New York City activist

April 23, 2008

Israel/Palestine (to Patrick S. McNally)

Filed under: anti-Semitism,Israel,Jew-haters — Diane @ 12:58 am

To Patrick S. McNally:

I’m now trying to learn about the Israel/Palestine conflict. I don’t yet have a definite opinion about it, except that I mistrust the propaganda of both sides, and I’m wary of both sides’ tendency to dismiss the concerns of the other side.

Since you’ve studied this subject more than I have, I figure you might be a good person to give me a reality check on some Zionist talking points. (I would also appreciate comments from anyone else knowledgeable who happens to be reading this.)

I would be interested in your comments on an article I came across recently, The New Anti-Semitism by Bernard Lewis. Below are my own thoughts about it.

First, there’s the use of that term “anti-Semitism” to mean bigotry against Jews (or, by Lewis’s definition, “the accusation against Jews of cosmic evil”). Technically, “Semites” include Arabs as well as Jews, so I prefer the term “anti-Jew bigotry” or “Jew-hating” for what is commonly referred to as anti-Semitism. As a replacement for Lewis’s use of the term “anti-Semitism,” I guess I would use “demonization of Jews.”

Bernard Lewis says:

The other special feature of anti-Semitism, which is much more important than differing standards of judgment, is the accusation against Jews of cosmic evil. Complaints against people of other groups rarely include it. This accusation of cosmic, satanic evil attributed to Jews, in various parts of the world and in various forms, is what has come to be known in modern times as anti-Semitism.

Jews are far from the only people who have been demonized. Back in the days of the Cold War, Communists were demonized. These past several decades, the Christian religious right wing had demonized “secular humanists.”

Anyhow, the article contains a number of historical claims that I’m not very familiar with, and of whose accuracy I’m uncertain. I would be very interested in your critique. If you can provide links to relevant scholarly online resources, that would be even better.

What do you think of the following claims?

Bernard Lewis says:

The United Nations’s handling of the 1948 war and the resulting problems shows some curious disparities—for example, on the question of refugees. At the end of the initial struggle in Palestine, part of the country was under the rule of the newly created Jewish state, part under the rule of neighboring Arab governments. A significant number of Arabs remained in the territories under Jewish rule. It was taken then as axiomatic, and has never been challenged since, that no Jews could remain in the areas of Palestine under Arab rule, so that as well as Arab refugees from the Jewish-controlled areas, there were Jewish refugees from the Arab-controlled areas of mandatary Palestine, not just settlers, but old, established groups, notably the ancient Jewish community in East Jerusalem, which was totally evicted and its monuments desecrated or destroyed. The United Nations seemed to have no problem with this; nor did international public opinion. When Jews were driven out, no provision was made for them, no help offered, no protest made. This surely sent a very clear message to the Arab world, a less clear message to the Jews.

As far as you are aware, is this true?

Jewish refugees came not only from those parts of Palestine that were under Arab rule, but also from Arab countries, where the Jewish communities either fled or were driven out, in numbers roughly equal to those of the Arab refugees from Israel. Again, the response of the United Nations to the two groups of refugees was very different. For Arab refugees in Palestine, very elaborate arrangements were made and very extensive financing provided.

As far as you are aware, is this true?

This contrasts not only with the treatment of Jews from Arab countries, but with the treatment of all the other refugees at the time. The partition of Palestine in 1948 was a trivial affair compared with the partition of India in the previous year, which resulted in millions of refugees—Hindus who fled or were driven from Pakistan into India, and Muslims who fled or were driven from India into Pakistan. This occurred entirely without any help from the United Nations, and perhaps for that reason the refugees were all resettled. One could go back a little further and talk about the millions of refugees in Central and Eastern Europe—Poles fleeing from the Eastern Polish areas annexed to the Soviet Union and Germans fleeing from the East German areas annexed to Poland. Millions of them, of both nationalities, were left entirely to their own people and their own resources.

As far as you are aware, is this true?

