An Essay by Jack Schwartz: Why does Israel stir such passions?

September 26, 2002


Below is a lengthy and informative essay by Jack Schwartz, a senior New York newspaper editor, examining why criticism of Israel assumes a scale and intensity quite different from criticism of other states. Schwartz puts this into an interesting historical perspective.

“The totalitarian states of post-Holocaust Eastern Europe managed to pursue anti-Semitism without Jews,” writes Schwartz. “But the post-colonial Left has done them one better: It practices anti-Semitism without anti-Semites. Since colonialists that is, Zionists must by definition be racists, the Left, in opposing them, can make common cause with the most retrograde regimes in the name of anti-racism.”

-- Tom Gross


Why is criticism of Israel so obsessional?
By Jack Schwartz
September 2002

What is it about the Jewish state that stirs such passions not only among Palestinians or their Arab compatriots or Muslim co-religionists, but European journalists, French diplomats, Belgian jurists and U.N. bureaucrats? What is the case against Israel and, inferentially, the Jews? In what measure is it a secular critique of two competing nationalist movements or, to what degree, if any, does it spring from traditional anti-Semitism?

The brief against the Jewish state, put most simply, by Arab spokesmen is that Jewish colonizers stole the land from the indigenous Arab people, that the Israelis have no claim to it whatsoever and that the Arabs were justified to oppose them at every step. This argument is best represented by the Arab metaphor, “if a guest in your house decides to keep a third of it, you have every right to prevent him doing so; he may have improved it, but you never asked him to, and his work gives him no claim to what is, essentially, your house.”

The reasoning behind this is that the Palestinians are the indigenous people of Palestine, descendants of the ancient Canaanites, who were happily working the land on their bucolic farms and villages when the Jews, colonialist interlopers, took advantage of their hospitality, first slipping in, buying more land, then seizing it in cahoots with their European sponsors who had wrested it from the Ottoman Empire in the Great War, but who had no writ to deed it to the Jews in the first place. When the imperialist powers decided to withdraw and partition Palestine, the Arabs fought this injustice but were overwhelmed by the weight of their enemy and so lost not only their state but their land. Understandably, they’ve sought to rectify this loss, using whatever means come to hand.


The metaphor is evocative, but like so many poetic tropes, it dissolves under serious historical examination. First, it assumes that Palestine is the house of the Arabs and solely their house; that only the Arabs have a claim to the land and that the Jews do not have an equal stake or, for that matter, any claim at all. Ishmael lived there but Isaac did not. To justify this, Arab apologists must juggle not only their own history, but also rewrite Jewish history. In effect, they have appropriated the past of the Jews a bit of cultural imperialism that such champions as Edward Said would no doubt appreciate.

At the heart of their apologetics is that the Jewish temple the core of the ancient Jewish commonwealth never existed in Jerusalem and that the Jews therefore have no claim to the city which has been a Muslim holy site since the seventh century. As Yasser Arafat insists, the Jewish temple was in Nablus (which might justify Jewish claims on the West Bank, but no matter).

In fact, the existence of the Jewish commonwealth with the centrality of its worship at the Temple in Jerusalem has been overwhelmingly documented by the disciplines of archeology, anthropology and history. There are whole areas of study on the management of the tithes sent by the extensive Jewish Diaspora in the Greek and Roman world to the temple not in Nablus or Hebron but in Jerusalem. It might also be worth noting that if the Temple is not in Jerusalem then Jesus never entered there, never preached there, was not crucified there and was not resurrected there. In effect, the Muslim argument negates Christianity.


For Islam, the historical clock in Palestine begins ticking in the year 638 A.D. when Arab armies under the command of caliph Omar conquered Jerusalem. If the clock starts any time in the 500 years before that, the inhabitants of this region cannot be Arab Muslims but must be Jews, Christians or Pagans ruled by the Romans, Byzantines and Persians from 70 A.D. to the Arab conquest. If it starts even 400 years earlier in the 3rd Century B.C., the inhabitants are Jews living under Greek and later Roman suzerainty who have dwelled there continuously for centuries. If the clock starts 500 years later, in 1138 A.D., the inhabitants are Christians in the Crusader states.

For the Palestinians to claim that they are descendants of the Philistines makes them the heirs of sea-faring invaders not a good idea; to claim that they descend from the Arab colonizers who imposed Islam by military might and coercive taxation gives them a claim, but far from an exclusive and unsullied one. And what is left of the original Canaanite culture? Do the Arabs pray to Baal on the hilltops? The fact is that in the last 2,000 years an eye-blink in history Arabs have been in control of the Holy Land for less than half the time.

Jerusalem and its environs were ruled by Rome and Byzantium for almost 600 years, by the Crusaders for almost 100 years, by the Turks for 400 years and by the Jews for 100 years at the beginning and end of this two-millennium period. In the interim, as a military and commercial conduit, the land from the Jordan to the sea, was crossed and re-crossed, peopled, depopulated and re-peopled by countless conquerors, cultures, wayfarers, adventurers: Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Franks, Mamelukes, Kurds, Persians, Turks, Jews.

