Global Pairings

America’s Blind Infatuation with Israel

Lessons from Amos Oz on the coexistence of Jews and Arabs.

Young Israelis visiting Auschwitz (Credit: wjarek - Shutterstock.com)

Takeaways


  • Had there been no Holocaust, there would have been no Jewish state, but mere accommodation to include the two communities.
  • Israel has effectively become an apartheid state with Arab Israelis increasingly discriminated against.
  • Under no circumstances can the Arab world ascribe its acute problems to Israel – they are self-inflicted.

There is hardly any political debate in the United States about Israel, in fact far less so than in Israel itself. President Obama’s decision not to veto the recent UN resolution condemning Jewish settlement in the Palestinian Occupied Territories was unprecedented and courageous.

But would he have taken the same stand had he been running for re-election? For an American politician to criticize Israel is tantamount to treason.

In the American political universe, Jewish Israelis are the unquestioned good guys, while the Palestinian Arabs are the bad guys. It is all black and white.

Reality is far more complex

For highly objective insights into the dynamics of Arab-Jewish relations in Israel, I strongly recommend the novels of the Israeli author Amos Oz. He is exceptional in being a Jewish insider, born (1939) and raised in Jerusalem, with a great capacity for empathy for the Arabs.

A Tale of Love and Darkness (2002) is a remarkably humanist novel with the backdrop of the birth pangs of Israel and the moral and emotional consequences for both communities. His most recent (2016) is entitled Judas, which again challenges profoundly readers on the origins of Israel.

As one of the characters of the novel recounts:

Jews and Arabs (prior to the creation of the State of Israel) in Haifa, Jerusalem, Tiberias, Jaffa and other places were linked by ties of business, and were often invited into each other’s homes.

Surely, there is so much that these two peoples share: the Jews and Arabs, in their different ways, have been the victims of Christian Europe through long historical periods.

The Arabs were humiliated by the colonial powers and suffered the ignominy of oppression and exploitation, while the Jews suffered generation upon generation of contempt, banishment, persecution, exile, massacre, and finally genocide unparalleled in human history.

There is a deep historic basis for ties of sympathy and understanding between these two victims of Christian Europe.

The possibility of no Jewish state

As pogroms, purges, discrimination intensified throughout Europe in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, the Zionist movement was born with the goal of seeking a safe haven for Jews in what was then British mandated Palestine.

In recognition of the cause, British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour wrote a letter on November 2, 1917 to Walter (Lord) Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community, which read in part (note the language carefully):

His Majesty’s government will view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

The intention was clear: a homeland, not a state, with the two communities coexisting. One can conjecture, that had there not been the Holocaust, there would have been no Jewish state, but accommodation found to include the two communities.

Arabs made to pay

While Europeans perpetrated the Holocaust, not Arabs, the Arabs were made to pay and the state of Israel was created officially on May 14, 1948.

As the Oz fictional character in Judas Shealtiel Abravanel, who was opposed to the state building policy of the founding prime minister of Israel David Ben-Gurion, exclaims:

You wanted a state. You wanted independence. Flags and uniforms and banknotes and drums and trumpets. You shed rivers of innocent blood. You sacrificed an entire generation. You drove hundreds of thousands of Arabs out of their homes.

You sent shiploads of Holocaust survivors straight from the quayside to the battlefield. All so that there would be a Jewish state here. And look what you got.

Arab woes not because of Israel

In many respects, Israel has been highly successful: in agriculture, in science, in high tech industries and in building an advanced economy.

With a GDP per capita of £34,000 (IMF), it is more than triple that of its Arab neighbors Egypt and Jordan – and in democracy (at least for the Jewish population).

It stands in stark contrast with the catastrophic failures in governance and development of virtually all Arab states.

Under no circumstances can the Arab world ascribe its acute problems to Israel – they are self-inflicted. Palestine itself suffers from widespread corruption and political mayhem.

Its successes notwithstanding, currently Israel can be described as a pariah nation. As liberal Jewish Israeli scholars concede – Israel has effectively become an apartheid state with Arab Israelis increasingly discriminated against and disenfranchised.

Spending a few days in the Occupied Territories – as I did in 2013 – vividly shows the injustices, including, for example, in water distribution, meted out to Palestinians to the benefit of the Jewish settlers.

