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Israel’s Palestinian problem and the Diaspora’s Israel problem

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Sometimes, a “people” becomes a “problem:” at various times, the Gypsy Problem, the Negro Problem, the Jewish Problem, the Irish Problem, the Immigrant Problem.

The Balfour Declaration of 1917 was facilitated by Arthur Balfour’s view of immigrating Jews as a problem for Britain, and of living in the wider world as a problem for Jews.

Today for Israel, non-Jews are explicitly a “demographic problem.” The difficulty is their presence — presumably entitled to human rights — in the same land that European Jews dreamt of settling for the renewal of Judea.

In 1906, American Jewish educator Solomon Schechter deplored that emancipation of Jews was leading to social acceptance and “is consummated by a final, though imperceptible, absorption in the great majority.”

The Zionist project, what Schechter called a “bulwark against assimilation,” has succeeded in Israel, in hyper-emphasizing Jewish identity, by the expedient of making a country with a Jewish majority in perpetual contest with an injured minority and legions of their absent countrymen, making a “Palestinian Problem.”

The key requirement was creating such a Jewish majority, and such social division, that even indifferent Jews will tend to stay within the Jewish nation.

The rage in Israel expressed against mixed Jewish-Arab couples makes “American-style” social integration unlikely in an Israeli society formed around the idea of a Jewish Commonwealth and the doctrine of “Hebrew labor” that even extends to rejection of Arab parties in governing coalitions.

An Isaeli supporter of the right-wing Organization for Prevention of Assimilation in the Holy Land (LEHAVA) scuffle with police during a demonstration outside the wedding hall where Mahmoud Mansour, an Arab-Israeli, and Morel Malcha, a Jewish, got married on August 17, 2014 in the Israeli costal city of Rishon Letzion. AFP PHOTO/GALI TIBBON

Whether this repels is a good metric of one’s investment in Jewish nationalism; or, put more benignly, in the vision of Jewish ethnic survival via statehood.

American Jewish integration continues, for better or worse. Over the last 50 years, intermarriage has risen now approaching 60 percent. Support for the Jewish garrison state is a counterpoint to integration and opportunity.

The slogan Am Yisrael Chai! is suited for defiance of pogromist and genocidal enemies of Jewish people. Does it resonate against acceptance and acculturation as well?

As long as Jewish personal and group identity are bonded to salvation by a reconstituted Jewish commonwealth, Palestinians’ inconvenient presence and demand to be dealt with as human beings are dangerous wreckers of that vision.

With the 1880s invention of the term and doctrine of “Anti-Semitism,” Solomon Schechter recalled from his European youth,

The Jewish problem became more complicated every day, and a large literature was created. Instead of being a mere religious problem, we suddenly discovered ourselves to be also an ethnological problem, an economic problem, a social problem, a psychological problem, and ever so many more problems.

In Palestine, Zionists have managed a turnabout. Instead of being described as a problem, they have the critical mass to define non-Jews as the problem. By organizing their world around a Jew/Gentile binary, they also ensure cohesion within the Jewish population that otherwise is wildly heterogeneous both in religious practice and culture.

The genius of Zionism is to take diaspora Jewish insularity and turn it to shameless majoritarianism. Returning to Palestine in force, and making Palestinians a “problem” in Palestine.

The upcoming Israeli elections are the latest contest to propose the most effective solutions to deal with that frustrating, stubborn “problem.“

It comes down to valuing the Zionist solution for Jewish ethnic viability in the modern world so much to be willing to kill for it, as “problem” people emerge who are in the way.

“About 100 Hamas targets were hit overnight in the Gaza Strip in retaliation for the rocket fire into Israel last night” (@IDFSpokesperson, March 14, 2019)

Israeli snipers at Gaza frontier, March 30, 2018 (@IDF Spokesperson, March 30, 2018)

After the violence and displacement of the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the American Jewish Committee was most concerned that there would be a spill-over of criticism from the new Jewish state of Israel to damage the reputation of American Jews.

In October 1953, the State of Israel launched a “retaliatory” raid on a West Bank village of Qibya, by a commando force (“Force 101”) led by young Ariel Sharon, carrying out a massacre of 69 Palestinians and leading to worldwide condemnation for the indiscriminate violence aimed at civilians.