To say that one culture in this case Arab Muslims has an exclusive claim to this territory; that history began in 638 with the Muslim conquest and ended in 1517 (Arab rule) or 1918 (Ottoman rule) is specious reasoning and bad history. It belies a sense of privilege based on cultural arrogance, ethnic entitlement and sectarian triumphalism. Like many irredentist projects, it ignores the complexities of history in order to project a mythical past in order to justify its claim on the future.

That Muhammad alighted on the Rock, enshrined by the Dome, during the Prophet’s night journey to heaven is a wonderful source of inspiration for the Muslim faithful which entitles them to a share in Jerusalem as a city holy to three faiths but it does not make a plausible historical case for exclusive political hegemony over this peace of land and its surroundings which was the premise that prompted the Arabs to fight the newly declared Jewish state and consequently lose their own. The tragedy for the Palestinians was that instead of being satisfied with their own state, which they were allotted in 1948, they were more obsessed with negating the Jewish one, to their own undoing.


And what of the Jews? When the Temple fell to the Roman general Titus in 70 A.D., The Jews were forcibly expelled from their land, thus beginning their 1,800 year journey of travail and persecution during which they never forget their bond as a people, their link to the land, their longing to return. As Abraham Joshua Heschel famously and eloquently observed: “Jerusalem is the city of David, of the prophets of Israel not of Titus, the Roman Emperor; or Godfrey of Bouillon, the Crusader; or of Saladin. Their descendants never fasted, never mourned for her; Jerusalem was not part of their soul, their grief, an answer to their suffering... The Jewish people has never ceased to assert its right to the land of Israel. This continuous, uninterrupted insistence, an intimate ingredient of Jewish consciousness, is at the core of Jewish history.”

It is not for Arab adherents and their European choir whose forbears’ hands are soaked with Jewish blood to assert that Judaism is merely a religion, that Jews are not a people, that Jews do not deserve their own state, their own land. When the Continent turned Fascist in the years leading up to World War II, many zealous Europeans cried “Jews to Palestine.”

Today, in the throes of post-colonialism many zealous Europeans cry “Jews out of Palestine.” Exactly where would they like the Jews to go? The answer is obvious. They would like the Jews to disappear. But it is not for Arab polemicists to decide the nature of Jewish peoplehood. It is for the Jews to determine their own destiny. The Jewish people like the Palestinians have an inalienable right to self-determination. Their national rights can be exercised only in Israel and their claims to a state of their own in this land were recognized by international agreement authorized by a United Nations resolution. The attempt by the Arabs to deny those rights through violence first by raids and riots, then via war, then by terror, and ultimately through a campaign to sufficiently weaken Israel so that it will be overwhelmed disregards the legitimate claims of Jews to the land, doing so in the name of a blind and ugly revanchism. It is duplicitous, it is vengeful. It is base.

Heedless of life, it thrives on destructive energy, celebrating negation. It has sacrificed three generations to a chimera. In this, it is not unlike the totalitarian dystopias of the Left that promised a blissful future at the price of sacrificing the present. Only the present takes ever-longer and the future never comes. The Palestinian people have had the misfortune to be misled and manipulated by a cabal of Arab dictators, to be instigated by a pack of emigre zealots and to be led by an inept, corrupt, mendacious, tyrannical thug who was better at stirring the pot than serving the meal. What the Palestinians needed was a Nelson Mandela, what they got was Yasser Arafat and his traveling circus of unreconstructed cronies. It was worse than anything the Israelis could have done to them.


The Arabs would like to categorize Jews as foreign imperialists who colonized a pristine land, first exploiting and then expelling the innocent natives, an argument which has won them support in post-colonial Europe, itself the beneficiary of a rapacious colonial past that is unmatchable. How does this charge stand up to scrutiny? First, in the 19th century, the Arabs’ holy Jerusalem that Arafat has sworn to retake, had languished for centuries under Turkish rule before it was even made a provincial capital. The Palestinian notables preferred to take their pleasures in Damascus from whence the province till then had been ruled. When the first Ottoman census was taken in the mid-19th century the Jews already formed a plurality, well before the birth of Zionism. Simply put, more than 100 years ago, the Jews were the largest community in a Jerusalem under Turkish suzerainty and subsequently, their quorum only grew greater. By 1910, Jerusalem had a population of 68,000, of whom 50,000 were Jews. The figures are produced not by Zionists but by Muslim rulers. Before the outbreak of the 1948 war, of the city’s 165,000 residents, 100,000 were Jews.

At the time of the First Aliyah in 1882, the overwhelming majority of Arabs were landless tenant farmers working on the estates of absentee landlords who resided in Lebanon and Damascus. They owned little except the debts to their overlords. They were constantly plagued by attacks from Bedouin raiders in a province that was, by most travelers’ accounts, insecure, forgotten, underdeveloped, fallow, a backwater governed by indifferent and corrupt Ottoman rulers. The land was not seized by the Jews, but sold by Arab notables who knew they could get exorbitant prices from Jewish settlers.

