The 1967 war was a depth charge in American Jewish life and Israeli political culture as well. This week as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the occupation, I sought to understand the meaning of the war for American Jews, and some of their Israeli counterparts, by digging out texts that captured those states of mind.
I looked for passages on my book shelves that conveyed the extraordinary panic so many Jews felt over Israel’s survival, and then their response to the stunning victory. I looked for the seeds of misgivings that more enlightened Jews had even then of the dangers of that victory. And I looked for statements about 1967’s transformation of Israeli Zionism, in which it became more messianic.
Many of us hope that this week provides an opportunity for change: that reflection on this very long chapter in Jewish/Israeli life might change the American relationship to Israel. These texts are helps not because they are rational but because they reveal an emotional reality that helped generate the power of the Israel lobby inside American political life, and that fostered the religious nationalism that has transformed Israel’s reputation from democracy to rightwing authoritarianism. Those of us who dream of escape must first reckon with the nature of the bonds.
And with that, here’s my tour.
Nathan Zuckerman muses on the war in The Counterlife, by Philip Roth (1986):
There couldn’t have been any more ardent Israeli patriots welding away in Haifa shipyards than were gathered in those lounge chairs around the condominium pool [in Florida] after the triumph of the Six-Day War. “Now,” said my father, “they’ll think twice before they pull our beards!” Militant, triumphant Israel was to his aging circle of Jewish friends their avenger for the centuries and centuries of humiliating oppression; the state created by the Jews in the aftermath of the Holocaust had become for them the belated answer to the Holocaust, not only the embodiment of intrepid Jewish strength but the instrument of justifiable wrath and swift reprisal. Had it been Dr. Victor Zuckerman rather than General Moshe Dayan who’d been the Israeli Minister of defense in May 1967—had it been any one of my father’ s Miami Beach cohorts rather than Moshe Dayan—tanks emblazoned with the white Mogen David would have rolled right on through the cease-fire lines to Cairo, Amman, and Damascus, where Arabs would then have proceeded to surrender like the Germans in 1945, unconditionally, as though they were the Germans of 1945.
Norman Podhoretz echoes the mood, in Breaking Ranks (1979):
After the Six-Day War of 1967, … it became clear that the vast majority of American Jews had moved in twenty years far beyond even the previous enthusiastic support of Israel among those who had always regarded themselves as Zionists. Israel, said Nathan Glazer, was now the religion of the American Jews, and as usual he was right. Whatever else the Jews of American may or may not have cared about, they all (or anyway very nearly all) cared about Israel; and whatever they may or may not have done about being Jewish, they all gave their support to Israel. Those who had money to give gave it; those who had arguments to make made them…
With a degree of forthrightness that surprised some and offended others, American Jews did everything they could to ensure American support for Israel. They lobbied, they
demonstrated, they made political contributions, and, of course, they voted and kept on voting.
Some people were offended by the Jewish expressions of nationalist pride? Our next witness is Alan Dershowitz, from Chutzpah.
I felt my second-class citizenship as a Jew quite palpably, especially during the crisis leading up to the Six-Day War, between Israel and the Arab states, in 1967. I felt pressure not to express my strong support for Israel, lest my Americanism and my Harvardism be called into question…
In the days before the Six Day War, my Jewishness was my most important value. I really feared another Holocaust, as President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt threatened to drive the Jews into the sea. And I decided not to try to hide my feelings. I organized students and faculty in support of Israel. I provided legal services to several students who wanted to fight for Israel. I helped raise money for the Israeli army.
I recall one non-Jewish faculty member—who was rumored to have a Jewish ancestor—berating me for acting as if my own country were under siege. I responded that my own people were under siege and I would not sit by while Jews anywhere were in danger.
More of the panic, and the Holocaust reverberations. Michael Steinhardt, the neoconservative funder of pro-Israel causes, from his memoir, No Bull:
In the weeks preceding the war, victory was far from certain. All of Israel’s neighbors, led by Egypt’s virulently nationalistic president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, were united in their determination to push the Jews into the sea. The world had not witnessed similar trauma surrounding Jews since the eve of the Holocaust. I needed to do something. I had been only a toddler during the Shoah. Now I was 27 years old…
The war broke out on June 5, 1967. The next night, I attended a mass rally outside the United Nations complex. Thousands of Jews, their face etched with an ages-old panic for their people, filled the streets… Just as when I was younger and had fantasies of saving Jews from Nazi or Arab hordes, I felt the need to do something physical to help fellow Jews. As the war began, with Arab threats and posturing, it looked like a fight for survival in which all Jews were needed to do their part perhaps for the very existence of Israel. I decided that nothing would be more meaningful than volunteering to fight to protect the Jewish state. Apparently I was not alone. When I tried to reserve an airline ticket to Israel, I discovered that all the flights were booked… Finally, I found a route via Olympia Airlines to Athens; once there, I would figure out how to get to Jerusalem. But before my departure to Athens, on the sixth day, the war ended.
But leftwingers also cared. Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), from the biography Derrida, by Benoit Peeters.
Derrida wrote to him [French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, born in Lithuania] on 6 June 1967, just after the outbreak of what would soon be called the Six-Day War. ‘Glued to the radio” since the start of the conflict, he admitted that he had for some time been ‘obsessed by what was happening over in Israel.’ This certainly helped to bring him closer to Levinas.
