The Jewish Press (November 20, 2011)
At the end of the Six-Day War, a tearfully triumphant Israeli soldier, standing at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, realized that he was “facing two thousand years of exile, the whole history of the Jewish people[.]” Suddenly and unexpectedly, the biblical homeland — east and west from Jericho to Jerusalem and north and south from Nablus to Hebron — was restored to Jewish sovereignty.
After 1967, handfuls — then hundreds and eventually thousands — of Israelis accepted the challenge that had always defined Zionism: to build new settlements in the ancient homeland. For their persistent — and astonishingly successful — efforts, they have been relentlessly excoriated ever since as colonial occupiers stealing land that belongs to another people, known to the world ever since the war as Palestinians.
By now, for many Israelis, the miracle of return has become the calamity of conquest. Many Israeli journalists, scholars, and their political allies on the left, yearning for international approval, have become avid collaborators in the increasingly hostile delegitimization of the Jewish state.
Their primary targets, whose growing presence and power in Israel challenge their own self-proclaimed right to rule, are — predictably — religious Jews. Confronting 300,000 Jewish settlers living in biblical Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), the rising birthrates of ultra-Orthodox Jews, and the increasing presence of religious soldiers and officers in the Israel Defense Forces, the secular left feels under siege.
No Israeli journalist writing for an American audience more vividly expresses this acute discomfort than Gershom Gorenberg. Born in the American heartland (Missouri), raised and university-educated in California, for many years now a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, he is an accomplished journalist (and an Orthodox Jew) who loathes ultra-Orthodox “fundamentalists” and Jewish settlers for destroying the Israel of his dreams.
Gorenberg’s decade-long diatribe against settlers began with The End of Days (2000), a critique of religious fundamentalism. It continued with The Accidental Empire (2006), exploring the formative decade of Jewish settlement after the Six-Day War. His trilogy has now culminated with The Unmaking of Israel, in which his animosity toward religious Zionist settlers and ultra-Orthodox Jews is palpable.
The “defining contradiction of Israel’s history,” he writes, is “the inner clash between chauvinism and liberalism, between ethnocracy and democracy.” Yearning for Israel to become a “liberal democracy,” perhaps even a Middle Eastern California, Gorenberg displays the intolerant zeal toward his political enemies that he attributes to his ideological opponents.
The “divided soul” of the Jewish state, in his lament, is largely the post-1967 consequence of Jewish settlements. Gorenberg’s liberal solution is apartheid in reverse. With “ending the occupation” as his mantra, he sees no problem in transferring three hundred thousand Jews from their homes, by force if necessary, to create a Judenrein Palestine.
Only if Israel relinquishes the biblical homeland of the Jewish people and expels its Jewish residents, Gorenberg believes, can it be “saved.” The dismal alternative is “ethnocracy,” a derogatory label borrowed from Oren Yiftachel, an Israeli academic who has built his career by claiming that Israel is guilty of “creeping apartheid.”
To create the “liberal nation-state” of Gorenberg’s dreams, draconian changes are necessary. Israel must dismantle settlements, divorce state and synagogue by disestablishing religion, and become a state in which “all citizens” (excluding, of course, settlers) become equal as the result of affirmative action programs for Israeli Arabs.
Along the way, the new “liberal” state must purge the IDF of its “ideological [i.e., religious] profiles,” while ending “the creeping development of an officer corps that could obey a radical clergy instead of the government.” Rabbis must no longer be permitted to teach soldiers about “the sacred value of land.” To be sure, little sacred land will be left under Gorenberg’s plan, except for Tel Aviv.
In the land of Gorenberg, the “hallucinatory expectations” of religious Zionists, the Israelis who creatively fused Zionism with Judaism after the Six-Day War, will finally be stifled and Israel will be “saved.” It is, to say the least, a curious form of salvation that requires Judaism to be all but expunged from the Jewish state.
Gorenberg’s preferred model, revealingly, is the devastating Altalena episode of 1948. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, hallucinating a right-wing putsch to overthrow his government, ordered the IDF to shoot his Irgun enemies (led by the despised Menachem Begin) and destroy the ship that brought desperately needed weapons and fighters for the war for national independence. In a two-day battle, nineteen Jews were killed.
The Altalena “lessons” that Israel must now apply seem to require the forcible eradication of religious Zionists, “dedicated to fantasies of power and expansion,” whom Gorenberg deems to be enemies of the state. That unconscionable solution is likely to return Israel to the 1st century CE, when Jews fought each other in the streets of Jerusalem, destroying Jewish national sovereignty for nineteen hundred years.
The Altalena tragedy left a legacy of fratricidal bitterness between left and right that has morphed in recent years into a hostile struggle between secular Israelis and religious Jews over legitimacy and power. Ironically and sadly, Gorenberg’s vision of an exemplary state of liberal Jewish democrats (presumably like himself) reveals itself to be a Zionist nightmare in which perpetually bitter internecine conflict is virtually assured.
The Jewish Press (November 18, 2011)
In the good old days, Forest Hills, New York – where I grew up between 1939 and 1951 – was a shtetl for assimilated American Jews. Like my parents, all our neighbors were American-born offspring of Eastern European immigrants. A generation removed from their identity conflicts, we children knew that Forest Hills, liberated from Judaism, was our promised land.
My father and mother rejected the Romanian Orthodoxy and Bund Socialism of their immigrant parents for the security of American Judaism. My Jewish boyhood was spent on the secular side of the shared living-room wall that separated our apartment from our neighbors, Cantor Gorsky and his wife. Through that wall, every Friday evening, I heard him recite Kiddush and the Birkat Hamazon.
On weekday afternoons he taught neighborhood boys the haftarah for their bar mitzvah. Long before it was my turn to join them, I had memorized the blessings that floated into our apartment. To make sure, I was required to attend after-school Hebrew school at the nearby Forest Hills Jewish Center. It provided some of the more vivid miseries of my childhood. My bar mitzvah was mandatory, but there was a tacit understanding with my father that it would mark my exit from Judaism. And so it did.
Yet some Jewish culture and history penetrated. My older relatives spoke Yiddish when they did not want children to understand. (But we became reasonably adept translators.) At the end of World War II Life magazine photographs brought the Holocaust, which had never been mentioned, into our home – though it was not a matter for discussion.
I also discovered that Hank Greenberg, the baseball star so beloved by American Jews for his perfect fusion of identities – hitting home runs on Rosh Hashanah and going to shul on Yom Kippur – was our cousin. His sister’s family hosted interminable Passover Seders, which invariably drove my cousins and me from the table after the Fourth Question.
I knew about Israel, born just after my twelfth birthday, because letters to my father began arriving from his Romanian relatives who had survived the war to make aliyah. I was intrigued by the foreign postage stamps and secretly proud of his generosity to our previously unknown cousins. But Israel never was a topic of family conversation.
My high-school years (at Horace Mann in Riverdale) were shared with other non-Jewish Jewish boys whose parents, like mine, wanted their sons to be free of Jewish encumbrances. I first encountered Christian America in Oberlin, Ohio, my college hometown. Before Sunday lunch, my classmates spontaneously sang the Doxology, praising “Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” Then we were served ham or pork chops. Christmas trees sparkled in every dormitory living room.
Eventually armed with my doctorate, I arrived at Brandeis in 1965 to teach American history. Brandeis aspired to become the Jewish – but not too Jewish – Harvard. It proudly displayed its Protestant, Catholic and Jewish chapels, but I never saw anyone enter or leave this ecumenical enclave at the campus edge. Yet it canceled classes on Shemini Atzeret, a holiday totally unknown to me.
After five years of late-1960s campus turbulence I relinquished Jewish zaniness for the Christian decorum of Wellesley College, dedicated since 1875 to the education of young women. Like its ivy-covered Big Brothers and most other Seven Sister colleges, Wellesley had entrenched admission quotas designed to perpetuate an Anglo-Saxon Protestant elite.
