Arguing the ‘Z’ Word and Israel’s ‘Original Sin’

Arguing the ‘Z’ Word and Israel’s ‘Original Sin’

During a recent email conversation among a group of left political activists, among whom I am routinely included, I felt motivated to respond; I refer here to another participant  anonymously as “D.”  D is deserving of our respect for her tireless efforts, as an Israeli, to assist Palestinians navigate the nightmare of obstacles to normal life imposed by Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. But this has so embittered her that she’s become an outspoken foe of Zionism, the historical national movement and philosophical underpinning for the Jewish state to which she immigrated decades ago.

Lenni Brenner

I think of Zionism as a vestige of history because it is mostly defined by its enemies nowadays; the World Zionist Organization — the vehicle for national liberation of the Jewish people founded by Theodore Herzl 115 years ago — is a shadow of its pre-State self. No less a Zionist icon than Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, had even suggested that the Zionist movement declare victory and retire itself.

Extreme anti-Zionists, such as Lenni Brenner (a fringe propagandist applauded by D.), ignore the fact that Zionism has always included a wide spectrum of political factions and ideologies. For example, Brenner harps upon the efforts of the Lehi underground (the Stern Gang) to ally themselves with the Nazis early in WW2; the Lehi commanded the allegiance of about ten percent of the Revisionist movement — which in itself amounted to a ten percent minority of Israel’s pre-State Jewish population.
And (if I’m not mistaken) Brenner also refers scathingly to Zionist emissaries negotiating with Nazis at various times in order to save Jewish lives. One such effort, the “Transfer Agreement,” saved about 60,000 German Jews by ransoming them to Palestine.  Another was by Rudolph Kastner or Kasztner, head of a Zionist rescue committee who failed to get a deal with Eichmann to save the Jews of Hungary; he did succeed in saving one trainload of over 1600 (ironically including a future Rebbe of the anti-Zionist Satmar Hasidic sect). Since those rescued included his own family, he was hounded by Revisionists in Israel as a “Nazi collaborator” and assassinated in 1957.
Differences among Zionists were and remain so stark that A. B. Yehoshua, one of Israel’s best-known novelists and an outspoken Zionist of dovish coloration (who has publicly identified himself with Meretz), has described Zionism as a common “platform” rather than a single movement.  The following is my response to D’s harsh reply to another writer in this email conversation (I include her words below mine):

With her attitude, it amazes me that D. remains in this god-forsaken Israel. Ben-Gurion never had the power to choose to save fewer Jews by funneling them to Palestine; his pointed statement was purely rhetorical, meant to emphasize how important he saw the establishment of the future Jewish state. D. knows that the fact that there was a Yishuv, an autonomous Jewish community in Palestine, saved many thousands of Jewish lives in the 1930s; that she would cite an extremist like Lenni Brenner is not to her credit.  The fact that Jews have statistically been more endangered in Israel is a tragic byproduct of the ongoing conflict.  It is also a result of the exodus of almost all Jews living in oppressive and dangerous circumstances in the Muslim Middle East — not to mention many who were living as second-class citizens or under threat in the former Soviet Bloc countries (e.g., most surviving Jews fled Poland in the late 1940s because of antisemitic violence).  Moreover, one can make a similar argument with regard to Palestinian Arabs, but she knows that this would be unfair.

The UN’s partition proposal was not unfair.  Although the “Jewish state” was to be allotted (narrowly) more land than the Arab state, it included a large (40%) minority of Arabs, who were to be guaranteed their rights as citizens. (Some time ago, the liberal Israeli journalist, Gershom Gorenberg, personally told me that he had found archival evidence that a Zionist planning committee was established months prior to independence to outline the need for government services for Arab towns that would become part of the Jewish state; Gorenberg said he needed more time to study the documentation before publishing something on it.) The future Israel was also allotted more land because it was expected to become the home of many Jewish displaced persons from Europe. 

Tragically, most of the Arabs who were to be citizens of Israel lost their homes because of the war begun by the Arab side with the goal of aborting the embryonic Jewish state. If Palestinian irregulars had not launched widespread attacks on Jewish towns and neighborhoods (later joined by regular Arab forces invading from outside Palestine), including a months-long siege of Jerusalem, there would have been no Arab refugee problem. 

