim in Jerusalem, so that the pope forbade sea captains from transporting Jews to Palestine in 1428.9 Despite the hardships, Jews continued to return. The great commentator of the Mishnah, Ovadia Bartinura, left Italy to settle in Jerusalem in 1488; his tomb is at the foot of the Mt. of Olives.
The influx of Jewish refugees from the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 into the Ottoman Empire, which took control of Eretz Israel in 1517, led to a substantial expansion of the Jewish presence in Safed, Hebron, and Tiberias, where Sultan Sulaiman the Magnificent allotted his Portugese Jewish advisor, Don Joseph Nasi, land grants for Jewish resettlement. Even before the rise of modern political Zionism, Jews continued to stream into the land from Yemen and Lithuania, whose numbers included the students of the halakhic scholar the Vilna Gaon in 1809-1811. By 1864, a clear-cut Jewish majority emerged in Jerusalem, more than half a century before the arrival of the British Empire, the issuing of the Balfour Declaration, and the establishment of the League of Nations Mandate
The Palestinian Arabs Include Waves of Arab Immigrants
During the restoration of the Jewish presence in the Land of Israel, the overwhelming impression of Western visitors in the nineteenth century was that there were few Arab inhabitants. The British Consul General, James Finn, wrote in 1857 that “the country is in a considerable degree empty of inhabitants.” He added that the land’s “greatest need is that of a body of population.”10 Mark Twain visited Eretz Israel in 1867, traveled through the Jezreel Valley, and related, “there is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent.”11 Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, the great British cartographer, reached similar conclusions in 1881: “In Judea it is hardly an exaggeration to say that for miles and miles there was no appearance of life or habitation.”12
Geographers had long concluded that it was improbable “that any but a small part of the present Arab population of Palestine is descended from the ancient inhabitants of the land”; indeed, according to their analysis, Palestine was “peopled by the drifting populations of Arabia, and to some extent by the backwash of its harbors.”13 Additionally, the Ottomans settled Muslim populations as a buffer against Bedouin attacks; Ibrahim Pasha, the Egyptian ruler, brought Egyptian colonists with his army in the 1830s. It is noteworthy that the common Palestinian name al-Masri, used by a clan in Nablus, literally means “the Egyptian.”14
Yet the Palestine Liberation Organization has perpetuated a myth, put forward on the world stage by Yasser Arafat at the United Nations in 1974, that “the Jewish invasion [of Palestine] began in 1881.” Moreover, he asserted that there was already a large indigenous Arab population when the Jews arrived. His implicit message was that there was a well-entrenched Palestinian society in place before Israel’s rebirth, a society that had rights superior to those of the returning Jews.
Yet it is now clear that during the years that the Jewish presence in Eretz Israel was restored, a huge Arab population influx transpired from neighboring countries as Arab immigrants sought to take advantage of higher wages and economic opportunities that resulted from Jewish settlement in the land. Indeed, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt concluded in 1939 that “Arab immigration into Palestine since 1921 has vastly exceeded the total Jewish immigration during the whole period.”15
The Restoration of Israel Was Not a Product of European Imperialism
Another common argument put forward by the PLO is that Israel is really the product of European imperialism and hence it does not represent a legitimate national movement of its own. As a result, Zionism came to be portrayed in the Arab world as “a hyperaggressive variant of colonialism.”16 This perception has also penetrated the discourse of Israel’s European detractors. Initially, it is true that the idea of a restored Jewish homeland received its greatest push from the declaration in 1917 of the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour, who called for its establishment after the British defeat of the Ottoman Empire. Yet, ironically, during the subsequent years of the British Mandate over Palestine, European (and especially British) imperial policies actually obstructed the emergence of the Jewish national home.
First, the territory of Transjordan was cut off from the Palestine Mandate and granted by the British to the Hashemite dynasty from Arabia, who had lost their ancestral homeland, the Hijaz, to the Saudi clan of eastern Arabia. Second, the British sought to further partition the remaining territory of western Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, reducing the area for Jewish settlement even more. Finally, with the 1939 White Paper, the British restricted Jewish immigration into Palestine just as Nazi Germany began its conquest of Europe and its Holocaust against European Jewry.