This practice continued well into the unrest of the 1920’s to the point where some of the very Palestinian leaders who were protesting Jewish immigration were at the same time quietly selling their land to Jewish buyers at a tidy profit. Rather than being despoiled by the Jews, many Arab families made their fortunes through them. Nor is it Zionist myth that what the Jews often found was land that was desolate, arid, swampy and malarial.

Moreover, since Jewish immigration after the Great War was driven by the socialist ethos of physical work, by insisting on doing their own field labor, the new immigrants deprived the Arabs of the plantation work that was a traditional source of income for landless laborers. Thus, the Zionist failure to exploit the natives as the Belgians had done in the Congo, the Dutch in the East Indies, the French in West Africa and the British everywhere became a source of friction, one of the many ironies in the Arab-Jewish struggle. The landless Arab tenants were at the mercy of village mukhtars who led clans and served as straw bosses, distributing jobs to friends and withholding them from foes.


Prosperity, which raised the level of all boats, did not come until the great wave of Jewish immigration in the 1920’s with the creation of a Jewish homeland by the League of Nations after the Great War. While there are many reasons for this, the urbanization and modernization that came with the Jewish influx cannot be ignored. Incomes are greater and infant mortality is lower among Arabs the birth rate increases from 3 to 4 percent in the Palestinian mandate than in neighboring British-ruled territory in the Middle East.

The result, not surprisingly, is an influx of Arab immigrants from the other British principalities. The Israelis assert that it was as much as 38 percent of the Arab population during this inter-war period; critics insist that it was only 7 percent. Even the lower figure which, over time, compounds, is not insignificant.

It shows that some of the Arabs who today claim an ancestral link to Palestine from time immemorial are the descendants of people who, quite understandably, arrived for economic betterment subsequent to the forbears of many Israelis and indeed, were drawn to Palestine, in part, by the very economic conditions the Jews had helped create. To assert exclusive communal right to the entire land given the flux of population, the realities of absentee landlordism and tenant penury and the significant alterations to the region in the inter-war years, is fantasy.


During this period, stirred up by nationalist leaders, encouraged by local British commanders who opposed London’s commitment to a Jewish homeland, the Arabs of Palestine were led to believe that, through violence, they could seize the entire region. It was an illusion that led them down a primrose path to disaster. Those Arab leaders who sought an accommodation with the Jews were shunted aside, silenced or assassinated.

The Palestinians national movement, which needed statesmen steering a steady course, instead fell to the hands of fanatics. It got Al-Hajj Amin-Huysani who, with British approval, maneuvered himself into the role of Mufti of Jerusalem in 1921 and proceeded to preach a bellicose doctrine of hatred and intransigence for the next 40 years.

The ideology offered was little more than an opposition to Zionism. Arab riots in 1929 killed more than 100 Jews and wounded over 300. Actually, rioting worked, resulting in a British White Paper in 1930 that recommended a moratorium on Jewish land purchases to quell the unrest. It was the first time the Arabs learned that violence could bring international results, a lesson that they have repeated to greater effect till this very day.

Palestinian violence in the 30’s led to strict quota limitations by the British on Jewish immigration. The result was that from the late 30’s in places like Germany and Austria, to the early 40’s in countries like Hungary and Romania, hundreds of thousands of Jews were caught in a death trap.

This was no accident on the part of the Palestinian leadership. Al-Hajj Amin, who spent the war years in Berlin raising SS troops for the Nazis among Bosnian Muslims, actively encouraged Hitler’s final solution for the Jewish problem, which would help alleviate his own Jewish problem. It was the Bosnian Muslim Handzar SS division that massacred Jewish and Serb communities during the German occupation of Yugoslavia and rounded up Jews for transport to Auschwitz.

Al-Hajj Amin also pledged Arab support for the Nazis and a willing Fifth Column should Rommel’s armies approach Jerusalem. From Berlin he broadcast to the Arabs urging them to: “Kill the Jews wherever you find them, for the love of God, history and religion.” One of the many current calumnies against the Israelis that they are Nazis and that they are committing genocide is the exact opposite of historical reality. It was the Palestinian leadership that collaborated with the real Nazis they had everything to gain from a German victory and a British defeat and who contributed to a real genocide.


With the end of World War II came the end of the British mandate. Unable to resolve the differences between the two competing nationalisms, the British withdrew. A U.N. Special Committee on Palestine which excluded the Great Powers, and the majority of whose members represented Third World or Socialist bloc countries recommended partition, for which the U.N. voted in November 1947.

Although the Jews got less than they’d hoped for, they accepted, reasoning that a circumscribed state was better than no state at all. The Arabs, who also had been voted a state which would have given them a significant swath of the pre-1967 borders of Israel, were not content with this. Blinded by their eliminationist policy and whipped to a frenzy by the Mufti and other leaders who convinced them that the Jews could not withstand them, they launched a war of extermination against the Jewish nation.

