Jacob's Voice

Who is a Refugee?

American Thinker (March 27, 2014)

As the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks stagger toward their likely collapse it is worth scrutinizing the most intractable issue: the claimed right of return for Palestinian refugees  to their abandoned homeland in what is now the State of Israel. It is also the pivot upon which Israel’s identity as the nation-state of the Jewish people turns.

There are two vital questions to be answered: Who counts as a refugee? Who does the counting? Because it is a political no less than a demographic issue, the claimed number of Palestinian refugees in 1948 varies widely. Palestinian sources, supported by the United Nations Relief and Works Administration (UNRWA), assert that between 800,000-900,000 Palestinians were driven out of the fledgling Jewish state. Israeli scholars claim between 600,000-700,000, while noting that many Palestinians left of their own volition or were urged to leave by their leaders until the Arab invasion climaxed in victory. Based on his careful study of British, Jewish and Arab sources, Kings College historian Efraim Karsh concluded that there were between 583,000-609,000 Palestinian refugees.

As originally defined by UNRWA, Palestinian refugees were “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” The best estimates suggest that 30,000 Palestinian refugees from 1948 are still alive. Their return would present no significant problem for Israel. They could easily be absorbed among the 1.6 million Arabs who are Israeli citizens without significantly tilting the demographic balance.

But UNRWA devised a novel alternative, which is applied to no other group of refugees in the world. It expanded the number of Palestinians entitled to benefits – including, implicitly, the right of return – to include “descendants” of Palestinian refugees – all of them. Consequently, five million children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren now qualify as “refugees” – even if they have never set foot in Palestine and are already citizens of another country. By 2050, it is estimated that this preposterously inflated number will rise to 15 million. It should be noted that UNRWA can not survive without dependent Palestinians: if it confined refugee status to actual refugees, its 29,000 paid workers would soon outnumber its clients.

The Palestinian Authority eagerly embraces the UNRWA definition of “refugee,” insisting as a non-negotiable demand that not only every Palestinian Arab who left Palestine in 1948 - but all their descendants - are entitled to “return.” For Israel to agree, however, would assure the demographic destruction of the Jewish state. Once five million Palestinians “returned” – to Israel, because Palestinian leaders refuse to absorb them into Palestine - its Jewish majority (now 75% of slightly more than eight million) would vanish.

UNRWA’s obsession with imagined Palestinian refugees is reinforced by the unwillingness of nearly every Arab country, with the limited exception of Jordan, to grant citizenship to Palestinian refugees and their descendants. Indeed, even the Palestinian Authority still confines tens of thousands of their own people in squalid refugee camps rather than permit them to integrate as equals into Palestinian society.

The Palestinian monopoly on refugee status remains vital to its infectious self-identity of victimization. A Bengali immigrant to Jerusalem recently described her feelings of guilt (The New York Times, March 23) when she discovered that her new home in the elegant neighborhood of Emek Refaim had once been inhabited by a Palestinian Christian family “dispossessed” during the 1948 war.

Then she visited her “closest Israeli friend,” a “secular, left-wing … activist and lawyer,” living in nearby Ein Karem, once an Arab village. The friend vividly and emotionally recounted her hallucinations about “otherworldly visitors”: “the silent visitors, the original [Arab] residents of my house.” Tortured by guilt, she invited these “apparitions” into her home to drink tea together – after the returning mother searched the garden in vain for mint that once grew near the now barren fig tree.

It made me wonder. My Jewish grandparents, like those of virtually everyone I knew growing up, were refugees fleeing persecution in Russia and Rumania. Are we also entitled to reclaim our ancestors’ homes and receive financial support in perpetuity? What does it say about Palestinians, and those who enable them, that nearly sixty-five years later they still can only think of themselves as refugees in exile? Why, that is, have they recast themselves as Jews, who yearned for two thousand years to return to their promised homeland in the Land of Israel that Palestinians now claim as their own?











Wandering in the Academic Wilderness

The Jewish Press (March 26, 2014)

In the good old days of what passes for higher education, before the State of Israel was relentlessly pilloried by Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movements and professional academic associations, there was only garden variety anti-Semitism.

During much of the 20th century elite American colleges and universities carefully policed their admission gates to restrict the entry of Jews. Like its Big Brothers – Harvard, Yale and Princeton – Wellesley College, where I taught history between 1971 and 2010, designed admission policy to perpetuate a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant elite.

This challenge became imperative after World War I, when hordes of socially undesirable candidates with academically superior credentials – in a word, Jews - threatened to inundate the academic citadels of privilege. With Harvard in danger of becoming “Hebrewized,” Yale fearful of being “overrun” by Jews, and Princeton anxious lest Jews “ruin [it] as they have Columbia and Pennsylvania,” the solution was obvious.

Just as Congress enacted immigration restriction laws to curtail the entry of undesirables from Southern and Eastern Europe, so colleges imposed quotas to exclude Jews. Questions about religious affiliation were embedded in the selection process. So, too, were geographical distribution preferences, personal interviews, and photographs, all designed to filter out Jews. More than sixty years after her graduation, a Wellesley Jewish alumna still remembered an oblivious classmate who had complained: “Isn’t it awful how Jews turn up everyplace and how they have horns.”

Several years before my arrival, two faculty members circulated a petition among their colleagues asking Wellesley trustees to drop the provision in College by-laws restricting the faculty to those who professed Christianity. Half the faculty signed but the Trustees, reaffirming their commitment to religious freedom, declined to change the by-laws.

Focused on my teaching and writing, I was largely unaware of Wellesley’s embrace of anti-Semitism. But a litany of student complaints, providing dismaying evidence of persistent insensitivity – if not blatant discrimination – toward Jews at the College, alerted me. It seemed that anti-Semitism infested virtually every sector of Wellesley life.