In this context, it is not surprising that Jewish underground movements waged an anti-colonial war in the 1940s against continuing British rule. In other words, Israel was anti-imperialist when it first emerged. By contrast, the Arab states at the time were aligned with the imperial powers. The Arab states that invaded the nascent State of Israel fielded armies that were trained and supplied by the French and British Empires. During Israel’s War of Independence, British officers commanded the Arab Legion of Transjordan, while the Royal Air Force, defending Egyptian airspace, fought the Israeli Air Force over the Sinai Peninsula in 1949. And the nations of the world did not lift a finger when the Jews of Jerusalem were surrounded and faced annihilation, even though the UN had called for internationalization of the city. Only the Israel Defense Forces broke Jerusalem’s siege and saved its Jewish residents. In short, Jewish independence in Israel was won by a native and indigenous community acting in its own defense with little help from outside.
Is Jewish Statehood Discriminatory?
Today, some argue that Israel’s very establishment as a Jewish state discriminates against non-Jewish Israelis, even, as a recent article claimed, rendering them second-class citizens.17 Such a claim is not only utterly false, as any student of Israeli law or politics knows; it also seriously distorts the harmless – and quite beautiful – ways in which states can reflect the identity of their majority communities, or pay tribute to their founding histories, without infringing the rights of individual citizens. Israel’s critics go too far when they seek to cloak Israel’s mere communal expression in the inflammatory garb of religious discrimination.
Nearly every country in the world boasts one majority community, and nearly all reflect the cultural identity of that community in one way or another. The United States officially celebrates only Christian holidays; many European countries openly identify as either Catholic or Protestant; and many Muslim countries uncontroversially refer to themselves as an “Islamic Republic,” whether they are democratic or not. For some, such identification is simply a sign of the spiritual persuasion of the majority; for others, it is homage to the story of the country’s founding. There is nothing obviously wrong with such expression.
Indeed, in today’s multi-culturalist environment, with a renaissance in public appreciation of communal identity, it is anachronistic to suggest that in the case of Israel, alone, communal identification is problematic. One can only wonder why Jewish national expression, with no discriminatory effect, is so uniquely hard to bear.18 Perhaps the reason stems from the history of opposition to Jewish statehood: it was first raised by Arab nationalists and religious Islamic radicals, who opposed Jewish rule on what they had deemed “Arab” soil. This opposition, though prominent in the rhetoric of Palestinian groups like Hamas today,19 is largely unacceptable in Western political discourse. That forces its proponents to reformulate their anti-Israel animus in the more universal language of rights and equality. Still, as convenient a target as it seems, Israel’s self-expression as a Jewish state, like the communal identification of any state, has little bearing on questions of rights and equality.
The important point is not whether a state adopts some communal theme but whether it in fact discriminates: Are minority citizens equal under the law? Can they express their own heritage publicly and communally? Do they have the same opportunities for power and representation in the system, even the ability to become the majority? In short, are they first-class citizens?
For non-Jewish citizens of Israel, the answer to all these questions is “Yes. Unequivocally.” Israeli Arab citizens are by law equal to Jewish citizens; they enjoy the same rights and are legally protected from discrimination. Non-Jews enjoy every freedom that democracies recognize, including freedom of worship, the free expression and exercise of religion, equality of financial, material, and employment opportunity, political power, and all legal rights. Indeed, Israel’s Declaration of Independence demands nothing less. According to the Declaration, the Jewish state “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions.” Israel’s Arab citizens have, in fact, reached positions on Israel’s Supreme Court and have elected powerful parties in the Israeli Knesset that fully participate in Israeli political life.
Some critics of Israel, often with questionable motives, exploit the nature of Israel’s parliamentary political system to falsely depict Arab citizens as a vulnerable minority. Indeed they are – but only inasmuch as all minorities in a parliamentary government that are outside the ruling coalition suffer some disadvantages. Israel contains a lively system of distinct communities living side-by-side, often vying for the same limited supply of the largely socialized national welfare and aid programs. Israeli Arabs, for example, compete with other minorities that do not typically reach the top – ultra-Orthodox Jews, Russian immigrants, and religious Sephardim. That some of these groups sometimes do better than others does not show discrimination; it simply shows the system at work.
Most important, however, the disadvantages of political minorities in Israel have nothing to do with Israel’s ceremonious identification as a Jewish state. Their situation will change if and when Israel transforms itself from a system of proportional representation, with each minority having a party to call its own, into a district-based election system. Many Israelis support such a change, though it has shortcomings, too. But even under the current, imperfect, political reality, Jewish and Arab citizens are equal under the law.