The Palestinians were anything but innocent bystanders in this battle. They were active combatants in a war that they started and they came up on the losing side. As the longshoreman-philosopher Eric Hoffer, not himself Jewish, once observed: “The Jews are a peculiar people: things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews. Other nations drive out thousands, even millions of people and there is no refugee problem... But in the case of Israel, the displaced Arabs have become eternal refugees. Other nations when victorious on the battlefield dictate peace terms. But when Israel is victorious it must sue for peace. Everyone expects the Jews to be the only real Christians in the world.” Such exceptionalism, whereby Jews are judged by a standard. different than that applied to others, is a tenet of anti-Semitism.

Israel’s war of Independence was actually two different wars over a period of a little more than a year. The first, from late November 1947 till April 1948 was a conflict between a fledgling Jewish force and an army of 9,000 Palestinian irregulars who, at the outset, had the upper hand but by the spring had been defeated by the Israelis. During this period, about 70,000 Palestinians left their homes voluntarily, the overwhelming majority of them upper and middle-class families who left to sit out the war in Beirut, Damascus and Cairo for the same reason that the well-to-do always leave combat areas because they wanted to avoid the violence in safety and see which way the wind blew.

The imagery of hapless civilians being driven from their homes at this point is a myth. During the initial stages of the fighting, when the Arabs met with early success, where Jewish enclaves were overrun, the survivors were massacred. What stopped them from going further was not moral scruples but military failure.


The first phase of the ’48 war ended in April with the Jews controlling more territory than had been ceded in the original partition. Israel’s leader, David Ben Gurion, declared that since the Palestinians had attacked the Jews with the intent of destroying them, the Jews were no longer bound by the terms of partition, which they had originally been willing to respect. In May, Israel declared its independence and the creation of the first Jewish state in the Holy Land since the fall of the Second Commonwealth almost 2,000 years earlier.

At that point, the war changed to become an international conflict. Four Arab nations Egypt, Syria, Transjordan and Iraq sent their armies to invade the new Jewish state. They were aided by the Palestinians whose irregulars fought alongside the Arab invaders. Their goal was to obliterate Israel, and they had every confidence they could do so. As the Secretary-General of the Arab League made clear at the time: “This will be a war of extermination. It will be a momentous massacre to be spoken of like the Mongolian massacre and the Crusades.”

The result, however, was the opposite. After three rounds of fighting, the Arab armies along with their Palestinian military allies were routed by January 1949. Had they won, it is doubtful that any quarter would have been given to the Jews as is evidenced by the massacre of 77 members of a Jewish medical convoy traveling to Hadassah hospital under a Red Cross banner, or the subsequent slaughter of Jewish prisoners at Kfar Etzion. The Palestinians, for their part, cite the Deir Yassin massacre of 254 Arabs, an act of brutality that cannot be excused. Executed by fringe elements which were subsequently curbed (as distinct from the free reign given to Hamas today by the Palestinian Authority), it proved to be the exception rather than the rule.

By contrast, it was the Arabs who routinely practiced atrocity whenever they could and only a Jewish victory prevented a second Holocaust from occurring within three years of the first one. It is only in retrospect that the Israeli triumph seems assured. At the time, it was no such thing. Had the victory gone to the Arabs, no one would be talking today about a state for the Jews. It was during this second phase of the war that the Israelis seized additional territory which had been allocated to the Palestinians. When the Palestinians refer to the injustice of 1948, they are complaining that not only should the Jewish state never have come into existence but, having done so and defended itself against a deadly onslaught, Israel should then be obligated to give back the territory of the very people who attacked it. This may be the only instance in history where the losers in a war of aggression insist on dictating the terms of peace.


It was also during this second period of warfare that a mass exodus of Arabs took place. The reasons are mixed. In some places, local Israeli commanders, concerned about Fifth Column action in their rear from a hostile Arab populace, and facing the threat of fighting several Arab armies before them on different fronts, may have indeed driven people from their villages. In other sectors, they urged them to stay. In Haifa, the Jewish mayor made a vain appeal to the city’s considerable Arab population probably the most sizable concentration of Arabs in the region to remain in their homes and be assured safety. And Arab radio itself, with repeated descriptions of false Jewish atrocities designed to stir the population to combat the Jews, merely terrified them and prompted a considerable number to flee.

While the causes were many in the swirl of war, there was no plan by the Jewish leadership to drive the Arabs from their land. Quite to the contrary, the Israeli General Staff ordered all units to avoid destruction of Arab villages and expulsion of Arab communities. Israel’s Declaration of Independence itself urges Arabs to remain in the country. Compare this with the Palestinian national charter which to this day calls for the destruction of Israel.