And Noam Chomsky, answering an emailed question about his own concern:
Some of the left faculty in Cambridge met to discuss concerns over the impending war, organized by my close friend Salvador Luria if I recall correctly [Luria was a Nobel-Prize winning microbiologist who opposed the Vietnam War]. I attended, but didn’t really participate. I did have concerns about Israel’s possible fate, and didn’t anticipate the quick and overwhelming victory.
Chomsky was not alone in his concerns. Here’s Vivienne Porzsolt, the leftwing activist, writing about New Zealand in 1967, in Avigail Abarbanel’s wonderful collection, Beyond Tribal Loyalties:
I remember around the time of the Six Day War members of the local Jewish community came to our house fundraising to support Israel “fighting for its life.” I had enough feeling of connection with Israel to give them my mother’s old furs. But I felt alienated by the militarist triumphalism that succeeded that lightning victory.
Here’s a non-Jew observing the change. The poet Robert Lowell (1917-1977) wrote to poet Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), on June 14, 1967:
Did the late war scare you to death? It did me while it was simmering. We had a great wave of New York Jewish nationalism, all the doves turning into hawks. Well, my heart is in Israel, but it was a little like a blitzkrieg against the Commanches—armed by Russia. Nasser is like a Mussolini ruling some poverty stricken part of India. I never saw a country I would less like to stay in, yet the Egyptians were mostly subtle and sad and attractive.
Back to the Jewish street. Tom Friedman was a schoolboy during the 1967 War. He went to Israel the next year. He tells this story on his “insufferable” self in From Beirut to Jerusalem.
It may have been my first trip abroad, but in 1968 I knew than and there that I was really more Middle East than Minnesota.
When I returned home I began to read everything could get my hands on about Israel…[a recruiter for Israel’s Jewish Agency] arranged for me to spend all three summers of high school living on Kibbutz Hahotrim, an Israeli collective farm on the coast just south of Haifa. For my independent study project in my senior year of high school, in 1971, I did a slide show on how Israel won the Six-Day War. For my high school psychology class, my friend Ken Greer and I did a slide show on kibbutz life, which ended with a stirring rendition of “Jerusalem of Gold” and a rapid-fire montage of strong-eyed, idealistic-looking Israelis of all ages. In fact, high school for me, I am now embarrassed to say, was one big celebration of Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War. In the period of a year, I went from being a nebbish whose dream was to one day become a professional golfer to being an Israel expert-in-training.
I was insufferable. When the Syrians arrested thirteen Jews in Damascus, I wore a button for weeks that said Free the Damascus 13, which most of my high school classmates thought referred to an underground offshoot of the Chicago 7. I recall my mother saying gently to me, “Is that really necessary?” when I put the button on one Sunday morning to wear to our country-club brunch.
Wolf Blitzer started his career as an operative for the Israel lobby. In 1976, he edited a book called Myths and Facts, that was published by a branch of AIPAC, the Israel lobby group. He sought to deflect the view that Israel was the aggressor in the 1967 war. Yes, this is pure propaganda. But it was influential propaganda, it’s still with us:
We hope that this document helps to establish that most of the Arab claims are based on spurious myths rather than realities…
Israel’s strike on June 5, 1967 was an inevitable response ot Egypt’s threatened attack. The Arab buildup which led to the Six day war had begun in February 1966…
[After withdrawal of UN forces from Sinai] U thant flew to Cairo to ask for a breathing spell, but Nasser anticipated him with his declaration closing the Straits to Israel shipping.
Nasser knew that these dramatic and provocative acts would make war “almost certain.” …
Clearly, the closure of the Straits of Tiran was the causus belli in 1967. Any Israeli reaction thereafter was a response to this Egyptian first strike. President Lyndon Johnson on june 19 delcared. If a single act of folly was more responsible for this explosion than ny other itw as the arbitrary and dangerous announced decision that the Straits of Tiran would be closed….
The words of the Arab leaders, combined with their actions, clearly demonstrate that the Arab states were intent on an assault on Israel which would destroy the Jewish state…
Nasser tightened the noose around Israel on June 4, when he persuaded Iraq to join the alliance…. [Israel] was surrounded by armies which would be able to use Soviet weapons on all frontiers (and U.S. and British weapons on one of them)….
The blockade was the first act of war.
Here’s more of the tightening noose from another book of literary propaganda, Israel is Real, by Rich Cohen, which recreates the feeling of 1967, unreconstructed, in 2009. This passage is important, too, because of the messianism, imbibed by an American Jewish writer:
To Israelis, the removal of the peacekeepers, meant to guarantee the nation’s security, felt like a betrayal, like being left to fate….
It was the old Jewish nightmare of abandonment. Take for example, that statement from Cairo. It echoed a statement made by Hitler before the Second World War—a fact not lost on Israelis…. The noose tightened. Commerce stopped. Israelis were on the verge of hysteria. In Tel Aviv, the streets were ghostly…
[Army chief of staff Yitzhak] Rabin was told that with each passing day the chances of success dwindled—because the Egyptians were bringing in more troops, because their lines of supply were becoming fixed. …if Israel waited, it might be destroyed….