Genteel anti-Semitism was the pervasive Wellesley norm. By the time I arrived, Jewish students were no longer segregated within their dormitories. But just a few years earlier an Orthodox student who requested postponement of exams scheduled on the High Holy Days was incarcerated in the infirmary for the duration, without access to books or friends, and served treif food she could not eat – to ensure that she would not cheat. In the Religion Department, the unofficial custodian of Christian culture at the college, no Jew had ever received tenure nor was a Jew permitted to teach the required New Testament course.
A year after my arrival I learned from a Brandeis friend about a program, sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, to bring “disaffected Jewish academics” to Israel for two weeks of exposure to the Jewish state. Realizing that I was a perfect candidate, I applied, was accepted, and in December 1972 made the journey that would transform my life.
Our group leader, Yehuda Rosenman, was a Polish Holocaust survivor who realized that American Jewish academics were becoming lost souls, indifferent to Israel at best and prepared to jump on the bandwagon of anti-Zionist hostility that had begun to penetrate campus life. I was not an easy convert. I fought Yehuda like a rebellious son who was determined not to be brainwashed into discarding my cherished liberal clichés for something as parochial as Jewish identity.
I returned home, mildly confused over where “home” really was. A year later I was in Israel as a Fulbright Lecturer at Tel Aviv University. There, ironically, I taught Israelis about the American promised land. I could not speak Hebrew; bank and customs procedures drove me wild with frustration; my two young children attended schools where they did not understand a word; and the rhythms of the Jewish calendar eluded me. But we lived in Jerusalem, whose history and mystery had captivated me during my brief previous visit, and I wandered endlessly through its neighborhoods in my journey of Jewish self-discovery.
Late one October afternoon my nine-year-old-son and I, sweaty and dusty from a day of Old City exploration, returned to our nearby apartment in Rechavia. The streets were astonishingly quiet: no buses or cars, honking horns, or even people. Nothing moved. I suddenly realized the imminence of Yom Kippur. Ashamed, we crept up the stairs to our apartment, hoping not to be seen by our new neighbors. Safely inside, we ate a quiet dinner, and awakened the next morning to a silent city immersed in solemn observance. It was the first of many painfully revealing encounters that year in Israel with the Jew I had spent thirty-five years evading.
The transformative moment came on a damp and chilly December afternoon when I took refuge inside Wilson’s Arch, adjacent to the Kotel. There I listened to the soothing drone of prayer. Lulled half-asleep, I was suddenly roused by a piercing, haunting voice, echoing off the ancient stone walls. I had not heard such chanting in twenty-five years, since Cantor Gorsky’s voice had penetrated our living-room wall. It summoned me to become a Jew.
Returning to Wellesley after the year in Israel was not easy. Like a prim Victorian maiden, Wellesley had preserved its Christian decorum, rarely exposing its entrenched patterns of discrimination to public scrutiny. It took time before the disconnection between college values and the Jew I was finally becoming propelled me to act.
With abundant evidence of persistent and pervasive institutional anti-Semitism, I introduced a resolution in the Academic Council – the faculty governing body – condemning “the history and legacy of anti-Semitism” at Wellesley. After hours of excruciating debate during three acrimonious faculty meetings, my colleagues (amid thunderous administrative silence) finally decided to condemn anti-Semitism – and all other forms of discrimination.
My most fervent opponents were Court Jews who reflexively aligned themselves with the college, and Jewish universalists who were passionately committed to every worthy liberal cause yet unable to condemn discrimination against Jews. The Board of Trustees, faithful to the college mission, declined to endorse the resolution.
Entrenched college patterns were not easily dislodged. A brilliant young Jewish Bible scholar was denied tenure in the Religion Department. He sued the college, which overturned the decision to avoid shameful publicity. The next year he left Wellesley to pursue his distinguished academic career elsewhere. A talented young woman hired to teach Yiddish and Jewish literature was advised by her colleagues that “work in Yiddish wasn’t valuable.” Her American literature syllabus was criticized for including Saul Bellow, Cynthia Ozick and Bernard Malamud. She, too, left Wellesley.
But an outspoken black nationalist was already entrenched in the African-American Studies department, recently established to testify to Wellesley’s commitment to “diversity.” He assigned to his students a racist tract claiming that Jews, aligned “in an unholy coalition of kidnappers and slave makers,” were guilty of “monumental culpability” in slavery and the slave trade – “the black holocaust.” The college administration, hiding behind the principle of “academic freedom” (to slander Jews?), capitulated to his historical subversion and anti-Semitic tirades.
Wellesley remained my academic base, but Israel had become my spiritual home. My scholarly work in American history, ironically, prompted an offer from the Hebrew University. But family circumstances – and my own uncertainty about relinquishing my role as a Jewish outsider at Wellesley to become an American outsider in Israel – kept me in galut. A diaspora Jew I was, and knew that I would always remain.
But I never forgot an experience from my first Israel trip. On the way to meet with the Arab mayor of Hebron, our bus had passed Me’arat HaMachpelah.I knew nothing about the place of Hebron in Jewish history, or millennia of Jewish history in Hebron. But I was sufficiently intrigued by the looming Herodion walls, instantly evocative of the Western Wall, to want to return for answers.
Eventually I did. A decade later in Kiryat Arba, overlooking Hebron, I met Rabbi Eliezer Waldman, one of the pioneers of the restored Jewish community. He was, I realized, my Jewish Other. While I was growing up as an assimilated Jew in Queens, he was an Orthodox Jew in Brooklyn. While I played basketball at Horace Mann, he was studying in yeshiva. When I left New York for Boston, he made aliyah.
Rabbi Waldman sharply challenged my conventional liberal Jewish stereotypes. When I questioned him about the legality of Jewish settlements, he emphatically reminded me that the largest Jewish settlement in the Middle East was the state of Israel. I felt that we were struggling over my soul.
Over the years I visited an array of settlements: Gush Etzion, Ariel, Ofra, Kedumim, Itamar, and Bat Ayin among others. There, in biblical Judea and Samaria, I encountered the passionate renewal of Zionism, and its fusion with Judaism. At a time when Tel Aviv and Los Angeles had become virtually indistinguishable, it was a source of Jewish inspiration.
To be in Hebron for Shabbat Chayei Sarah, participating in the ecstatic davening inside Machpelah, was the most inspiring Jewish experience of my life. A decade later, the family circle was closed when my son and I, as if atoning for our Yom Kippur indiscretion, were there together.
But twenty-five years after the United Nations declared that Zionism was racism, American colleges and universities were becoming festering swamps of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. The world’s “longest hatred,” as Hebrew University historian Robert Wistrich has brilliantly described anti-Semitism in The Lethal Obsession, infested and polluted academe.
As Palestinian terror surged during the Second Intifada, claiming hundreds of Israeli lives, academic bedlam erupted over Israeli – not Palestinian – “atrocities” and “crimes.” Israel “apartheid weeks,” with demands for boycotts, divestments, and sanctions against the Jewish state, gained widespread popularity. Student activists in California universities build “apartheid walls” around their campuses. Episodes of anti-Semitic discrimination, vandalism, and intimidation erupted at Berkeley, Irvine and Santa Cruz. Hillel students at San Francisco State University required a police escort to their building and a guard posted outside.
On the East Coast the Middle Eastern Studies Department at Columbia displayed a conspicuous teaching bias against Israel while its faculty members intimidated pro-Israel students. The Zayed Center at Harvard, funded by the ruler of Abu Dhabi, promoted Holocaust denial; its director proclaimed that “Jews are the enemies of all nations.” At Yale, an interdisciplinary center for the study of anti-Semitism was recently closed for sponsoring a program on Muslim anti-Semitism.
Academic freedom came to mean the right to delegitimize Israel. Legions of Jew haters, Holocaust deniers, and Israel bashers were joined, and at times led, by self-hating Jewish academics – Tony Judt, Noam Chomsky, and Norman Finkelstein conspicuous among them. The betrayal of Israel by Jewish intellectuals became one of the defining attributes of university culture.
Like other “politically correct” academic institutions, Wellesley embraced a redefinition of “minority” that excluded Jews. Consigned to the privileged white majority, they were stripped of their Jewish identity. In this enclave of anti-Semitic decorum, the “strong male voices” of a handful of Jews (as the Hillel director expressed her discomfort) were unwelcome. Our female Jewish colleagues remained conspicuously silent.