The truth behind injustice against Palestinians

Israel possesses a nuclear weapons arsenal, but is one of four states – the other three are Pakistan, India and North Korea – that have refused to sign and adhere to the NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons).

Western hypocrisy is again borne out by the vociferous condemnations of Iran’s nuclear program, while Israel escapes all criticism. (It might be added as a footnote that in fact Iran’s nuclear program began under the reign of the Shah, supported by the United States and with covert technology transfer from Israel!)

Over the decades, Israel has ignored UN resolutions proclaiming the Occupation of Palestinian Territories as illegal. It was able to do so mainly thanks to the sustained American veto.

President Obama’s refusal to use the American veto is to be welcomed, but in all likelihood will prove only a brief hiatus in this tragic narrative.

Every effort must be made to bring about a greater awareness in the West of the tremendous injustice against Palestinians because of heinous crimes committed by Europeans. Reading the novels of Amos Oz is a great means to that end. Awareness should bring about a greater determination of remedy and action.

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About Jean-Pierre Lehmann

Jean-Pierre Lehmann, emeritus professor of international political economy at IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland, is a Contributing Editor at The Globalist. [Switzerland] Follow him @jp_lehmann

Responses to “America’s Blind Infatuation with Israel”

Archived Comments.

  1. On January 4, 2017 at 8:01 am Makram Khoury responded with... #

    Thanks. Great article.
    it is strange for a super power, could be viewed as the only one, to be so blind in this conflict and with lack of ability to comprehend the situation, knowing the shift in policies with its closest allies, mainly Europe. I am not sure if the position is taken by the politicians, and media, caused by the strong lobby or a real reflection of the US population thoughts and believes.
    Back to your article, the Arabs and the Palestinians are not being good and fair to their cause either. The Middle East is in a mess with dim light at the end of the tunnel.
    American Jewish movements are changing positions and as per many statistics with a small majority of the American Jewish population not supportive of the policies of the existing Israeli government.

  2. On January 4, 2017 at 11:07 am Andrew responded with... #

    How is this blind? The Israelis never shout “Death to America” in the streets while burning U.S. flags. They don’t throw homosexuals off of buildings last I checked. They don’t oppress women or minorities in their midst. I do not understand this hypocritical love affair that those of liberal indoctrination have with Muslims. It is literally insane.

  3. On January 4, 2017 at 11:38 am Frank Vogl responded with... #

    Contrary to the statements made by the author, the fact is that there is a vigorous discussion in US politics about the appropriate course for US policy. The views detailed in his very recent speech by Secretary Kerry underscored the complexities of the considerations that go into formulating US policy – and each of those complexities is continuously under review and debate, except for the principle that Israel has a right to exist – nobody in the serious US political debate challenges this principle.

    And in the tumult and over-simplifications of American presidential election campaigns there has never been space for discussing Israel save for all candidates to support the principle of Israel’s right to exist. A principle that President Obama proudly and rightly endorses.

    But, this should not blind people like Professor Lehmann to the realities of American political discourse outside of the headline-grabbing campaign political slogans. US debate on Israeli politics has intensified in recent years within the American Jewish community itself as “J Street” has organized and formed a ‘liberal’ support group that is a visible challenge to the traditional mainstream Jewish organizations that have been uncritical supporters of the current Israeli Government. The vibrant debate in the US that Prof Lehmann seems unaware of was front and center when the Israeli Prime Minister was invited by the Republican Party leadership to address Congress and voice his opposition to the Obama Administration’s efforts to finalize a deal with Iran.

    Fortunately, there are many Americans like me who have been active supporters for many years of the New Israel Fund, which has advocated powerfully in the US for civil society, for human rights and for social justice, and which has proudly supported many Israeli-Arab groups that have sought to speak effectively within Israel on behalf of all Palestinians. Yes, many people could learn from Amos Oz, but they could also learn about the serious American political debate about Israel and the Palestinians by just listening to what leaders like Kerry say, following “J Street” and the very many others engaged in this very high-profile debate – many of whom believe that there must be a two-state solution and many of whom believe that the approaches that the Government of Israel are taking towards Palestinians are deeply flawed.