Israeli officials flooded the city. It was a pilgrimage. Even the most worldly spoke of it in religious terms—how they stood before the Wall, which was covered in flowers, which was breathing, soft like skin, which was bleeding, with with tears…. “It was the peak of my life,” [Rabin] said. “For years I secretly harbored the dream that I might play a role in restoring the Western Wall to the Jewish people. Now that dream had come true, and I wondered why I, of all men, should be so privileged.”
Another Cohen gets messianic. Here is Richard Cohen of the Washington Post, in his book, Israel: Is it Good or Bad for the Jews?
The capture of the wall represented a rapturous moment, virtually a sign of God’s approval. Israeli soldiers rushed to the site to pray, and the picture of that moment became almost
instantly totemic. The people of David were back in the City of David.
And just as totemic, they had brought only their bulldozers…
To the religious as well as some nationalists, the West Bank—not that gaudy strip along the coast—was the Israeli heartland. Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv, is what mattered. Hebron, not Haifa, is where Abraham bought land for the burial site of his family…. As is sometimes the case, the reverence that Jews had for one place or another was matched by that of the Muslims.
To understand how problematic the Cohens’ messianism is, here is a passage from an Israeli: the scholar Shlomo Sand, in The Invention of the Land of Israel
[T]he mythos of the ancestral homeland declined significantly after the establishment of the state of Israel and did not return forcefully to the public arena until the Six-Day War almost two decades later. For many Judeo-Israelis, it seemed that any criticism of Israel’s conquest of the Old City of Jerusalem and the cities of Hebron and Bethlehem would undermine the legitimacy of its previous conquest of Jaffa, Haifa, Acre, and other places of comparatively less importance to the Zionist mosaic of connection with the mythological past. Indeed, if we accept the Jews’ historical right of return to their homeland,” it is difficult to deny its applicability to the very heartland of the “ancient homeland” itself… Wasn’t this why we had studied the Bible as a distinct pedagogical historical subject in our secular high school? Back then, I never imagined that the green armistice line—the so-called Green Line—would disappear so quickly from the maps produced by the Israeli Ministry of Education, and that future generations of Israelis would hold conceptions of the homeland’s borders that would differ so greatly from my own. I simply was unaware that, following its establishment, my country had no borders except the fluid, modular frontier regions that perpetually promised the option of expansion.
One example of my humanistic political naivete was the fact that I never dreamed Israel would dare legally annex East Jerusalem, characterize the measure by invoking a “city that is bound firmly together” (Psalms 122:3), and at the same time refrain from granting equal civil rights to one third of the residents of its “united” capital city, as is still the case today.
Back to the Jewish street. Here is an insightful Israeli report on the war that makes clear how problematic victory was. The writer Hirsh Goodman was a South African who moved to Israel, lived on a kibbutz, and fought in the 1967 war. His memoir is titled, Let Me Create A Paradise, God Said to Himself. In this passage, Goodman describes the mood of Israelis:
The country’s prime minister was Levy Eshkol, a man so indecisive that a joke making the rounds had him being offered tea or coffee with his breakfast and him answering “katei”—
or half-and-half. We listened to the radio incessantly, mainly to the calming, almost poetic analysis by Chaim Herzog, twice head of Israeli Military Intelligence and destined to become Israel’s sixth president.
Herzog left one feeling confident and with a deep sense of national unity. We were all in this together. The way he explained it, this was not a war of our choosing. Nasser had openly sworn to destroy the Jews just weeks before in a speech to the Egyptian parliament and there was not a day the Syrians weren’t shelling towns and settlements in the north. The UN had withdrawn from the entire Sinai without a murmur, the French had declared an arms embargo on Israel, the Soviets were being openly hostile, the Arab world was firmly behind Nasser and the Americans were distant and noncommittal. Israel was totally alone…
Despite all this there was a feeling of destiny, pride, determination, a need to survive– and fear. We all knew the country was fragile, that this was not a war over a piece of territory…but an existential war of survival….
Goodman goes on to capture the hubris. Note that the warning about “apartheid” is in the mouth of a former Israeli PM 50 years ago. And still we can’t say the word in the U.S. As for the reference to the billiard cue, Goodman had witnessed a shocking scene, of an Israeli interrogator raping a Palestinian prisoner with a cue in order to extract information.
[A week into the war] David Ben Gurion came on [the radio] with his chirpy little voice, his sentences clipped and hard. Israel, he said, better rid itself of the territories and their Arab population as soon as possible. If it did not Israel would soon become an Apartheid State…
I understood what he was saying. I had seen the results of the war and the beginnings of the occupation with men hunched in trucks, hands on their heads, humiliated; taxis crushed mercilessly; people’s livelihoods taken away in an instant; homes taken over and billiard cues used to extract the truth… The taking of the biblical towns of the West Bank, the peak of the Golan, Jerusalem and the Suez Canal in six days with 776 soldiers killed, when thousands of casualties had been expected, was a miracle. Israel’s victory was tremendous and the song “Jerusalem of Gold,” which had won the annual national song festival the year before, almost replaced the national anthem. But Ben Gurion’s warning would return to me incessantly….