I spent many hours reassuring Jewish students that they were not to blame for Wellesley’s Jewish problem. Sadly, they often internalized their hurt and berated themselves for Wellesley’s demure, yet destructive, anti-Semitism. It pained them to respond because, as one Jewish student leader explained, “We wanted to be accepted by our peers.” Confronting persistent hostility in an institution that self-righteously touted its “multicultural” sensitivity, another student confided: “I’m scared and confused and wonder if maybe…I’m doing something wrong by being Jewish.”
My public condemnation of anti-Semitism at Wellesley, like my published defenses of Israel and Jewish settlers, made me an academic pariah. Indeed, after my public graduation protest over the praise heaped on a professor I considered anti-Semitic, my photograph appeared on a website captioned “Jew Klux Klan.”
These days a right-wing Jewish professor belongs to an endangered species. But I wore it as a badge of honor. It was a small price to pay for my experiences with passionate religious Zionists whose courageous assertion of the Jewish imperative to settle the Land of Israel was inspirational.
My life turned out to be an unplanned journey from the wilderness of Jewish assimilation to the promised land of Jewish identity. As my experiences in Jerusalem and Hebron intersected with my forty years at Wellesley College, I became an academic pariah – and a proud Jew.
Society (October 13, 2011)
The trial of Adolph Eichmann was a transformative moment for the State of Israel. Thirteen years after its birth amid the ashes of the Holocaust, the trial brought an infamous Nazi war criminal to justice. Yet even fifty years later the Eichmann trial still raises some disturbing questions that lurk beneath the horrors inflicted on Jews by Nazi Germany.
The decision by the government of Israel to capture Eichmann in Argentina and bring him to trial in Jerusalem prompted a world-wide outpouring of responses. The presumption of a Jewish state in judging a Nazi war criminal elicited both malicious anti-Semitism and pathetic Jewish self-hatred. The behavior of Jews who went “like sheep to the slaughter” – or didn’t - was closely scrutinized. The maniacal obsession of Eichmann and his collaborators with the annihilation of Jews was exposed to a previously indifferent world. And – in Hannah Arendt’s infamous phrase – there was “the banality of evil” to confront.
Deborah E. Lipstadt’s The Eichmann Trial offers a valuable condensed account of what by now is the subject of voluminous analysis. Lipstadt, professor of modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies at Emory University, has made significant contributions to Holocaust denial literature. In Beyond Belief, she examined the unconscionable evasion of the Holocaust by the American press. Her Denying the Holocaust documented one of the more pathological obsessions of the past half-century. And History on Trial (winner of a Jewish National Book Award) recounted her own judicial ordeal after British Holocaust denier David Irving sued her for libel for accurately identifying him as a Holocaust denier.
Lipstadt presents a succinct summary of the trial that “transformed Jewish life and society as much as it passed judgment on a murderer.” Her perception that it marked the convergence of “history, memory, and the law” is crucial to grasping its significance. At the postwar Nuremberg trials, she perceptively observes, the “victors had sat in judgment.” But in Jerusalem, “the victims’ representatives would sit in judgment.”
It is sobering to be reminded that after World War II ended few nations cared about pursuing Eichmann, Josef Mengele, or other living Nazi mass murderers. Chancellor Adenauer’s West German government was riddled with former Nazis while the Allied powers were reluctant to offend their new Cold War ally. Israel, priding itself on its state-building success and military prowess, focused on “protecting live Jews, not avenging dead ones.” The Jewish state paid little attention to the traumatized Holocaust survivors who arrived after the war (The Seventh Million, the title of Israeli journalist Tom Segev’s stinging critique). The Mossad, Israel’s fabled secret intelligence agency, ignored reliable information that Eichmann was alive and well in Argentina.
Israel’s capture of Eichmann and its decision to bring him to trial unleashed a torrent of criticism, much of it - in the United States but not only here - tinged with venomous anti-Semitism. Among the gems of vulgarity that Lipstadt offers: Prime Minister Ben-Gurion’s claim that Israel, as the sole Jewish sovereign authority, had every right to try Eichmann was “inverse racism” (Time). Israeli “jungle law” was being applied “in the name of some imaginary Jewish ethnic identity” (Washington Post). Israel’s actions, according to the self-designated arbiter of “news fit to print,” were “immoral” and “illegal” – especially when applied to a “dull” bureaucrat who was “not worth hating” (New York Times).
At the level of Jewish self-hatred, there were appalling indictments of Israel - but not Eichmann. Harvard historian Oscar Handlin, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning The Uprooted was the classic study of immigration, berated Israel for its “act of revenge” against someone who was entitled to the “right of refuge” for the “private offense” of the Holocaust. Renowned psychologist Erich Fromm compared Israel’s “lawlessness” in bringing Eichmann to judgment to what “the Nazis themselves … have been guilty” of perpetrating. Leaders of the respected American Jewish Committee, the traditional bastion of assimilated Jews of German descent, advised Israeli government officials to stop ”harping constantly on the identity of the deceased Jews” and emphasize that Germans had also suffered under Eichmann and the Nazis.
The attorney general of Israel, Gideon Hausner, decided that he would be Eichmann’s prosecutor, despite legal expertise that was limited to commercial law. Lipstadt explores the sharp criticism of his decision to call more than one hundred survivors, many of whom had no wartime contact with Eichmann, to testify. Hausner was persuaded to do so by Rachel Auerbach (no relation), a member of the Oyneg Shabbes group in the Warsaw Ghetto that had meticulously gathered testimony and letters from the beleaguered residents, buried them in metal cans, and retrieved what remained after the war. It was her documentation (from Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial Museum and Archive in Jerusalem, where she worked) that convinced Hausner not only to focus on Eichmann’s crimes but also on the destruction of European Jewry as told by surviving witnesses.
It was a momentous decision, less for establishing Eichmann’s guilt, which was a foregone conclusion, than for educating the world about the Holocaust. “Controversial from a jurisprudential perspective,” Lipstadt recognizes, the decision to hear their testimony was nonetheless “monumental from a historical perspective.” It gave “a voice to the victims that they had not had before.” It also educated Israelis who, in their determination to be heroic fighters, had repressed memory of the Holocaust. With revealing chutzpah (arrogance), the Israeli government decided to translate the trial proceedings into English, French and German – but not Yiddish, the primary language of Eichmann’s victims and hundreds of thousands of Israeli survivors.
Lipstadt criticizes Hausner’s long-winded rhetoric as “histrionically glib and self-aggrandizing,” but it left its mark. Indeed, she notes the powerful symbolic significance of an Israeli prosecutor addressing the judges, at the outset of the trial, as “Shoftei Yisrael” –choosing the biblical reference to “Judges of Israel.” Hausner meticulously demonstrated that Eichmann was the Nazi officer responsible for the deportation of 1.5 million Jews to death camps and crematoria. Placing the entire burden of guilt on Eichmann – in the absence of Hitler, Goering, Goebbels, Mengele and other notorious Nazis – may have “served Hausner’s short-term rhetorical goal,” Lipstadt sharply concludes, “but did not serve the cause of history.” That is certainly debatable, as her own book demonstrates.
Perhaps Eichmann himself best served the cause of history. “I had no hatred of Jews,” he insisted during Hausner’s cross-examination, even denying that he was an anti-Semite. But Hausner had him read from a postwar interview transcript, in which Eichmann had proudly recounted his “uncompromising fanaticism”: “I do a job if I can understand the need for it or the meaning of it, and if I enjoy doing it. [Then] time will just fly by, and that is how it is with the Jews … when I recognized the necessity to do so, I carried out these [orders] with the degree of fanaticism one expected of oneself as a National Socialist of long standing.” Late in the war Eichmann organized the deportation of 437,00 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau – surely, Lipstadt notes, “the pinnacle or the abyss” of his achievements.