From the outset, the Zionist leaders had urged cooperation with the Arabs, and even as it was being invaded, Israel pledged to respect the rights of its Arab citizens. The Arab dispersion came about piecemeal, through the ebb and flow of war. In some places people fled, in others, people relocated from one area of Israel to another, and in still other places, such as the Galilee, most stayed and were unharmed.

Indeed, they became citizens with voting rights and their own members in the Israeli Parliament, which is more than their brethren had in any of the surrounding Arab states. Nor can we gainsay the possibility that many others hoped to march back in the trail of victorious Arab armies with the opportunity not only to return to their own homes but to plunder those of their slain or fleeing Jewish neighbors.

U.N. Resolution 194, voted subsequent to the fighting and oft-cited by Palestinians to justify their “right of return,” (a phrase which it never uses) stipulates that those who fled who were willing “to live in peace with their neighbors” should be permitted to come back. Given the climate of hatred and revanchism fostered among the refugees by their leaders from the outset, this is a moot point.


When the fighting stopped, the war didn’t end but an armistice was declared. No Arab leader was willing to make peace with Israel except for King Abdullah of Transjordan who was assassinated for his pains (at Al Aqsa Mosque reportedly at the behest of the Mufti). Faced by an array of intransigent Arab nations, it would have been suicidal for the burgeoning Jewish state to accept the return of a hostile and revanchist populace.

The Arab countries, for their part, refused to absorb the Palestinians, allowing the sore of their displacement to fester in a cluster of camps administered by the United Nations. The U.N. set up a special Relief and Works Agency for the Palestinians the only one ever established for any refugee group following the massive dislocations of World War II. Nothing like this was set up for Hindus or Muslims, millions of whom had been displaced in the mutual group massacre of a million dead during the partition of India that occurred at the very same time as the conflict in Palestine.

Seven million Germans were expelled from their homes in Czechoslovakia and neighboring states after the war, ten times the number of 500,000-700,000 Arabs that had left Palestine. They were left to fend for themselves with no talk of repatriation or compensation, then or ever.

The Kurds, numbering 20 million, whose national aspirations seem to have been overlooked by the settlements that followed both World Wars, were left to the mercies of their enemies, not least among them the Iraqis who went on to attempt an actual genocide against them.

Ostensibly, the reason for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency whose exclusive client is the Palestinians was that the Palestinians, unlike other refugees, had nowhere else to go. But this is nonsense, since by culture, language, affinity and ethnicity, the Palestinians fit in perfectly with the Arabs of the surrounding Muslim states. It was a lot easier for an Arabic-speaking Palestinian to assimilate into the culture of Beirut than for a Muslim refugee from Gujarat to fit into the culture of Lahore in Pakistan.

Moreover, in subsequent turmoil, such as the Chinese occupation of Tibet where a long-standing religious, social and political culture was destroyed, the U.N. did nothing to create special camps for Tibetan refugees. It was only the Palestinians who were allowed to languish at the behest of the U.N. in camps that became political pawns of the Arab states in their long-term strategy to reverse the events of 1948. If restitution to refugees must be granted, it should be applied across the board.

To single out Israel as the only state that has to restore a refugee population fits into a hoary anti-Semitic pattern of holding the Jewish community culpable for behavior tolerated by the rest of society. It projects a medieval custom onto a global stage. Critics charge that Israel is the price that the Arabs have been forced to pay for Europe’s guilt over the Holocaust. More accurately and more immediately the refugee camps are the price Israel must pay for Europe’s guilt over its own colonial past.


And what of the Jews of Arab lands? Why has the U.N. never sought restitution for their losses in fleeing Arab oppression? In the years before and after the creation of Israel, riots, lynchings, threats, a menacing atmosphere leading to pogroms, assaults and murder, put the long-standing Jewish communities of these countries at risk. Many of them traced their ancestry to ancient times, longer than the Arab presence in Jerusalem. The result was that more than 600,000 Jews fled their homes in Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Maghreb the Muslim lands of western North Africa with little more than what they could carry on their backs.

The conventional wisdom that Jews found sanctuary under Muslim rule over the centuries is only partially true. While they were treated as dhimmi protected people of the book the protection waxed and waned as it did in Europe. The toleration shown to the Jews by Muslim rulers was based on the presumption that they maintain their subjection. The faithful were admonished by their leaders to hold the Jews in their humbled status in keeping with Sura 9:29 of the Koran which tells Muslims to subdue nonbelievers and make them pay tribute.

For the Jews whose role was supposed to be submissive to turn the tables and rule in a land that had once been governed by Islam must be insupportable to a culture that had dismissed them as craven. For the Arabs the creation of Israel was not merely a political disaster, it was a cosmic rupture. It went in the face of everything they knew and understood. Their moral universe was in disorder and it had to be righted however long it took.

This explains the ferocity of the maledictions brought down on the Jewish people and America by fanatic Muslim clergyman, and the receptivity to it among those who know little better. It explains the stream of anti-Semitic and anti-American vituperation emanating from pulpits which has now become normative throughout the Muslim world.