A decade after my arrival, I introduced a resolution in Academic Council – the faculty governing body – condemning and repudiating “the history and legacy” of anti-Semitism at Wellesley. It quickly became bogged down in a swamp of evasion and avoidance. Would the pattern of discrimination be perceived as institutional, or would it be reduced to the isolated acts of individuals who just happened to be College presidents, trustees, deans, and faculty members? Would discrimination targeting Jews be specifically identified and condemned – or would anti-Semitism vanish amid vapid declarations of universal tolerance?

The Boston Jewish Advocate followed my lead and published a comprehensive article documenting the long history of anti-Semitism at Wellesley College. Once its dirty linen began to be washed in public - with a sustained flurry of letters in response to the article - the facade of institutional denial finally began to crack.

After hours of excruciating debate stretching across three acrimonious faculty meetings, the faculty (amid thunderous administrative silence) finally decided to decide. It acknowledged and condemned the persistence of anti-Semitism at Wellesley, committed the College to obliterate discrimination against Jews in recruitment, admission, employment, and promotion, and declared that insensitivity toward the obligations of religiously observant Jews was impermissible.

But the Board of Trustees dug in its heels. With cavalier disregard of the history of restrictive admission quotas and bias in faculty hiring, the Trustees denied any history of anti-Semitism at Wellesley College. Instead, they fabricated and celebrated a mythical “history of dedication to diversity” – in a college where for many decades only white Christian women had been welcome.

It was especially dismaying to witness the responses of my Jewish faculty colleagues. Court Jews reflexively aligned themselves with their Wellesley benefactor, even when it discriminated against their own people. Jewish universalists, who were passionately committed to every worthy liberal cause, could not bear to identify and condemn discrimination only against Jews. Self-hating Jews, inclined to identify themselves only to legitimate their criticism of Israel, endlessly reiterated the complexity of the issue, the better to evade the stark reality of anti-Semitism. Mostly, there were the Jews of silence, who could not rouse themselves to utter a word in public against anti-Semitism.

Wellesley’s Jewish problem persisted. The Religion Department, which had never granted tenure to a Jew, denied it to a young Jewish scholar with exemplary qualifications. Only when he threatened to sue the College did the president intervene to assure his promotion. In the English Department a young woman hired to teach Yiddish and Jewish literature was informed by colleagues, “loud and clear, that work in Yiddish wasn’t valuable.” Her American literature syllabus was criticized for including Saul Bellow, Cynthia Ozick, and Bernard Malamud. She was advised to eliminate the Jews, refocus on early modernism, and add Nathanial Hawthorne and Henry James. She soon resigned her position.

By the Nineties Wellesley, like so many academic institutions, had made a strong commitment to affirmative action and multicultural diversity. The special admissions consideration that once was confined to Christian applicants now was reserved for African-American, Latina, Asian and Native-American students – and, as always, the daughters of alumnae. A small Jewish Studies department was established. But Jewish students, with every reason to anticipate the benefits of heightened tolerance, found themselves marginalized as members of the white majority who were available as scapegoats for the grievances of other minorities.

In the spring of 1993 Tony Martin, a tenured member of the African-American Studies department, assigned for student reading an anonymously written volume published by the Nation of Islam entitled The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews. A farrago of false claims, it asserted that Jews, united “in an unholy coalition of kidnappers and slave makers,” had played a “disproportionate” role, amounting to “monumental culpability,” in slavery and the slave trade – “the black holocaust.” Martin’s department chairman accurately described the book as “patently and scurrilously anti-Semitic.” Martin responded by calling his colleague a “handkerchief head.”

To Martin, the explanation for the instant outcry against his assignment of the book was simple: “The long arm of Jewish intolerance reached into my classroom.” He was, he loudly proclaimed, the victim of “a classic textbook case study of organized Jewish intimidation.” In a college ruled by polite decorum, the vehement tirade of an angry black man was frightening and threatening.

Adding fuel to the fire, Martin self-published a venomous tract later that year entitled The Jewish Onslaught: Despatches [sic.] from the Wellesley Battlefront. The self-described victim of a “Jewish onslaught,” he denounced allegations of his anti-Semitism as “a clever smokescreen for a burgeoning Jewish intolerance of truly Stalinist proportions.” Hallucinating a Jewish cabal aligned against him, he noted that the Dean of the College, chair of the Board of Trustees, head of student government, “a goodly portion” of the tenured faculty, and “sundry other persons in high positions, were all Jews.” Martin raged against “all the dirty Jewish tricks” used against him.

The College president, evidently terrified of confronting Martin, ignored his rabidly anti-Semitic rants; said nothing about his teaching of scurrilous lies about the role of Jews in the slave trade; and responded with an impassioned plea for polite manners. That Martin was teaching anti-Semitic fabrication as historical fact did not seem to concern her.

After the September 11th terrorist attacks the battleground for Jews at Wellesley shifted. The president forcefully reminded the Wellesley community to show respect for Muslim students, lest they be held guilty by association with Muslim terrorists. But she said nothing to reassure Jewish students, who encountered malicious allegations, on and off campus, of Israeli responsibility for the terrorist outrages, accompanied by mendacious claims that several thousand Jews, forewarned of the attacks, had not reported for work at the World Trade Center that day.

Not long afterward, a swastika was painted at a bus stop near the College. The Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, the center of College multicultural sensitivities, sponsored a three-faiths panel discussion about Jerusalem – which it scheduled on Yom Kippur. Blatantly anti-Semitic email postings by Muslim students infuriated their Jewish classmates: an anti-Israel poem repeated centuries-old anti-Semitic canards about Jews as “Judas,” while a photograph of three Israeli soldiers bore the caption, “Three Jewish Animals.” The president cautioned against “hateful or harmful speech” at a time of anti-Semitism “and other ancient hatreds.” No other “ancient hatreds” were identified.