Yet Hausner’s relentless interrogation of survivors about their failure to resist the barbarism of their captors exposed a disturbing phenomenon that ”stupefied many people.” Why, he asked, had 15,000 inmates in the Plaszow camp (amid several hundred SS guards) merely observed the hanging of a young boy? It was, a witness explained, “terror inspiring fear.” And even if all the inmates escaped into an indifferent and silent world, “where would they go? What would they do?” Some resisters did testify. Abba Kovner, leader of the Vilna revolt, insisted that in such dire circumstances resistance was “not rational.” Jews, revealed Tzivia Lubetkin, a leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, feared that if one person resisted fifty might be murdered.
While Jews were being slaughtered millions of bystanders in many nations were silent collaborators. If Jews are to be pilloried for not resisting, what judgment is to be reached about those outside the camps, whether nearby or far away, who stood idly by and did nothing? Not all of them were Germans. Americans (including Jews and the president they revered) also closed their eyes and kept their nation’s doors shut until it was too late for six million Jews.
During the war even the Zionist Yishuv (the Jewish community in Palestine) had turned its back on European Jews. Yitzhak “Antek” Zuckerman, another brave leader of the Warsaw uprising (and Lubetkin’s husband), bitterly reminded Israeli poet Haim Gouri that the desperate Jewish fighters had “needed only one man who would bring them a word of goodwill from the Land of Israel. Just one man. And he did not come.”
Hausner tried strenuously “to shine the spotlight on Eichmann while simultaneously calling to account a world that acquiesced in the horrors.” It was, Lipstadt suggests, “an inherently impossible task.” Yet the accumulation of books about the Eichmann trial, amid the veritable flood of Holocaust survivor memoirs, suggests that Hausner may indeed have achieved his objective. No less important, the trial impacted on young Israelis, who had invariably asked (with barely concealed contempt) why Jews went “like sheep to the slaughter.”
At the conclusion of the trial, the Israeli judges addressed Eichmann: “You shall be hanged and your body shall be burnt to ash and the ash shall be scattered outside the boundaries of Israel.” The death sentence unleashed yet another barrage of criticism, especially from esteemed Israeli philosophers and scholars wishing to avoid guilt by association with the biblical principle of eyin tachat eyin (“an eye for an eye”). Martin Buber, Gershom Scholem, and Yeshayahu Leibowitz (who, in later years, would call Israeli soldiers “Nazis”) petitioned the president to commute Eichmann’s sentence. Buber, meeting with Ben-Gurion, cited the Torah teaching that “none but God can command us to destroy a Man.” The prime minister took the issue to his Cabinet, which rejected clemency. “A pardon for Eichmann?” asked Maariv incredulously: “No! Six million times no!”
Any scholar of the Eichmann trial inevitably plunges into the judgmental swamp left by Hannah Arendt. Confronting the challenge, Lipstadt has a difficult time escaping. Indeed, one-fifth of her short book is devoted to the woman who would become a Jewish Rorshak test. Arendt was a self-hating Jew whose disdain for Israel, Lipstadt concludes, “bordered on anti-Semitism and racism.” Arendt was palpably discomforted by the “oriental mob” of Israeli spectators outside Beit Ha’Am, where the trial was held. Israeli police gave her “the creeps”; they looked like Arabs but only spoke Hebrew and (presumably like Eichmann) surely would “obey any order.” She preferred the trial to focus on totalitarianism, not Jews.
Zionists, Arendt maliciously alleged, “spoke a language not totally different from Eichmann,” while Nazis, she perversely concluded, had a “pro-Zionist policy.” For her, the controversial Judenrat (Jewish Councils), which often decided who among Jews would live or die, comprised the “darkest chapter” of the Holocaust – worse even than the gas chambers. Unwilling – or unable - to draw vital distinctions, Arendt wrote that Jews confronted “two enemies – the Nazi authorities and the Jewish authorities,” as though they were morally equivalent. In her most memorable (and morally despicable) phrase, Arendt offered Eichmann as the exemplar of “the banality of evil.”
Arendt, Lipstadt suggests, justifiably focused on how “seemingly normal people … did monstrous things.” Indeed, it was this “ordinariness” that “constitutes the unfathomable questions at the heart of the Final Solution.”
But Arendt’s flawed vision, which won the admiration of her universalistic admirers, led her to conclude that anti-Semitism was not at the core of the Nazi dementia that culminated in the Holocaust. Perhaps, Lipstadt perceptively suggests, “she was torn between the particularism of her Jewish roots and the universalism of the intellectual world to which she was so wedded.”
But it seems to have been more personal, and sordid, than that. Arendt was involved in a lengthy, and undisclosed, relationship with philosopher Martin Heidegger, her teacher and lover, who had joined the Nazi party in 1933. As rector of Freiberg University, he expelled Jewish professors from the university. After the war Arendt worked assiduously to minimize his Nazi past and restore him to academic respectability. She did not come to Israel, or the Eichmann trial, with clean hands.
The toxic mix of universalism with Jewish self-hatred (and, occasionally, overt anti-Semitism) did not begin or end with Hannah Arendt. Indeed, that noxious combination remains a conspicuous feature of contemporary intellectual discourse, in the United States no less than in Europe. In recent years its American exemplar was the distinguished historian Tony Judt. His transformation from a Marxist Zionist living in Israel to a self-described “universalist social democrat” propelled him to the pinnacle of intellectual reverence, especially after he called for the demise of Israel in the ever welcoming New York Review of Books. Judt – like Arendt before him - inspired many universalistic Jewish disciples, even in Israeli academic circles, who continue his work of subverting the Jewish state.
To David Ben-Gurion, the Eichmann trial exposed “the profound tragedy of exile,” which Jews had suffered between the 1st century destruction of national sovereignty and its restoration in 1948. But Lipstadt cannot resist inserting her own declaration of Jewish universalism, linking Holocaust survivors living in the United States to “African Americans, Latinos [and] gays” among “the oppressed” who have finally been celebrated in “a post-Vietnam America.” This is, at the very least, a preposterous stretch; Holocaust survivors have never made the approved list of privileged victims who qualify for affirmative action – or even for multicultural recognition. In this vein, Lipstadt’s book concludes with her attendance at a conference at Yad Vashem. She recounts her conversations there with survivors of genocide – not Jews from Eastern Europe but Africans in Rwanda.
No less problematic is Lipstadt’s repeated insertion of herself into The Eichmann Trial. Reflections on her Irving libel ordeal consume nearly half her Introduction. Further along, encountering Eichmann’s evasions and lies, she was “reminded of David Irving’s behavior at my own trial.” Two pages later comes another extended “reminder,” even as she acknowledges that comparisons between Eichmann and Irving “are, of course, limited.” (Why, then, repeatedly insert them?) Lipstadt again returns to her own trial while developing her conclusion about why Arendt “was wrong about Eichmann.” In its necessarily limited space The Eichmann Trial might have told us less about Lipstadt’s trial (as important as it was) and more about Eichmann’s.
Lipstadt reiterates the insistence of Holocaust survivors that “Future generations, those who were not there, must remember. And we who were there, must tell them.” This, she suggests, ”may be the most enduring legacy of what occurred in Jerusalem in 1961.” But those who were there are rapidly disappearing; and younger generations have new victims, preferably Palestinians, to embrace. That Jews can be blamed for Palestinian self-victimization only makes it better.
The Nextbook/Schocken Jewish Encounters Series offers distinguished authors, writing with insight and concision about major Jewish historical figures, themes and places. But Lipstadt’s publisher does not always serve her well. The Table of Contents fails indicate that the book has six chapters. A single paragraph in the text runs on for four pages, shortly followed by another for nearly two. There is no Index.
Some months after Lipstadt’s book was published, The New York Times ran a story about the continuing refusal by Germany’s foreign intelligence agency (BND) to release thousands of secret files that revealed what Eichmann was doing in Buenos Aires between 1945 and 1960. Columnist Michael Kimmelman suggested that “Germany is famous for confronting its Nazi past. But confronting the years after the war is another matter.” Evidence clearly indicates that German authorities dissembled when they professed ignorance of Eichmann’s place of refuge before Mossad agents captured him.