The Qibya public relations crisis seems to have tipped the balance for a decision by the AJC that working for the public image of Israel in the United States was an imperative for the status and security of American Jews, lest Israel fall into disfavor with non-Jewish Americans, and American Jews along with her.

A 1953 AJC memo on the subject reasoned:

Public antipathy toward Israel would all too likely spill over into hostility toward American Jews.

AJC power to influence Israeli actions was limited, but it developed a comprehensive public relations plan to promote the idea in the USA that “Israel’s political and social structure constitutes the only democracy in the Middle East.”

In bringing these themes to the public, all the mass media should be brought into action; also the special media, particularly the religious press. …To the utmost extent, non-Jewish and non-sectarian organizations should be used as spokesmen.

A contemporaneous memo observed paradoxical risks of the strategy:

It goes without saying that whatever moves we make to influence government policy must frequently be buttressed by appeals to public opinion.

But in the case of Israel, American public opinion must be cultivated for other reasons as well — notably for our own self-interest….

Considering, however, our apprehension concerning too close association in the public mind between American Jews and Israel, the public relations profits gained by advertising Israeli virtues may actually reinforce an identification which we are trying to break down.

In the case of Israel, there is an additional danger: we may praise its democracy today; but tomorrow Mapam [party], with its pro-Soviet orientation, may come to power in the government. And even now there are such regrettable realities as the discriminatory features of the Israeli nationality law, the land acquisition law, and the clerical monopoly of legal power over marriage and divorce. 

It became policy in the American Jewish Committee to temper criticism of Israeli conduct in fear that voicing criticisms they had of Israeli violence and intolerance would spill over to how Jews were seen as a group. That rationale limited by disuse the AJC’s ability to speak frankly about Israel.

I do not know what the internal AJC memos say now, but this approach became habitual. The analysis was that defense of Israel is defense of American Jews’ reputation by proxy, a tricky maneuver.

In the formative years of the Zionist project and the state, it was clear to leaders of non-Zionist American Jewish organizations that there is inherent tension between being Jewish American and boosting a state premised on the idea that it is your representation in the world.

This tension was apparent to member of the British cabinet Edwin Montagu, as the Balfour declaration was issued in 1917, who said contemplating creation of a Jewish state was “unintentionally anti-Semitic” because it left British Jews and Jewish citizens of other countries in a tenuous position.

The existence of this unresolved contradiction is why there is such a violent reaction when anything that can imply an accusation of dual loyalty is voiced. Or in the case of Representative Ilhan Omar, not voiced. The wicked flee when no man pursueth…

The rage to fight “anti-Semitism” in criticism of Israel, the tendentious reading of “anti-Semitic tropes” into criticism of the long history of human rights abuses of Palestinians, is not only a tactic for defense of Israel, but a signal of the delicacy of the position of American Jews who find themselves in an untenable defense of militant Jewish nationalism within American citizenship.

About Abba Solomon

Abba A. Solomon is the author of “The Speech, and Its Context: Jacob Blaustein's Speech ‘The Meaning of Palestine Partition to American Jews.’” His website is abbasolomon.com

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28 Responses

  1. Maximus Decimus Meridius
    Maximus Decimus Meridius
    March 30, 2019, 11:54 am

    “t a signal of the delicacy of the position of American Jews who find themselves in an untenable defense of militant Jewish nationalism within American citizenship.”

    They don’t ‘find themselves’ in that position though. They choose to be in it. Jews are not obliged to support Israel. The majority do, of course, but a noble minority choose humanity over tribalism.

  2. Argonne18
    Argonne18
    March 30, 2019, 12:12 pm

    Nice picture of the war criminal snipers. Add it to the facial recognition database for future war crimes tribunals!

  3. Keith
    Keith
    March 30, 2019, 8:37 pm

    ABBA SOLOMON- “The Zionist project, what Schechter called a “bulwark against assimilation,” has succeeded in Israel, in hyper-emphasizing Jewish identity….”