For Jewish students, Wellesley often provided their first bitter encounter with anti-Semitism. After Angela Davis roused a campus audience with an impassioned endorsement of the vicious hostility directed at Israel and Jews at the Durban Conference against Racism (2001), a Jewish student wrote pointedly in the College newspaper: “I did not come to Wellesley expecting to learn what it felt like to be hated or demonized because I was Jewish,” while College administrators “stand idly by.”

One year after September 11, Amiri Baraka – formerly militant Black activist Leroi Jones – was invited by the Africana and Art departments, and by African-American student groups, to speak at the College. Baraka had achieved national notoriety for his poem “Somebody Blew Up America,” suggesting that Israel had advance knowledge of the terrorist attacks. He wrote: “Who told 4,000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers/To stay home that day.” (The correct answer, of course, was no one.) Jewish students were outraged that College funds were spent to import anti-Semitism to the campus – on the Jewish Sabbath, no less. Picketing his speech, they were less concerned with displaying good manners than confronting the anti-Semitism in their midst.

The College assertively proclaimed its commitment to multicultural sensitivity but racial, religious and ethnic animosity continued to fester. Jews, perceived as privileged white Americans, were excluded from its concerns. Jewish students, encountering anti-Semitism and the indifference of College authorities to it, felt vulnerable and often battered.

In 2007, at the invitation of a pro-Israel Jewish student group, Nonie Darwish, the controversial founder of Arabs for Israel, spoke on campus. After Muslims in the audience raucously interrupted her defense of Israel, Darwish was forced to leave the auditorium under police protection. Yet even strongly identified Jewish students, who were deeply attached to Israel, felt the need to apologize abjectly and publicly for extending an invitation that had offended their Muslim classmates.

 By the turn of the century, traditional anti-Semitism – at Wellesley as worldwide - had begun to morph into the delegitimization of Israel. Students whose Jewish identity had been battered by their encounters with anti-Semitism at the College, and by the indifference of College authorities to their plight, now confronted the newest expression of an ancient hatred.

With American Jewish history and the history of Israel already embedded in my teaching program, I could provide safe space for the expression of student ideas – and anxieties – about Jewish history and identity. In extracurricular meetings I tried to provide a secure forum where Jewish students, who had dutifully internalized Wellesley’s Jewish problem as their own, could express their pain and apprehension without censure.

They lived, one student revealed, in “a culture of fear in which the Jewish students were afraid to stand up for themselves for fear of being blacklisted or disliked by their friends and classmates.” A student leader explained, “We wanted to be accepted by our peers. We didn’t want to rock the boat or have our classmates dislike us.” In the face of persistent hostility, another student confided: “I’m scared and confused and wonder if maybe … I’m doing something wrong by being Jewish.”

Jewish students assuaged their discomfort by internalizing their hurt. One student was astonished to discover “how lonely Jewish students were feeling.” Another confided: “After banging my head against the wall, tiptoeing around, walking on eggshells avoiding stating any of my beliefs so as not to make anyone uncomfortable, to find out the fact that I am religious offends someone else was too much.” Torn between their Jewish identity and their desire to belong at Wellesley, it was difficult for Jewish students to realize that when Wellesley made them feel uncomfortable, frightened or confused about being Jewish, it meant that something was wrong with Wellesley, not with them.

Looking back, as historians are trained to do, it was not difficult to discern the strong connection between centuries of irrational hatred of Jews and the contemporary eruption of loathing for the Jewish state. Israel had become the despised national embodiment of the long reviled Jew. In its own distinctive way, Wellesley College – if always politely and decorously – reflected the transformation of anti-Semitism into anti-Zionism.

At least I was spared the folly of my own alma mater, Oberlin College, renowned for its liberalism ever since it became the first American college to admit female and African-American students. Its Students for a Free Palestine led a campaign to divest from companies “that profit from the occupation and oppression of Palestinians.” Support came from La Alianza Latina, the South Asian Students Association, the Queer Wellness Coalition and the Center for Women and Transgender People. Oberlin, proclaimed one proud student (without discernible irony), “lives up to its progressive history and reputation.”

Progressivism (i.e. liberalism), anti-Semitism, and the delegitimization of Israel had converged. Although I resisted the Wellesley tide, I could not reverse it. One way or another, the College continued to isolate and demean its Jewish students. After forty years of wandering in the Wellesley wilderness, with my bad Jewish manners on public display, it was time to leave.

By now, as recent news coverage revealed, “Israel Apartheid Week” (observed during the last week of February) has become the annual rite of Jewish loathing and Israel-bashing on American campuses. It is for a new generation of Jewish college students to confront this obscene spectacle that demeans its anti-Semitic perpetrators far more than its targeted Israeli villains.






The Politics of Demography

The Algemeiner (March 20, 2014)

 It is endlessly reiterated that a demographic disaster looms for Israel if it does not relinquish its biblical homeland for a Palestinian state. Everyone from Yasser Arafat to Barack Obama has said so. The PLO leader gleefully predicted: “the womb of the Palestinian woman will defeat the Zionists.” The American president ominously warned: “Given the demographics west of the Jordan River, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine.”

But predictions of Israel’s looming demographic calamity are ancient history. During the First Intifada, Haifa University professor Arnon Sofer predicted that Israel would become “non-Jewish” by the turn of the century. Early in the new century, Israeli demographer Sergio Della-Pergola anticipated that before its first decade ended “Jews will become a minority in the lands that include Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.” It did not happen.

