Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Maybe The Problem With The Debate About Israel Is That There Isn't One?

If your child came home from college and said she was challenged by a classmate who claimed that Palestine is Arab land stolen by the Jews, could you provide her with a response?

That is the question Douglas Feith asks in the article he recently wrote for Tablet Magazine. Based on a speech he gave to the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research, Feith offers a helping hand to his fellow Jews - who really should not be having such a tough time arguing for the Jewish right to Israel:
The campaign to delegitimate Israel has been scoring successes. The efforts to counter that campaign have often proven inept. That too I find astonishing.

In the arena of argumentation, the Jews are practiced, having continuously honed their debating skills since Abraham questioned God about Sodom. They should be formidable in explaining why Israel is not colonialist and refuting other calumnies. Yet they’re often beaten into retreat by anti-Zionist polemicists. There’s no excuse for it.
He then goes on to outline a response.

What he writes is not new, but still bears repeating --
  • During the 400 years leading to World War I, Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire -- was owned by the Turks, not by the Arabs living in Palestine.

  • There was never a country called Palestine.

  • Palestine was never ruled by its own Arab inhabitants.
  • Therefore, it is not accurate to say that Palestine was a country, or that it was Arab land.

  • And neither the Jews nor the British stole it from the Arabs.

  • The original Zionists who came to live in then-Palestine did not come as colonists, nor with the backing of an imperialist or colonialist power. Jews bought the land on which they settled.

Rabbi Moses Porush (c.) and Arab Landowner holding deed for a large tract of land
that Rabbi Moses Porush and Rabbi Joseph Levi Hagiz purchased from the Arab.
Credit: Wikipedia. Public Domain

Feith does give context to the situation during WWI that is generally overlooked.

The British invasion of Palestine in World War I was precipitated by the Ottoman Turks, who joined Germany and attacked the Allied forces. When the British war cabinet approved the Balfour Declaration on October 31, 1917, -- it was already more than 3 years into World War I.

And the war was not going well for the Allies.

It was one of those rare occasions when the exaggerated belief in Jewish power and influence actually worked to the benefit of the Jews. The British saw an opportunity to gain support in Russia and the US.

As for Palestine itself,
colonialism didn’t bring Britain to Palestine. Britain didn’t seize Palestine from an unoffending native population. It conquered the land not from the Arabs, but from Turkey, which (as noted) had joined Britain’s enemies in the war. The Arabs in Palestine fought for Turkey against Britain. The land was enemy territory. [emphasis added]
The British view of Palestine, and of the Arabs living there, was taken in the context of the area as a whole. Palestine was just a small part of a huge region the British forces conquered from the Turks -- and even though most Arabs had fought for the Turks, the Allies were ready to set the Arabs on the path to independence and national self-determination. However, the small piece of land that was the "Holy Land" had a unique status, of special interest to Christians and Jews around the world.

And the Arabs already living in Palestine?
The idea that a small segment of the Arab people – the Palestinian Arabs – would someday live in a Jewish-majority country was not thought of as a unique problem. There were similar issues in Europe. After World War I, new nations were created or revived: Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Hungary, for example. Inevitably, some people would have to live as a minority in neighboring states. Seven hundred thousand Hungarians would become a minority in Czechoslovakia, almost 400,000 in Yugoslavia and 1.4 million in Romania. Where they were a minority, they would have individual rights, but not collective rights. That is, ethnic Hungarians would not have national rights of self-determination in Romania, but only in Hungary.

The principle applicable to European minorities applied also to the Arabs of Palestine. In any given country, only one people can be the majority, so only one can enjoy national self-determination there. The Arab people would eventually rule themselves in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Arabia. They were going to end up in control of virtually all the land they claimed for themselves. They naturally wanted to be the majority everywhere. But then, the Jews could be the majority nowhere. The victorious Allies did not consider that just.
The British were actually taken by surprise by the accusation that they were being unjust to the Arabs, especially considering the actual history of Palestine, what the British had sacrificed for the liberation of the Middle East from Ottoman control and the fact that the Arabs fought on the side of the enemy.

Feith quotes from a speech Balfour gave in 1922 on the issue:
“Of all the charges made against this country,” he said, that “seems to me the strangest.” It was, he recalled, “through the expenditure largely of British blood, by the exercise of British skill and valour, by the conduct of British generals, by troops brought from all parts of the British Empire . . . that the freeing of the Arab race from Turkish rule has been effected.” He went on, “That we . . . who have just established a King in Mesopotamia, who had before that established an Arab King in the Hejaz, and who have done more than has been done for centuries past to put the Arab race in the position to which they have attained—that we should be charged with being their enemies, with having taken a mean advantage of the course of international negotiations, seems to me not only most unjust to the policy of this country, but almost fantastic in its extravagance.”
Arthur Balfour. Source: Wikipedia. Public Domain

This is all part of the Zionist history that Feith believes Jews need to know in order to respond to the claim that the British stole Palestine and just gave it away to the Jews.

The problem, of course, is that the "other side" is not arguing from facts, nor are they appealing to logic. Just look around. On social media, people do not make logical arguments and they have no interest in history -- facts just make their eyes glaze over. Meanwhile, on college campuses, Jews are not being engaged in debate, they are being harassed by groups who want to eliminate debate and the free speech of their victims while isolating them.

Yes, we do need to know about our history and our birthright.
But let's not fool ourselves into thinking that Israel is the subject of a debate.

Israel is the target of an attack.
And we are still on the defensive.

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