To Kimmelman, popular depictions of Eichmann as a mindless bureaucrat – “a hapless nobody in a glass booth” who merely did his job - ”dovetailed with the Willy Loman ethos of the day.” This “cultural commonplace”, he suggests, served Arendt well in her application of the banality of evil to an unrivaled mass murderer. Appropriately – and appallingly - it took the famously televised American mini-series, “The Holocaust,” to do what the real Holocaust never could: “glorify stories of the oppressed.”
That only compounds the tragic failure of Americans (from the Roosevelt administration to The New York Times toto American Jewry), and countless others worldwide, to take notice of the most ruthless, systematic, and horrific slaughter of a people in world history. Might that be, one must always wonder, because the victims were Jews?
American Thinker (November 6, 2011)
Identity theft, in most jurisdictions, is a punishable offense. But in the United Nations, Palestinians are free — indeed, encouraged — to rob Israel of its history, heritage, and homeland.
At times the United Nations seems to exist for no reason other than to stoke Palestinian fantasies. UNRWA, its benevolent Relief and Works Agency created solely for Palestinian refugees,” was established after the 1948 war when Israel secured its independence and Palestinians proclaimed their eternal dependence.
During the fighting instigated by five Arab nations, 700,000 Palestinians abandoned their homes, some in fear of the Israeli army and others in obedience to the instructions of their own leaders. (A similar number of Jews, expelled from Arab countries, found safe refuge in Israel.) By now, the number of Palestinian “refugee” claimants is nearly 5 million, all of whom receive UNRWA funding and none of whom seem inclined to leave their refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, or even the West Bank and Gaza, which Palestinians control.
The Arab states, in conjunction with the U.N., decided that it was better that Palestinians fester in poverty, misery, and rage (at Israel) than be absorbed as citizens of the nations where they reside. By now nearly 30,000 UNRWA workers have a vested interest in preserving their own jobs, which require that Palestinians remain unprepared for life outside their refugee camps.
If UNRWA has functioned as the world’s largest welfare scam, it is about to be joined by UNESCO, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It recently approved a Palestinian membership bid even though — unlike all other UNESCO members — the Palestinians are not a state and show few signs of taking meaningful steps to become one.
UNESCO exists to identify and conserve sites of international cultural significance, a worthy objective. But it is about to be rolled by the Palestinian Authority, which — hardly coincidentally — claims Jewish (and even Christian) holy sites as its own. Just last year the Palestinian Authority claimed the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, from which it has driven away most Arab Christians, as a heritage site. It insisted — predictably — that Jesus was a Palestinian. But the PA was not then a UNESCO member, and its request was denied.
With Palestinian membership in UNESCO voted for overwhelmingly at the end of October, the Palestinians are prepared to resume their plundering of Jewish history. At the top of their list of “Palestinian” sites deserving of world heritage status are the tombs of the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish people in Hebron. Along with Rachel’s tomb outside Bethlehem, and Joseph’s tomb in Nablus (biblical Shechem), these were among the most revered Jewish holy sites in the world for two millennia before the birth of Muhammad and the rise of Islam. They still are.
Now, in its most fanciful claim, the Palestinian Authority is prepared to request that UNESCO designate the Dead Sea as Palestine’s own “heritage site.” What the Palestinian historical claims to the Dead Sea might be are undisclosed. The famous Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in the caves near Qumran at the northern edge of the Dead Sea, comprise nearly one thousand biblical texts and other ancient Jewish documents recounting Jewish life in the centuries preceding the destruction of the Second Temple — millennia before the appearance of Palestinians.
The Palestinian Authority has yet to reveal any historical connection of its people to the Dead Sea for the simple reason that there is none. But its minister of tourism has indicated that its claim would confirm Palestinian ownership of part of the Dead Sea, thereby preventing Israel, which has developed its western shore and environs, from claiming full control.
Plundering Jewish history and claiming Israeli land is, of course, the raison d’être of Palestinian existence. It is nothing new; Palestiniannational identity has always been built on the foundation of biblical and Zionist sources. Shortly before the birth of the State of Israel, a prominent Arab historian conceded: “There is no such thing as Palestine in history.”
Without a history of their own, Palestinians have pillaged Jewish history to create an imaginary national narrative. They cite the biblical Canaanites as their ancient ancestors and embrace Ishmael, born to Abraham’s servant Hagar, as their “biblical” forebear. The “right of return” of Palestinian refugees, predictably, is modeled after the Israeli Right of Return extended to Jews everywhere by the Knesset in 1950.
Claiming the Land of Israel and the history of the Jewish people as their own, Palestinians have engaged in nothing less than identity theft. Their leaders inhabit a land of their imagination, no less fanciful than Oz, Wonderland, or Shangri-La. And, with their remarkable penchant for damaging their own cause — never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity, as Abba Eban memorably said — they have now deprived UNESCO of its $60-million annual payment from the United States, prohibited by law from funding an international organization that includes “Palestine” as a member before peace is negotiated with Israel.
Despite the shameless complicity of UNRWA, UNESCO, and the United Nations itself, Palestinian fantasies of seizing Jewish history in the Land of Israel are unlikely to float — even on the Dead Sea.
The Jewish Press (October 26, 2011)
With Sgt. Gilad Shalit safely returned in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian terrorists and murderers, celebration - propelled by wishful avoidance - spread throughout Israel.
It was said that peace in our time, even peace now, might be imminent. The disproportionate exchange could transform the relationship between Israel and Hamas, leading to a final peace agreement. Israel’s relations with Egypt, precarious ever since President Mubarak’s overthrow, and with Turkey, frayed since the Mavi Marmara flotilla confrontation, would improve. Even Shalit himself, interviewed on Egyptian television shortly before his return, envisioned renewed prospects for peace.
But Hamas, whose charter still proclaims the destruction of the Jewish state as its goal, has other plans. It immediately called for more Israeli soldiers to be kidnapped, the better to free 5,000 Palestinian terrorists still imprisoned. A far likelier scenario than peace is the collaborative tightening of the noose around Israel by Hamas, Hizbullah, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and Iran.
There was, understandably, widespread euphoria among Israelis over the return of Shalit. “Bring Gilad Back,” the five-year campaign run by a well-known public relations firm with unremitting media support, had succeeded. Unrelenting pressure from the Shalit family, backed by public rallies and a tent outside the prime minister’s residence, finally prevailed.But family members of victims brutally murdered in Palestinian terrorist attacks and suicide bombings, whose perpetrators now roam free, became mourners once again. They include the relatives of fifteen children killed in the Sbarro pizzeria bombing masterminded by Ahlam Tamimi; thirty Israelis killed in the Park Hotel Passover Seder bombing planned by Nasser Yataima; twenty-one Israelis killed at a Tel Aviv nightclub and fourteen diners killed at a Haifa restaurant, ordered by Husam Badran; and eleven Israelis killed at a Jerusalem café, orchestrated by Waled Anjes. Now Tamimi, Yataima, Badran and Anjes, with hundreds of others, are free to murder once again.
Palestinian terrorists have a proven strategy: launch attacks; slaughter Israelis by the dozens; kidnap a soldier; and bargain for his release in exchange for prisoners who will then repeat the deadly cycle. The more fervently Israel pursues the return of a captured soldier, the greater his value in the eyes of Hamas and the higher the price that its negotiators will demand in return.
Eliad Moreh, severely wounded in the Hebrew University bombing nearly a decade ago that killed seven, said, “When the government releases these murderers there is no justice.” Meir Schijveschuurder, whose parents and three siblings were killed in the Sbarro bombing, described the exchange as “madness” and announced the intention of surviving family members to return to Holland. “We have been betrayed,” said Sherri Mandel, mother of a murdered 13-year-old boy. “To pardon terrorists mocks our love and our pain.”
The Shalit deal climaxed forty years of exchanges in which escalating numbers of Palestinians have been released: 1 (1970); 76 (1979); 1150 (1985). Israelis claim the exchanges demonstrate their fidelity to the ancient moral obligation to redeem captives - which, however, is challenged by the Talmudic principle (in Gittin) that “We do not redeem captives for more than their worth, so that enemies will not dedicate themselves to take other people captive.”