Such “demographic panic” has been fed by false data from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. In 2007 it claimed that 2,500,000 Arabs inhabited the West Bank and Jerusalem. But even the Bureau head conceded that these exaggerated numbers represented “a civil intifada” designed to undermine Jewish settlements. Other Palestinian ministries acknowledged a considerably lower West Bank population of 1.6 million Arabs.

During the past two decades Arab births west of the Jordan River have stabilized while Jewish births have increased. When Israel celebrated its sixty-fifth anniversary of independence in 2013, six million Jews (including 350,000 settlers in Judea and Samaria) comprised 75.3% of its population, which also included 1.6 million Arab citizens (20.7 percent). Even including 1.6 million West Bank Palestinians, Israel still enjoyed nearly a 2:1 majority west of the Jordan River.

Birth-rate projections indicate continued Jewish population growth, largely concentrated among settler families and the ultra-Orthodox, in conjunction with a declining Arab share of Israeli births. The most recent numbers from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics indicate that in 2013 the Jewish birthrate increased by 1.3 percent while the Muslim birthrate fell by 5.5 percent.

As Israeli demographer Yoram Ettinger has warned: “Beware of Palestinians bearing demographic numbers.” Given available data, it is highly unlikely that Jews will be outnumbered in the foreseeable future, except in the forebodings of settlement critics and the longings of Palestinians for a Judenrein state.

But there will always be gullible journalists, New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren among them. In her interview with Tareq Abbas, son of the president of the Palestinian Authority (now in the ninth year of his four-year term), she wrote (March 19): “Palestinians are comforted by demographics. There are already more Arabs than Jews living between the river and the sea, plus millions of Palestinian refugees, and generally higher Palestinian birthrates.” She was glaringly wrong on all counts.

As for actual Palestinian refugees, only UNRWA, the United Nations organization that exists to exaggerate and perpetuate their numbers, believes that bloated figure. There surely are millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees (as there are of Holocaust victims). But the actual number of Palestinian refugees still living is estimated at 30-50,000. Even if they all returned to Israel next month it would make no significant demographic difference in the Jewish state.

The far more horrific refugee problem, which the world prefers to ignore, is 2.5 million Syrians who have recently been driven from their country. As Anne Barnard wrote in the Times (March 18), “the Syrian displacement dwarfs the exodus from British-mandate Palestine during the war over Israel’s founding in 1948.” Palestinians take notice.

What does it say that egregious distortions continue to place Palestinians on center stage, feeding the worldwide delegitimization of Israel as a racist apartheid state, while Syrian refugees are all but ignored?


In Hebron, Victory at Last !

The Algemeiner (March 12, 2014)

The ancient city of Hebron, twenty miles south of Jerusalem, has long been a source of seething conflict between Arabs and Jews. According to the biblical narrative (Gen. 23), Abraham purchased the Cave of Machpelah for four hundred silver shekels as the burial place for Sarah. It was the first parcel of land owned by the Jewish people in their promised land.

It has been a Jewish holy site ever since. King David reigned from Hebron before relocating his throne to Jerusalem to unify his kingdom. But just as Muslims claimed the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, so they wrested Machpelah from Jews, who were forbidden entry to their sacred shrine for seven hundred years after 1267. The centuries-old Hebron community was destroyed in 1929 when rampaging Arabs murdered sixty-seven Jews.

For more than a decade after the Six-Day War restored Hebron to Israeli authority, Jews were not permitted to reclaim abandoned and stolen property in their ancient city. A hesitant Israeli government was unwilling to permit Jews to inhabit Hebron, lest their presence rile local Arabs – and Israeli politicians who wanted nothing to do with holy sites or religious Zionists.

In 1979 a group of women led by Miriam Levinger and Sarah Nachshon, accompanied by several dozen young children, made a surprise nighttime return to Beit Hadassah, the former medical clinic. Hebron, asserted Mrs. Levinger, “will no longer be Judenrein.” A fledgling Jewish community sought to restore the “duality of nation and religion” that had been entwined in Judaism before Jews were forcible exiled from their homeland nearly two thousand years earlier

As difficult as it was to persuade Israeli courts to permit Jews to return to abandoned Jewish property, the government made it all but impossible to purchase property even from willing Arab sellers. Nearly a decade ago Morris Abraham, a New York businessman whose great-grandfather had lived in Hebron until the 1929 pogrom, purchased a large four-story building through an intermediary after prolonged negotiations with its Palestinian Arab owner.

On the road connecting Kiryat Arba to Hebron, it was near the site where twelve Israelis had been murdered in a deadly terrorist attack three years earlier. After extensive renovations, Hebron Jews took possession of their new home in March 2007, naming it “Beit HaShalom,” house of peace. Eight families moved in, and Israeli soldiers promptly claimed the roof as a superb lookout post.

Then began a legal struggle that resembled Jarndyce v. Jarndyce in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. The Supreme Court ordered an investigation of the transaction. Police concluded that it was a legal sale. A local Hebron Arab told a reporter: “We will find the seller and chop him up into tiny pieces.” To protect his own life, the middleman for the seller denied the validity of the sale but the seller had been filmed receiving and counting his million dollar proceeds.

More than a year later the Attorney General initiated legal proceedings to expel the new residents – eight families who had endured a miserably cold winter in their unheated apartments – until a lower court determined the legality of the purchase. The Israeli Municipal Court ruled in favor of the Jewish owners, but the Arabs appealed. Dismayed by the endless delays, Morris Abraham despaired of “Israeli democracy.” Pending a final ruling, the government authorized the evacuation of Beit HaShalom. As protests mounted, Attorney General Ehud Barak warned against “attempts by small groups of radicals to undermine the authority of the state.”

