Friday, March 30, 2012

Israel as Refuge for the Jews

Peter Beinart is the most recent of those who have claimed that  a Jewish state is necessary as a refuge for Jews fleeing anti-Semitism. “I am old enough to remember the plight of Soviet and Ethiopian Jews,” he recently said. As long as there is anti-Semitism, there is a need to ensure that Jewish lives will be safe. But not just physically safe – for Jewish culture to flourish, indeed, for Jews around the world to feel proud to be Jewish, there must be a Jewish state that provides these things. After a look at the revival of Hebrew culture, for which, he claims, the state is responsible.

That the Jewish state serves as a necessary refuge for Jews fleeing anti-Semitism and a guarantor of the survival of Jewish culture  is a deeply-held belief by many. So is the conviction that the Jews were exiled from Palestine by the Romans over two thousand years ago. Both convictions have been fostered by Zionism itself. But as the latter belief is a myth, so is the former.

Let’s begin by repeating the obvious fact that the revival of Hebrew language and literature and its being placed on a sure footing long antedated the founding of Israel. I am not referring merely to the literary achievements of the nineteenth and early twentieth century maskilim, though they are proof enough. No, what was responsible for the great institutions and spread of Hebrew language, literature, and culture, was the Zionist and the Hebraist movements, not the State of Israel, and most of the chief institutions of Hebrew culture were established well-before  the State.  The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the Hebrew Language Committee (later, renamed the Israeli Academy of Hebrew Language), Hebrew novelists like Brenner and Agnon, Hebrew cultural institutions like the Palestine Orchestra (later the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra), the Bezalel Art School, the Habimah theater, and more and more – all these were the products of Jewish nationalism and their existence was neither due to nor ultimately guaranteed by  the State founded in 1948. True, the state has supported such endeavors (and recently has threatened to cut support from those institutions that would not perform in what Beinart calls “non-democratic Israel.”)

One may wish to argue that Israel provides a cultural center that has inspired a flourishing of Jewish culture outside of its borders. But that involves a Zionist reading of center and periphery that may not be even true. There was more of a Hebrew literary culture in the United States before the establishment of the state of Israel than afterwards, and while it would be wrong to blame territorial Zionism for that culture’s demise, it and the State of Israel bear some responsibility – just as the State of Israel has to bear some responsibility for the demise of Jewish communities in Arab lands, especially since it did everything within its power to bring those communities to Israel, and when they arrived, to melt them in the Israeli melting pot. To this day, official Israel looks askance at the growth of Jewish communities outside its because according to mainstream Zionism, one can only be fully Jewish in the Jewish State.

Which  brings me to the “place of refuge” dogma:  If Israel exists as a physical refuge to ensure the survival of the Jewish people, then it has failed miserably in that respect.  We are told by Israel’s leaders that the Jewish state is, or soon will be, under an existential threat from Iran, or from terrorism. If this is true, then will some one please tell me how Israel is a safer refuge for the Jews than, say, the United States, or even, Europe? More Jews have died because of the Israel-Arab conflict since 1945 than as a result of all other anti-Jewish behavior combined since 1945. And since much of the new anti-Semitism is correlated to Israel’s actions, not only is Israel a dangerous place for Jews living within its borders, it isn’t so good for the physical safety of Jews outside it either.

Beinart mentions the Jews of the Soviet Union and the Ethiopians. Those Soviet Jews who emigrated to Israel did so either because they were Zionist and wanted to live in Israel, or because they wished to live outside the Soviet Union,  and Israel was the only place available.  There was discrimination against Jews in the Soviet Union, and certainly it was difficult for Zionist Jews to live there after Israel had defeated Arab armies supplied with Soviet weaponry. But we are not talking about Jews who fled Russia, or were expelled from it,  because of persecution, and who were forced to seek refuge in Israel. Especially in the 1970s we are talking about mostly Jews who already were Zionist-inclined, and who wanted to emigrate to Israel. In the 1990s fewer were Zionistically inclined; they were mostly taking advantage of the Gorbachev’s liberal policy.

As for the Ethiopian Beta Israel community, they only began to immigrate to Israel as refugees after Israel decided that they were Jewish and encouraged them. Had the decision gone the other way – and it is important to remember that it could have, since there was opposition to Ethiopian aliyah – many would have remained in Africa or made their way elsewhere. For them to come to Israel, there had to be Zionists initially convincing them that this was where they should be; there was no consciousness among them of the State of Israel as their homeland (unless they were Zionists.)