  4. On January 7, 2017 at 11:31 am Mary Burke responded with... #

    The conflict goes back further. Why was this region given away with no say from the people that were living there at the time. A hundred years need to be reviewed to answer some questions and admit some faults.

  5. On January 13, 2017 at 7:04 am theglobalistdc responded with... #

    The following comment was submitted by reader Norman W, who was not able to post it himself due to a technical glitch. Since we were unable to resolve that, we have agreed to post it on his behalf. -moderator
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    The claim that “America is blindly infatuated with Israel” is one that critics of the state of Israel would like to make to explain America’s steadfast support for Israel: a politically-delusional US (vis-à-vis its middle east interests) locked in a pattern of adolescent-like truculence. How else to explain America’s misguided persistence to continue support of Israel in the face of constant anti-Israel United Nation actions over the years, with the notable exception of its recent abstention from UN Resolution 2334?

    Claims like this detract from debating the true point at issue — the root core of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. If there is any blindness at all, it is the blinkered unsighting of this root core. The elephant in the room is being ignored. Notably missing from otherwise reasoned arguments like Professor Jean-Pierre Lehmann’s, is recognition that one side is implacably, and intractably, opposed to the existential state of the other. This fact is the crux of the issue. Its omission from discussion in Lehmann’s article is conspicuous.

    A brief history is instructional: the geographic area known as Palestine has been the homeland of Jewish people since biblical times. In 1947, the United Nations divided Palestine, administered for decades under British mandate, into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. Israel accepted this UN decision but no Arab or any other Muslim country did. There has never been a state in Palestine that was not Jewish. Israel is the third Jewish state to exist in that area. There never was an Arab state, never a Palestinian state, never a Muslim or any other state. Israel, as a Jewish state, wants to exist and to live in peace with all its neighbors including an Arab Palestinian neighbor state. But most Palestinians and many other Muslims and Arabs do not recognize the right of a Jewish state of Israel to exist. Israel recognizes the right of Palestinians to have their own state and to live in peace. But this view is not reciprocated by the Palestinians who clamor instead for Israel’s elimination or indeed for its annihilation.

    Professor Lehmann casts doubt on the authority of the 1947 United Nations decision, based on process and events seventy years earlier that led to the decision. In his version of the history, he would have us believe that the scope for establishing a Jewish homeland never envisioned Jewish statehood. He is wrong. He notes, AS POGROMS, PURGES, DISCRIMINATION INTENSIFIED THROUGHOUT EUROPE IN THE LATE 19TH/EARLY 20TH CENTURIES, THE ZIONIST MOVEMENT WAS BORN WITH THE GOAL OF SEEKING A SAFE HAVEN FOR JEWS IN WHAT WAS THEN BRITISH MANDATED PALESTINE. While he is correct in this, he omits to inform the reader that the genesis behind the Zionist movement were ideas promulgated in Theodor Herzl’s 1897 book entitled Der Judenstaat, The Jewish State. (Note the language carefully.) In it, Herzl argued that the Jewish people should leave Europe if they wished to, preferably, for Palestine, their historic homeland. The Jews possessed a nationality; all they were missing was a nation and a state of their own. Only through a Jewish state could they avoid antisemitism, express their culture freely and practice their religion without hindrance. The key words in this manifesto are “…a nation and a state of their own …”

    In Lehmann’s eyes, the 1948 UN decision to partition Palestine into two states, including a Jewish state and an Arab state, was invalid. He argues that a Jewish state should never even have been mooted in the first place: the UN had no mandate to accede to any demand for Jewish statehood. He implies that the basis for the legitimacy of Jewish claims derives from the 1917 Balfour declaration, a text which contains no reference to, or justification for Jewish statehood. Lehmann writes, THE INTENTION WAS CLEAR: A HOMELAND, NOT A STATE, WITH THE TWO COMMUNITIES COEXISTING. ONE CAN CONJECTURE, THAT HAD THERE NOT BEEN THE HOLOCAUST, THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN NO JEWISH STATE, BUT ACCOMMODATION FOUND TO INCLUDE THE TWO COMMUNITIES.

  6. On January 20, 2017 at 2:59 am mr215 responded with... #

    BS article. US should give back Texas, NM. AZ. it grabed from Mexico. maybe Ca, too. might and possesion is 10/10 of the law.