In December Israeli security forces stormed Beit HaShalom and, with the aid of stun grenades and tear gas, forcibly evicted its residents. Barak announced: “The building will be under IDF and state control until the court decides to whom it belongs.”

Now, five years later, the Supreme Court has decided, rejecting Arab appeals and upholding the legitimacy of the purchase. The responses were predictable. Housing Minister Uri Ariel celebrated the decision that Beit HaShalom “belongs to Jews.” Left-wing Knesset member Nitzan Horowitz, joined by Peace Now, urged that Jews not be allowed to live in the building. But David Wilder, spokesman for the Hebron Jewish community, exulted “Victory at last!”






Ganging Up Against Netanyahu

The Algemeiner (March 7, 2014)

In President Obama’s recent White House interview with Jeffrey Goldberg (reported in BloombergView, March 2), what the president had to say about Israel grabbed headlines and, justifiably, stirred no small measure of outrage from critics for its timing, factual inaccuracies and tone.

On the eve of his arrival in the United States and his meeting with the President, Prime Minister Netanyahu was warned that time is running out for the Jewish State as “a Jewish-majority democracy” if it fails to make peace now. Obama cited three reasons for the urgency: “changes in demographics,” meaning an expanding Palestinian population between the Jordan River and Mediterranean; the growth of Jewish settlements; and the commitment by an aging President Abbas to non-violence and diplomacy, which might not outlive him.

Indisputably, President Abbas is growing older. But on demography and settlement expansion, President Obama was flagrantly mistaken. He told Goldberg: “There are going to be more Palestinians, not fewer Palestinians, as time goes on. There are going to be more Arab-Israelis, not fewer Arab-Israelis, as time goes on.” For Israel to survive “as a democracy and a Jewish state,” President Obama insisted, it must reach “a peace deal with the Palestinians and a two-state solution.”

But the demographic threat, designed to force Israel into submission lest its democratic identity be undermined, is non-existent. Ominous warnings of a rising Palestinian population tide are erroneous. Jews currently comprise three-quarters of the Israeli population and two-thirds of the entire population west of the Jordan. The Israeli Jewish fertility rate is rising; the Palestinian birth rate has declined significantly since the turn of the century. The existing Jewish majority west of the Jordan River is in no danger of submersion under a nonexistent Palestinian tidal wave.  

As for Jewish settlements, the President’s apprehension over their presumably alarming growth is similarly misplaced. Obama told Goldberg: “we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple of years than we’ve seen in a very long time.” True enough in percentage terms; last year settlement housing more than doubled. But, as Evelyn Gordon noted on her Commentary blog (March 4), it doubled “from such a low base” as to maintain Netanyahu’s ranking in new settlement housing starts at the bottom of Israeli prime ministers since Yitzhak Rabin. “Never has settlement construction been as low,” Gordon notes, as under Netanyahu.

Obama’s implicit assumption that Jewish settlement construction is not only excessive but illegal is also misplaced. As Alan Baker, Israeli international law expert and former ambassador to Canada, wrote the day after the Goldberg interview: “Israel and the Jewish people have very well-based and long-standing inalienable, indigenous, historic, legal and international rights in the area including Judea and Samaria.” Among Baker’s salient points: the West Bank territories are disputed, not occupied, since there was no legitimate sovereign prior to 1967; neither the 1949 Armistice line nor the 1967 “borders” have standing under international law; Israel has complied with international norms, building only on land that is not privately owned.

Obama’s display of Chicago manners, perhaps best left to his former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, was almost immediately obliterated by the Russian invasion of Crimea, which has dominated headlines ever since. But The New York Times Editorial Board could not permit the American president’s “remarkably blunt” dissing of Netanyahu to pass without a supportive lead editorial (March 6).

Repeating Obama’s erroneous projections and groundless warnings about “more Palestinians, not fewer Palestinians, as time goes on,” and Israel’s “aggressive settlement construction,” the editorial proclaimed: “These are the hard facts that need to be broadcast widely.” But they are not facts; they are misstatements of fact that neither the Times nor the President wish to acknowledge.

President Obama, paraphrasing Rabbi Hillel’s memorable questions, asked Netanyahu: “If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who?” But he conspicuously omitted the rabbi’s first question: “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?”




Is Jordan Palestine?

The Algemeiner (February 25, 2014)

King Abdullah of Jordan is displaying discernible signs of panic over the future of his kingdom. Dismissing any notion that it might become an “alternative homeland” for Palestinians, he recently declared to high Jordanian officials: “Jordan is Jordan and Palestine is Palestine and nothing but that, not in the past or the future.”

According to Arutz Sheva (February 24), the Jordanian state news agency Petra reported that in a meeting with his parliamentary leaders the king warned of “talk about the so-called alternative homeland” for Palestinians. “This, God willing, will be the last time we talk about this subject.” 

There is, apparently, increasing concern in Amman lest Secretary of State Kerry’s proposed framework agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority might implicate Jordan. The king is worried that Jordan would be required to accept even more West Bank Palestinians than it already has (now comprising a majority of the population). He is hopeful that any peace agreement will include the transfer of Palestinians from Jordan to the new Palestinian state.

The first indication of concern was back in 2007 with the revocation of Jordanian citizenship of thousands of Palestinians, who were declared to be “stateless refugees.” (Imagine the international outcry if Israel acted similarly toward its own Palestinian citizens.) Further revealing of their precarious status in the Hashemite kingdom, some 340,000 Palestinians are still confined in Jordanian refugee camps.

