Australia/Israel Review

Scribblings: Five Times Israel

Sep 27, 2010 | Tzvi Fleischer

Tzvi Fleischer

Five Times Israel

I trust most readers of the AIR are aware that the years surrounding 1948 saw a two-way population exodus. In addition to the 700,000 or so Palestinians who fled from the area that became the State of Israel, a probably slightly larger number of Jews fled various other Middle Eastern countries, largely to come to Israel.

Moreover, most readers also probably know that these Jews, expelled or fleeing persecution in lands their ancestors had inhabited for centuries, lost a great deal of property as they fled – some estimates say it might today be worth tens of billions of dollars. In any case, it would likely be larger, in monetary terms, than all the losses suffered by Palestinian refugees in 1948.

However, someone recently called my attention to an important claim about these refugees that I have not seen before, and suspect many others would also not know. According to the New York-based World Organisation of Jews from Arab Countries, it has on file copies of deeds from Jews who fled Arab countries for properties in the countries they fled amounting to 100,000 sq. km. These properties are principally in Iraq, Egypt and Morocco.

Why is this significant? Because 100,000 sq. km is almost five times the size of the State of Israel (which is just over 20,000 sq. km. not counting the West Bank or Golan). In other words, even if, as Palestinians and their radical supporters claim, all of Israel should, absurdly, be considered stolen “Arab land”, the Arab world has already exacted fives times as much in stolen “Jewish land” in compensation. Moreover, this “Jewish land” is genuine stolen property, complete with deeds held by individual Jews. The supposed stolen “Arab land” includes all of what became Israel – the vast majority of which was state land which belonged to no one individually before 1948, and much of the rest was land duly bought and paid for by individual Jews and Jewish organisations. Only a small fraction actually belonged to individual Palestinian refugees who lost their property.

Palestinian advocates will doubtless counter that this doesn’t matter because the land stolen from Jews does not help the Palestinians as such. But it should. The Arab states benefitted enormously from confiscating Jewish assets during the two-way population exodus of 1948 – which was caused largely by their own policies both in Palestine and toward their own Jewish minorities. Morally, they should use the land and wealth they seized to help compensate the Palestinians for the much smaller losses they suffered as a result of these policies.

American Jews and Peter Beinart

Another study of American Jews has empirically poured more cold water on the already highly questionable thesis about American Jews and Israel put forward by American liberal Jewish author Peter Beinart. Yet it probably won’t matter – those who find his arguments agreeable for political reasons will likely still promote his views, regardless of what the evidence actually says about them.

Beinart, readers may recall, wrote an essay in the New York Review of Books entitled “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment” which appeared in May. It argued, essentially, that liberal American Jewish youngsters are becoming alienated from Israel and Judaism because of what Beinart sees as “illiberal” Israeli policies and tendencies and because American Jewish leadership is failing to be, in his view, adequately critical toward them.

It was shown at the time that studies of American Jewish opinion on Israel, including studies which Beinart himself cited in his essay, simply did not support this thesis. Despite this, and despite the fact that it is hard to see why his argument about the American Jewish community is of much interest in Australia, Beinart’s essay was republished in the Australian Financial Review, and he was invited to the Melbourne Writer’s Festival in August and asked to give an evening “keynote” lecture on this essay.

Well, a newly published study from Brandeis University’s Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Centre for Modern Jewish Studies has even further undercut his claims – which in fact amount to a roundabout argument why all American Jews should adopt his own views about Israel. The study, entitled “Still Connected: American Jewish Attitudes About Israel” found, as did previous surveys, that there is no correlation between attachment to Israel and either overall political orientation or views about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. More importantly, it found that, contrary to Beinart’s claims, there is no trend towards declining attachment to Israel among American Jews.

The study said its findings instead indicate “overall stability in American Jewish attachment to Israel over the past quarter-century.” While younger Jews surveyed did express somewhat less attachment to Israel compared to their elders, they were no less likely to regard Israel as central to their Jewish identity. Moreover, the study points out that similar findings about attachment to Israel among younger Jews has been found in surveys over the past 24 years, and concludes that any age-based differences are likely due simply “to stages of the lifecycle.”

In other words, the evidence is overwhelming. Beinart is just wrong. He is entitled to argue for any view of Israel he wishes (though his views frankly seem to me shallow and poorly informed), but when he says that adopting his views are necessary to keep Jews attached to Israel and Judaism, he doesn’t have a leg to stand on.


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