Here’s more 200 proof Zionist propaganda about Jewish vulnerability: Abba Eban, a hero of the 1967 War for Jews worldwide, in his book, My People: The Story of the Jews:
While Israel steadied itself for the assault, the Western powers developed a purposeful attitude of irresolution and nonintervention. The United Nations Security Council, in
ignominious silence, heard the Egyptian representative announce “an overt state of war” with Israel. It said and did nothing. It thus kindled the greenest of green lights before the exultant aggressor… On May 30 Egypt and Jordan concluded an alliance against Israel. The encirclement was almost complete. On June 4 Iraq joined the hunt by signing a similar agreement. Troops from Algeria, Morocco, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, converged toward Israel like greyhounds advancing to tear the quarry to pieces. An American plan to mount an international naval force to break the Egyptian blockade dwindled for lack of international support and domestic authority….Vast crowds in Cairo and other Arab capitals were hanging Israel in effigy and giving vent to an intense lust for Israel’s blood.
These days were among the most dramatic in Jewish history…. The sensation of peril in a dark hour was inscribed in the early summer of 1967 on the tablets of Israel’s hstory…. So also would the six days of resistance be narrated as long as any memory of the past endured. Within a week an angry Israel had torn the strangling fingers from its throat…
At one moment everything had seemed desperately vulnerable, fragile and tenuous. A week later the air resounded with the note of salvation.
The best antidote to that British-educated Jew is a more thoughtful one, Jacqueline Rose. From her book, The Question of Zion (2005):
We know that the Holocaust fully enters the national memory only after the 1967 Six-Day War. Only a miracle can wipe out a curse. But that very fact has obscured a reality that seems to me more important. We need to go back further. The fact of something’s being unspoken does not mean that it is silently, but powerfully, at work. “Most painful to me,” writes Sara Roy of her childhood in Israel, “was the denigration of the Holocaust and pre-state Jewish life by many of my Israeli friends. For them, these were times of shame, when Jews were weak and passive, inferior and unworthy, deserving not of our respect but of our disdain.”
Let’s turn the corner and get to more reflective American responses in the moment. This one from the iconic journalist I.F. Stone is important because it reflects both the leftwing support for Israel — Jean Paul Sartre! — and also the precocious awareness of Zionism’s ethnocentric ideology. From American Radical: The Life and Times of I.F. Stone, by D.D. Guttenplan.
At the beginning of June 1967…the Weekly [I.F. Stone’s journal] quoted from a statement by Jean Paul Sartre and fifty other French intellectuals denouncing Egypt’s recent closure of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli ships, affirming that the “security and sovereignty of Israel… are the bases of peace” and rejecting as “incomprehensible the identification of Israel with an imperialist and aggressive camp.”…
Stone’s most considered response to the Six Day War came in the New York Review of Books later that summer…
[H]e proposed that his people, the Jews, undertake a “reexamination of Zionist ideology” lest they succumb to the “moral imbecility [that] marks all ethnocentric movements. The Others are always either less than human, and thus their interests may be ignored, or more than human, and therefore so dangerous that it is right to destroy them. The latter is the underlying pan-Arab attitude toward the Jews; the former is Zionism’s basic attitude toward the Arabs.” He harked back to the Hebrew philosopher Achad Ha’am, Martin Buber, and other Zionist pioneers “who tried to preach Ichud,’unity’ with the Arabs,” but he had little expectation, after nine visits to the Holy Land since 1945, that his advice would be heeded, “especially since the U.S. press is so overwhelmingly Zionist.”
I hope you noticed the reference to the Israel lobby in our press. Plus ca change.
Here are more misgivings about the occupation and Israel’s political culture expressed by that saint of neoconservatism, Saul Bellow, in his book To Jerusalem and Back, 1976:
In the Six Day War Israel conquered and occupied Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian territories. Does it mean to keep them? [Here Bellow quotes Zvi Lamm, an Israeli historian.] In 1939 England and France had gone to war with Nazi Germany because they could not accept its expansionism, its policy of territorial conquest and annexation. What was wrong for Germany cannot be right for Israel…
[t]he government is desperately stuck with the occupation…. I have spoken with students of the Middle East who feel that nothing is more dangerous for Israel at this moment than this religious nationalism. They think it is anti-Zionist, for the leaders of the Zionist movement had no religious-territorial ambitions. In America, even those who sympathize with Israel and support it see no reason the United States should be asked to sponsor this religious expansionism….
The liberal political philosopher and committed Zionist Michael Walzer expresses similar concerns about the revolution in Israel’s political culture in The Paradox of Liberation, 2015:
Messianism is simultaneously a comforting fantasy and a disruptive force. Secular Zionists exploited this force, even claimed sometimes to embody it, but in fact they naturalized and tamed it. They made messianism into hard work and redemption into a gradual process of acquisition and renewal: “Another dunam, another goad.” But once the mundane work was done and religious Jews beheld the state, especially the state as it was in the ominously magical moment of 1967, triumphant over its enemies, many of them decided they they did indeed live in messianic times—or better, on the very brink of messianic times…
[W]hen Jewish zealots entered into the practical work of settling the land after the Six-Day War in 1967, they were not waiting for the Messiah; rather, they were (in the old religious language) “forcing the end.” But they acted with a sense that the end was near, that they were on the brink of messianic times, that the success of their work was divinely guaranteed—all of which made the ideas of compromise and limit inconceivable to them.