The king has reason to be worried lest Jordan might become the State of Palestine. History reveals why. Back in 1920, when the League of Nations Mandate to govern Palestine was bestowed upon Great Britain, it cited “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and the legitimacy of grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.” Jews were granted the right of settlement throughout “Palestine,” comprising the land east and west of the Jordan River.

Great Britain, however, retained the right to “postpone” or “withhold” Jewish settlement east of the Jordan. Two years later, with the creation of Transjordan by the British to reward Prince Abdullah of Arabia for his wartime cooperation, Jewish settlement was restricted to the land – all of it - west of the Jordan. That right has never been rescinded. It includes Hebron no less than Tel Aviv.

So it is that Jordanian Palestinians are already at home, east of the Jordan River, which comprises two-thirds of Mandatory Palestine. Surely the resistance of Hashemite monarchs, backed by Bedouin tribes, should not be permitted by the international community to impede Palestinian statehood within the borders of their own national home according to international law.

Jordan’s Foreign Minister has firmly declared that his nation will not be an “alternative home for anybody.” That is one way of looking at it. But what if it were to become the national home of the Palestinian people, in Palestine as it was defined nearly a century ago? The result would be two states for two peoples. Loyal followers of the current Hashemite rulers could certainly expect to be treated at least as well as the Palestinians they have governed since 1948, when the Kingdom of Jordan invaded the fledgling Jewish state of Israel.

That futile attempt to drive Jews into the sea, in which Jordan’s Arab allies gleefully joined, created the Palestinian refugee problem that has been blamed on Israel ever since. King Abdullah may insist: “Jordan is Jordan and Palestine is Palestine.” History suggest otherwise: Jordan is Palestine. It should welcome Palestinians with open arms, grant them citizenship, vacate the refugee camps and yield to democratic imperatives – precisely as its next-door neighbor Israel did with its new refugees from Arab lands sixty-six years ago.

Surely that would mark a dramatic step toward peace now that even Secretary of State Kerry would gladly embrace.






Moshe Ya’alon and the Dangers of Truth-Telling

The Algemeiner (January 16, 2014)

As former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and current Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon have recently been reminded, honesty in politics can be costly. Gates’s memoir, Duty, recounts the resistance of President Obama to winning wars, especially in Afghanistan. The former Secretary concluded, in a memorable passage: “the president doesn’t trust his commander, … doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.” That is not the way to win friends from Obama administration lackeys in Washington or the liberal media.

Defense Minister Ya’alon detonated a minefield in Washington with his sharp criticism of Secretary of State John Kerry’s frenetic shuttle diplomacy in an effort to wangle even the “framework” of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Israel’s former Chief of Staff was quoted in Yedioth Ahronoth as dismissing the American security plan as “not worth the paper it’s written on. It contains no peace and no security.” He castigated Kerry’s “misplaced obsession and messianic fervor” to wrap up a peace agreement, urging the Secretary to “take his Nobel Prize and leave us alone.”

Howls of outrage were heard in Washington. A State Department spokeswoman condemned Ya’alon’s comments as “offensive and inappropriate,” adding, “To question [Kerry’s] motives and distort his proposals is not something we would expect from the defense minister of a close ally.” Apologies from Jerusalem followed. Prime Minister Netanyahu, evidently pressed to criticize Ya’alon for his truth-telling indiscretion, tried to make amends: “We stand up for our national interests and one of those is continuing to cultivate our connection with our ally, the United States.” Israeli President Shimon Peres, always eager to please, thanked President Obama “for his full responsiveness to our security and intelligence needs” and Secretary Kerry for his “determined efforts to make peace.” A release from the Israeli Defense Ministry followed: “The defense minister had no intention to cause any offense to the secretary, and he apologizes if the secretary was offended by words attributed to the minister.”

Ya’alon’s indiscretion, or calculated time-bomb, might best be understood as the warning of an experienced military commander that even the current talk of a limited Israeli, or international, presence in the Jordan Valley, which Palestinian Authority President Abbas has dismissively rejected, falls far short of Israel’s security needs. To say nothing of Palestinian insistence upon the restoration of pre-1967 borders, the re-division of Jerusalem, and the return of Palestinian refugees  - to Israel, not to a Palestinian state.

As Jonathan S. Tobin writes on the Commentary blog (January 14): “The question facing both Israel and the United States is not so much what to do about Ya’alon or other members of Netanyahu’s Cabinet who can’t keep their mouths shut, but at what point it will behoove the two governments to acknowledge the futility of Kerry’s endeavor.”

Whether or not Ya’alon should have gone public with his criticism of Kerry – the decorum question – is far less consequential than whether what he said is true. It may rile the faithful, as former Secretary Gates has also discovered, to reveal what lies behind the mask (and what lies can be found there). But those who yearn for even a morsel of truth-telling in the political arena, in Israel no less than in the United States, have reason to appreciate Defense Minister Ya’alon’s blunt candor.

To be sure, that is not the emerging wisdom among Israeli pundits. Even Times of Israel editor David Horovitz released a plague on both houses, writing (January 15): “if Kerry has been arrogant and willfully blind, Ya’alon for his part shows precious little political vision.” But Ya’alon, to his credit as a truth-teller, issued a necessary reminder that it will take more than a whirling American diplomatic dervish, determined to set frequent-flying records, to wean Palestinians and their allies from their unrelenting hostility to a Jewish state in their midst.





When is Incitement “Incitement”

The Algemeiner (January 7, 2014)

Soon after Adolph S. Ochs purchased The New York Times in 1896, he pledged “to write intelligent discussion from all shades of opinion.” His firm commitment was bolstered with a new motto for the newspaper, which has appeared in the top left corner of page 1 ever since: “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” Left unstated was Och’s equally strong determination that the Times would never appear to be a “Jewish newspaper.” Those pledges have competed uneasily for ascendancy ever since. They still do.

