What’s All This Israel Stuff?

One evening a coach friend of mine was visiting in our home while we were watching the evening TV news and having a couple of beers when the coach suddenly asked me, “What’s all this Israel stuff about?”  Slowly I turned and looked into the eyes of a fellow who didn’t have a clue.  I reached into my pocket and pulled out the best answers I had on my person at the moment.  I have no idea how enlightening my response was to the fellow, but it didn’t seem to upset his consumption of beer.

Recently President Obama made a proclamation on the eve of Israeli's Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to the United States that the borders of Israel and the Palestinian state should revert to the 1967 lines.  What we call this in the South is throwing a friend under the bus.  I was reminded of my coach/friend’s cluelessness about Israel.  Of course, Netanyahu rejected this statement without equivocation when he addressed our congress a couple of days later.

I’m a Southern boy and, as such, am not the brightest bulb on the planet, but I have been paying attention for a good long time now.  Perhaps you haven’t and only have a vague idea “What’s all this Israel stuff about.”  I’ll try to explain it in a way that both you and I can understand.

Israel became a nation on May 15, 1948.  The idea of an Israeli state began in the 16th Century when Jews got the idea of returning to the “promised land.”  The idea didn’t gather much steam until 1897 when an Austrian-Jewish journalist Theodore Herzi gave a little weight to the idea in a speech he gave in Switzerland.  During WWI the British pretty much conquered the Turkish Ottoman Empire including Palestine when the British Foreign Secretary issued a statement which suggested that the British were in favor of an Israeli state in Palestine, and the League of Nations granted Britain the right to rule Palestine and prepare Palestine for self-government.  British Parliament backed the idea of a Jewish state: of course, Jews, with the hope of a promised land, began to immigrate to Palestine.  In the ‘20s and ‘30s many Arabs kicked up their heels a bit resisting the coming Israeli state.  In the ‘30s it got worse with Nazism spreading across Europe.  In ‘36 the Arabs revolted against the British to no avail, but it did cause the British to cancel partitioning Palestine into Arab and Jewish states.  In 1948, the Jews established their own Jewish state, Israel.  Because many of the Jewish underground militia volunteered into the British army and served against the Germans in WWII, the Jews gained military experience.  During the years preceding their declaration of a Jewish state, they had organized a shadow government with departments looking after every aspect of Jewish life in Palestine.  The Palestinians of the time were mainly tribal and had little sense of belonging to a nation.  In 1947 the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab sectors.  In 1948 the Jews declared themselves a nation.  In light of the Holocaust in Europe during the War, the United States was very sympathetic to the Israeli cause and almost immediately recognized Israel as did Russia.  Then things turned ugly as soon a the British withdrew.  In 1949, armies from Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon attacked the Jews of Israel.  Basically the Israelis kicked their butts and extended their claimed territory by about 2000 square miles.  After the war, there were approximately 600,000 Jews and 200,000 Arabs in Israel.  This was followed by another Arab-Israeli war basically over access to the River Jordan and a few other differences.  In 1967, the Egyptians made an error by massing its forces on the border of Israel: Israel, taking the hint, sneak attacked the Egyptians.  Then Jordan and Syria got involved. Well, after six days, all Arabs regretted the conflict: Israel had conquered the Sinai Peninsula and  the Gaza Bank from Egypt, the Golan Heights from Syria, and east Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan.   The Six-Day War is my favorite war: I was in the army in Germany at the time.  If the war had lasted much beyond six days, my time in the service in Germany would have been extended by at least six months.  Because of the Israelis’ finishing off the war in six days, I became a fan of Israel.  Efforts to come to a satisfactory resolution of differences was hampered by US and Soviet Union differences of opinion in the UN.  After ‘67 the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) under the leadership of Arafat, a really nasty piece of work, attacked repeatedly the borders of Israel.  Arafat’s organization secretly endorsed the Munich Massacre which occurred in the 1972 Munich Olympics where members of the Israeli team were taken hostage and eventually killed.  In 1973 Egypt and Syria attempted to regain lost territory via a surprise attack on Israel.  It was a futile effort but was costly to Israel, and it did cause some territory to be returned to Egypt and other concessions by the Israelis.  On a fairly regular basis, unhappy Arabs lob shells into Israel or kill individual Israelis or blow up cars and buses or kidnap Israelis.  They are not a happy lot.