Some other measures adopted at the time may be worth noting. All the Arab governments involved announced two things. First, they would not recognize Israel. They were entitled to do that. Second, they would not admit Israelis of any religion to their territories, which meant that not only Israeli Jews but also Israeli Muslims and Christians were not allowed into East Jerusalem. Catholic and Protestant Christians were permitted to enter once a year on Christmas Day for a few hours, but otherwise there was no admittance to the holy places in Jerusalem for Jews or Christians. Worse than that, Muslims in Israel were unable to go on the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. For Christians, pilgrimage is optional. For Muslims it is a basic obligation of the faith. A Muslim is required to go on pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina at least once in a lifetime. The Saudi government of the time ruled that Muslims who were Israeli citizens could not go. Some years later, they modified this rule.

As far as you are aware, is this true?

At the same time, virtually all the Arab governments announced that they would not give visas to Jews of any nationality. This was not furtive—it was public, proclaimed on the visa forms and in the tourist literature. They made it quite clear that people of the Jewish religion, no matter what their citizenship, would not be given visas or be permitted to enter any independent Arab country. Again, not a word of protest from anywhere. One can imagine the outrage if Israel had announced that it would not give visas to Muslims, still more if the United States were to do so. As directed against Jews, this ban was seen as perfectly natural and normal. In some countries it continues to this day, although in practice most Arab countries have given it up.

As far as you are aware, is this true?

After the 1967 war, the Israelis came into possession of the former Arab-occupied Palestinian territories, including a number of schools run by UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. These schools were funded by the United Nations. When the Israelis had a chance to look at the Syrian, Jordanian, or Egyptian textbooks that these UN-funded schools used, they found many examples of unequivocal anti-Semitism. Although the Israelis could do nothing about anti-Semitism in textbooks in Arab countries, they felt that they could do something about anti-Semitism in textbooks used in schools funded and maintained by the United Nations. The matter was referred to the UN, which referred it to UNESCO, which appointed a commission of three professors of Arabic—one Turkish, one French, and one American. These professors examined the textbooks and wrote a lengthy report saying that some textbooks were acceptable, some were beyond repair and should be abandoned, and some should be corrected. The report was presented to UNESCO on April 4, 1969. It was not published.

As far as you are aware, is this true?

I would very much appreciate any relevant info and sources you care to share.

One exception though: seems to have a lot of users in Western Europe, so I think we need to keep this discussion within the bounds of Western European law, even though I agree with you that such laws are ridiculous.


  1. > Jewish refugees came not only from those parts of Palestine that were under Arab rule, but also from Arab countries, where the Jewish communities either fled or were driven out

    This at least sounds somewhat misleading. Naeim Giladi, in his book BEN-GURION’S SCANDALS: HOW THE HAGANAH AND THE MOSSAD ELIMINATED JEWS, for which an introductory chapter appears online:

    The Jews of Iraq

    has described attempts by the Zionist underground to stampede Jews into leaving Iraq by bombing Iraqi synagogues and the like. It didn’t as though these Jews were simply driven out by Arabs. The Mossad and Haganah had reasons to want them driven out of Iraq and were apparently willing to take steps to insure such.

    The same site describes the case of Yaakov Israel Dehan who was murdered by Zionists while cultivating Arab-Jewish relations:

    When the Zionists Killed Yaakov Yisrael Dehan on July 1, 1924

    Zionists had an interest in frustrating Arab-Jewish relations and in creating panics within Jewish communities which had remained settled in the Arab following the creation of Israel.

    Now having said that, I should probably note that I don’t think I could ever stand living in the Arab world permanently without the option of swiftly returning to my atheistic home in Florida. Groups like Neturei Karta which runs the above website are very religiously oriented towards Judaism. NK’s discussions of Iran

    Anti-Zionist Orthodox Rabbis meet with Iranian President, Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, September 24, 2007

    also reflect a positive view of Iranian terms of acceptance for Jews within Iran, but as an atheist I don’t think I could tolerate it.

    This is very much the sense one gets when reading reports on Iranian Jews:

    Iran remains home to Jewish enclave

    Before the revolution, Jews were well-represented among Iran’s business elite, holding key posts in the oil industry, banking and law, as well as in the traditional bazaar. The wave of anti-Israeli sentiment that swept Iran during the revolution, as well as large-scale confiscation of private wealth, sent thousands of the more affluent Jews fleeing to the United States or Israel. Those remaining lived in fear of pogroms, or massacres. But Khomeini met with the Jewish community upon his return from exile in Paris and issued a ”fatwa” decreeing that the Jews were to be protected. Similar edicts also protect Iran’s tiny Christian minority.

    Protected within a Muslim society, but likely under conditions which I as a non-believer would insufferable.