Having written the above, the Ethiopian aliyah still strikes me as closer to the intent of those who use the “refuge” argument to justify Israel’s existence. But that argument seems to say that unless there is a Jewish state of refuge, some Jews may die or suffer anti-Semitism. But with a Jewish state some Jews may die or suffer anti-Semitism. The real question is or should be, “Can Judaism and the Jewish people survive without a Jewish state.” And the answer is, so far, yes. In fact several thousand years of Jewish survival teaches us that.

The answer to the fate of Jewish refugees is not to insist that there be an ethnic state to which they can return, but to insist on an international policy that is concerned the rights of all refugees, regardless of race, gender, color, religion, etc. Neither solution is fail-safe, but so what?.

All of the above is valid had the State of Israel been located on the North Pole or the Moon. But even I am completely wrong, and a Jewish state is necessary to ensure the survival and thriving of the Jews and Judaism, that is not an argument for making room for that state in somebody else’s country. And let’s face it – the Zionists decided that in order to accept Jewish refugees in Palestine, they had to expel and denaturalize natives of Palestine. No country or people has that right.

How many times have the same people who say,  “If there was no Jewish state, where would the Jewish refugees of Hitler go?” also say, “The world should force the Arab states to accept the Palestinian refugees?”  Let me say this here loud and clear – the Postwar states had a responsibility to receive the World War II refugees, and that responsibility was first and foremost that of their native countries. But where repatriation was not possible, the refugees should have been allowed to go to countries where there settlement would not adversely affect the rights of the native population. The settlement of Jewish refugees in Palestine – of which they were not native – was not morally justified insofar as that settlement furthered the designs of Jewish statehood, since the majority of the Palestinians were opposed to Jewish statehood, and Jewish statehood would have adversely affected their rights. As it turns out, it adversely affected their rights in ways in which they would not have dreamed, since that settlement was coupled with the effective expulsion of the majority of the Palestinians.

But where would the Jews have gone? Many of them didn’t go to Palestine anyway, and many of those who did left Palestine when they could, much to the dismay of the Zionists.

I repeat – there is a moral distinction between settling refugees in lands in which they desire to live, and repatriating refugees to their own land. In the case of the Palestinian refugees, they have a right to return to their homeland, even if it adversely affects the rights of the Israeli Jews, because they were barred from returning to their homes – despite the calls of the UN. Had the Zionists said, prior to the founding of the state, that the only way a Jewish State can survive is through the forced transfer of most of its native Palestinians, nobody would have recognized the legitimacy of the state. And if somebody had, then that person, or state, would be wrong.

My position is that of the Zionist Ichud Association, which said that the Palestinians refugees should be given the choice where they wish to live, and that ways should be found to accommodate those choices, balancing the needs and rights of all concerned – but with the clear recognition that their return to their native surroundings carries great weight, even when what they are returning to is an imagined landscape, because of the crime done against them.


Michael Davis said...

Jerry -
Thank you for debunking this myth.
Another argument is: if the only thing that can guarantee Jewish survival is a Jewish state, how come the Jewish State was no guarantee against the Romans?
Similarly, "the 1967 borders are indefensible!" If so, how come, Israel defended them and more than doubled its size in the process?

And still, these myths are dogma in the United States. And what you wrote is heresy.

pabelmont said...

"And since much of the new anti-Semitism is correlated to Israel’s actions, not only is Israel a dangerous place for Jews living within its borders, it isn’t so good for the physical safety of Jews outside it either."

I would like to believe that attacks on Jews living in USA and Europe motivated by anti-Zionism would cease if the Jewish communities, synagogues, etc., in those places were NOISY LEADERS of the political battle for Palestinian national and human rights, MAJOR PRACTICERS of BDS against all Israeli goods and institutions (for example) -- demanding the removal of wall, settlements, settlers, siege, internal checkpoints, and the RoR for the exiles of 1948.

As we know, these communities do not lead that fight, mostly oppose that fight, and so align themselves with Israel and its lawless practices. They are, thus, bringing upon themselves such -- not much I believe -- anti-Zionist attacks as have been noted.

It appears that fighting Israeli lawlessness is as much "outside the pale" as fighting global warming.


Much of what you write is baloney, but I say that with all respect. No wonder you call yourself a Magnes Zionist- a contradiction in terms if there ever was one.You never really deal with the fact that the State of Israel exists-with or without the disputed territory- and the (nazi aligned) Arabs all these years later do not want that state in so-called Palestine" period. Certainly not Dr. Magnes' bi-state ideal. So in order to rectify the crime as you call it what would you have done to the Jews living in Israel today? Follow Helen Thomas' advise?

Richard Witty said...

"Refuge" is a very relevant, permanently relevant, theme to the historical and present significance of Zionism.

