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Supporters of the Palestinian cause claim that the occupation of Palestine is the longest occupation in the world. Surely, they are right. Palestine was occupied for nearly 2,000 years. The only people who ever established a sovereign nation in this part of the world, and a unique civilization, were cast out into the deserts of Arabia and the Ghettos of Europe, degraded and persecuted. There, our ancestors lived as second class citizens, or died at the hands of their persecutors, for almost a hundred generations.

For most of this period, the historic connection of the Jews to our land was almost universally recognized and understood by Christian and Muslim alike, though Christian replacement theology insisted that the inheritance of the land had been taken from the Jews as punishment.

Since the publication of the Protestant translations of the Bible in the 16th century, the historic right of the Jews to their homeland became evident to most Christians, in accordance with their own beliefs. The restoration of the Jews was a beloved project of nineteenth century American and British statesmen, theologians and dreamers. Numerous American presidents including Abraham Lincoln spoke out in favor of the rights of the Jews in Palestine.

Muslims and Arabs also understood the rights of the Jews in Palestine. The Emir Feisal, son of Sherif Hussain and later King of Iraq, indicated the willingness of Arabs to welcome Jews to Palestine, and implicitly recognized that the land of Israel is the historic homeland of the Jews. He wrote to Justice Frankfurter at the Paris peace conference in 1919:

I want to take this opportunity of my first contact with American Zionists to tell you what I have often been able to say to Dr. Weizmann in Arabia and Europe.

We feel that the Arabs and Jews are cousins in having suffered similar oppressions at the hands of powers stronger than themselves, and by a happy coincidence have been able to take the first step towards the attainment of their national ideals together.

We Arabs, especially the educated among us look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement. Our deputation here in Paris is fully acquainted with the proposals submitted yesterday by the Zionist Organisation to Peace Conference, and we regard them as moderate proper. We will do our best, in so far as we are concerned, to help them through: we will wish the Jews a most hearty welcome home. (emphasis added)

With the chiefs of your movement, especially with Dr. Weizmann, we have had and continue to have the closest relations. He has been a great helper of our cause, and I hope the Arabs may soon be in a position to make the Jews some return for their kindness. We are working together for a reformed and revived Near East, and our two movements complete one another. The Jewish movement is national and not imperialist. Our movement is national and not imperialist, and there is room in Syria for us both. Indeed I think that neither can be a real success without the other.

There are still not a few Muslims who support the cause of the Jews in our own land.

The establishment of Israel in 1948 was the fulfilment of an historic desire, an age-old dream of many Christians as well as Jews. The longest occupation in the world had ended.

The Jews unfortunately had recited "Next Year in Jerusalem" for so long, and with so little result, that some among us no longer believed the words they were saying. Others were reluctant to accept our good fortune as reality, after so many bitter disappointments and setbacks. But the flame of national feeling had not died in the hearts of most of the Jewish people.

How sad it is, that after the achievement of this dream of one hundred generations, the world is suddenly being made to forget what it once believed, and to deny what it took for granted not so long ago! The Arabs, far from wishing the Jews a hearty welcome home, gave us many twenty one gun salutes, with loaded guns. The kindness of Weizmann to the Arabs was returned by rioters incited by the Grand Mufti, Hajj Amin Al Husseini. Failing to destroy Israel with guns, the Arabs enlisted anti-Zionists and the USSR to claim that Zionism is racism, Zionism is a colonialist movement, and more recently, to conduct a concerted campaign to erase the historic right of the Jews to Israel (or "Palestine") from the collective memory of the world.

This campaign is being conducted on many fronts and in many ways. The first and most subtle challenge to Jewish rights was the thesis that Israel was created only as a shelter for persecuted Jews or that it was created as the result of the Holocaust. It is evident for example, in this misleading and inaccurate definition of Zionism, which seems harmless at first:

A Jewish movement that arose in the late 19th century in response to growing anti-Semitism and sought to reestablish a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Modern Zionism is concerned with the support and development of the state of Israel.