The most recent example (January 7) is instructive. The story headline reads: “Israeli Officials Point to an Intensifying Campaign of ‘Incitement’ by Palestinians.” Nothing new about that, to be sure – except for the quotation marks surrounding “Incitement,” which imply that it is a figment of the Israeli imagination. To be sure, Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren offers several compelling – and disgusting – examples of the phenomenon. The website for Palestinian Authority schools carries quotations from Hitler. A young girl appears on Palestinian television to describe Jews as “barbaric monkeys, wretched pigs.”  Palestinian maps do not show Israel.  A Fatah video featured masked fighters singing “With these rockets we will crush the Zionist enemy.”  And so it goes.

One might imagine that such evidence, which flourishes in abundance in Palestinian media and among Palestinian Authority officials, including President Mahmoud Abbas, would qualify as incitement, not “incitement.” But not for the Times.

What “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others call ‘incitement’ as a prime obstacleto peace” is, by Rudoren’s strong implication (and liberal use of quotation marks), merely fanciful rhetoric. Indeed, the Times conception of objectivity, balance and fairness requires that Palestinian allegations of Israeli incitement – but not “incitement” – be duly noted. To the implicit disadvantage of Palestinian readers of Haaretz, these include the failure of Israeli newspapers to include Palestinian territory in their weather maps. Now that is real “incitement.”

Once Rudoren moves beyond allegations to facts it gets worse. Referring to the Balfour Declaration of 1917, she identifies it as the moment when “Britain endorsed the idea of a Jewish state in Palestine.” No. In his famous letter to Lord Rothschild, Foreign Secretary Lord Arthur Balfour actually wrote: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” Whatever “national home” might mean – and Zionists no less than everyone else interpreted its ambiguity variously to suit their own purposes – Lord Balfour had most certainly not endorsed the idea of Jewish statehood.

Where, indeed, was the “Palestine” to which Lord Balfour referred? Until the League of Nations Mandate was drafted five years later, “Palestine” included the land east and west of the Jordan River that now comprises the Kingdom of Jordan, Judea and Samaria (Jordan’s “West Bank” between 1949-1967) and Israel. But as a reward to Prince Abdullah of Mecca for his service to the British cause during the World War, Article 25 of the Mandate authorized Great Britain, as the Mandatory power, to “postpone or withhold” Jewish settlement east of the Jordan River. So Trans-Jordan became Abdullah’s Protectorate and he became its king. The right of Jews to settle everywhere west of the Jordan River – in Hebron no less than Haifa - was not abridged.

If The New York Times cannot get Palestinian incitement (or “incitement”) and the Balfour Declaration right, Adolph Ochs’s proud pledge remains far from fulfillment. On the other hand, the Times certainly remains faithful to his insistence that it not become a “Jewish” newspaper.






Jewish Legal Rights in the Land of israel

American Thinker (December 26, 2013)

Diplomatic negotiations are invariably accompanied by rumors fueled by a combination of inside knowledge, leaks, and vivid imaginings that anticipate their outcome. So it is with current Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which seem to limp along in limbo, periodically interrupted by Secretary of State Kerry’s frenetic visits and palpable arm-twisting of Israel. But a report in Arutz-7 (December 23), Israel’s right-wing news service, suggests that behind the public screen of negotiating paralysis Israel is preparing to make sweeping and, to say the least, alarming concessions.

Palestinian sources have apparently disclosed that in stages over the next decade Israel is prepared to withdraw its soldiers and civilians from the strategically crucial Jordan Valley, and the biblical homeland of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). In Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, the historic Old City and the Temple Mount, the holiest Jewish site, would form an autonomous region under international supervision.

This “disclosure” may only represent scare tactics designed to stiffen the backs of the Netanyahu government and its negotiators. But it nonetheless raises the perennial question about the legality of Israeli “occupation” of “Palestinian” land since its 1967 victory in the Six-Day War and the subsequent proliferation of Jewish settlements (now numbering more than 120, with 350,000 residents).

Israel’s critics incessantly claim that it is illegally “occupying” Palestinian land, and that Jewish settlements violate Article 49 of the Geneva Convention (1949), which stipulates that an “Occupying Power” may not “deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” But Article 49, as a bevy of international law experts have pointed out, applies to the invasion of sovereign states and is inapplicable to Israel because Jordan never held legal sovereignty over the West Bank. Furthermore, Jewish settlers hardly were deported or transferred, as were the citizens of European countries by Nazi Germany during World War II; they relocated entirely of their own volition.

Indeed, Jews have enjoyed the right of “close settlement” west of the Jordan River under international law dating to the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine (Article 6) granted to Great Britain in 1922. That included what illegally became Jordan’s West Bank between 1948-1967 no less than Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Hebron and the surrounding land.

Following World War II, when the United Nations replaced the League of Nations, Article 80 provided that “nothing in its Charter shall be construed … to alter in any manner the rights whatsoever of any states or any peoples or the terms of existing international instruments.” U.N. Resolution 242, carefully and laboriously drafted following the Six-Day War, stipulated that Israel would only be required to withdraw its armed forces – civilians were not mentioned – from “territories” gained in the war, not from “the” territories or “all” the territories.

There is, consequently, an irrefutable legal argument, grounded in nearly a century of international law, which supports Jewish settlement throughout Judea and Samaria. It bolsters historic Jewish claims grounded in the biblical text, King David’s rule, and subsequent periods of Jewish national sovereignty in the Land of Israel.