In the past decade alone nearly two hundred Israelis have been murdered by terrorists who were released for soldiers, living or dead. The likelihood of more killings has now increased. But, as Yossi Zur suggested, now eight years after his son Asaf was among seventeen high-school students killed by a Hamas suicide bomber, “since the names and faces of the future victims are not known, it is permissible to fantasize that nothing will happen.” Israelis are left to discover who among them will die from the Shalit exchange.
The burden of decision, in the end, was borne by Prime Minister Netanyahu. It was his responsibility, he recognized, to balance “the need to return home someone whom the State of Israel has sent to the battlefield” with “minimizing the danger to the security of Israel’s citizens.” Acknowledging “the pain of the families of the victims of terrorism,” he settled for “the best agreement we could achieve.”
In his letter to bereaved families, Netanyahu wished that they “will find solace that I and the entire nation of Israel embrace you and share your pain.” But that offered little consolation to the families of terror victims, whose organization, Almagor, responded: “Your letter is a mockery to us . There is no victory here, but a major disaster and a humiliating surrender.”
Following a prisoner exchange five years ago, Jerusalem Post columnist Michael Freund noted that three decades after the daring Entebbe mission, when 102 hostages were rescued from a hijacked airplane and all the hijackers were killed, “Israel has gone from being a country that frees hostages to one that frees terrorists.”
Comparing the Shalit exchange with Entebbe, Ben Caspit wrote in Maariv that the failure to launch a rescue mission for Shalit, imprisoned only a few kilometers across the Gaza border, was “one of the worst intelligence and military failures in the country’s history.” Indeed, Noam Shalit revealed that his son was located “in proximity” to where the IDF was fighting during Operation Cast Lead and “heard the noises of the war clearly.”
By effectively holding itself hostage, Israel has paid a high price that is likely to endanger its citizens once the released terrorists have absorbed the lesson of their freedom. As Wafa al-Bass, imprisoned for trying to smuggle an explosive vest into Israel and now a free woman, declared defiantly: “I expect that kidnapping soldiers to swap them for security prisoners is the best way to clear the prisons.”
The final cost of the Shalit exchange is yet to be calculated, but it surely will be higher than its defenders seem prepared to acknowledge. Hamas promises to kidnap Israeli soldiers until all imprisoned terrorists are released - and more Israelis surely will be murdered along the way by those who have now been given another opportunity to kill. In Israel’s war against Palestinian terrorism the reward for surrender is not likely to be victory.
“On us, the young men of Israel,” 22-year-old Yonatan Netanyahu wrote to his parents, “rests the duty of keeping our country safe.” Commander of the elite commando unit Sayeret Matkal, he would sacrifice his life at Entebbe to rescue Israeli hostages.
Twenty years later, in a book entitled Fighting Terrorism,an Israeli author firmly reiterated: “Prisoner releases only embolden terrorists by giving them the feeling that even if they are caught, their punishment will be brief. Worse, by leading terrorists to think such demands are likely to be met, they encourage precisely the terrorist blackmail they are supposed to defuse.” Those were prescient words, indeed - written by Benjamin Netanyahu, Yonatan’s brother.
There was a time when an Israeli soldier would risk his life to save civilians. Now the lives of Israeli civilians are placed at risk to save a soldier. It is a discomforting inversion.
Mideast Outpost (October 26, 2011)
In July 1983 Aharon Gross walked through the crowded Arab market in Hebron. An eighteen-year-old yeshiva student, he had joined Rabbi Moshe Levinger, the leader of the restored Jewish community in Hebron after the Six-Day war, for morning prayers. Rabbi Levinger was holding a one-man sit-down strike in a tent near the Israeli military government building to protest the lack of security for Hebron Jews.
Seven Jews had been murdered there within three years, six while returning from Ma’arat haMachpelah to Beit Hadassah to celebrate Shabbat with the women and children who had reestablished a Jewish presence in Hebron for the first time since the Arab massacre in 1929. That morning three Arabs suddenly attacked Aharon Gross and slit his throat. Israeli soldiers nearby, who witnessed the brutal assault, were reluctant to intervene. Explaining their reticence, a local military commander told Levinger’s son-in-law: “Better one of your people than one of ours.”
I was reminded of this double tragedy–a murdered Jew and indifferent Israeli security forces– when it was repeated a week before Rosh HaShanah. Two residents of Kiryat Arba, the Jewish community overlooking Hebron, died in a car crash. Twenty-five-year old Asher Palmer and his infant son Yonatan were killed when a rock thrown from a passing vehicle smashed through the windshield, hitting Asher in the face. He lost control of his car, which tumbled over into a rock bed.
Drivers to and from Kiryat Arba and throughout Judea and Samaria are familiar with the hazard of frequent Palestinian stone-throwing attacks from the side of the road. Recently they have confronted a more severe danger: sizeable rocks, thrown from passing cars heading in the opposite direction. The increased velocity, of course, poses a lethal danger. So it was on September 23rd.
The car murders occurred on the day when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would address the United Nations General Assembly to demand recognition of the State of Palestine. Israeli security forces were on high alert throughout Judea and Samaria in anticipation of Palestinian violence should they be frustrated in New York.
Police and military investigators quickly concluded that the deaths resulted from Asher’s reckless driving. According to their investigation, father and son died when Asher lost control of his speeding car. The bloody stone found inside the car, they explained, had entered after his Subaru flipped over into an adjacent rock-bed.
The IDF Spokesman’s Unit intentionally misinformed reporters. Autopsy findings and a CT scan revealed damage to Asher’s face, and a fractured skull, that could only have come from impact prior to the crash – from, that is, a rock thrown through the windshield by another car coming from the opposite direction at high speed.
Kiryat Arba residents, who know from bitter experience the road dangers of driving to and from their community, were understandably enraged. Denouncing the official lies, one local Council member declared: “It’s shocking” that police “covered up the murder of a baby and his father.”
Knesset members were appalled by the official dissembling. Aryeh Eldad filed a request for information from the Minister of Internal Security, asking “Why did the police hurry to determine that this was a traffic accident and not the result of a terrorist rock-throwing attack?” Yaakov Katz wondered: “How did it happen that a father and his baby son were murdered and … IDF and police spokesmen hurried to say it was a traffic accident…in order to deceive the people and…not to disturb the UN Assembly?”
On the day of the Palmer funerals a senior IDF officer in Judea admitted that the IDF intentionally concealed evidence lest infuriated settlers “inflame” an already tense Palestinian community awaiting Abbas’s UN speech. Additional evidence indicated collusion between the IDF and Israeli police.
Hearing this news Boaz Haetzni, Kiryat Arba Council head (and a reserve lieutenant colonel) spoke for the community: “We feel betrayed and deceived.” IDF Command policy, he claimed, demands “zero casualties among the Arab marauders” by preventing soldiers from responding “with determination” to attacks on Israeli civilians. Facts were concealed, Hebron Regional Council sources alleged, to stifle any settler response to Palestinian terror attacks lest Israel be even more demonized than usual by the international community while Prime Minister Netanyahu was at the UN.
Hebron spokesman David Wilder asserted that “the police/security establishment has one fear, and one fear alone. It is not dead Jews. It is dead Arabs.” That, of course, would trigger a familiar scenario: Jews would be blamed for responding to Arab attacks, placing Israel under renewed foreign pressure to relinquish settlements for “peace.”
It was, Wilder insisted, “unthinkable that Israeli security sources would lie about a terror attack in order to prevent ‘Jewish responses.’” But IDF officers believe that mere stone throwing at settlers is “sufferable,” thereby absolving the army or police of any responsibility for responding to it.
Not far from the old Jewish cemetery in Hebron where Asher and Yonatan Palmer were buried is Gross Square, commemorating the memory of Aharon Gross. The Palmer and Gross deaths, nearly thirty years apart, are linked by the enduring reluctance of the IDF command (and the government of Israel) to protect Jews, living where they have every right to live, lest Palestinians be offended or provoked.