Now, it should not be believed that the Jews of Israel do not have blood on their hands.  They do, unfortunately, but their hands are much, much cleaner than their Arab neighbors whose bloodlust seems to be unquenchable.

In retrospect, probably a better solution for the Jewish desire for a “promised land” would have been for the UN to have carved out a good chunk of Germany after WWII for a Jewish state.  The Arabs have a long history of prejudice against Jews, but, Hell, the Arabs have a long history of prejudice against all people who do not accept Allah as their messiah.

Nevertheless, we backed the creation of Israel and have up until now served as an umbrella of protection for Israel.  Up until this time, the Israelis haven’t needed our help directly.  We’ve supported them with intelligence as they have us and by selling them arms, which, by the way, they have often improved.  We’ve tried to broker settlements with their Arab neighbors: a useless exercise because we are dealing with people who will be satisfied only when all Jews are dead.  If we have been acting as a big brother to Israel, so far little brother has been whipping butts and taking names.  Until the current presidency, we have never shown weakness in our support of Israel.  Thankfully, Congress and the American people have not faltered in their support.

President Obama’s being less than enthusiastic in his support for Israel, frankly, scares me.  If Israel should ever need our direct help, a moment’s hesitation is probably too much for Israel to survive.

Folks, when the Arab nations say they want to kill all Jews, you can take that to the bank.  Being that Israel is probably our only true friend in the Middle East, the least we can do is to assist them in their efforts to not be pushed into the sea by the Arab world. 

Why is Israel reluctant to surrender portions of its land.  Well, it’s only 8000 square miles in size, about the size of New Jersey, and it only has a population of less than 8 million citizens, 20 % of which are Arabs, smaller than the city of New York. To give you an idea of what a small portion Israel is of the Middle East: Egypt alone  has a population of over 80 million  and a land mass of 390,000 square miles.  There are about 5 million folks in the Palestinian State which occupy approximately 2420 square miles. 

Where Did All This Antisemitism Begin?

Antisemitism, hatred of Jews individually or as a group, comes in many shapes and forms, and it has a long, ugly history.  I was raised in a community in Louisiana where Jews were common: many of the merchants were Jewish.  From my perspective, they were accepted as equals in the community.  I have often wondered why some folks seem to dislike Jews.  They looked and acted like folks to me.

In studying for this essay I found a division of antisemitism into differing types: political and economic antisemitism which attack Jews for certain supposed characteristics like greed and arrogance and observing  kashrut (kosher) and Shabbat; religious antisemitism; nationalistic antisemitism; and racial antisemitism.  One could break it down farther, but what’s the point?

How the heck did these negative feelings toward Jews begin?  What is the history behind it?  I’ll try to make this as concise as possible.  Ancient Greeks persecuted Jews mainly for their religious practices.  Egyptians killed thousands in 38 AD.  The Roman Empire included the Middle East, and although the relationship of the Romans and Jews was a little antagonistic, it got much worse after Christianity became the official religion of the Empire.  The emperor Tiberius kicked all Jews out of Rome.  Jews accounted for about 10% of the population of the Roman Empire.  This means that the population of Jews should presently be about 200 million instead of 13 million.     Pogroms

(violent riot or mob attacks approved or condoned by government or military authority) and forced conversions account for the much lower 13 million number.

