Friday, June 12, 2009

President Obama, the Holocaust and Israel

When President Obama said in Buchenwald that the American G.I.s who liberated the concentration camp could not have known "how the nation of Israel would rise out of the destruction of the Holocaust and the strong, enduring bonds between that great nation and my own," he may have thought that he was making some Israeli and Jewish critics happy.

Instead, he riled up all the Zionists who cringe whenever they hear some sort of linkage between the Holocaust and Israel's founding, as if the Jewish people would have had no right to the state of Israel had the Holocaust not occurred. After all, didn't Zionism start way before the Holocaust in the nineteenth century, and some say as far back as Abraham? And weren't the Jews forcibly expelled from their land and never absorbed everywhere else? And don't they have the right, like any other people, to live in their historical land as a free people?

Maybe, yes. Maybe, no.

The uncomfortable truth for Zionists is that their historical-rights justification for a Jewish state in Palestine/the Land of Israel was never accepted by the countries of the world. Even the Balfour Declaration never spoke of a Jewish state but of a Jewish homeland in Palestine that would not adversely affect the rights of the natives (not a direct quote!), and we know how British governments subsequently interpreted that. As Chaim Gans wrote in Haaretz on Tuesday, even if the Jews had historical rights to the land of Israel, those rights would not override the rights of the native Arabs. According to Gans, the situation of the Palestinians in 1948 was like the situation of a person who is holding a medicine that somebody sick critically needs. The sick person's right to live takes precedence over the medicine holder's property rights, although the latter is not responsible for the former's illness. In fact, he is the accidental victim of that illness.

I don't buy Gans' argument because I think he accepts here a Zionist historical narrative. I don't think that a state in Palestine was the only option either for resettling Jews (many Jewish refugees ended up elsewhere; the Zionists pressured the world to allow refugees to go to Israel; many subsequently left, many stayed) or for saving Judaism. That is why I think the medicine analogy is inappropriate. I also think that this particular brand of medicine carried unfortunate side-effects.

But he is right that the Holocaust is behind a lot of people's thinking on why there should be a Jewish state.

The Jews were the direct victim of the Holocaust, but inasmuch as the Holocaust was the major impetus behind the recognition of the Jewish claim on Palestine, the Palestinians were also the indirect victims, just as they were the indirect victims of the expulsion of the Jews from Arab lands, and the direct victims of incompetent leaders.

Would there have been a Jewish state without the Nazi Holocaust? The Zionists always say, "Sure, we had the institutions; we had the resources; we had the smarts; we were ready, and we had the motivation. Maybe we got it earlier because of the Holocaust, but it would have come."

Not so fast. Today there are about as many Kurds in the Kurdistan Region as there are Jews in Israel. They have a flag, a parliament, and a foreign ministry. But they don't have a state, since they are part of the Federal Republic of Iraq. With or without the Holocaust there was no certainty that the Jews would ever have a state in Palestine. Yes, they were ready for a state, more or less. Yet given their political and cultural institutions, the Jewish people in Palestine could have been recognized as an ethnic minority, or as national part of a binational state, or part of a federal state.

Remember, nothing in history is inevitable.

And nothing has to remain the same.



Margaret said...

Thank you for providing these details about the changes most to be desired in Israel and Palestine.

Understanding such situations in detail makes it easier to understand how even great change is possible.

Anonymous said...

"the Palestinians were also the indirect (sic!!!) victims, just as they were the indirect (sic!!!) victims of the expulsion (??? sic!!!) of the Jews from Arab lands, and the direct "sic!!!) victims of incompetent leaders (the standard jewnazi mantra)...

Michael W. said...

You are forgetting one thing, the Balfour Declaration. Sure, the Brits pushed it aside when they realized they needed to quiet the Arabs, but after WWII, less so.

JES said...

Jerry, one problem with your "Kurds in Kurdistan" analogy: There's no oil in Palestine. I can guarantee that had there not been large reserves of petroleum in northern Iraq (Kurdistan) and southern Iraq (predominantly Shi'a), there would have been no reason for the Sunni Arabs to covet those regions and Iraq would have been split into three a long, long time ago.

Y. Ben-David said...

Didn't the Peel Commission report of 1937 (pre-Holocaust and post-Balfour) recommend setting up a Jewish state (in addition to an Arab state)? It is obvious to everyone except you that the ultimate outcome of the Balfour Declaration would be a Jewish state. And the clause referring to the non-Jews refers to personal civic and religious rights, not national rights. That's what is says.

Considering there was violent opposition to ANY Jewish immigration from the very beginning of the British Mandate, how do you think anything other than a Jewish state could have worked (read Benny Morris' new book "One State, Two State to see how the Arabs reacted to the schemes you outlines that involved a Federal arrangement, or cantons, etc).