During a shiva visit to the Palmer family, IDF officers were drawn into a discussion about the failure of the government to provide adequate protection against potentially lethal road stonings. Their actions, they indicated, are constrained by “political decisions.” That, course, means Defense Minister Ehud Barak, whose animosity toward Hebron Jews was already evident from his authorization of their expulsion from Jewish-owned property and his persistent indifference to their safety.
Kiryat Arba was the prior name for biblical Hebron, the most ancient Jewish city in the Land of Israel, where the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish people are buried. If Jews have the right to live anywhere, it is here. Like Israelis in Tel Aviv, they are entitled to protection, whether in their homes and neighborhoods or on streets and highways. At the very least, they deserve not to be blamed for the lethal harm that Palestinian attackers inflict upon them.
To be sure, not every terrorist attack can be prevented. But it is dismaying, to say the least, to witness the Israel Defense Forces and Israeli police collaborating to conceal the murder of Jews while blaming them for their own deaths. When Israel is demonstrably fearful of protecting its citizens and punishing its enemies it displays the galut mentality that Zionists once were determined to overcome.
Postscript: just before Yom Kippur it was revealed that the Israel Security Agency and the IDF had arrested two Arabs from the Halhoul area, north of Hebron. They admitted to having thrown the rock that killed Asher and Yonatan Palmer.
The Jewish Press (October 16, 2011)
In May 1967 Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook spoke to his former Mercaz HaRav students at their annual Independence Day reunion in Jerusalem. Usually a festive day of celebration, this year was different. Rabbi Kook sorrowfully recalled his feeling of despair nineteen years earlier, when the State of Israel was born: “I was torn to pieces. I could not celebrate.” Suddenly he cried out: “They have divided my land. Where is our Hebron? Have we forgotten it? And where is our Shechem? And our Jericho - will we forget them?”
Rabbi Kook’s outburst, his former student Hanan Porat remembered, “echoed in us, as if the spirit of prophecy had descended upon him.” Three weeks later, during the Six-Day War, that prophecy was fulfilled. Porat fought in the Paratroopers Brigade that swept across the Temple Mount, reclaimed the Western Wall for the Jewish people, and liberated the Old City of Jerusalem. As biblical Judea and Samaria fell to the Israel Defense Forces, the State of Israel and the Land of Israel had finally converged.
For Porat, the stunning Israeli victory offered the opportunity for return, restoration and redemption. Until 1948 he had lived with his family in Kfar Etzion, the Orthodox kibbutz a few miles south of Jerusalem. He was among the dozens of children who were evacuated not long before the Arab Legion annihilated their community on the eve of Israel’s proclamation of independence.
Defended to the tragic end, with more than 150 fighters killed in battle and slaughtered after surrendering, Kfar Etzion became an enduring symbol of heroic Zionist resistance. For nineteen years young Porat was among the Gush Etzion survivors who nurtured memories of the tragic disruption and destruction they had endured. “We felt that we’d been torn away,” he remembered. “They cut our roots brutally.”
Every year, on Israel’s annual Day of Remembrance, they gathered in Ramat Rachel at the southern edge of Jerusalem to gaze longingly at the “Lone Tree” in the distance that marked the site of their destroyed community. “Almost all the children became orphans,” Porat would recall sadly, but they were determined to “return and rebuild.”
With Israel triumphant in the Six-Day War, Porat knew the time had come “to return home.” He persistently lobbied government ministers to restore his lost boyhood community. News of his efforts reached Moshe Levinger, another Mercaz HaRav graduate, who was the rabbi at an Orthodox moshav near Petach Tikva. After meeting in Jerusalem they enlarged their group to include Elyakim Haetzni, a brilliant maverick lawyer who had arrived in Palestine from Germany in 1938. Like Rabbi Kook, he had declined to celebrate independence because “we gained a state but lost the Land of Israel.”
The three men planned their strategy for the return of Jews to Gush Etzion and nearby Hebron (“part of our genetic code,” Haetzni insisted), whose Jewish community had been destroyed during the Arab rioting in 1929. But neither Prime Minister Eshkol nor Defense Minister Dayan, who hoped to exchange land for peace with their Arab enemies, would meet with them.
Porat was not deterred. Just before Rosh Hashanah a convoy of cars, led by an armored bus from the 1948 exodus, returned to Gush Etzion. He viewed the restored community as only “the spearhead of the struggle for the Greater Land Of Israel.”
The following spring Porat joined dozens of Israelis to celebrate Passover at the Park Hotel in Hebron, rented for the week by Rabbi Levinger. Marking the birth of the restored Jewish community of Hebron, it was an extraordinary gathering of the future leaders of the Jewish settlement movement. Five years later Hanan Porat’s restored home in Gush Etzion became the launching pad for the return of Jews to biblical Samaria.
After the disastrous Yom Kippur War caught Israel unprepared, shattering illusions of its invulnerability, Gush Emunim (“Bloc of the Faithful”) emerged to revitalize Zionism. Its founding convention was held in Gush Etzion. Porat wrote its manifesto, stressing “the sacred duty of every Jew to inhabit and repossess every portion of the ancestral inheritance.”
Sharply critical of the yearning for normalization that had come to characterize mainstream secular Zionism, it called for “a great awakening of the Jewish people towards full implementation of the Zionist vision.” Committed to “restoring the pioneering and sacrificial spirit of the past,” it asserted that “there is no Zionism without Judaism, and no Judaism without Zionism.”
To secular Zionists, then and since, it was the voice of a Jewish fanatic crying in the wilderness. But Porat, who became the chief spokesman for Gush Emunim and then its recognized leader, lobbied the government relentlessly to authorize settlement expansion. In 1975, after the army had repeatedly stymied persistent settlement attempts, Sebastia finally became the vanguard of Jewish settlement in Samaria.
An iconic photo of the triumphant moment when the government finally yielded to unrelenting Gush Emunim determination shows Porat, eyes closed and arms spread wide in victory, on the shoulders of his ecstatic followers who were singing and dancing around their leader. With his fusion of Jewish and Zionist passion, Porat had found the way to revitalize a moribund Zionist movement by returning Jews to their ancient homeland. Gush Emunim settlements, he believed, fulfilled Jeremiah’s ancient prophecy: “The children will return to their borders.”
If Gush Emunim represented “the true spirit of awakening,” as Porat believed, it was his leadership that propelled the settlement movement into the forefront of Israeli politics. After the peace treaty with Egypt, which called for Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank, he joined the new right-wing Tehiya party and became the settlers’ representative in the Knesset. Resigning after three years he was reelected in 1988 as a member of the National Religious Party. Porat defended the cause of religious Zionism in the Knesset for eleven more years.
Flourishing Jewish communities in Samaria - Ariel, Ofra, Kedumim, Itamar, and dozens of others - bear witness to Hanan Porat’s Zionist vision and his unrelenting determination for Jews to settle the Land of Israel. Even in his final months, when he was wracked by cancer, Porat’s Zionist passion remained undiminished and palpable.
Honored at a gathering of his friends and admirers not long before his death, it was evident that Porat still retained their loving admiration and abiding respect. For one final time, as they had done as young men with a burning vision back in 1975, they danced around their revered leader, who gently swayed with them inside their innermost circle.
Hanan Porat, father of ten children, died in his Gush Etzion home on October 3, the day after Rosh Hashanah. At his funeral Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said: “You were a man whose soul was filled with a great overwhelming love for the nation, its land and its Bible.” It was a fitting tribute to the rabbi and soldier, Jew and Zionist, visionary and leader, whose life exemplified the primal experiences of the Jewish people: exile and return.
When it came time in 1967 for the children of Israel to return to their borders, Hanan Porat knew that “everyone who takes part will be blessed.” Zichrono L’verachah.
American Thinker (October 1, 2011)
In last week’s run-up to the U.N. General Assembly theatre of the absurd, The New York Times could hardly restrain itself. Fulminating about what was best for Israel, it repeatedly berated the Jewish state and Prime Minister Netanyahu for not acceding to its editor’s wishes.
The fusillade began on September 11. The Times graciously conceded that Israel and the Palestinian Authority shared blame for the breakdown in peace talks. But “we put the greater onus” on Prime Minister Netanyahu, “who has used any excuse to thwart peace efforts.”
