An answer to the anti-zionists
The rights of the Jewish people to a sovereign state in their historic homeland.
By Dore Gold, who served as Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations
and Jeffrey S. Helmreich, author of numerous articles on Israel.
November 16, 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
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.”
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
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
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
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
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.
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.”
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
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 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
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
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.”
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
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
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
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;
3. Ruth Gavison, “On the Jewish Right to Sovereignty,” Azure, Summer
4. Address by Prime Minister Netanyahu to the United Nations General
Assembly, September 24, 1998, Ministry of Foreign Affairs;
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.
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