In Brief—The roots of the present day conflict between Israel and the Palestinians go back to the British mandate in the land originally called Palestine. Identifying those roots has led some to the erroneous conclusion that anything suggesting opposition to Israeli policy regarding the Palestinians is anti-Semitic. This explains the error in such a judgment.
A Painless History Lesson—
When I was a student at UCLA, my class in Colonial American History was taught by the renowned Page Smith. At the beginning of every day’s class, Smith would spend five minutes on an entirely different subject such as philosophy. It was mentally stimulating and made an otherwise boring subject like history glow. While I won’t pretend to make it glow, I will at least make the history I am about to discuss a bit less painful.
Many will say that the view I hold is provocative, maybe even anti-Semitic. As to the latter, I am not anti-Semitic and stoutly deny any animosity toward Jews. As Judaism is a religion like any other, I firmly think it and all religion is totally illogical and divisive at a minimum. My beef is with Israeli government policy toward Palestinians, not with Jews. Policy, not people.
My ”Provocative” Observation—
I think that the creation of the state of Israel on what the British described as ”empty land” was one of the most ignorant and short-sighted moves of the 20th Century and guaranteed to result in conflict such as we have seen and see today. Some people may consider that provocative but it is clearly not anti-Semitic. It is simply realistic common sense and the predictable outcome of an ill-considered action.
A Brief History—
I am reminded of a story a friend told me. When he was a student in college, he turned in a short essay that resulted in the professor questioning the length of the essay. My friend quoted the old adage, ”Brevity is the soul of wit.” The professor is reputed to have responded, ”Then half-brevity is the soul of a half-wit.”
At the risk of being labeled a half-wit, here’s a brief history of how Israel came into existence. Since whole books have been written on the subject, I’ll leave it up to my readers to verify and affirm the accuracy of what I say.
Britain was in charge of governing what was then known as Palestine. Ignorant as is too often the case, the Brits were constantly dealing with fanatical Zionists who devoutly believed that God had granted them the area in which Israel now exists. Those Zionists assassinated British officials and opponents and used tactics that led the British to label them ”terrorists.” They were a constant source of agitation and violence.
At the end of World War II, in the company of France and the United States, the British saw a way to solve their Zionist terrorist problem: give the Jews a homeland in what the British called ”empty land,” the area now known as Israel. Little spoken of or acknowledged was the quiet anti-Semitic refusal of the allied nations to give asylum to the masses of Jews who were being persecuted and killed by the Nazis. A few like Albert Einstein were accepted, but the majority of Jews were left to their own devices or were exterminated by the Nazis in the Holocaust.
In 1948, the state of Israel came into being blessed by the United Nations. At last, two things happened: the Zionists got their wish and the great nations of Europe could crow that they were giving the long-persecuted Jews a homeland while simultaneously ridding themselves of the Jewish population of their own countries. A ”two-fer,” in other words.
BUT…what about the Palestinians who had their ”empty land” given to the Jews? This issue wiil be examined in my next piece on the predictable results of the creation of Israel.
Definitions of Semitic and Zion—
The word ”Semitic” refers first to a family of languages such as Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic and so on. The word later came to refer to the people speaking those languages, especially to the Jews and Arabs. In later years, the word came to refer to the Jewish people.
Zion refers to the hill on which the city of Jerusalem stands. Secondarily, the word refers to the ancient Israelites and more recently to the modern Jewish nation and Israel as the national home of the Jewish people. It also has a religious connotation as the place chosen by God and under his special protection. It is this last reference that drives the Zionists and the reason I think of myself as an anti-Zionist. I should add that many Jews are anti-Zionists as well, though they are supportive of Israel.
A few words on the history of the concept of anti-Semitism must be mentioned. Although Wilhelm Marr is credited with coining the term ”anti-Semitism,” scholar Alex Bein states that the concept was first used in 1860 by the Austrian bibliographer Moritz Steinschneider who referred to ”anti-Semitic prejudices” and elaborated on how the ”Semitic races” were inferior to the ”Aryan races.” That view is reflective of attitudes that pervaded non-Jewish societies then and later.
You can see that these pseudo-scientific theories concerning race and Jews came into popular usage in Europe late in the 19th century. As we know, the Nazis used German historian Heinrich von Treitschke’s phrase “the Jews are our misfortune” for their warped political purposes. Thus, while anti-Jewish prejudice has been around for centuries, ”anti-Semitism” is a relatively recent concept and is too often used carelessly to tar anybody who opposes Israeli policies.
Given the definitions of the words, particularly ”Semitic,” for one to be anti-Semitic one would have to be opposed to both the Arabs and the Jews. I am opposed to neither. They are only people who generally have different religions and occupy the same area of the world.
Be sure to read my upcoming piece on the current situation involving the Israelis and Palestinians and the source of Palestinian anger.