All this is not to deny that Israel has one special mission as a Jewish state – albeit one that does not affect the rights of its non-Jewish citizens. Israel was built as a haven for Jewish refugees fleeing persecution. The legendary Israeli statesman Abba Eban referred to this aspect of Israel as a case of “international affirmative action,” because it was designed to correct an inherent disadvantage suffered by a particular group throughout history, which has deprived them of a level playing field. Unfortunately, Jews still need a place of refuge from persecution. For that reason, diaspora Jews deserve the special treatment they receive in this one respect. When the Jewish community of Ethiopia stood defenseless against the onslaught of armed partisans in the 1991 civil war, or when Argentina’s Jews became the target of scape-goating and attacks during the recent economic depression, or when Soviet Jews fled Communism, Israel alone opened its doors unconditionally. For Jews seeking refuge in Israel, the state grants immediate citizenship. Nevertheless, a non-Jew enjoys the same right and opportunity to become a citizen of Israel as any other country offers, including the United States. And once a citizen, he or she enjoys all the rights and privileges granted by Israel’s laws and government to the majority of its people, based on a principle of equality now enshrined in the basic law of the country and the fabric of its political culture.
Israeli Rights Versus Palestinian Rights
Still, regardless of the rights that Israel has granted its non-Jewish citizens, critics malign it on different grounds: that Palestinians boast a stronger claim for national sovereignty over the same land. This claim needs to be examined separately. In particular, was there, prior to Israel’s establishment, a distinct Palestinian nationalism vying for its own separate place in the land?
The Palestinian Arabs originally saw themselves in the early twentieth century as part of a greater Arab national movement. For much of the first half of the last century Arab states sought to unify as they supported various schemes for Arab unity. In Arabic there are, in fact, two terms for nationalism: qawmiyah – loyalty to the Arab nation as a whole, and wataniyah – loyalty to the local country in which one resides. For decades, qawmiyah was far more predominant for Palestinian Arabs.
For example, Bernard Lewis has written that while the Palestinian Arabs had a growing sense of identity with their struggle against Jewish immigration in the 1930s, still “their basic sense of corporate historic identity was, at different levels, Muslim or Arab or – for some – Syrian; it is significant that even by the end of the Mandate in 1948, after thirty years of separate Palestinian political existence, there were virtually no books in Arabic on the history of Palestine.”20
Moreover, the 1947 Partition Plan still described the Palestinians as “Arabs” and called for an “Arab state” in Palestine alongside of a Jewish state. In May 1956, Ahmad Shuqairy, who would found the PLO eight years later, stated before the UN Security Council: “it is common knowledge that Palestine is nothing but southern Syria.”21 In the early 1960s, many Palestinians looked to Egypt’s Gamal Abdul Nasser as their leader as much as to any Palestinian. And there was no active movement of the Palestinians to separate the West Bank from Jordan or the Gaza Strip from Egypt to form a unique Palestinian state prior to 1967. Today, a third source of loyalty is emerging among Palestinian Arabs connected to Hamas or Islamic Jihad – loyalty to the Islamic nation or umma. Hamas, after all, is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization with pan-Islamic ambitions.
Still, Israel recognizes that a unique Palestinian national identity exists today. But given its historical background, it is impossible to show that Palestinian nationalism has a claim to the Land of Israel superior to that of the Jews.
In the future, whatever Palestinian political entity emerges from part of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it very well might decide to federate with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in ten or twenty years, where a Palestinian majority already exists. In the Balkans, for example, it is difficult for Europeans to predict the future of Bosnia or Kosovo. Will their populations seek to unify with states containing the same ethnic makeup, so that Croats in Bosnia will merge with Croatia, while Kosovars will seek to unite with Albania? The same long-term question applies to the Palestinian territories after Arafat.
The Continuing Need for Jewish Statehood
Regardless, a uniquely Jewish democratic society will continue to exist in Israel, where it will serve as a vital refuge for Jews facing anti-Semitism from France, Russia, South America, or Yemen. Israel remains the only country that allows unconditional Jewish immigration. In a few years Israel will comprise the largest Jewish community in the world. Only the army of the Jewish people, the Israel Defense Forces, can protect that community.
Some now argue that Jews no longer face the existential threats that anti-Semitism once posed. It is even suggested that today’s anti-Semitism is caused, not counteracted, by Israeli policy. But the recent experiences of Jews in Ethiopia, Argentina, and across Europe, along with the vile slurs about world Jewry on the part of Islamic leaders like Malaysia’s Mohammed Mahathir, give lie to such euphoria. Anti-Semitism has existed for centuries, well before the rise of the State of Israel. Indeed, it could be argued that it is not the reality of Israeli policy that is causing the new anti-Semitism, but rather the prejudices of European editors who feature difficult anti-Israeli photographs, out of context, as lead news items, while downgrading serious cases of massacre, such as on the continent of Africa.
