|Yehuda Bauer (photo at Wikipedia.org)|
I was made aware of this television discussion with Yehuda Bauer, a distinguished Israeli Holocaust historian, by our friend in Canada, Prof. Stephen Scheinberg (also a historian). Bauer is a veteran member of the Meretz party and its socialist-Zionist predecessor, Mapam; he was interviewed by Al-Jazeera television for 25 minutes. He did a good job of providing a progressive Zionist perspective, but the historian could have made some additional points.
For one thing, he could have made a stronger critique of Prof. Shlomo Sand, when his work disputing the existence of a historic Jewish people was brought up. Sand is polemical and tendentious more than scholarly (if you enter Sand’s name in this blog’s search window, you’ll find a number of posts on his work). Although Bauer is correct that he’s not entirely wrong, there are areas where he’s stretching for ideological reasons; for example, there’s no significant basis for Sand’s contention that Ashkenazi Jews are largely of Khazar-Turkic origin.
And when asked about the connection between Israel and the Holocaust, Dr. Bauer says (correctly) that it’s a “negative” one, because the Holocaust murdered many people who might have become Israelis, and might have wiped out the Jewish people entirely if the Nazis had won the war or been able to keep on killing for a few more years. But he neglects to indicate that Zionism was a response to antisemitism that predates the Holocaust; he also might have made the point that American and other Diaspora Jewish communities were won over to Zionism or to being pro-Zionist by the Holocaust, because most Jews came to believe that a Jewish state was necessary to defend Jewish lives and rights. Yet I don’t blame him for not thinking of everything under the pressure of a television conversation with an interviewer who–although polite and respectful–was neither particularly knowledgeable of, nor sympathetic to, Israel and Zionism.
I disagree somewhat with Bauer’s response on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” While I fully agree that Israelis don’t need to be told that Israel is a Jewish state–to retain its majority culture, religion and identity–I don’t believe that Netanyahu is making this demand because he’s somehow insecure in his Jewishness. Although Netanyahu may be unhelpful in adding this as a condition for peace, it would be reassuring to Jews, and therefore all to the good, if the Palestinian Authority acknowledges that Israel is the Jewish-majority state which the UN called for in its 1947 General Assembly resolution for the partition of the Palestine Mandate into Jewish and Arab states. In fact, because the PA has used that resolution as a basis for its recent effort to be recognized as a state at the UN, this should not be as much of a problem for the Palestinians as they are making it into.
I know that I’m departing from dovish orthodoxy by suggesting this, but the peace process would be facilitated if the Palestinians were to remove this as an issue by simply acknowledging the obvious about Israel’s Jewish nature. This should not be considered an abandonment of Arab citizens of Israel to unequal treatment, nor disallowing Jews from one day living as full citizens in a majority Palestinian-Arab state.
Check out Al-Jazeera’s website for the interview with Yehuda Bauer and the points that Al-Jazeera chooses to emphasize:
Yehuda Bauer: Israel’s genocidal nationalists
As tensions grow between ultra-Orthodox Jews and the Israeli state, the scholar discusses Jewish identity and extremism.