Another secular Jewish writer, Roger Cohen, is much angrier about these messianic forces, in his memoir, The Girl From Human Street. You will see that the existential “noose” for Israel again makes an appearance, but now being fitted by Jews:
After the lightning victory After the lightning victory in the Six-Day War of 1967, and the trauma followed by triumph in the 1973 Yom Kippur war, messianic Jewish thinking made a vigorous comeback. If Israel now held all Jerusalem and the West Bank, how, in the minds of religious nationalists, could this recovery of Eretz Israel — a biblical term widely used to refer to the area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River — not be an expression of divine will?
Religious Zionism was the malignant offspring of secular Zionism, whose immense political achievement was to persuade the world, in the form of the United Nations, of the justice of a Jewish claim to about half of British Mandate Palestine. The cornerstone of Israel’s U.N.-backed legality was territorial compromise. Rejected first by the Arabs, this division of the land was then progressively undermined from the 1970s onward by the settlers of Gush Emunim. They claimed Zionism’s mantle. They mimicked its attachment to the soil. But they were not delivering the persecuted Jews of Europe to a new life. They were ushering Jews from within Israel to the West Bank, from the laws of Israeli democracy into lawless defiance of the very foundations of the state. God’s covenant in the mountains of Judea and Samaria blinded the settlement movement to the Palestinians in their midst. The Arabs in turn had become disposable and Israel, through overreach, had placed itself in a morally indefensible colonial noose.
Here’s some comic relief. In 1969, three American Jews published a counter-factual novel called If Israel Lost the War— Richard Z. Chesnoff, Edward Klein, and Robert Littell. I include these hysterical passages– about Egypt’s rule over Israel after it wins– in my tour largely because Klein is a former editor of the New York Times magazine. More evidence of the Israel lobby in the press.
Occupation Order number 798, Jews of Tel Aviv. Pursuant to an agreement concluded in Cairo, Tel Aviv has formally been incorporated into the United Arab Republic. Henceforth all Jews who wish to travel from Egyptian Palestine must obtain written permission….
Behind the locked shutters of their apartments, the Jews of Tel Aviv paused to listen to the new order, then turned back to their meager breakfasts…. For fifteen months of occupation had disfigured the face of Israel beyond recognition, and there seemed little the Arabs could do to make life more painful that it already was for the ordinary Jew.
The ordeal had begun as soon as the war ended. While the corpses of hundreds of Israelis still rotted on the streets, tens of thousands of occupation forces flooded into Jewish cities and towns. In the first flush of victory, nothing less than an orgy of looting and bloodshed would satisfy the Arab conquerors… Jews who attempted to stop the pillage were brutally beaten—or, just as often, shot on the spot. Israeli women unlucky enough to be caught on the street by Arab soldiers were stripped naked and repeatedly raped….
To make matters worse, Jordanian officials allowed Arab civilians to enter the former Israeli sector of Jerusalem. Thousands, mainly Palestinian refugees, arrived by the truckload from Hebron, Jericho and Nablus…. Inebriated by their long-dreamed-of victory, the refugees began to strip the Jewish city like locusts.
I need to point out how much projection there is in that passage. Israel has been occupying for 50 years, and issuing chilling orders all the time. And as for rape, see Goodman, above.
Here is more about the American mood, by a Zionist scholar, Melvin I. Urofsky, in We Are One! American Jewry and Israel. While there’s a lot of propaganda here, I don’t doubt that the Holocaust fear expressed here speaks to the dominant Jewish mood of the time. “Nasser was Hitler incarnate.” Talk about a careless prejudicial statement; but pace Philip Roth above, it obviously is an accurate one, for many Jews. And notice the reference to money.
[T]he imagery of the Holocaust dominated American Jewry—the fear that twice int heir lifetime the Jewish people would be slaughtered and would be able to do nothing about it.
“Terror and dread fell upon Jews everywhere,” wrote Abraham Joshua Heschel. “Will God permit our people to perish? Will there be another Auschwitz, another Dachau, another Treblinka?”
…Unlike previous years, American Jews in May and June 1967 felt themselves to be in a crisis of survival.
One American woman wrote to her parents explaining her decision to stay in Israel: “After learning all my life about Hitler and the destruction of the Jews and the rise of the Jewish state, I cannot just run out like this. There is so much to do here….
On the first day of the war, at least ten thousand Americans of all ages swamped Israeli consulates and Zionist offices, despite repeated pleas from Israel that a deluge of foreign volunteers would only complicate a difficult situation…. In the end only a handful managed to get to Israel before the fighting ended…
[T]he American Jewish community gave as it had never given before. … [M]oney—above and beyond the regular pledges—flowed in such quantities and from so many people that even the professional staff and leaders of organized Jewry could not believe it. .. In New York, the participants at one luncheon raised $15 million in as many minutes… In Boston fifty families opened the drive by contributing $2.5 million…
Between the regular and emergency campaign, American Jews raised $240 million for Israel in 1967 and brought $190 million in Israel bonds, a total of $430 million! Jews who had never identified with Israel, or even as Jews, seemed to come out of the woodwork, checkbook in hand….
