Israel’s right to exist continues to be called into question. Their treatment of Gaza is seen as a legitimate reason to reject their right to exist as a nation.
The Question of the State of Israel keeps coming back to haunt us, to bite at our ankles. With more coverage of the Israeli crimes against the Palestinians comes a concordant increase in the rejection of the right to have a Jewish state. This is not only foolish; it is also dangerous and further provokes the prolongation of the war in the Middle East, which has claimed so many lives.
A recent debate between Mehdi Hasan and Professor Robert Wistrich, an expert in anti-Semitism highlighted the trend to view anti-Zionism as a form of anti-Semitism. Anti-Zionism is the criticism of the actions of the Israeli government, and whilst it can lead to anti-Semitic attacks, it does not represent the new form of anti-Semitism. Israel does not have the right to hide behind anti-Semitism, as a way to ward off legitimate protest and criticism of its actions. Calls to question the legitimacy for the State of Israel to exist, however are a form of anti-Semitism, for they ignore the principle reasons for the state to exist.
A step back in time to the 1930s and 40s provides the cornerstone of the reasons for a State of Israel to exist. The destruction of not just the Jewish people, but also of the Jewish identity and the Jewish sense of belonging created a situation in which return to their homes in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe was completely impossible, not to mention suicidal.
The Kielce pogrom of 1946 saw an attempt by a group of Jewish people to return to Poland, to salvage what they could from the life they had been forced out of all those years ago. For Poland was their home; they couldn’t imagine leaving to another, anonymous, unknown ‘homeland’.
The following year saw huge brutality against the returning Jews, with over 500 being killed throughout Poland. Thus the idea of returning to their previous home was discounted; if their ex neighbours would treat them like that, who could blame them?
An article by The National discusses the increasing migration of Muslims from France to the United Arab Emirates; a direct response to the spike in Islamophobia particularly prevalent throughout France.
Unprecedented attacks on Muslim women especially have poisoned Islamic France to the core, so far that Muslims cannot bear to live there anymore, for constant fear that the next persecution will be aimed at them or their families. Migration feels like the only option for families who are constantly victimized for their beliefs and are not even able to wear hijabs in public.
And this is true. Throughout the article, there is constant mention of the sense of belonging Muslims have in France. Despite the repression, and despite the discrimination, if they have spent the majority of their life there they are more than likely to identify with the country. However, in fear of what may happen to them or their children, and in disgust at the treatment they receive in France, the reluctant decision is taken by so many Muslims to move out and move to other countries. For example, the UAE.
It is this almost forced and entirely legitimate Muslim emigration from France which makes the rejection of a State of Israel so damaging and hypocritical. The State of Israel was established following the Second World War to provide a sanctuary for the Jews who could no longer live in Eastern Europe. Before the war, however the Jewish peoples had built up communities and identities throughout Eastern Europe. But the repression of the Second World War and the subsequent discrimination required that a place be conceived as a Jewish homeland, somewhere for a new identity to be established and nurtured. The nature of the Holocaust was one in which not only the majority of the Jewish people were murdered, but where the Jewish sense of belonging was tarnished to the point that it was no longer viable to revive it.
Anne Frank’s diary illustrates the complete loss of identity suffered by the Jewish people during the Second World War. She writes in 1942; “Fine specimens of humanity, those Germans, and to think I’m actually one of them! No, that’s not true, Hitler took away our nationality long ago.” She continues in 1944: “Who has made us Jews different from all other people? Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up until now? […]We can never become just Netherlanders, or just English or representatives of any country for that matter. We will always remain Jews.” The feeling of partial belonging was swept aside by the violence and genocide of the SS to the point that rather than self-identifying as German Jewish, or Polish Jewish, the religion and a particular European nationality could not be synonymous.
Calls to laugh off the legitimacy of the Israeli state are synonymous with calls for the bloodshed in Gaza to stop. Whilst the aggression of the Israeli government should legitimately be condoned, to relate this to a complete rejection of the Jewish state is to miss the point that Israel was set up as a sanctuary to a people who were stigmatized and targeted.
It is shocking that the events of the 1940s have to be alluded to again and again, it is shocking that the genocide of the Jewish people is not seen as worthy cause for a Jewish state to be formed. For the question has to be: where else would the Jewish people have gone after the events of the 1940s? And, more importantly, could they be expected to go back to Eastern Europe where a large majority of them had just been murdered?
The State of Israel was established as a sanctuary for the Jewish people who had suffered the biggest genocide the world has ever know. Regardless of the inhumane actions of the Israeli government, it is incredibly provocative and senseless to question the legitimacy of the Jewish state, for a people who were victimized to the point that over 6 million of them were killed. To deny them the right to a new life following the Holocaust and the Kielce pogrom, as a means of highlighting the discriminatory and illegitimate actions of the Israeli government is a global hypocrisy.
It also serves to prolong the Israel-Palestinian conflict, as delegitimizing the Jewish state does not serve to provoke peaceful and productive discussion. Rather, it hardens any Israeli resolve to ignore pro-Palestinian sentiment, for this anti-Israeli rhetoric of is easily equated, in any Israeli’s mind, to pro-Palestinian sentiment. When calls for an end to the Jewish state and a return to the Europe which is seeing the highest levels of anti-Semitism seen in a generation are made, the peace deal which is still possible in the Middle East is pushed further and further into the abyss.
A recognition of the right to have a Jewish state is not synonymous with Zionism. For Zionism is the support for all actions taken by the Israeli state with regards to Gaza and Palestine. Supporting the right for a Jewish state to exist is simply to recognize that the Jewish situation in the 1940s was one in which returning to Europe was impossible. It is not supporting the right of the Israelis to continually displace Palestinians and establish Jewish settlements. Thus conferences, such as the one planned at the University of Southampton, discussing the legitimacy of a Jewish state, are both foolhardy and rejections of simple facts.