This is a definition that most people would accept, but it is not entirely correct. Zionism was founded as the national movement of the Jews. The word "Zionism" was coined by Nathan Birnbaum, before the first Zionist congress, but the idea of Jewish return to Israel was as old as the Diaspora, and proto-Zionists began settling the land and talking and writing about return long before Birnbaum coined the term. Zionism arose because Jews understood that they could not exist long as a people in a modern world of nation states without their own land.

From the argument that Israel was founded as a refuge for Jews from anti-Semitic persecution, it is a short jump to a pernicious claim. The word "reestablish" in the above definition is changed to "establish" and the historic tie of the Jews with Israel and with Jerusalem is erased. This becomes the basis for the argument that the Arabs and Muslims should not have to "pay for the sins of Europe," and to the argument that the "Nakba," as they call it, of the Palestinian Arabs, was another "Holocaust" created by attempts to redress the wrongs done to the Jews. Consequently, Israel Independence day is turned from a day of celebration to a day of mourning. The Arabs of Palestine created their own Nakba when they, along with the Arab states, tried to destroy the Jewish state, rather than accepting it alongside their own state. The Arab refugees of 1948 were no more victims than the Germans of the Sudetensland who tried to destroy Czechoslovakia.

That is one sort of attack on the legitimacy of the Jewish state. The "Apartheid Israel" campaign popularized by Jimmy Carter's Apartheid book is a second approach. Along with the idea that Israel was created as a refuge for the Jews, and a special favor granted by the Christian world out of their magnanimity, Carter ignores Zionism almost entirely and portrays Israel primarily as the "homeland" of Jesus and Christianity, but he doesn't deny the rights of Jews to a homeland in our own country. However, the apartheid campaign itself was created explicitly with the intent of promoting the idea that Zionism is an evil ideology, equivalent to the white supremacism of South Africa.

At the same time, there is a constantly growing din of voices in the Jewish community, led by anti-Zionists, who use "legitimate criticism of Israel" as a slogan to cover their real intent. Their ideological position and their agitation has nothing to do with the occupation and did not arise because of it. The people who are running this campaign are not going to stop at Hebron or Ariel or even East Jerusalem. They want "Palestine" from the river to the sea. In less public venues, they do not hide their goals at all, explaining at their conferences that the occupation issues and the "apartheid" campaign are just gimmicks to delegitimize Zionism.

In masking themselves as "peace" groups or groups that advocate democracy, anti-Zionists have set up dangerous traps both for those Zionists who oppose the occupation and for advocates of Greater Israel. Those who oppose the occupation are tempted to form alliances with anti-Zionists with the best intentions. They may join the bandwagon in order to demonstrate their loyalty to "progressive" causes. They become dupes aiding in their own destruction. The Greater Israel advocates can fall into the trap by vociferously insisting on unrealistic goals and military solutions, providing the "proof" that the anti-Zionists use to show that "Zionism" is identical with "Greater Israel" and with "colonialism," and is opposed to peace.

This is a campaign to erase the historic tie of the Jewish people to our land and to break the foundations of the recognized right of the Jewish people to a state in Israel. It is potentially the ultimate threat to Israel and to the existence of our people as a nation. If it succeeds, it will destroy Israel with much more certainty, and more completely and permanently, than the genocidal terrorists of the Hezbollah and the Hamas, or even the nuclear threats of the Iranians.

If Israel is destroyed or becomes a "secular democratic state," then in the best case, the Jews will return to being a religious sect or ethnic group, living as guests at the mercy of all the nations of the world, including the Arab masters of "Palestine." It is doubtful, however, that a dispersed group of this type could long survive as a group, especially after the blow dealt to Judaism by the Holocaust. A remnant might survive in isolated communities that maintain the medieval traditions that are no longer relevant to modern life. Nothing would be left of the Jews but groups such as the Neturei Karteh. Remember, Zionism arose because Jews understood that they could not exist long as a people in a world of modern nation states without their own land. Anti-Zionism can destroy the Jewish people if it succeeds.

As we celebrate the anniversary of the end of the longest occupation in the world, we must remember: Fighting the delegitimization of Israel and the denial of the right to self determination to the Jewish people is the most important task of every Zionist organization, regardless of political differences about the occupation, peace negotiations, or any other consideration.