It explains the animus of such voices as that of Sheikh Ibrahim Madhi on Palestinian TV who excoriated the Jews as “the enemies of Allah, the nation that was cursed in Allah’s book.”

It explains the exhortations of the columnist in the Egyptian Government-controlled daily Al-Akhbar who wrote of the Jews: “Allah also cursed them with a thousand curses... They are doomed to a life of humiliation and wretchedness until Judgment Day.”

It explains the popularity of the anti-Semitic czarist forgery “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in Cairo book stores recently a multi-part series beamed out of Riyadh to celebrate Ramadan. It explains the anti-Semitic aspect of fundamentalist Wahhabism with the admonition to “harbor enmity and hatred for the infidels.”


It is fundamentalism which now challenges the secular arm of the Palestinian movement and has altered the terms of engagement from nationalist irredentism to jihad, the re-conquest of holy Jerusalem and Arafat’s call for thousands of martyrs. But whether secular or sectarian, the goal has always been the same Israel’s destruction. The attempts to obliterate the Jewish state after failing to smother its birth go back to its earliest years. Abetted by their sponsors in Damascus and Cairo, Arab raiders infiltrated Israel throughout its early decades in a trail of murder and terror that took hundreds of lives. Arab polemicists condemn Israeli reprisals but fail to mention the endless assaults that provoked them.

More to the point, the Israeli counter-raids worked. By 1956, the sponsor states got the message and curtailed the infiltrators. But by 1967, swept up in the frenzy of pan-Arabism, through an alliance of Egypt and Syria, they tried again. Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, brushed aside U.N. observers and marched his armies to the Israeli border threatening to destroy it. Nasser’s intentions were made very clear. As he mobilized his forces Cairo Radio announced that “the Arab people is firmly resolved to wipe Israel off the face of the earth and to restore the honor of the Arabs of Palestine.”

Nasser himself said at the time: “We will not accept any possibility of coexistence with Israel” and he subsequently made his oft-quoted speech professing his resolve “to restore the situation to what it was in 1948,” that is before the creation of the Jewish state. The Israelis, inconveniently, did not wait to be slaughtered but struck a pre-emptive blow. The result was the Arab debacle of the Six-Day War with Israel in command of the Sinai desert, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip which had been administered by Egypt and the West Bank which had been annexed by Jordan.


It should be noted that under Jordanian rule which was intended to be permanent there was little talk of foreign occupation or Palestinian self-determination, and certainly hardly any international support for this. It was only when control shifted from Arab to Israeli hands that the issue of human rights and occupation came to the fore as if anyone had rights under Arab rule. As for Israel’s putative designs on the West Bank, we should remember that before the outbreak of the Six-Day War, Israel urged Jordan not to join Egypt and Syria in their aggression. Had King Hussein listened, the West Bank would have remained under Arab rule. That he chose to ignore Israel’s entreaties may have been poor judgment, but the consequences cannot be blamed on an Israeli “master plan”.

Prior to the 1967 war, the Arab goal was more naked and direct an end of the Jewish “occupation” of Israel. This was already affected by the establishment of the PLO a creation of the Arab League in its strategy of weakening its Israeli foe. In the competition between Cairo and Damascus for control of this undertaking, Yasser Arafat and his Fatah movement became an important client of the Syrians in their efforts to destabilize Israel from within.

His first terrorist act celebrated by his followers today occurred in 1964, almost three years before the Six-Day War and prior to any occupation. The only thing he was trying to “liberate” was the Jewish state. The occupation was always a secondary issue used by the Arab countries who cared little about an occupied West Bank under Jordan to advance their own agenda of destroying Israel. And indeed, when the Jews tried to negotiate a comprehensive peace after the 1967 war, they were met with the rebuff of the Arab League at the Khartoum Conference: “No Peace, No Recognition, No Negotiations.” Sadly, for both Palestinians and Jews, Israel never had a serious negotiating partner. Instead, it got intransigence, dissimulation and terror.


The terror resumed almost immediately but it took wings. While the Arab states were refusing to negotiate with the Israelis thereby losing a critical opportunity for a settlement early on and condemning their Palestinian brethren once again to more years of frustration airline hijacking began in 1968 under the aegis of Yasser Arafat and the P.L.O. with support from their Arab patrons. The attack on innocent civilians, the contempt for human life, the use of commercial airliners as weapons of retribution which Al Qaeda used to such devastating affect at the World Trade Center, can all be traced to the model established and perfected by Arafat and his cohorts more than 30 years ago, a brand of terror, then as now, cheered by the Arab street. It is no accident that Palestinians celebrated the terror attack on the World Trade Center before an embarrassed Arafat attempted to quash their enthusiasm.

The Arab response to Israeli overtures has been consistent throughout. Refuse to negotiate with Israel and then complain that they have no choice but armed resistance, ignoring the fact that they do have another alternative, but the result recognition of a secure, viable Israeli state with defensible borders is so repugnant to them that they cannot bring themselves to accept it. Consequently, the premise of the Palestinian strategy is to replace serious discussions with a global propaganda assault to convince the world that they have no viable option on the path to independence other than violence.