Jerry Haber said...

Michael, W...maybe the Balfour Declaration was to quiet the Jews?


Ah, yes, the Peel commission report recommended partition -- but that report was rejected by both sides, and dismissed as impractical by the British government after the Woodhead report.

How selective ideological memory filters out all the inconvenient truths and presents a linear development. But you, of all people, Y. Ben David, know that things were a lot more complex. What about the Biltmore Program in 1942, where the goal of a Jewish statehood in all of Palestine was adopted as policy by the World Zionist Organizations for the first time. Until then, that was only one of many proposals.

As for it being obvious to everybody but me that the eventual outcome of Balfour would be a state...I accept that, with one small correction. With "me" add the ENTIRE ZIONIST MOVEMENT AND THE ENTIRE WORLD, WHILE YOU ARE AT IT. You cannot cite the example of one Zionist who said that he was certain that there would be a state because of the Balfour declaration. On the contrary, while people were happy about it, that was the last thing *guaranteeing* a state.

You defame Zionism and the Zionist movement by saying that the Jews relied on the promise of a Brit, that they knew they could rest assured knowing that Balfour guaranteed the *inevitability* of a Jewish State. And that's what you are claiming -- that the state was inevitable.

Shall I read you some of what the Zionists said about the British government after they started interpreting Balfour Dec not to their liking?

As for your final question, I was not talking about alternatives in this post. But it is clear that there were alternatives to Jewish immigration to Palestine following the Holocaust. There was pressure by the Zionists to get more Jews there. Zionist indoctrination of Jews in Europe, combined by the disinclination of states to accept refugees, combined with the strong opposition of the Zionists (which has continued) for Jewish refugees to be settled anywhere else than in Palestine, combined to make a Jewish state an attractive option for "dumping" refugees for the Jews and the world -- just not for the natives.

The Arabs had every right and acted naturally and properly in opposing unrestricted immigration by a movement that spoke in many voices, but clearly wanted national rights in a land which they claimed because of historical rights. As far as I know, not a single one of the Zionist Leadership was Palestinian born. No people would sit idly by and let unrestricted immigration of another people with intents of "sharing power" in the land. No normal people would allow this.

Finally, I repeat, there is a world of difference between recognizing a Jewish state, and recognizing the right of the Jewish people to a state. I have explained it before; for those who don't get it, read old posts.

JES said...

Jerry, sorry but you are wrong about the Peel Commission. The Zionist side (that is the Yishuv leadership) did not reject the partition that the commission recommended. They accepted it, albeit, reluctantly - particularly because they were cognizant of the fact that it was their only hope of saving at least some of Europe's Jews.

The AHC, under the leadership of Haj Amin al-Husayni, who had pretty much eliminated all serious opposition during the Arab Revolt, rejected the Commission's recommendation for partition on outright on belhalf of the Palestinian Arabs.

Avram said...

"The Arabs had every right and acted naturally and properly in opposing unrestricted immigration by a movement that spoke in many voices"

Except those who rallied behind the Mufti and his dreams of seeing Hitler's final solution come true (unless that, or the Nazi backed Iraqi pogroms - or the welcoming of the Germans in Egypt - is 'acting naturally').

Out of curiosity, How do you feel about Emir Faisal's comments in the 1910s about Zionists?

Your last two lines of the post are obviously true ...

Jerry Haber said...

From Wikipedia

The Arab leadership rejected the plan,[3] while the Jewish opinion remained heatedly divided. The Twentieth Zionist Congress in Zurich (3-16 August 1937) announced "that the partition plan proposed by the Peel Commission is not to be accepted, [but wished] to carry on negotiations in order to clarify the exact substance of the British government's proposal for the foundation of a Jewish state in Palestine". [4]

I was referring to that statement, JES

JES said...

Jerry, you're quibbling here. Both the Zionist Congress and the Jewish Agency accepted the partition plan in principle, subject to negotiation. (You may want to refer to Walter Lacquer for a fuller account than what you found in Wikipedia.) The Arabs simply rejected it out of hand.

Jerry Haber said...

JES, I will look into it. Frankly, I would trust Wikipedia over the Zionist Lacqeur. The Zionist movement accepted Peel the way the PLO accepted the Clinton bridge proposals; both said, "Yes, but". Ben-Gurion was smarter on Peel and on Partition. He knew that the best way to get Palestine was in stages. That, unfortunately, was something that the Palestinians learned too late. But even had they learned it earlier it would not have mattered. They were outfinessed, outmanned, and outmaneuvered by the Zionists. They didnt have a chance.