    And it has succeeded in the US by hyper-emphasizing Jewish identity, although this takes a different form in the nominally multicultural US than in the Jewish state.

  4. Keith
    Keith
    March 30, 2019, 8:40 pm

    ABBA SOLOMON- “By organizing their world around a Jew/Gentile binary, they also ensure cohesion within the Jewish population that otherwise is wildly heterogeneous both in religious practice and culture.”

    The “Jew/Gentile binary” is a throwback to a secularized version of the ideology of Classical Judaism which is the essence of the reuniting of the Jewish “people” under Zionism. Support for Israel is a means of maintaining Jewish tribal solidarity in perceived defense against the Gentile “other.”

    • Mooser
      Mooser
      March 31, 2019, 12:31 pm

      “The “Jew/Gentile binary” is a throwback to a secularized version of the ideology of Classical Judaism which is the essence of the reuniting of the Jewish “people” under Zionism. Support for Israel is a means of maintaining Jewish tribal solidarity in perceived defense against the Gentile “other.” “Keith”

      But “Keith”, the implications of this ‘fact’ are breathtaking! It means that Zionism will not be reduced or eliminated as long as Judaism exists! Or until rock, pop and Jazz Judaism replace that long-hair schmaltz.

      • Keith
        Keith
        March 31, 2019, 3:25 pm

        MOOSER- “It means that Zionism will not be reduced or eliminated as long as Judaism exists!”

        No, it means that Zionism will be supported as long as it benefits the Jewish Zionist elites to do so. Also, for what it is worth, the “Jew/Gentile binary” is primarily a Jewish perspective. Most Gentiles consider Jews as simply one ethnic group among many ethnic groups. Furthermore, most Gentiles don’t consider themselves to be part of one big kinship group of non-Jews called “Gentiles.”

      • annie
        annie
        March 31, 2019, 3:34 pm

        most non jews have never heard the word “gentile” much less identify as one.

      • RoHa
        RoHa
        March 31, 2019, 9:27 pm

        ‘Furthermore, most Gentiles don’t consider themselves to be part of one big kinship group of non-Jews called “Gentiles.”’

        Perhaps we should. If we all united, we might come close to outnumbering Jews.

      • Talkback
        Talkback
        April 1, 2019, 9:03 am

        I shouldn’t use the word “gentile”. It’s just part of my Jewish indoctrination.

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        April 1, 2019, 1:53 pm

        ” If we all united, we might come close to outnumbering Jews.”

        I would think the number of people united on any given night would well out number Jews.

  5. JWalters
    JWalters
    March 31, 2019, 4:28 am

    ” Instead of being a mere religious problem, we suddenly discovered ourselves to be also an ethnological problem, an economic problem, a social problem, a psychological problem”

    There is a decent case that economic problems have been the central ones. In the Old Testament (Nehemia) it records the people of Judea complaining strenuously about their leaders milking them through usurious money lending. Within the leadership it was common for a rabbi to also be a money lender.

    Complaints in Europe about Jewish communities were often founded in economic complaints. Instead of the Jewish financial services helping a community grow, they sometimes drained the community.

    The communities being drained did not distinguish between the money lenders and the rest of the Jewish community. The Jewish leaders had directed their community to stay as isolated as possible from the others, to preserve their purity. And most definitely not intermarry with the others, for the same reason.

    So the outsiders, without much of a window into the Jewish community, and the money lenders being a main one, over-generalized from the money lenders to the rest of the Jewish community. They assumed all Jews were like the few they knew.

    Today, it is clear that virtually all the so-called increase in anti-Semitism is actually an increase in anti-Zionism, fraudulently mis-labeled as “anti-Semitism”. And anti-Zionism is indeed on the increase, and for a simple reason. More people are learning the facts about Israel’s 70 year campaign of terrorism, mass murder, and robbery against the innocent indigenous people of Palestine. And they easily see the huge injustice being done to the Palestinians.