Its a good thing.

It should be celebrated.

The only basis of dissent about Israel, and path to recommend, rely on two institutions that are common to Israeli, Jewish, American, European, Islamic, Global world.

1. The relevance of law as law (not legislations, but primary principles of law) that apply to all and protect all, if done so consistently only.

To the extent that international institutions single out Israel for behavior that it accepts in others, reduces the relevance of law itself.

For example, the historical invocation of Jewish nationalism (Zionism) as racism, when ALL other nationalism is regarded as a valid basis of self-governance, greatly diminishes the credibility of that institution to function as the universal protection and accountability that law represents.

Israel should act to support the rule of law, should apply it because it is the right thing, but not naively, and not with shame.

2. The relevance of voluntary ethics as universally creating the setting that validates and matures relations.

Israel should take every opportunity to do the right thing, as a recognition of the divine spark in all human beings, and collectively in all cultures.

Israel is haven, has been since its inception, and is needed as haven in the future.

Its analagous to the maturation of an economy, resulting in increased economic valuation of a marketplace. Its an upward trend, with periodic stability and periodic decline, and constant need for attention to its primary values.

Beinart's got it right.

Richard Witty said...

I saw a video yesterday of the chabad rebbe describing the importance of brachas before every significant action.

As an example, he thanked the then president of the US (Reagan), for presiding over the US as a greatly appreciated interim haven for world Jewry.

Devir said...

Being an active member of a pro-palestinean portuguese movement I never expected to get to praise a zionist israeli jew.
But, then, I also never came accross to such an honest and non-biassed one...

Unknown said...

To: Steve Wise...

If you think much of what he writes is baloney, then I believe you're void of any sense of logic. He has given facts and reasoning and you have given nothing but a blunt judgment, followed by a loophole "but I say that with all respect"

And calling the Arabs "Nazi-Aligned" is racist and anti-Semite on your side.

Israel has don to the Palestinians worse than what the Nazi have done to the Jews and the American to the natives. Do words like: massacres of Deir Yassin, Sabra and Shatila, Gaza ethnic cleansing, demolition of hundreds of Palestinian villages, eviction of Palestinians from their homes, intimidation of Palestinians on almost daily basis, uprooting of olive trees, stealing water of Palestinian wells by Jewish settles, attempting to nuke Iran by Proxy on the pretext of Iranian nuclear development though Israel has hundreds of nukes in Dimonah, etc. ring a bell in your cranium?!

Talk about the blind leading the blind!!!


Richard Witty said...

"Israel has don to the Palestinians worse than what the Nazi have done to the Jews and the American to the natives."

Are you serious?

LeaNder said...

the Jewish state serves as a necessary refuge for Jews fleeing anti-Semitism and a guarantor of the survival of Jewish culture is a deeply-held belief by many.

If only this sense of necessity and the understandable fears weren't accompanied so frequently by this rigid air of self-righteousness; the simple assumption "we collectively", we are the good, we know, no outsider can, or everybody that does not "love us" must be antisemite, or a self-hating Jew. How should that work? But that's what it often comes down to, with all its accompanying double standards. If a Jewish state exists partly to keep up this illusion, I wonder were it will ultimately lead.

So is the conviction that the Jews were exiled from Palestine by the Romans over two thousand years ago. Both convictions have been fostered by Zionism itself

Among the most ironical intellectual indeavors, avidly embraced for reference in the debate by some, are the studies trying to prove that the Jews are a race after all. I wonder what somebody like Karl Kraus, or Ludwig Wittgenstein, or Sigmund Freud in the 1920's in Vienna would think about this trend?

I better return to the my contemplation of the self-hating Jews in the early 20th century, in spite of all that happened, maybe becourse in that case I know were it lead, it's emotionally much less difficult to bear; than for instance watching rabbi Golub discussing Beinart inside the Jewish community on Shalom TV. Painful.

Brad Belmont said...

Sorry Aadel, but as a non-Zionist Jew who is critical of Israel in most way I can't take you seriously when you say: "Israel has don to the Palestinians worse than what the Nazi have done to the Jews".

Israelis have done a terrible crime to the Palestinians, but the Palestinian People still exist. The Nazis crime against the Jews was certainly more exterminationalist than what the Palestinians have suffered.

Unknown said...

It seems clear to the impartial observer that Jews have maintained a malevolent, tyrannical dictatorship over millions of non-Jews since 1967. I see no way to excuse this tyranny. Even benevolent dictatorships need be overthrown.

John Welch said...

Metaphor and hyperbole are OK in a poem, or in a polemic.