Netanyahu’s acceptance last year of the Palestinian demand for a ten-month settlement freeze was ignored. The Palestinian Authority responded by refusing to negotiate. With time expiring, it demanded a three-month extension — which Netanyahu, once burned, wisely refused. Nonetheless, the Times editorial praised the “moderate” Palestinian leadership and called upon Congress to “lean on” Netanyahu.
Another critical editorial followed three days later. Referring to the special election in a heavily Jewish New York district in which a congressional seat held by Democrats for nearly a century went Republican, the Times rejected any notion that the stunning result marked a repudiation of President Obama’s strong-arming of Israel.
The president’s support for the Jewish state, the editorial blithely asserted, “has never wavered.” Yet Netanyahu, the Times’s favorite piñata, was likely to read the election as support for his own intransigent refusal to compromise with the Palestinians, thereby disregarding “Israel’s own security.” The “intractable” prime minister, after all, had been busy “building settlements.” If only. Such temerity: Jews living in their ancient homeland!
Four days later, in the Sunday Review section, the Times reprinted a September 13 letter from Seymour D. Reich blaming Netanyahu for rebuffing President Obama’s “peace” proposal that Israel negotiate based on its 1967 borders. To be sure, those “Auschwitz” borders, as Abba Eban memorably labeled them, had left Israel vulnerable to Arab attacks ever since Israel declared independence in 1948.
Mr. Reich had all the answers that were fit to print. Netanyahu “must step back from the brink.” He must stop “placating” his right-wing government and, instead, dissolve it. He must freeze settlement construction. Mr. Reich’s favorite reader’s response, understandably, praised the “uncomfortable truths” critical of Israel that Reich had presented. It came (all too predictably) from an Ivy League professor of the history of Judaism. The Times loves nothing more than Jewish critics of Israel.
It was left to Thomas Friedman, several pages along, to share his great concern for “Israel’s future.” Anyone familiar with his Middle East reporting since the Times sent him to Beirut in 1982 knew what that meant: a rant against “the most diplomatically inept and strategically incompetent government in Israel’s history,” led by a prime minister who gives Israel’s friends — namely President Obama — “nothing to defend it with.”
Several days later, the Times provided former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with a forum to lend Israeli credibility to the Times critique. Back in 2008, Olmert had embraced Palestinian demands, only to have his capitulation ignored by Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.
The morning before Netanyahu and Abbas would address the General Assembly, Times editors weighed in yet again. Conceding that “there is plenty of blame to go around” for the current stalemate, “the main responsibility” — no surprise — belonged to Netanyahu. He “refuses to make any serious compromises for peace” — the peace, of course, that Palestinians have steadfastly rejected ever since 1947.
Veteran Times watchers had every reason to expect this onslaught. It is the current manifestation of the Times’s abiding Jewish problem. It has been evident ever since founding publisher Adolph Ochs and his Sulzberger successors trembled with apprehension lest their newspaper be branded as the “Jew York Times.”
Bending over backward to avoid any Jewish identification, the Times found itself on the wrong side of every major Jewish issue. During the vicious Arab riots in Palestine in 1929, the slaughter of Jews provoked Times articles as hostile to Zionists as they were indifferent to Jewish victims. Joseph Levy, its correspondent on the scene, was an American Jew who had spent years in Beirut before coming to Jerusalem. He conceded that if his efforts toppled the Zionist administration, so much the better. Sound familiar?
The Nazi slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust was consigned to the inner pages, competing for space with stories of hijacked truckloads of coffee in New Jersey. Verified descriptions of Auschwitz did not make the front page.
The very idea of a Jewish state, to say nothing of its reality, left Times editors acutely uncomfortable in 1948 and thereafter. Ever since the Six-Day War, the Times has been unrelenting in its criticism of Jewish settlements. It enthusiastically endorsed President Obama’s assertion that truncated Israeli borders are “vital to defusing Muslim anger at the West” — a dubious claim with dire consequences for Israel.
The familiar Times motto — “All the News That’s Fit to Print” — requires an update to “All the Criticism of Israel That Fits We Print.”
American Thinker (August 28, 2011)
Like father, like son: it is well documented, by now, that there are no limits to the brutality that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is willing to inflict upon his subjects. Even in a region known for the cruelty that rulers wreak on their people, Assad may be rivaled only by President Ahmadinijad of Iran, his ideological inspiration and military patron.
Assad’s most recent outrage occurred during the government assault in Latakia, the main Syrian port city. According to United Nations figures, 10,000 Palestinian residents fled from their refugee camp during four days of unrelenting attacks by government military and security forces.
For once, Palestinian Authority officials did not exaggerate the tribulations of their people. According to an adviser to President Abbas, the Syrian assault was a “crime against humanity” inflicted by a leader who had “lost rationality.” It would be difficult to challenge that indictment.
Some 500,000 Palestinians live in Syria. They claim descent from the 70,000 Palestinians who fled from their homes to Syria in 1948, when armies from five Arab nations invaded the fledgling State of Israel with the avowed intention of destroying it. Most came from northern Israel: Haifa, Safed, Akko, Tiberias and Nazareth. Originally housed in deserted military barracks, Latakia Palestinians were relocated to an unofficial refugee camp in 1956. There they have lived ever since.
The Syrian government, like those of other Arab states, imposed and perpetuated refugee status on Palestinians to prevent their integration into Syrian society. What better way to manipulate them for world consumption as victims of Israeli conquest, brutality and expulsion?
The legal status of Palestinians in Syria is still determined by legislation from half a century ago that bestowed the same responsibilities and duties enjoyed by Syrian citizens - other than nationality and political rights. That discriminatory principle was ratified in the Casablanca Protocol (1965), which stipulated that Arab countries must not grant citizenship to Palestinians (as Israel did).
Subsequent Syrian legislation explicitly excluded Palestinians from the benefits of citizenship, the better “to preserve their original nationality.” In this effort, it has been ably abetted ever since by the United Nations, which established a separate Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Middle East (UNRWA) in 1948. It remains the only agency concerned with refugees from a particular conflict or region.
UNRWA remains complicit in this discrimination throughout the Arab world, lest its raison d’être (and generous funding) for serving nearly 5 million Palestinian “refugees,” whose status is now conferred by claims of ancestry not birthplace, vanish. Any linkage to hostility toward the world’s only Jewish state was, and still is, purely intentional.
Given the international hysteria - and media coverage - that accompanies the announcement of every house that the government of Israel authorizes in east Jerusalem or the West Bank, the muted response to the flight of ten thousand Palestinians from Latakia is astonishing. Yet it is altogether predictable.
The world, including the government of the United States, cares little about Palestinians unless the State of Israel can be blamed for their plight. Indeed, the American government, yet to relocate its embassy to Israel’s capital city, does not even permit its own citizens who are born in Jerusalem to identify Israel as their country of birth.
The recent sound of silence from Washington was loud and clear. The best that Secretary of State Clinton could muster after the forced Palestinian exodus from Latakia was to proclaim the benefit of an international consensus against the Assad regime. “It’s not going to be any news if the United States says Assad needs to go. O.K., fine, what’s next?” That, it seems, exemplifies the highly touted “leadership from behind” that the Obama administration defends.
As for the minimal step of recalling the American ambassador from Syria - not mere words, but a genuine act -that seems beyond the capacity to imagine. Indeed, The New York Times recently castigated Saudi Arabia for only belatedly recalling its Ambassador to Syria but it remained silent about the failure of the Obama administration to do even that much.
Responding to the Palestinian exodus from Latakia, UNRWA officials, with something less than the indignation (if not outrage) that accompanies their incessant criticism of Israel, sounded only mildly disappointed in. “A forgotten population has now become a disappeared population,” lamented Christopher Gunness, agency spokesman in Jersualem (where Palestinians are citizens of Israel). It was, he concluded, “very, very worrying.”
It is worse than that. It is, above all, a tragedy for 10,000 Palestinian victims of the brutal Assad dictatorship. But it also underscores the mendacious double standard by which much of the world, including the current administration in Washington, judges - and persistently calumnies - Israel.