It was the Jews whose homes were initially threatened at the end of 1947 and in early ’48.  One may criticize Israel for never considering a return of non-combatant Arab refugees, but once wholesale war was initiated by the other side, it was highly unlikely that these people were going to be seen as other than enemies. And tiny Israel immediately was subject to a relatively large influx of refugees and other Jewish immigrants desperate for housing; during the 1950s and early ’60s, refugees from Muslim countries, together with the families of Holocaust survivors, outnumbered Israel’s original Jewish population at independence in 1948.   

This is D’s response to another writer in our email discussion:

….  When the UN recommended partitioning Palestine, giving Jews 55% of the land, and the most fertile parts to boot, the Jews were 1/3 of the population, owned 6% of the land (8% according to some), and along with Christian Palestinians were predominantly craftsmen and merchants in the larger urban centers, whereas the Palestinians were 70% agrarian (Jews and Christians only 20% each).  This is not to say that the Palestinians owned all the land that Jews and Christians did not.  The Brits also held about 40%, and the Palestinians roughly the same as the Brits.
Nonetheless, if someone came to your home in which you and your family live and have lived for generations and said that you must give over half of it to a neighbor who claims he wants it—would you give up your home without trying to defend your right to it?  
Moreover, Zionists from very early on had an eye to the Greater Israel.  Ben-Gurion, for instance, wrote in his notebook with regard to the Peel commission recommendation to divide Palestine that “we will accept it and then expand,” and wrote much the same with respect to the UN recommendation, which was not at all a fair recommendation.  Perhaps the UN members wished to make up for what had happened to the Jews during WWII—but if that was the case, why didn’t they establish an Israel in Germany, let’s say, or some other country that had been complicit in what happened to the Jews.  And why take it out on the Palestinians who had no hand in what happened to the Jews.
And don’t throw the Mufti in my face, because Zionists were no less complicit in their dealings with the Nazis (see Lenni Brenner, for instance).  In fact Ben-Gurion wrote during the war that if he had to choose between saving all the Jewish children in Europe by sending them to (some country, England I think, but don’t remember) and only ½ by bringing them to Palestine, he would choose the latter.  When I first read that, I was in shock.  But that was a long time ago.  I have learned since that Zionist leaders had their eyes on expansion and ethnic cleansing much more than on the safety of Jews.
Haven’t time for more.  But you should learn the history of Palestine.  Palestinians, by the way, are no less human beings than are Jews—some are good, some bad, some ignorant, some wise, most are as uninformed as are Israeli Jews and as are many Jews living in the so-called Diaspora, where they live much safer lives and healthier ones than do Jews in Israel, which Zionists intended to be a haven for Jews, but which has been and continues to be the least safe place in the world for Jews—where the Israeli uterus is a mechanism for producing soldiers, and where the average Israeli mother is ready to sacrifice her son(s) for the ‘good’ of the country, where Israelis have gone through 12 wars/military campaigns in 62 years (we haven’t had one for the last 2 years, but the next one is always right around the corner), and where on top of everything else, Israel’s leaders spend the country’s money on defense and expansion (instead of making peace as, for instance, accepting the Arab League proposal in 2002 and when it was again proposed in 2007).
It’s time for you pro-Israelis to rethink what you are pro for.  I, who am an Israeli, believe that Zionism was not only bad for Palestinians but also for Jews. …

By | 2012-09-27T12:58:00-04:00 September 27th, 2012|Blog|1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Anonymous October 3, 2012 at 10:34 pm - Reply

    So if “D, is deserving of our respect for her tireless efforts to assist Palestinians navigate the nightmare of obstacles to normal life imposed by Israel’s occupation of the West Bank,” is it hard to understand why this has so embittered D (and many other people worldwide) “that she’s become an outspoken foe of Zionism, the historical national movement and philosophical underpinning for the Jewish state”?

    Indeed, is her position not more rational than one saying that there are many understandings of Zionism, so we should not condemn Zionism for the terribly abuses carried out in its name by the State of Israel?

    Ralph’s argument here is quite a stretch. What comes through most strongly in an otherwise difficult to follow post is that Ralph is upset that D cited once the name of someone who is evidently a bete noire of his, Lenni Brenner (the single citation leading Ralph to post Brenner’s photo and attack him).


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