Nasser was Hitler incarnate, and the Arab threat of genocide had to be taken seriously. As Elie Wiesel so poignantly wrote, behind the army of Israel stood another army of six million ghosts….
Urofsky documents the blow that the war was to anti-Zionist Jews.
In fact, in the wake of the war, anti-Zionism among Jews as it had been know for decades practically ceased to exist. The New York Times carried an article that some of the leaders
of the American Council for Judaism looked upon the war as an act of Israel “aggression,” and considered the “massive Jewish support for Israel in America … as amounting to ‘hysteria’”. This certainly was the attitude of executive director Elmer Berger, but some of the leading members of the Council… immediately repudiated his position, taking care to note that they had supported Israel… Several of these men soon resigned from the Council.
Those still left in the group now realized that they had been nursing a vain delusion all these years; there was no hidden core of large anti-Zionist sentiment among American Jewry… All American Jews, it seemed, now basked in the pride of victory… The Intermountain Jewish News proclaimed to its readers that “the glorious fighters of Israel have made an automatic hero of every Jew in America, yea of the world.” One no longer had to be ashamed of being a Jew…
For Arthur Waskow, long active in the peace movement and radical causes, the war provided an “iexistential” moment in which he and other American Jews “discovered a great attachment to Israel that was so deep that they surprised themselves… they felt about Israel as they felt about America: Somehow they were responsible for its existence and/or its injustices. Simply because they were Jewish.”
This sense of belonging as Americans and as Jews, this rebirth of of Jewish identity, was probably the greatest legacy of the Six-Day War, and forged new bonds between Israelis and American Jews.
There is a much more thoughtful consideration of the same issues, in Jewish Power, by the journalist J.J. Goldberg. The longtime Forward columnist explains that the 1967 war effected a revolution inside U.S. Jewish life, in which the militarist Zionists took control of the community when it came to foreign policy-making. Goldberg begins by talking about the effect on a Jewish everyman (MJ Rosenberg).
The victory marked the end of one era and the beginning of another in the life of the American Jewish community, the moment, it is often said, when American Jews gained pride in being Jewish…For the first time, many felt a powerful sense of identification with Israel, as though its fate were literally their own….
In New York, a May 28 rally for Israel drew upwards of 150,000 people, more than any American Jewish gathering ever had….
Michael J. (M.J.) Rosenberg, a sophomore at the State University of New York at Albany in the spring of 1967, was a leader of the campus anti-Vietnam War movement and a
leftwing columnist for the campus newspaper. But that May, he recalls, “I was consumed by the threat to Israel. I went from interested to worried to obsessed with what was happening.”… After graduation, he moved to Washington and got a job with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee… “[T]he thought that Israel might be destroyed consumed me. It changed my life.”
Across America, there were thousands of M.J. Rosenbergs…
[I]t was not the Six day war that transformed Americna Jewish life. If anything, it was the waiting period before the war. During those three tense weeks in May, countless American Jews experienced a shattering anxiety that Israel might be destroyed…
Goldberg is also frank about what historians all know now: Israel was not in danger, and this was surely known by many in leadership. But the war left many American Jews feeling vulnerable and angry, and well– wanting to build a powerful lobby.
Though the public was astounded by the speed and decisiveness of the Israeli victory, intelligence analysts in Israel and America were not. They knew Israel’s strength…
[O]nce it became clear that Israel was in no danger, and probably never had been—the reality might have given Jews a new dose of confidence.
The reaction was just the opposite. The events of May and June 1967 shattered the nerves of the American Jewish community. Amid their exhilaration, Jewish leaders and activists were left with an overwhelming feeling of vulnerability and isolation…
What the American Jewish community learned from the war was the reverse [of Israel’s security]: that Israel might be destroyed at any moment. It learned, too, that the world would permit this to happen, that the world was a hostile and dangerous place, that nobody cared about the Jews, that the Jews should care about nobody…
In the following months, criticism of Israel as an occupying bully spread into ever broader segments of the American left, from Marxist radicals to the mainstream liberals of the National Council of Churches of Christ.
In response, Jews began resigning in droves from liberal and left-wing groups—and attacking those who did not do so as traitors to their own kind. “From this point on, I will support no movement that does not accept my people’s struggle,” the born-again Jewish student leader M.J. Rosenberg wrote in the Village Voice in February 1969, in a much reprinted essay… “To Uncle Tom and Other Such Jews.”
This is Goldberg’s most incisive point. A minority of Jews were transformed by the war; but what an important minority.
“It was a minority with an edge, however. The new Jewish particularists presumed… to speak for the entire Jewish community. Driven by fear of anti-Semitism, by guilt over past Jewish timidity, and by suspicion of Gentiles, liberalism, and coalition politics, the new particularists simply took over the machinery oof American Jewish politics. Hardly anyone tried to stop them. The opinions of the majority of American Jews became largely irrelevant to the process of policy-making. The Jeewish community became the preserve of a passionate minority, driven by a terrible vision. This was the real revolution of 1967.”