There is only one problem: successive Israeli governments since 1967, whether on the left or right, have abjectly failed to assert Jewish settlement rights. Why? Left-wing politicians have long since relinquished settling the land of Israel, the dream that galvanized their pioneering socialist Zionist predecessors, for normalization, individualism, prosperity, world approval, and peace now.

With occasional exceptions, right-wing politicians – most conspicuously Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – have tacitly endorsed Labor Party anti-settlement policy. Apprehensive of the religious right, and its relentless determination to settle the entire Land of Israel, their secular principles have made them wary of religious claims based on divine promise.

In their determination to stifle the religious right, and retain their hold on power, Netanyahu and his political allies have ignored the irrefutable legal case for Jewish settlement throughout Judea and Samaria. The Israeli Foreign Ministry declares on its website: “Jewish settlement in West Bank and Gaza Strip territory has existed from time immemorial and was expressly recognized as legitimate in the Mandate for Palestine adopted by the League of Nations, which provided for the establishment of a Jewish state in the Jewish people’s ancient homeland.” Yet one would need to search long and hard to find statements even by right-wing ministers supporting Jewish settlement rights under international law.

Recently a group of international legal experts has begun to fill the void left by politicians. As Nadav Shragai documents in Israel Hayom (December 23), lawyers at the Regavim Institute Center for Zionism, Justice and Society and the Legal Forum for Israel have strongly and persuasively asserted that Judea and Samaria are not “occupied territory.” Indeed, Jewish settlement rights are solidly grounded in ninety years of international law and “the historic right of the Jewish people to sovereignty over the Land of Israel.”

Even if John Kerry embraces the Palestinian position, that is no reason for the government of Israel to abandon legitimate historic and Jewish claims to its own homeland.






What American Generals Knew About Peace

The Algemeiner (December 20, 2013)

By all indications, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, propelled by the ubiquitous John Kerry, are wending their weary way nowhere. Their most recent kerfluffle concerned the future presence of Israeli soldiers along the Jordan River Valley, which Israel demands as a necessary deterrent to infiltration and an early warning system against Arab invasion through (or above) Jordan.

The negotiators, prodded by retired US general John Allen (Kerry’s military adviser), have been quibbling over whether a small Israeli military presence would be stationed along the border, or a larger force would patrol the nine-mile wide Jordan Valley, protecting the major north-south highway that links a chain of several dozen agricultural communities inhabited by nearly ten thousand Israelis. There is also disagreement over the duration of any Israeli military presence, whether for a minimum of ten years (as Israeli negotiators insist) or not even for ten minutes (as Palestinians demand).

Palestinian Authority president Abbas claims that any Israeli military presence would undermine Palestinian national sovereignty. Prime Minister Netanyahu refuses to delegate responsibility for Israeli security to  international patrols (for reasons, remember south Lebanon and the Gaza-Sinai border). So, it seems, stalemate is assured.

Ever since 1967, when Israel’s stunning victory in the Six-Day War returned the Jewish people to their biblical homeland in Judea and Samaria (previously Jordan’s West Bank), Israeli military and security experts have wrestled with the future of this territory. Would it be retained by Israel, as the political and religious Right demanded; relinquished to the Palestinians, as the Left insisted; or divided? The most widely discussed postwar partition plan, presented by Cabinet minister Yigal Allon, proposed annexation of the Jordan Valley by Israel and return of the remainder of the West Bank to King Hussein of Jordan. It went nowhere.

Back then, as now, American military experts contributed their own recommendations for a territorial solution. Mark Langfan, a New York attorney who heads Americans for a Safe Israel and writes frequently about Israeli security issues, recently disclosed a top-secret US Joint Chiefs of Staff Memorandum. Dated June 29, 1967, and signed by General Earle G. Wheeler (chairman of USJCoS), it focused on Israel’s security needs. For its time, and for its prescience, it remains an eye-opener.

The Wheeler memo analyzed Israel’s “defensible” borders. Rejecting the Jordan Valley limitations of the Allon Plan, the Joint Chiefs asserted that “from a strictly military point of view,” Israel would require “control of the prominent high ground running north-south” through the West Bank. And not only over the mountain ridge, but “a portion of the foothills” to the east to protect Israeli villages from artillery attacks.

In translation, as Langfan indicates, the Israeli “military establishment,” which for years supported the far more geographically limited Allon Plan, opposed the military conclusions reached by the Joint Chiefs of Staff about Israel’s security needs. So much for Israeli intransigence.

The Joint Chiefs 1967 map of “Defensible” Israeli Borders is an eye opener. The minimum territory recommended for Israeli security included all of Judea and the western half of Samaria. The “non-annexed zone” was confined to eastern Samaria, running from the northern tip of the Dead Sea to Israel’s pre-1967 border. And, as Langfan notes, that recommendation preceded the introduction of shoulder-fired anti-air missiles, chemical weapons, and laser guidance and radar detection that might be available to the next generation of Arab attackers.

To be sure, the Joint Chiefs report preceded the Oslo Accords, the illusion designed to bring peace now between Israelis and Palestinians that Secretary Kerry works so tirelessly to create. Twenty years later, however, it seems that American military experts may have known something that still eludes their Israeli counterparts. By now, even right-wing Israeli politicians have signed on to Palestinian statehood in at least part of the biblical Jewish homeland. The only issue is how much of the land west of the Jordan River, reserved ninety years ago by the League of Nations Mandate for “close settlement” by Jews, Israel will relinquish.

There are even Israeli military experts who claim that “there is no threat from the east” – as though local rocket armories, to say nothing of Iran, did not exist. To be sure, 1967 seems long ago. But perhaps the Joint Chiefs of Staff knew something about Israel’s security needs that still eludes many Israelis – and American diplomats.