Joel Lion

Gazette, April 26, 2012

Think “Israel” and what comes to mind? It’s a good question to ask on Israel’s Independence Day.…

The first thing most readers will think of is my country’s decades-long conflict with the Palestinians. To others, the mere mention of Israel conjures up images of a mystic land promised to the Israelites by…God himself. And some see Israel as an exotic land somewhere far, far away—a place where nomadic tribes shepherd their camels through dunes as far as the eye can see.

When I think of Israel, I see my home, a land that is as vibrant and diverse as it is creative. Every time I land at Ben Gurion Airport after a long sojourn abroad, I am amazed at how much Israel has changed in my own lifetime.

From our humble rebirth in the tragic aftermath of the Holocaust, we have, in just 64 years, evolved from a largely agrarian nation of the Third World to a developed nation. Whereas Israel was once the land of Jaffa oranges and raisins, today it is—as one New York Times bestseller coined it—the “Start-up Nation,” the land of Intel microchips and nanotechnology.

In just over six decades, our population has grown more than ninefold, from roughly 800,000 in 1948 to just over 7.8 million today. With immigrants and refugees from 120 countries and an Arab minority numbering about 20 per cent of the population, Israelis are proud to celebrate our different ethnic backgrounds, languages and traditions. We are equally proud of our country’s thriving democracy and robust society.

These strides are all the more remarkable if one examines just how far we have come in the last 20 years. Since the 1990s, our economy has grown by 270 per cent, despite global economic downturns, a deadly five-year terror campaign that claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Israelis and two major wars with the terrorist Hezbollah and Hamas in Lebanon and Gaza respectively.

During the last five years alone, Israel’s economy has grown 21 per cent, the second highest rate of any nation in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, and unemployment is at its lowest ever at 5.4 per cent. If all goes well, the recent discovery of large natural-gas reserves in the Mediterranean Sea should see Israel go from a resourceless nation to a net exporter of fuel by 2018.

These leaps have been nothing short of miraculous. Yet much of the world continues to relate to my country through the negative headlines they read, our longstanding conflict with the Palestinians and other neighbouring states and stereotypes that distort reality. That is why we must broaden public discourse to encompass what Israel really is: an innovative nation that has much to offer.

This is especially true in today’s context as the Middle East continues to undergo a tumultuous transformation that no one knows the outcome of. Iran continues to enrich uranium in its quest for nuclear weapons, while the Assad regime is slaughtering civilians in Syria. Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt, meanwhile, is threatened by the growing clout of fundamentalist groups in that country, and the Palestinian leadership continues to opt for unilateralism over a return to the negotiating table.

This is tragic—not only for Israelis, who continue to face the prospect of terrorism and conflict with our neighbours, but also for Palestinians, who have spent much of the last six decades trying to destroy our country instead of building the institutions and civil society that would lead to the creation of their own state.

Still, the last few years have seen notable signs of progress. The easing of travel restrictions and the dismantling of roadblocks have allowed the Palestinian economy to flourish into one of the fastest-growing in the world, and law and order has returned to the West Bank. One major obstacle, however, remains: as long as Hamas continues to wage terrorist attacks and refuses to recognize Israel, the Palestinians will be divided and peace will remain a mirage.

Israel shares the Palestinian people’s dream of statehood. That dream, however, must be based on the principle of two states for two peoples—one state for the Jewish people and another for the Palestinian people—and not of one state on the ashes of the other.

The first step is to sit down face to face. If Israel has accomplished so much in 64 years without peace, just think what Israelis, Palestinians and the region as a whole could accomplish with it.

(Joel Lion is consul general of Israel to Quebec and the Atlantic provinces.)

The following is a press release issued by the International Christian
Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ)—Canada
, titled “Something got left out of the CBS ‘Sixty Minutes’ documentary on Palestinian Christians.”

A question NOT asked by the champions of gotcha television who put together the item on the situation of Palestinian Christians that aired on the CBS ‘Sixty Minutes’ programme on Sunday April 22, was this fairly obvious one: Why are Christians fleeing from every corner of the globe INTO Israel?

Israel is the only polity in the entire Middle East in which Christian numbers are growing absolutely. They have in fact increased 400 percent since 1948. Today there are about 163,000 Christians in Israel—about 2.1% of the total population of around 7 million. This number is growing as Christians flee into Israel from all the nearby African states, such as Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and beyond. They are fleeing also from the states of the former Soviet Empire and from Muslim-majority communities around the world.

Incidentally, the Muslim population of Israel is also growing—from 100,000 in 1948 to 900,000 today—from 9.5% of the whole in 1948 to 14.8%. These Muslims vote in Israeli elections and have always held a significant role in the brokering of interests that go into forming Israeli governments. How can this reality be squared with the Arab cartoon-denunciation of life under the Israeli boot? It would have been good to hear correspondent Bob Simon ask this.