Most recently, the Palestinians were offered a chance to have their own state in the final days of the Clinton administration, as attested to by former U.S. special envoy to the Middle East Dennis Ross, where the Camp David offer of August was expanded so that the Palestinians had 97 percent of their land with contiguous borders, a capital in Arab East Jerusalem, control of the Muslim holy sites and a plan for compensation of refugees and a return to the new Palestinian state an offer far better than the one the Israelis accepted in 1947. This would have ended the occupation, dispensed with most of the settlements, created a Palestinian state and brought peace.

Arafat, some of whose own advisers were urging him to accept this last chance for a final settlement under Clinton’s aegis, demurred. The result is the disaster he has brought upon both his own people and the Israelis, all of whom are victims of his vacillation and intransigence. That Arafat failed to seize the moment in the grand tradition of the Palestinians never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity is tragic.


But to insist that the Arabs had no option other than violence is a falsehood. Of the many lies that the Arab propaganda machine have disseminated, this is the most egregious. It flies in the face of the historical record. Terror was not a last recourse; it was a preferred choice. But as the Mufti and his successors learned through his Nazi model, Dr. Goebbels, lie often enough and brazenly enough and people will believe you. Abetted by historically challenged journalists, home-grown media crew on the West Bank in thrall to the Palestinian Authority, an intellectual Left brought up on a diet of post-colonialism and the retroactive anti-Semitism of a craven Europe, Arab partisans have had a wide berth to say whatever they please about Israel and the Jewish people, too often with impunity.

To charge that Israel’s occupation of Palestine is worse than anything that the Nazis wreaked in occupied Europe, as did the Saudi ambassador to London recently, is historically shameful. It is a comment whose likeness is now a commonplace in Arab rhetoric of someone who knows better and outrageously fabricates for cynical, political purposes. It is of a piece with the Arabs’ denial of the Holocaust since, for them, not only is the destruction of European Jewry a Zionist invention but, if the Nazis are innocent then whatever the Israelis do on the West Bank and Gaza is indeed worse than what Hitler wrought.

Of all the Arab calumnies against Israel, this is the most odious and painful intended as such because it makes a mockery of perhaps the greatest misfortune ever to befall the Jewish people and turns their own calamity against them by first denying it and then likening the survivors and their descendents to their tormenters.

If Islam is the true religion, having superceded the inauthentic Judaism (and inept Christianity), then why not appropriate Jewish suffering as well? To compare the Israeli security measures in Palestine during the intifada to the German occupation of Europe is knowingly, willfully, obscene. (If there is an analogy, it is with the British security measures against terrorism in Northern Ireland checkpoints, roadblocks, curfews, house searches, raids, roundups and death, including that of innocents and no one was accusing England of genocide. Moreover, the very British media that now blanches at calling Palestinian homicide bombers terrorists had no compunction about applying the term to IRA terrorists who blew up shopping centers in Great Britain.)

In the two years, since the outbreak of the intifada approximately 1,500 Palestinians have been killed, more than half involved in violence against Israel. At the same time, more than 500 Israelis were killed, the great majority noncombatants. During the two years between 1942 and 1944 most of the six million Jews killed in occupied Europe were wiped out along with most of the seven million gentiles killed by the Nazis. Millions of Europeans were consigned to slave labor, concentration camps, deportation and horrible medical experiments. To make an analogy between the Nazis, who planned to enslave Europe under a racially pure Reich, and the struggle of the Jewish remnant for a small place among nations against a sea of 280 million Arabs, is reprehensible.


And it is numbers the 280 million Arabs and the rest of the Muslim faithful a total of 1.2 billion people that is their ultimate weapon, not bombs or guns or missiles. It is with these overwhelming numbers that they have stacked the deck on countless U.N. committees and created a few of their own to undermine, isolate and revile Zionism. They have infiltrated world bodies, manipulated and maneuvered them to their own end, to wear away the legitimacy of the Jewish state and ultimately to weaken it sufficiently so that it collapses.

Whether these are Non-Government Organizations, labor associations, welfare or relief agencies, all are exposed to the overwhelming numbers of the Arab world which, together with oil blackmail and the attraction of Arab markets make their incessant drumbeat of condemnation an irresistible force in world politics.

Under such circumstances it is easy to see how the Arabs pushed through the U.N. their infamous equation of Zionism with racism a calumny that has gained renewed vigor since last year’s Jew-baiting Durban conference on racism that gave global imprimatur to anti-Semitism. This slur comes from a culture that still practices human bondage against people of color and has enslaved thousands of black victims from Sudan to the Maghreb. (Not a murmur about this from the Arabs’ South African supporters at Durban.)