    • bcg
      bcg
      March 31, 2019, 12:41 pm

      “Why the Germans? Why the Jews?: Envy, Race Hatred, and the Prehistory of the Holocaust” by Gotz Aly. From the Amazon blurb:

      Surprisingly, and controversially, Aly shows that the roots of the Holocaust are deeply intertwined with German efforts to create greater social equality. Redistributing wealth from the well-off to the less fortunate was in many respects a laudable goal, particularly at a time when many lived in poverty. But as the notion of material equality took over the public imagination, the skilled, well-educated Jewish population came to be seen as having more than its fair share. Aly’s account of this fatal social dynamic opens up a new vantage point on the greatest crime in history and is sure to prompt heated debate for years to come.

      • JWalters
        JWalters
        March 31, 2019, 7:43 pm

        Thanks for that reference. It makes sense that there would be a somewhat complex interaction of factors. It also makes sense, considering the generally more limited education at that time, and the lack of communication capacities compared to today, that over-generalizing and rumors could easily occur. The theory that there is a “Jew hatred gene” seems to me highly unlikely.

    • Maximus Decimus Meridius
      Maximus Decimus Meridius
      April 1, 2019, 8:43 am

      Certain types like to claim that ‘Jew hate’ is sui generis and has nothing whatsoever to do with Jews themselves, just with the irrational hatred of gentiles.

      And while of course nothing could possibly excuse hatred of an entire people, much less persecution of them, Jews in fact fit in pretty well with the concept of the ‘middleman minority’ – minority groups who work in areas such as banking, retail and money-lending, and tend to generate great resentment in the majority population. The Jews are by no means the only such group – others include overseas Chinese, the Indians in Uganda or the Armenians in Ottoman Turkey. All of these groups, and others, have been subject to persecution and expulsion at different times during history.

      It seems that there is something about a successful, highly visible minority which,w hen the historic conditions are right, generates extreme resentment and jealousy among majority populations. It’s quite a well documented phenomenon, though of course any suggestion that the Jews and their suffering are not in fact unique and incomparable will get you called all sorts of names these days.

      • JWalters
        JWalters
        April 2, 2019, 2:04 am

        Excellent point. We always get useful information from looking at multiple examples of a phenomenon. Another pattern is that wealth often brings power, and power imbalances often get exploited, human nature such as it is.

      • Maximus Decimus Meridius
        Maximus Decimus Meridius
        April 2, 2019, 10:50 am

        Worth remembering that the vast majority of Jews in Eastern Europe – and Armenians in Turkey were not rich. Most were poor. There seems to be something about the role of ‘middleman’ when played by a religious and/or linguistic minority which engenders great resentment among the majority population. There’s probably also the fact that being highly visible and “accessible” to ordinary people in their role as shopkeepers etc, and not enjoying protection from the elite, they were easy targets when things went wrong.

      • YoniFalic
        YoniFalic
        April 2, 2019, 12:13 pm

        It’s important to realize that E. Europe and the Czarist Empire were poor. E. European Jews on the whole had higher incomes, more education, and longer lifespans than the peoples among whom they lived. From 1890 onward E. European Jews probably surpassed the Polish Szlachta (aristocracy) in wealth, education, and lifespan.

        In historic Poland E. European Jews (both Yiddish-speaking Slavo-Turks & Kypczak-speaking Tartars) were legally recognized as an untitled stratum within the Polish 2nd Estate until the Frankists tried to pass en masse into the Polish Szlachta by converting to Christianity.

        Pre-modern Poland had something like a caste system based mostly in religion. The political leaders believed that military and merchant services were incompatible. Thus Jews were untitled because they unlike the titled Tatar Muslim aristocrats of Poland owed no military service to the Polish king,

        Because literate & numerate groups of pre-modern Poland had at the beginning of modernization dramatic advantages over other groups, we see increasing intergroup hostility as Poland and the Czarist Empire modernized. The tremendous 19th century population explosion exacerbated tensions. As in pre-revolutionary France, the effort of pre-modern elites to maintain pre-modern privileges and exemptions caused increasing tension especially because pre-modern restrictions were being lifted. The Polish Szlachta tended to renounce pre-modern privileges and exemptions for the sake of alliance with bourgeoisie and peasantry. Polish Jews preferring to act in role of native collaborators to the new rulers of divided Poland were unwilling to make similar sacrifice.