Underlying Goldberg’s point, here is a suggestion of the transformation that 1967 effected inside Jewish life. Milton Himmelfarb– Bill Kristol’s uncle– in an essay titled, “In Light of Israel’s Victory,” in October 1967. Notice the “noose” metaphor again makes an appearance. Notice how Jews of Israel have more “Jewish weight” than us Diaspora Jews. Notice the intolerance of any dissent. That is still the creed among neocons:
We have almost forgotten the unbelievable victory, and all the more our fear and depression in those weeks before the actual fighting broke out, when Nasser was tightening his noose. Political metaphors from thirty years ago kept running through our minds and conversations. We said, Munich; we said, Czechoslovakia; we said, salami tactics….
Some of us surprised ourselves and each other by our concern… In the same way, there is less self-hate than there used to be. The surprise is that some Jews still had to find a reassurance about themselves in the military valor of the Israelis… showing us what we wanted and needed to have shown—that while Jews can be pretty good with a fountain pen and a briefcase, they can also if necessary be pretty good with a rifle or a tank….
As for the young, I think that what happened to them a few months ago was a sudden realization that genocide, anti-Semitism, a desire to murder Jews—all these things were not merely what one had been taught about a bad, stupid past, not merely the fault of elders who are almost a different species. Those things were real and present. Internationalist, antiparochial young Jews had taken it for granted that the Jews are the fat cats of this world and that no concern need be wasted on them….Suddenly the Jews of Israel were seen to be potentially as wretched as anyone else…
In 1967 Jews of all kinds, from the most parochial to the most internationalist, were resolved that there should be no more genocide against the Jews—particularly against the Israelis, whose Jewish weight, so to speak, is greater than that of other Jews. We thought of the Syrians in Haifa or Tel Aviv and felt sick. Compared with the Syrians, the Egyptians are calm and reasonable.
Not everyone drank the Kool Aid. Here’s Harvey Pekar, from Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me (written with J.T. Waldman).
I guess my attitude started really changing around 1967…. [T]here was this big buildup to the war. There was all this talk about how the Arabs had gotten their stuff together and Israel had better look out…. But man the whole world was shocked by what happened. Israel won in only six days! Man, it’s hard to believe. Israel’s air force launched a surprise attack and wiped out Egypt’s air force while it was still on the ground. That pretty much decided the war right there.
Well I gotta say I was proud of Israel then. They’d taken on huge odds and beaten them. A whole lot of Jews were happy about that, happy and relieved.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about the valid points my leftist friends had. First, Arabs were subject to Turkey, then between world wars to Britain and France, and now to Israel. Don’t the Arabs living over there, these self-proclaimed Palestinians, deserve a fair shake? It’s not like you can just go up to an Arab and say, ‘Well, you Arabs already have so much land yourselves, what do you care if some Jews want to take over a teensy-weensy bit of it?’
[Then] Jews were settling all over the occupied territories, claiming everything. I remember reading the newspapers and thinking… This is a really stupid thing to do! It’s sabotaging their best chances for lasting peace!
Pekar is important because he shows us that the leftwing had the only valid analysis of this situation, from the start. Listen to Tikva Honig-Parnass, on the socialist, anti-Zionist Israelis who knew the story, right from the start:
On June 8, 1967, three days after Israel opened war against Egypt, a joint Arab-Israeli declaration on the Middle East crisis was published in the London Times and signed by the representatives of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Matzpen. The declaration, which was written and signed on the eve of the war, details the conditions for a desirable solution to the conflict. “The abolition of the Zionist character of Israel, the return of the refugees to the territory of Israel; an Israeli agreement for the establishment of a Palestinian state, if the Palestinians choose it…
Matzpen’s analysis has not been adopted by Israeli masses… The hegemonic state-centered political culture, nourished by Zionist Left intellectuals, has been an efficient tool in blocking these developments.
Another Matzpen member argues that expansionism was part of Zionism from the start. Moshe Machover wrote an October 1967 essay against the territorial claims (in Israelis and Palestinians, Conflict and Resolution):
For years the leaders of all the Zionist parties—except Herut—had been declaring that they were satisfied with the status quo created following the 1948 war; they asserted repeatedly that they had no further territorial claims. But the annexationist claims raised following the Suez-Sinai war [of 1956] and more insistently following the Six-Day War, prove that in fact none of the Zionist currents have ever abandoned in principle the claim to the “entire Land of Israel.” The old disclaimers, repudiating any desire for territorial expansion, were motivated either by propagandist considerations (the wish to appear righteous in the eyes of the world) or by pragmatic readiness to accept the facts when there did not seem to be any practical prospect of gaining further territory. But when the prospect of annexations appears to be realistic, the fundamental, essential position of Zionism is exposed.…
[T]here are some Zionists who also put forward principled and ethical arguments against annexation. Amos Oz, in an article entirled “the Minster of Defense and Lebensraum” (Davar, August 22, 1967) comes out against the horrifying overtones accompanying the annexationist orgy. The arguments citing Jewish “historical rights over the “entire Land of Israel” are described by him as “hallucinations of a myth.” He asserts that territorial rights and political borders can only be based on the demographic principles: every people has a right over territory it inhabits and in which it constitutes a majority. Any other principle is baseless.
Another leftwinger despairs. Tanya Reinhardt in Israel, in Israel/Palestine: How to end the war of 1948.