Grass wrote the essential truth, sadly.

His being a German means nothing now.It does not give the Israeli government, and its plurality pf voters, the right to slowly drive Palestinians from their homes.

There is no defense of the Occupation, other than a defense by religious myth. Israeli myth says that God gave Israel -- the people but not the modern state named Israel -- the right to conquer clean across to Baghdad. Other religions have myths/legends that God gave them the right to the same land.

Dante explains that Julius Ceasar was created to prepare the world for Roman domination, by Constantinian Christians.

God gave the new world to puritan English to establish a New Jerusalem that would stand as a city upon a hill, a refuge for true believers, for the elect.

God also gave the New World to Anglican English, who argued earlier that God had transferred Israel's role to England. How else could England have defeated the Armada?

God gave Brigham Young an independent New Zion in the Rocky Mountains.

God seems to change his mind a lot, or else people are misunderstanding every burning bush they find.

And so it goes.

In real life, Israel has ground down the native Palestinians, each year making it harder to live inside the territory controlled by Israel since the '67 war.

I like Jaffa and Tel Aviv, but greater Tel Aviv exists within some invisible force-shield. An ideal city, but an artificial one.

The wall around the Tel Aviv metrolis is nothing but Israeli military power. It rests on two unethical assumptions:

(1) Israel can make life so unbearable for Palestians (aka "Pals") that Palestinians will be replaced by military-protected settlements.

(2) Israel needs the threat of a war every now and again.

I believe that the US response to an Iranian war is to tell Israel that this is a crazy idea. Don't expect the US to fight this war for you. Oh, and don't make the US position in the Arab world more difficult that it is already.

This position is common sense; it protects the survival of the US. It might not conform to Israeli government wishes, but Americans did not elect Netanyahu as President of the US.

I don't know what other than BDS can penetrate the Israeli force-field. In the US, the Presbyterian Church and some annual conferences of the United Methodists has responded to the Palestinian Kairos call. There will be more.

The Israeli government has ignored pleas to stop building fortified settlements across the Occupied Territories, with the military control roads to connected them, even though the land has been stolen from Palestinians, and even though the military roads make it more and more difficult to live under the occupation.

This is only getting worse. The Grass poem says, simply, "Enough".

Alan said...

Jerusalem had Hebrew kindergardens in the 1890's (America NEVER did). They weren't founded because anyone loved linguistics. They were founded because people wanted to rebuild a sovereign, Hebrew Army. And said so out loud, back in the 1890's.

American had a stronger Hebrew literary movement than Palestine pre-1948?!? Maybe you would think so if you never had to do middle-school Hebrew-literature homework..... as a native-born Hebrew speaker in a Hebrew-speaking public school!!

The Cherkassim & the filipinot kids know more about our country than you do!!

By the way..... does anyone here imagine that Germans are the "indigenous" people in that place?!?

Bernard Bohbot said...

Interesting, but You judge the past knowing the end of the story (mass antisemitism faded during the second part of the 20th Century). In the late 1940s, no one could have predicted that the fate of the Jews would improve so much in the second part of the 20th Century. This is why people like Sartre, Neihbur, and Richard Crossman endorsed the creation of a Jewish state. They genuinely believed that Jews may once again find themselves in a situation where Jews would once again be persecuted with the rest of the world would refuse to grant them asylum.

So here is my question for you: In 1947, did Judah Magnes envision a way for Jews to protect Jews who might be persecuted again in the future?

I know that he wanted Jordan and Syria to absorb Jewish refugees, but these countries also had an absorption capacity. There were more than 10 million Jews living outside Palestine in 1947 and I doubt that the Arab world, which was underpopulated at the time, would have accepted to absorb all Jews fleeing persecution.

One has to remember that the Arab world was not seen as a great place for minorities. Sure, it wasn’t as bad as Eastern Europe or the US where segregation still prevailed, but Arab nationalists had already begun to oppress the Assyrians and other minorities of the Arab world.

By the way, I support Zionism not only because of antisemitism but also because I genuinely believe that all peoples are entitled to national self-determination. I know you won’t agree but I believe that Jabotinsky and Ben Gurion were right to argue that the land must be redistributed so all peoples can have a homeland of their own. This is icy more consistent from a socialist perspective than saying that some peoples are entitled to self-determination while others must settle for mere cultural autonomy. I have nothing against multinational states but multinationalism must be based on seducing and accommodating minorities so they won’t feel the need to secede. This is why Spain or Canada are not genuine multinational states (both Catalonia and Quebec feel alienated and they still refuse to ratify the constitution of Spain and Canada).

Happy new year,
Bernard Bohbot