    This relates to something which Jared Israel has at times harped upon, the idea that early Zionist settlers invited a measure of wrath from Arab leaders not only because of their colonial aims (which were quite real) but because they tended to violate traditional conceptions in the Muslim world of the role which Jews are supposed to play, and not play. There is undoubtedly a degree of truth to that. The Muslim world did have its own formula for Jewish assimilation, and deeply religious groups such as Neturei Karta tend to be amenable to that mode of assimilation, but many non-religious (or even less religious) people will likely tend to conflict with this prescription.

    The fact that Zionists violated all traditional Muslim stereotyped conceptions of Jews would have played some role in affecting the attitude taken by Muslims towards Zionism. But Lewis downplays the evidence that explicitly stated plans of Zionist territorial expansion would also have influenced the Arab response. Zionists have many times pronounced the view that everything from the Nile to the Euphrates belongs to them, and this has at least in part influenced the Arab response:

    Greater Israel — What Does It Really Mean?

    Graphic Copies of 1954 Interview with King Saud by Lilienthal

    Things of that type would certainly have relevance to the failure of the Mideast to absorb and adapt to the 1948 expulsions in the way that the expulsion of ethnic Germans from regions annexed by Poland after WWII has been adapted to. No one has ever had reason to suspect the Poles of planning a further expansion to the Rhine, but the attitude was common among Zionists after 1948 that this initial expulsion of Arabs from Palestine was only the beginning.

    > At the same time, virtually all the Arab governments announced that they would not give visas to Jews of any nationality… In some countries it continues to this day, although in practice most Arab countries have given it up.

    That sounds correct. As he says, it’s been largely abandoned in practice but was nominally maintained. I would take this a further indication of how Bernard Lewis and Jared Israel have a tendency to draw in general civil liberties issues which a deeply religious group like Neturei Karta is willing to compromise over. I can definitely accept a general critique of the civil liberties in the Muslim nations, without seeing that as anywhere near as germaine to the Arab-Israeli conflict as BL and JI may imply.

    > When the Israelis had a chance to look at the Syrian, Jordanian, or Egyptian textbooks that these UN-funded schools used, they found many examples of unequivocal anti-Semitism.

    This too sounds perfectly likely, although again one has to ask to what degree do such textbooks fit into a social framework which allows for adjustments and modifications such as are meant to be compensatory for allowing the more religious Jews of a Neturei Karta type to fit in. While I really have no interest in defending or upholding any type of religious framework for society, one should be aware that the methodology of checks and balances within such a society works very differently from what we would be taught to associate with liberal society.

    [Comment by Patrick S. McNally, edited by blog author Diane to HTML-ize and prettify links.]

    Comment by patricksmcnally — April 23, 2008 @ 3:25 pm | Reply

  2. Thanks very much for all the info you’ve posted here.

    The Jews of Iraq, by Naeim Giladi, makes many very serious accusations against the state of Israel. Likewise the other articles you cited on the Neturei Karta website. Have you seen these allegations corroborated in any other, more scholarly (or journalistic) sources? Personally, I’m not inclined to trust autobiographical stories on ultra-religious websites, at least not as a sole source of any given allegation. So I would greatly appreciate any corroboration you can give me from a more mainstream source.

    Comment by Diane — April 23, 2008 @ 5:37 pm | Reply

  3. David Hirst, The Gun and the Olive Branch, also covers the allegations around the bombed synagogues in Iraq. Naeim Giladi himself is not, by the way, a particularly religious author. His account had first appeared at the Americans for Middle East Understanding site:

    It just happens that NK often puts up general news, although there religious viewpoint is certainly real.

    If one was more determined to focus on official documents then something like the diaries of Moshe Sharett are worth reviewing:

    The parts relating to Nasser are especially interesting since groups like the Muslim Brotherhood were antagonists of Nasser. The Muslim Brotherhood and related sects became more influential, culminating in Sadat’s assassination, after Nasser’s brand of Arab nationalism had appeared to fail. Sharett’s diary makes it clear that Nasser’s failure to reach an accord with Israel was always intended by Ben-Gurion.

    Comment by patricksmcnally — April 24, 2008 @ 3:20 am | Reply

  4. Thanks very much for the further info.

    Comment by Diane — April 24, 2008 @ 4:24 pm | Reply

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