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.
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.
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.