The Myth about Israel and the Shoah
One of the enduring myths put forward by those who question Israel’s right to exist is that Israel was established essentially to compensate for the Holocaust. According to a narrative very common both in the Arab world and also among Western opponents of Israel’s existence, Palestine was given to the Jews by the West in compensation for the Nazi destruction of European Jewry. However, the narrative continues, this is unjust because the Palestinians, who had nothing to do with the Holocaust, are being made to pay the price of European, especially German, crimes.
This argument is absurd on a number of levels. One is that, if you look at history carefully, it is almost impossible to plausibly sketch an alternate historical scenario in which, in the absence of a Zionist presence in Palestine, an independent Palestinian Arab state would have been created there. So this was not the alternative to Israel’s creation.
I may discuss this point in more detail in future “Scribblings” but I actually wanted to make a more fundamental point.
While the Holocaust certainly makes the moral case for Israel stronger, it was by no means the reason for Israel’s creation, either in Jewish eyes or in the eyes of the international community. It’s worth reviewing a bit of history.
First of all, the League of Nations formally recognised the close connection between the Jewish people and the land of Palestine, and the Jewish right to a national home there, in 1922, years before the Holocaust. The mandate given to Britain over Palestine that year included the following preamble, “Whereas recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country…” It also required Britain to “encourage, in co-operation with the Jewish Agency… close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes.”
This then was the legal basis for the creation of the Yishuv, the organised Jewish community in Palestine, which was very extensive by 1947, when the British decided to get out and return the Palestine problem back to the UN. The UN, of course, sent an 11-nation commission, UNSCOP, to visit Palestine and make recommendations. And while the post-Holocaust displacement camps full of Jewish survivors keen to go to Palestine doubtless had some effect on their deliberations, this was not the main reason UNSCOP recommended partition.
What UNSCOP found was that a Jewish state effectively already existed in Palestine. The Yishuv had its own Hebrew-speaking schools, health care system, agriculture, universities, industry, trade unions, transportation infrastructure, theatre, newspapers, a nascent army as well as what was effectively a national government in all but name. This was clear at the time to international observers. The Times of London editorialised on Dec. 1, 1947, after partition was voted, “It is hard to see how the Arab world, still less the Arabs of Palestine, will suffer from what is mere recognition of an accomplished fact – the presence in Palestine of a compact, well-organised, and virtually autonomous Jewish community”.
So while it is certainly reasonable and proper to be sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians, it is just a distortion of both history and morality to attribute their situation to some sort of colonialist European expiation of Holocaust guilt.
Meanwhile, this story also holds an important lesson for the Palestinians themselves. If they want a state, what they need above all is to build its institutions and infrastructure – something they have not done well historically. This is why the state-building plan recently put forward by Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad has positive elements. If Palestinians concentrate on building their equivalent of the “Yishuv” (and they can certainly receive massive international financial support to help), the political arrangements for statehood will sooner or later fall into place.
“Reliable and Credible” in Goldstone
So many obvious problems and biases have been exposed in the UN’s Goldstone Commission Report into last year’s Gaza war that it may seem to be of questionable value to expose yet more. But acclaimed Middle East scholar Prof. Martin Kramer has found another good one which is telling about the shoddiness of the whole enterprise.
The Goldstone Report says that according to Deputy General-Secretary of the Palestinian Federation of Industries, Amr Hamad, “324 factories had been destroyed during the Israeli military operations at a cost of 40,000 jobs”. Moreover, the report adds that this claim is “reliable and credible”.
Only one problem – the Palestinian Federation of Industries’ reports actually says 4,000 jobs were lost, since most of the 324 “factories” it is talking about are actually small workshops. Only three employed more than 100 people.
Kramer demonstrates that Mr. Hamad apparently misspoke during his oral testimony, saying 40,000, instead of 4,000. Yet the Goldstone Commission put this incorrect number in, without looking at the Palestinian Federation of Industries’ own written work, and moreover labelled this slip of the tongue “reliable and credible”.
This is the quality of the Goldstone Report. Apparently, any Palestinian claim made in oral testimony – given in Hamas-controlled Gaza where witnesses were not free to speak without fear of retribution – was treated as automatically “reliable and credible” even when amounting to no more than a slip of the tongue.