        The situation in the Ottoman Empire was somewhat different, but Jews (of mostly Ibero-Berber origin in central Ottoman provinces) had advantages of above average numeracy & literacy. The was no Ottoman Jewish peasantry. The Armenian situation was rather different because a literate, numerate independent or autonomous Armenian elite persisted from ancient times into the 19th century. This elite had some benefits of patronage from the Georgian Kingdom and later from the Czarist Empire.

      • Maximus Decimus Meridius
        Maximus Decimus Meridius
        April 2, 2019, 2:16 pm

        Interesting post. Yes it’s true that there was an Armenian elite in the Ottoman empire, but most were peasants.

        As for the Jews in Poland, isn’t it the case that the majority were small-time shop keepers and the like? So really not wealthy at all, for the most part?

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        April 2, 2019, 2:39 pm

        “until the Frankists tried to pass en masse into the Polish Szlachta by converting to Christianity.”

        Here’s an article on the “Frankists”

      • Mooser
        Mooser
        April 2, 2019, 3:01 pm

        “The tremendous 19th century population explosion exacerbated tensions”

        Enough to leave a surplus for export.

      • Nathan
        Nathan
        April 2, 2019, 7:20 pm

        Maximus – Your analysis of the source of hatred (‘middleman minority’) is not too convincing. It’s an attempt to find some kind of rationale in a very irrational phenomenon. The Nazi regime (to take the most extreme case and a very recent case of persecution of Jews) decided to murder the Jewish population in order to rescue mankind. Every Jew – even a little newborn child – was the enemy of humanity as a biological fact. In other words, the motivation behind the crime was a result of a figment of the imagination.

        The suffering of the Jews was not unique or incomparable. The uniqueness of the Holocaust is in the totally irrational, detached-from-reality motivation of the murderers.

      • RoHa
        RoHa
        April 3, 2019, 12:47 am

        “Most were poor. ”

        This explains why they kept singing songs about what they would do if they were rich.

      • Maximus Decimus Meridius
        Maximus Decimus Meridius
        April 3, 2019, 10:34 am

        “The suffering of the Jews was not unique or incomparable. The uniqueness of the Holocaust is in the totally irrational, detached-from-reality motivation of the murderers.”

        As opposed to say, the entirely rational mass killings of Armenian or Tutsi men, women and children?

      • oldgeezer
        oldgeezer
        April 3, 2019, 10:35 am

        @Nathan

        “The uniqueness of the Holocaust is in the totally irrational, detached-from-reality motivation of the murderers.”

        Ah so the take away I get from your philosophy and post is that genocide is quite rational. Except for the holocaust.

        Hmmmm I’ll pass on that thanks.

      • Maximus Decimus Meridius
        Maximus Decimus Meridius
        April 3, 2019, 10:56 am

        @oldgeezer

        We posted at almost the same time and said almost the same thing!

        Seems genocide is perfectly logical and rational so long as its target is anyone other than Jews in Germany or Poland. In which case it’s ‘unique’.

      • oldgeezer
        oldgeezer
        April 3, 2019, 3:18 pm

        @MDM

        Great minds and all that? Seriously you may be but I’m not.

        Nathan is so busy making things up out of the orifice on the back that he has zero clue about what he’s actually saying.

        Standard for Zionists really. Those I’ve encountered are far from intelligent and incredibly short sighted. And incredibly dishonest to boot.

      • Maximus Decimus Meridius
        Maximus Decimus Meridius
        April 4, 2019, 5:29 am

        @oldgeezer

        There used to be a time – let’s say maybe 10 or 15 years ago – when I often found discussions with Zionists to be a constructive process. Often I could actually learn things from them, even if ultimately what they were saying was based on untruths or hypocrisy.

        Now, however, what we hear from the likes of Nathan is typical. They’re not even trying to hide the fact that they simply think Jews are more important and their lives more precious than those of other ‘ordinary’ genocide victims like Armenians or Tutsis, who can be killed in a ‘rational’ way.

  6. Mooser
    Mooser
    April 3, 2019, 3:58 pm

    “Nathan is so busy making things up”

    He has all kinds of thoughts about the Jewish people’s oranges.

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