In the Middle Ages, Jews were better off in the Middle East than they were in Europe: they, as well as Christians, were tolerated for a couple of hundred years, but, of course,  things turned ugly in a number of Arab states, and the Jews fled North to live among Christians or into friendlier Arab nations.  At about the same time in Europe,  because of religious prejudice related to blood libel--the accusation that Jews murdered children to use their blood in certain aspects of their religious rituals and holidays--expulsions, forced conversions, and massacres were occurring.  The persecutions peaked during the crusades: the First Crusade resulted in Jewish communities along the Rhine and Danube being destroyed; during the Second Crusade, the Jews of Germany were massacred; the Shepherds’ Crusade didn’t bring love to the Jews either.  The crusades were followed by a lot of expulsions: in 1290 all Jews were expelled from England; in 1396, 100,000 Jews were expelled from France; in 1421, thousands  were expelled from Austria.  Many of these folks ended up in Poland.  The Catholic church wasn’t much help: the Franciscans and Dominicans promoted antisemitism.  In addition to the blood libel charge, the Jews were also scapegoated: the Black Death which killed half of Europe was blamed on the Jews.  The Pope at the time tried a little to help the Jews, but 900 Jews were burned alive in Strasbourg where the plague had not struck yet.  In Spain, which had one of the largest and most prosperous Jewish communities under both Muslim and Christian control, the Jews were expelled, converted, or killed in 1492.

In the 17th Century in Europe, there were multiple conflicts in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Ukraine  which caught up with the Jews  killing between 100,000 and 200,000.

In the 18th Century in Prussia, Russia, and Austria, rulers issued a number of very repressive edicts which restricted where the Jews could live, taxes they had to pay to live there, and even the size of their families.

In the 19th Century, antisemitism got a boost from the German composer Richard Wagner which wrote an essay first attacking Jewish composers  but expanded it to include all Jews picturing them as harmful and alien elements in German society.  The brothers Grimm wrote children’s stories using Jews as the villains of the stories.  In France, Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish military officer, was scapegoated in an espionage case.  Although not guilty, it was readily accepted by the press and public because of the high level of antisemitism in France at the time.

In the first half of the 20th Century,  Jews in the US were discriminated against in various ways: in employment, access to residential and resort areas, membership in clubs and organizations, employment as teachers in colleges and universities.  The Ku Klux Klan started making a comeback around 1915.  Henry Ford  propagated antisemitic ideas in newspapers; Father Coughlin via the radio promoted the idea of a Jewish financial conspiracy in the ‘30s.  In the ‘40s, aviator Charles Lindbergh opposed the war against Fascism praising the leadership of Germany.  The German American Bund (federation or union)  held parades in New York in the ‘30s wearing Nazi uniforms raising swastika flags.  Most of these fellows were placed in internment camps when the US entered the war in Europe.  In ‘43 Jewish businesses were targeted during race riots in Detroit.

Now for the biggie.  Why didn’t very many of the Germans stand up against the Nazis in their efforts to exterminate the Jews?  Well, there was a deeply engrained cultural antisemitism among the German officer corp and high civil administrators; the Catholic Church was silently anti-Judaic and did not stand against the Holocaust; the cultural antisemitism and anti-Judaic stance left few a clear path to oppose the Nazis who were racist antisemites and advocates of the use of violence.  Hitler came to power in ‘33 and immediately denied Jews basic civil rights and in ‘38 backed Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) in which Jews were killed, property destroyed, and synagogues torched.  As Hitler’s army moved across Europe, the antisemitic message was spread and fed on latent antisemitism already existing in those nations.  All of this resulted in systematic genocide of the Jews, the Holocaust.  Eleven million Jews were the Nazi’s target for death; they succeeded in killing six million.

In Russia, antisemitism was an instrument used by Stalin against Trotsky, a Jew.  By 1948, the Soviet Union conducted a campaign against the “rootless cosmopolitans,” a euphemism for Jews.  Many writers, poets, painters, and sculptors were killed or arrested.  Many fled to Israel.  The Jews of Poland fled from the antisemitism fostered by its Soviet conquerors.

The best I can figure out as to why Jews have been persecuted in the Western World is because they are not Christian, they have always been a minority and as a minority with a different social foundation are often scapegoated.  In the Middle East, they are held in contempt because they are not Islamists just as Christians are not Islamists, and Israel was established among Islamist nations without their permission and have steadily kicked the Islamists in the butt for about 60 years.  It is doubtful that their differences will ever be settled.

I don’t know if this country boy’s essay on Israel and antisemitism will have any effect on your thinking about Jews and, in particular, Israel, but I hope so.


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