Happy Yom Haatzmaut!

Ami Isseroff




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Replies: 2 Comments

I donít mean these comments as a trope to delegitimize the Palestinian connection to the land or their right to a homeland, but to assert the Jewish claim as being equally valid. This is part of Mike B's response. 'Equally valid' is hardly an appropriate term when it comes to Jewish and Muslim claims to Israel. No one has an 'equally valid' claim to Israel as do the Jews and particularly Jerusalem. The Jewish claim is legal, historical, moral and biblical. What were the Arabs praying when for 2000 years Jerusalem sat in sack cloth and ashes? Only the Jews were praying, 'next year in Jerusalem.' You can no more separate Jerusalem from the Jewish people then you can separate a horse's power from his body - they are one and the same.
All attempts to conciliate the Arabs by giving up land will only embolden them to ask for more until there is no land left to give [and no Jews left to give it].

cal h, Wednesday, May 23rd


I sometimes think those of us who support Israel are loosing the rhetorical battle to those who want to see an end to a Jewish state, and I think Ami raises some good points here. What the people who argue Israel exists because of the Holocaust or because of European guilt wonít admit is that Judaism is inherently Zionistic. What I mean by this is that both the religionís past and its future lay in a Jewish state centered in whatís now Israel. Part of what has allowed Jews to survive as an identifiable group over the 2000 years of Diaspora has been an understanding that as a group we have a common past and a shared future and that both include Israel. Zionism is simply a secular outgrowth of this.

Of course those who want to deny the legitimacy of Israel will say Jewish ties to Israel are based on nothing more than a bunch of old stories. This argument typically is made by those on the Left. As an American with liberal but basically centrist politics, when I here that, I feel I have entered some bizarre world where white is black and black is white.

Indigenous peoples in North American have maintained strong connections to their home countries even though many now live far from those places. One of the ways they maintain that connection is through stories. (To any American Indians who might read this, I understand I am greatly simplifying a complex relationship, and I apologize. One of the real problems with the Arab-Israeli conflict is that it has no true parallels. At the same time, I have worked extensively in American Indian communities, and some similarities seem to exist.) Few of the left-wing anti-Zionists would describe an American Indian legend rooted in the physical realities of its home country as just a story, but they have no problem in making that claim about the Torah and Tanak. Yet those Jewish stories are just as rooted in the physical realities of Israel.

Maybe because the geography of the Bible exists in so many places Ė my home in Eastern Washington isnít far from Tekoa, an old roommate from Pennsylvania grew up in Mount Carmel, and as Ami knows, the Jordan River flows through a valley in Utah Ė it makes the places in the Bible somehow less real. Maybe when Bob Marley sings about Mount Zion, the spot becomes nothing more than a metaphor. Maybe because Baptists and Mormons and Rastafarians claim they are Jews, and because the Muslims claim Abraham and Moses and Elijah were Muslims, Israel can exist anywhere or nowhere.

But for Jews, that isnít the case. Zion is not in Uganda or Argentina or Lichtenstein. Dig down through all those layers of humanity in Israel or Palestine or whatever you want to call it, and the bedrock is made of Jewish stories. The land may once have held older stories, but the Canaanite and Moabite tales are dead, nothing more than wedged marks on clay tablets stored in museum vaults. All those people who have come after the Jews have had no choice but to tell our stories to legitimize their claims to the land. But it becomes a problem when the people who first told those stories still live and claim the tales as their own.

I donít mean these comments as a trope to delegitimize the Palestinian connection to the land or their right to a homeland, but to assert the Jewish claim as being equally valid. I think those of us who support Israel should ask the anti-Zionists what gives the Palestinians right to the land they claim as theirs? I think itís fair to ask how this is different from what the Jews claim? I think itís fair to ask if time has made the Jewish claims invalid, how long must Israel exist to make the Palestiniansí claims invalid?

Ami is correct when he writes what anti-Zionists are doing is more dangerouse than any suicide attack. Itís nothing less than advancing a cultural genocide, and itís something those of us who support Israel need to take seriously.

Shalom/Salaam,

Mike B., Tuesday, April 24th


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