Their sheer critical mass allows them to project a sanitized Arafat as the defender of his people while vilifying Ariel Sharon as the perpetrator of Sabra and Shatila during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. There has been a willful obfuscation of the fact that the massacres were committed by Phalangists commanded by the late Elie Hobeika who subsequently thrived under the protection of the Syrians. And the fact that Hobeika led a vengeful force of Arab Maronite Christians, 400 of whose number had been massacred by Palestinians at Damour during a fratricidal Lebanese conflict, also is conveniently ignored. Nor does it impress the Arabs’ European advocates in Brussels who seek to put Sharon on trial for the Phalangist onslaught.

An estimated 700-800 people were killed at Sabra and Shatila. But 150,000 people were slaughtered over 15 years in Lebanon in a brutal civil war among Arab Christian and Muslim factions during which the Palestinians had created a corrupt rump state under the aegis of Yasser Arafat that was up to its neck in blood. But no one in Belgium is calling for Arafat to stand in the dock for this much less for the massacres of Israeli athletes at Munich and Jewish children at Ma’alot that he orchestrated. To judge both sides equally is pursuing ethics. To judge only one side is pursuing interests. The hypocrisy of singling out Jews while ignoring greater crimes committed by others is a signal manifestation of anti-Semitism.


In the dark night of the Jews long exile, their enemies’ goal was to confine them to European ghettoes and Muslim mellahs, to isolate them as a means of humiliation, control and worse. Such action was justified by the “moral inferiority” of their creed. Those who reviled the Jews were self-righteous in their indictments. Today, a new version of this virus manifests itself in the movement to condemn Israel as a pariah state. Anti-Semitism has vaulted from the ghetto to the globe. The assault on Israel is an attack on Jewish existence. Should this succeed it would result in the decimation of the state’s five million souls. The remnant in the Diaspora would be left vulnerable to the mercies of their host states and the triumphalism of a renascent Islam.

Such a scenario may appear far-fetched, but so would the death camps have seemed in enlightened 19th-century Europe. Given the chasms of Jewish history it is not beyond the realm of possibility. The Israeli Army is currently a powerful defense force, but military advantage particularly under political pressure can swiftly melt away. Israel is arrayed against 1.2-billion Muslims among whom are leaders such as former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani who boasts that Muslim losses in a nuclear face-off would be an acceptable price to pay for Israel’s destruction. Since Iran is working intensely to achieve long-range nuclear capability, this is no idle threat. Israel’s support in the West where one out of three people in a recent poll of Europeans were reported to have anti-Semitic attitudes has faded, and the Arabs smell blood.

But their case for the Palestinians is not about human rights. How can the Arab League, all of whose 22 member nations have systematically deprived their citizens of human rights for more than half-a-century, possibly be interested in human rights? The Europeans, so obsessed with Palestinian rights, seem less concerned with the far greater number of victims whose rights are trampled upon by their Arab rulers. Rather, the “rights” campaign is about advancing the cause of the one national movement in the world whose obstacle to fulfillment is the existence of an independent Jewish state. The West, as well as other democracies, must see that it is in its own self-interest to support democratic Israel not necessarily all of its policies, but its security against the violent, irredentist cleptocracy that Arafat has perpetrated.

It is shameful, though not surprising, that the very people who hounded the Jews from their own realms for two millennia have now pursued them to Israel, joining a new pack that is in full cry for their blood. Behind their liberationist masks and post-colonialist posturing is the face of anti-Semitism. Its goal is the obliteration of the Jewish state which cannot be achieved without a second Holocaust.

The assumption that the current Israeli population would blend comfortably into a binational Palestine where they would be made welcome by the Arab majority is absurd. The only issue for opponents of the Jewish State is whether the grim fate that awaits a defeated Israel is deserved or unfortunate.

Israel has now replaced Capitalism as something that will just wither away in the catechism of Left-wing ideologues who refuse to face the end game of their advocacy. In their moral universe, anti-colonialism and its twin rubric, anti-racism trump all other principles. This permits them to support a corrupt Palestinian tyranny against an embattled Jewish democracy. And if they are against racism, genocide and oppression, how could they be anti-Semitic?


The totalitarian states of post-Holocaust Eastern Europe managed to pursue anti-Semitism without Jews but the post-colonial Left has done them one better: It practices anti-Semitism without anti-Semites. Since colonialists that is, Zionists must by definition be racists, the Left, in opposing them, can make common cause with the most retrograde regimes in the name of anti-racism.

This alliance of craven intelligentsia in the West and a witches brew of mullahs, despots and murderers in the Middle East threatens not only the Jewish state but the Jewish people who happen to live there. It is very much in keeping with the impulse to delegitimize and demonize the Jew, the sina qua non of anti-Semitism from its origins.

Until this is acknowledged and addressed Israel will remain in a national ghetto and peace will never come to the Holy Land. It is critical to affect a sea-change in the moral climate which can lead to a spirit of compromise and a mutual respect for the humanity of both Arab and Jew that may resolve their tragic struggle. It would be a victory for both Israelis and Palestinians and, most important, a triumph for decency.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.