Among many other realities that were overlooked is that Israel does not rule in the Palestine Authority. The Palestine Authority does. The State of Israel does assume responsibility for keeping individuals dedicated to the liquidation of the Jews out of the Jewish state. Some of these are local Palestinians; others are Muslim zealots who have come to the bosom of the PA on commission from al-Qaeda, from Iran, from Hezbollah and other terrorists organizations. The [security] wall is certainly an eyesore, and inevitably it has made life…more difficult.… But it has served its purpose: since it was completed, loss of civilian lives by terrorist deeds has been reduced by at least 80%.

Since 1995, all aspects of daily life in the PA—economic policy, legal realities, schooling, and so on—are presided over by the Palestine Authority. Simultaneously, persecution of Palestinian Christians by Palestinian Arabs has increased—a circumstance attested to without exception by all disinterested journalists and qualified scholars.… The best clue to what life is like under that benign aegis is that between 1995 and 2004, 45,000 Arabs moved out of the PA and into Israel and that of this number four to one were Christians.…

With their feet, the Christian Arabs and a goodly portion of Muslim Arabs are declaring their preference for Jewish rule over Muslim-Arab rule. They are not alone in this: Throughout the Middle East, Christian populations have been declining steadily and dramatically for over a century. Of the handful of Christian communities still extant at the beginning of this century, most of these have been moved out of intensive care and onto their death-beds. Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, an estimated one-third to one-half of the Christian population of Iraq has been displaced from cities and towns where they have lived for centuries.… Many of these are now resident in Israel. In Egypt, 100,000 have already left.…

The bottom line (says Giulio Meotti, who is among the best informed European scholars of this phenomenon), “The Christian era in the Middle East is over.” Everywhere, that is, except in Israel. The one feature that distinguishes Israel from all these other nations is that the former is the nation-state of the Jews, governed by Jewish laws, its government and other institutions reflecting Jewish character. As for all the others, Jews are either totally absent—800,00 of them having been driven out by Muslim mobs following the 1948 war—or present today only in miniscule numbers and living under constant threat of extinction.

The premise governing the Sixty Minutes script was that the flight of Christians from the Holy Land is owing to intolerable conditions imposed upon the Palestinian Arabs by Israeli rule.… Why then is all the traffic out of the lands where Arabs rule and into the only corner of the world in which Jews rule?

(CIJR wishes to recognize the invaluable pro-Israel work of its Academic Council
member Paul C. Merkley, an
ICEJ Canada Board Director and Professor Emeritus
in History at Carleton University. Prof. Merkley is the author of several scholarly books
on Christians and Israel, most recently
Those That Bless You I Will Bless:
Christian Zionism in Historical Perspective.)

Ruth Franklin

New Republic, April 18, 2012

The video lasts all of twenty seconds. We see the doorway of a nondescript apartment building, several stories high, and neighbors above peering curiously down. A newlywed couple proceed down the steps: The groom wears a top hat and formal suit, the bride carries a lavish bouquet. The camera pans up, and there she is, leaning out of a second-floor balcony, instantly recognizable.

It’s Anne Frank: Her mop of thick dark hair, her angular features. She looks down at the bride and groom—she turns her head to call to someone inside—she looks out again. The footage is too grainy to be sure, but it looks like she’s smiling.

This video was posted on YouTube by the Anne Frank House, which identifies it as the only known footage of the future diarist, taken in 1941, the year before she and her family went into hiding. It has been viewed more than three million times.… Comments poured in, in half a dozen languages. One [individual] wrote that watching the video reminded him of Orpheus looking back at Eurydice: We see Anne for a moment as if alive, only to lose her again.…

To readers of the Diary—and which of us is not among them?—the video is all the more affecting because it shows Anne doing something that she could never do in hiding, something that she longed to do: the simple act of looking out the window.… [Click HERE to view the video.]

Matti Friedman

Times of Israel, April 25, 2012

Ninety-two years ago, a diminutive and determined young scientist stepped from a boat onto a “notoriously malarious” patch of Levantine land and into the middle of a losing war against a tiny, deadly enemy ravaging the population.

Israel Kligler—university professor, Zionist and public health pioneer—played an outsize role in defeating malaria in Palestine beginning in the 1920s. Countering the mosquito-borne disease was not a minor medical success but a crucial victory that paved the way for the growth of Jewish settlement and the eventual establishment of the State of Israel.…

Born in what is now Romania in 1888, Kligler moved with his parents to New York City when he was 9. In 1920, having completed a doctorate in public health in New York and research on malaria in South America, he gave up a promising academic career in the US and arrived instead in British-ruled Palestine, committed to putting his scientific knowledge at the service of the Zionist project.

