Public Comment

Israel Criticism Full of Lies and Half-Truths

By Doug Stahl
Thursday October 09, 2008 - 11:01:00 AM

Marc Sapir may be well-traveled, but his Oct. 2 commentary reveals ignorance and lack of comprehension. To unravel his lies and half-truths: 

“Israel today is a segregated and segregationist society...” In fact, as Jimmy Carter acknowledged in his most recent book, Israel within the Green Line is an entirely free and unsegregated modern democracy. 

Gaza was ceded to the Palestinians unilaterally in 2005. This has resulted in the Hamas takeover, in hundreds of rockets with 5-10 lb. warheads dropped on neighboring Israeli towns and kibbutzes, and in the death of many on both sides. Clearly a similar result from a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank would not be desirable for either side. 

“[T]he Nazi’s [sic] had their model Jews—eg the model Jewish community in Aushwitz Birkenau, symphony orchestras in most death camps...” Never heard of any such thing in Auschwitz. There was a single, famous orchestra in Theresienstadt, in Czechoslovakia. That camp was the one showplace that the Nazis allowed the Red Cross to visit. Strictly speaking, Theresienstadt was a concentration camp, a camp where Jews died en masse due to privation, as POWs did in Andersonville, but where there was little organized killing. The death-camps, “vernichtungslageren,” were located in Poland. That was where the gas chambers were used. There were no amenities, nor visits by the Red Cross. 

About 20 percent of Israel’s citizens are Arabs. More than half of Israel’s Jewish citizens are of the Middle East, what Nissim Rejwan has called “Arab Jews.” The Bedouin Israelis often volunteer to serve in Israel’s armed forces. The Druze Arabs insist they be subject to the military draft in Israel. A dozen of Israel’s members of parliament are Arabs. Sowan Abbas is far from an outlier. 

The comparison of the condition of the Arabs within the West Bank with that of the Jews in Auschwitz and Theresienstadt is an absurd and grotesque lie. Using imagery from Nazi Germany to make this lie is antisemitism. 

“[T]he argument is often heard that if they do not ethnically cleanse...” And more often, former Prime Minister Olmert and others have often argued that separation from the West Bank is necessary; not ethnic cleansing. To state the one view without mentioning the other is bias and falsehood. 

“Ethnic cleansing” goes back long before the repellent psychiatrist Radovan Karadzic started a war in peaceful Yugoslavia on that premise. Jordan’s army ethnically-cleansed the Jews from east Jerusalem in 1948, where till then they’d been the majority. Many of the Tories in the first years of the US chose to leave, or were urged to go, since their goals weren’t those of the US.  

“The six-pointed Star of David was a Jewish religious symbol. It’s on the front of every Torah...most Americans oppose the idea of states based upon religious groups as undemocratic...the Zionists in power in Israel (who, ironically, are not religious fundamentalists) ...[express] racism against the Palestinian people...” 

Sapir is at sea. Are Jews an ethnic group or a religion? Are they a race? 

Clearly Jews span the color spectrum. In addition to the “Arab Jews” like former Defense Minister Peretz and former DM Ben-Eliezer, there are many Ethiopian Jews in Israel. There are Jews from India who look Indian, Jews from Europe who are blond and blue-eyed. To apply the term “racism” in the usual sense is misleading, in fact deceitful. 

Are Jews a religion? As Sapir notes, most of Israel’s leaders, from 1948 to the present, have not been religious. A great many are anti-religious. Yet they see themselves as Jews. 

Raphael Patai devotes a chapter of _The Jewish Mind_ to the question of what, precisely, is a Jew. Mordecai Kaplan decided the Jews are a “civilization.” David Halberstam used the term “tribe.” 

In east Asia, the question is less perplexing. The Japanese, the Indians, the Chinese, and others have an integrated idea of a “people.” A unique language, a unique literature and culture, a typical “look,” perhaps, and a particular religion to which members of that ethnic group may or may not be attached. 

The Japanese, Indians, and Chinese also have a unique state in which to completely fulfill and express its unique culture and civilization. The goal of having such a state is not racism. 

Americans—right-thinking ones—aren’t concerned about color. But many feel it is reasonable to be concerned about maintaining English as the language of the United States, and the debates about the literary and ideological values of the country have been fierce for decades.  

But Rashid Khalidi, in his book Palestinian Identity, acknowledges that most Arabs in Palestine, whether in Jaffa, Jerusalem, or Jericho, did not perceive themselves as “Palestinians” till the beginning of the 20th century, nor did they even accept the European label of “Palestine” till quite late. When the British after WWI split the southern part of Syria off and called it “Palestine,” the first Arab riots in Jerusalem and other cities against the British broke out, in the 1920s—demanding a return to rule from Damascus, and a reunification with Syria. 

The state of Jordan was split off as consolation prize for the Hashemite Arab clan also in the 1920s. In 1970 Arafat attempted to seize Jordan and make it a Palestinian state. In 2008, a third of West Bank Arabs polled favored unification of the West Bank with Jordan. 

There isn’t a unique Palestinian language, nor is there unique Palestinian literature prior to the 20th-century confrontation with the Jewish revival in the land. The Palestinian people is a very new concept. And that poll and other indications show it isn’t thoroughly accepted by many Palestinians. 

“[T]he Palestinians have little or no money because Israel has consciously destroyed their economy...” In fact, NGOs such as UNCTAD rate the average income of Arabs in the West Bank in the median range internationally. The local economy indeed is a shambles. The casino Arafat built to draw Israeli tourists, the other projects intended for economic cooperation, all generally collapsed after the intifada was launched by Arafat, and have revived only fitfully. But income to the West Bank is fairly high, about $10-12,000 per capita, due to remittances sent by Palestinians working in the oil states, and due to massive aid from the oil states, Europe, and elsewhere. Regrettably the oil states have regularly evicted hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Libya, refusing to allow them citizenship in those countries. Such generosity might ameliorate the situation, as it did in the similar India-Pakistan split, which also occurred in 1948.  

Per capita GDP is low in the West Bank, but per capita GNP is in the median range. By metrics such as infant mortality, longevity, and similar, the quality of life in the West Bank rates higher than in countries like Turkey, Iran, Egypt, and Brazil. 

In the recent terror attack in Jerusalem, the Palestinian terrorist plowed into pedestrians in his BMW. 

Given the hatred many Palestinians have for Israel, a “one-state” solution would be a prescription for further violence. So would a unilateral pull-out from the West Bank. The unilateral pull-outs from Gaza and from southern Lebanon are strong evidence. Mr. Sapir demonstrates that travel isn’t enough to enlighten. He should also read more, and read intelligently. 


Doug Stahl is a resident of Highland Park, New Jersey, and was a member of the Israel Action Committee while a student at UC Berkeley.