As an Israeli, I grew up believing that the primal sin our state was founded on may be forgiven one day, because the founders’ generation was driven by the faith that this was the only way to save the Jewish people from the danger of another holocaust. But it didn’t stop [in 1948]…. Renowned Israeli philosopher and scientiest Yeshayahu Leibowitz warned of what the occupation would lead to right from the start. In 1968 he wrote, “A state governing a hostiile population of 1.5 to 2 million foreigners is bound to become a Shin Bet [Security Service] state… Israel will be infected with corruption, characteristic of any colonial regime.”…
In the power-drunk atmosphere which prevailed in Israel at the time, not many people paid attention to Leibowitz’s warnings.
Avigail Abarbanel woke up later, in Australia. From Beyond Tribal Loyalties:
[W]hen I read the Iron Wall, my whole world turned upside-down. Everything I thought I knew about Israel’s history, its relationship with the Palestinians and with the world turned out to have been based on half-truths or outright lies… I desperately wanted to accuse [Avi] Shlaim of being some kind of a lunatic, someone with an “agenda,” and for everything he said to not be true. But everything he claimed in the book was backed with documented evidence, most of it from Israeli official archives… I was overwhelmed, devastated. I felt intensely angry, betrayed and used. I also thought I was stupid because my feelings seemed out of proportion.
I wanted to end this collection with a passage that resolves what you have read so far, and here it is. Joel Kovel just published a memoir, The Lost Traveller’s Dream. Never a Zionist as such, but sympathetic to Israel as a young man– in this passage you will see him move from pure anxiety/ardor about Israel in 1967 to awareness of how he was fooled about the reality of the situation.
Late in May 1967, I was sitting in the kitchen of our pre-fab home in Seattle’s University District where viirgnia and I had passed close to two years enduring military duty with the U.s. Public health service, Mount Rainier shimmering eighty miles in the distance. I picked up the Post Intelligencer, and there, blaring on the front page, was an eight-column headline to the effect that Israel faced imminent annihilation from the massed armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan. What had been calm instantly became panic. It was the worst fright I had ever experienced over a political matter, not so extended as that of the Cuban missile Crisis, but more visceral, even though, in sharp contrast to the events of October 1962, neither my nor my family’s lives, not to mention those of humanity as a whole, were at stake. The fear stemmed from threats to an obscure portion of my identity concerning a country I had never visited, nor wanted to visit despite mother’s endless importuning to see the miraculous Jewish state, the tab to be on her account. Although the idea occasionally flickered through my thoughts how exciting it must be to build a new society from the ground up (disregarding, of course, the fate of the indigenous), by and large I had little regard for Israel, and even held it in some disdain because of an obnoxious Israeli co-resident psychiatrist. Now, reason was swept aside as deep circuits opened, linking the Israeli present and the Jewish past with memory of the holocaust and what the holocaust signified in the inner chambers of Jewish being, even of a Jew who had ostensibly put Jewishness behind him fourteen years before. here it was, about to happen again; and I became every-Jew, feared what Jews are made to fear, and identified a nation-state with Jewry itself, as Zionism demanded. I was a Jew and, in a moment of supreme danger the Jewish people— my Jewish people—were about to be thrown into the sea and exterminated! What was to be done?! Actually, nothing externally, because what was happening was hysterical and not integral to the actuality of the person, Joel Kovel, but the splitting-off of a “spirit being,” a concept I was to develop in History and Spirit. In this instance of the phenomenon, a demon drawn from the collective Jewish soul had taken up residence in my own, a lodger of sorts, the door of whose chamber had been pried open by events. or maybe a kind of Golem awakened by an alarm in historical time to torment me with what has passed. Its source was not direct experience, rather, the imagined outcome of reading and brooding about the holocaust once I got wind of it in the 1940s. I saw again heartrending photos of cachectic prisoners and terrifying images of smirking Nazi troops with long coats rounding up Jewish victims on city streets….
For myself, I am ashamed to say that I enjoyed a rush of exultation with the rapidity and fury of Israel’s triumph. But it subsided under the pressure of my growing left-wing identity. And as things calmed further I began to wonder about certain facts of the matter, to wit, that Israel had instantly routed forces who seemed only a day or two beforehand to be preparing to push Jews into the sea. What had happened to the Arab juggernaut? Was there such a behemoth in the first place? Could there have been a mistake… or, heaven forbid, a deception? If so, my world had been turned upside down. In spite of my alienation, I still held it as axiomatic that ethically superior, long suffering, and eternally victimized Jews,
my ancestral people bearing Yahweh’s Covenant, would, by definition, never do such a thing. Chico Marx had asked: “who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?” Now I was in such a dilemma internalized. The “me” was my socially constructed self and its attachment to the ideology machine churning myths of Jewish moral singularity; meanwhile, “my own eye,” were those of an awakening ruthless criticism. having been conditioned to think that Jews were by definition incapable of such behavior, I now had to rethink definitions, including those of “my ancestral people” and Yahweh’s Covenant with them. As I realized over the months ahead that Israel’s goals in 1967 went far beyond self-defense to include occupation and colonization of the seized Palestinian territories, and that this was no random event, but integral to Zionism, a transformed world began to take shape before my eyes.