America’s Blind Infatuation with Israel
Lessons from Amos Oz on the coexistence of Jews and Arabs.
January 3, 2017
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.
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.
Emeritus Professor of International Political Economy at the IMD Business School [Switzerland] Jean-Pierre Lehmann (1946-2017) was an emeritus professor of international political economy at IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland. He also served currently a visiting professor on the Faculty of Business and Economics at Hong Kong University. He was also a Contributing Editor at The Globalist, […]