Today, world leaders are willing to admit that the harsh critique that Israel receives can be traced to older, anti-Semitic roots. For example, the president of the European Commission, Roman Prodi – commenting on a new opinion poll showing that Israel is the country regarded by most ordinary Europeans as a threat to world peace – said the results “point to the continued existence of a bias that must be condemned out of hand,” and “to the extent that this may indicate a deeper, more general prejudice against the Jewish world, our repugnance is even more radical.”22
There is even a new strain of anti-Semitism that has emerged in the radical opposition to globalization, which now targets Jews as a kind of transnational economic force and, in chillingly familiar terms, blames them for economic upheaval. The anti-Semitic threat, unfortunately, is alive and well.
Not only is Jewish security at stake but so is Jewish continuity. Throughout Jewish history, national independence was perceived as a condition for Jewish self-fulfillment.23 Redemption was tied to the idea of return. For that reason, the re-birth of Israel strengthened Jewish identity. A reversal of Jewish independence would clearly have the opposite effect. As things stand, Jewish creativity in the future will come increasingly out of Israel, as the Jewish state emerges as the primary center of Jewish life. Just as the Jewish people of the diaspora once contributed to the growth of modern civilization in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it will be Jewish civilization in Israel that will be the key source of the Jewish contribution to world society in the twenty-first century. A strong Jewish state is essential for protecting the continuity of Jewish identity and its place in world affairs.
* * *
1. Tony Judt, “Israel: The Alternative,” New York Review of Books, vol. 50, no. 16, October 23, 2003.
2. Lawrence Marzouk, “UK Media Blasted Over Israel,” Barnet & Potters Bar Times (UK), October 29, 2003; http://www.barnettimes.co.uk/features/newsfeatures/display.var.427956.0.uk_media_blasted_over_israel.php
3. Ruth Gavison, “On the Jewish Right to Sovereignty,” Azure, Summer 2003.
4. Address by Prime Minister Netanyahu to the United Nations General Assembly, September 24, 1998, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/go.asp?MFAH0h3f0
5. Benjamin Netanyahu, A Place Among the Nations: Israel and the World (New York: Bantam, 1993), pp. 14-15. For the sake of historical perspective, one would do well to consider Ben-Gurion’s first premise, the title deeds of the Jews to this land, which he presented on January 7, 1937, to the Peel Commission:
“I say on behalf of the Jews that the Bible is our Mandate, the Bible which was written by us, in our own language, in Hebrew, in this very country. That is our Mandate. It was only recognition of this right which was expressed in the Balfour Declaration.”
6. Bernard Lewis, “The Palestinians and the PLO, A Historical Approach,” Commentary, January 1975: 32.
7. Bernard Lewis, Semites and Anti-Semites: An Inquiry into Conflict and Prejudice (New York: Norton, 1999), p. 164.
8. Arie Morgenstern, “Dispersion and the Longing for Zion, 1240-1840,” Azure, Winter 2002.
10. Alan Dershowitz, The Case for Israel (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons) p. 26.
11. Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 349.
12. Netanyahu, A Place Among the Nations, pp. 38-40.
13. Palestine: A Study of Jewish, Arab, and British Policies (New Haven: Yale University Press and Esco Foundation for Palestine, Inc., 1947), v. 1, pp. 463-464.
14. Joseph Alpher, “Israel and the Palestinians: What Everyone Should Know About the Conflict,” Reform Judaism, Fall 2002, vol. 31, no. 1.
15. Netanyahu, A Place Among the Nations, p. 36.
16. Mortimer B. Zuckerman, “Graffiti on History’s Walls,” U.S. News & World Report, November 3, 2003.
17. Judt, “Israel: The Alternative.”
18. Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin, Why the Jews? (New York: Touchstone, 2003), p. 170.
19. “Hamas Leaders Vow to Press Fight Against Israel,” Washington Post, Briefs (December 27, 1999), p. A16.
20. Bernard Lewis, Semites and Anti-Semite, p. 186.
21. Harris O. Schoenberg, Mandate for Terror: The United Nations and the PLO (New York: Shapolsky Publishers, 1989), p. 59.
22. Ed O’Loughlin, “Europe Apologizes to Israel for Poll, The Age (Australia), November 5, 2003.
23. Marvin Fox, “Jewish Power and Jewish Responsibility,” in Daniel J. Elazar, ed., Jewish Education and Jewish Statesmanship (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 1996), p. 60.