He found a land devastated by malaria. The illness was, a British report said in 1921, “by far the most important disease in Palestine.” Much of the territory Jews had purchased for settlement was in lowlands infested with malaria—that was one of the main reasons it was available—and the disease was decimating the ranks of the Zionist pioneers and the country’s other inhabitants. Some settlements had been abandoned altogether as a result.…

“There is little doubt that the static condition of Palestine during the last several centuries is due almost entirely to malaria,” Kligler himself wrote a decade after his arrival.… “One sees large stretches of richly watered, potentially cultivable land inhabited only by a few Bedouin tribes, all infected with malaria, and eking out a precarious existence from the proceeds of baskets made of marsh reeds, and from the milk of buffaloes which wallow in the marshes.” If the Zionist project was to succeed, this had to change.

At the time, malaria was treated chiefly by administering quinine tablets, made from the bark of the South American cinchona tree. “Keep quinine at work, at home and on a journey,” new immigrants were urged by a message printed on the back of Palestine entry permits.… “The mosquito is your enemy,” read the text. “Try to stay away from it.”

This wasn’t working, and Kligler had a different idea: Efforts needed to concentrate not on humans but on the mosquitoes, and malaria could be not only endured but eliminated. The Malaria Research Institute that Kligler helped set up, which eventually had hundreds of workers, began draining marshes and spraying areas where they found concentrations of larvae. He developed ways of dealing with the different kinds of mosquitoes, and thought up methods like periodically changing the direction of water flow in an irrigation canal to eliminate the mosquito population breeding inside.…

The results were striking. In Jerusalem, for example, according to British statistics, 633 people were treated for the disease in 1923. The following year, the number had dropped to 347. Four years after that, in 1928, the number was 16.

In 1925, the League of Nations Health Organization—the precursor of today’s World Health Organization—sent its Malaria Commission to Palestine; a resurgence of the disease in Europe after the First World War had made it a pressing concern. The members of the commission met Kligler and were struck by the success of his program.

The anti-malaria work in Palestine, the commission wrote in its final report, “by destroying pessimism, raising hopes, and, when the time is ripe, by providing us with much useful experience, becomes a welcome and invaluable addition to practical malariology, and the men who carried it out can be regarded as benefactors not only to the Palestinian population but to the world as a whole.”

As a direct result of the campaign, land that had previously been considered barely inhabitable could be settled. By the time Kligler died in 1944, at age 55, the disease was in steep decline. By 1967, Israel had been declared entirely free of malaria.

At the time of his death, Kligler was a known figure. “In Prof. I. Kligler’s untimely death,” wrote Hadassah Hospital’s newsletter in 1944, “the Yishuv and the Land lost not only a man of action and ability, but first and foremost a committed and faithful Zionist.…”

Jordan Chandler Hirsch

Tablet, April 20, 2012

Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky—the iconoclastic founder of Zionism’s right-wing Revisionist party and the scourge of David Ben-Gurion—died eight years before Israel’s birth, left to history as his peers went on to glory. But now Jabotinsky is back in the headlines thanks to pundits who see his philosophy reflected in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies.

The argument goes something like this: Beyond the obvious political lineage—the Likud party is the successor to Herut, which was the successor to Jabotinsky’s revisionist faction—Netanyahu’s personal history traces directly back to Jabotinsky. Benzion Netanyahu, the prime minister’s father, was Jabotinsky’s disciple and private secretary. The elder Netanyahu said as recently as 2009 that the Arabs’ existence “is one of perpetual war” and argued that Israel should beat back any hint of Palestinian nationalism with the threat of “enormous suffering.” He passed these beliefs on to his son, and, ergo, Bibi Netanyahu, like Jabotinsky, is a brutal, racist, territorial maximalist who brooks no compromise in his desire to protect the Jewish state by crushing the Arabs.

In February, Roger Cohen wrote in the New York Times that Netanyahu was “raised in the Jabotinsky strain of Zionism by a father who viewed Arabs as ‘semi-barbaric.’” Andrew Sullivan, in his review of Peter Beinart’s book The Crisis of Zionism, argued that Netanyahu’s policy in Gaza and the West Bank, seen in light of Jabotinsky’s influence, “makes more sense.… It’s a conscious relentless assault on the lives of Palestinians to immiserate them to such an extent that they flee.”

But these critics must have forgotten their history. Even a glance at Jabotinsky’s writings suggests that the Zionist pioneer was not the warmongering bigot that these pundits make him out to be. Consider the three main charges commonly brought against him:

1. Jabotinsky was a racist.

Most early Zionist leaders either did not recognize or refused to publicly acknowledge the depth of Arab nationalism and opposition to a Jewish state. They dismissed Arab violence as isolated rabble rousing and thought that adequate jobs and money would quell it. In 1921, for example, Ben-Gurion said that Arab rioters were “wildmen” and “thieves” not driven by anti-Zionist ideology, but by their leaders. Fifteen years later—likely for strategic reasons—he wrote that “the majority of the Arab population knows that Jewish immigration…[is] bringing prosperity.… Their self-interest…is not in conflict with Jewish immigration…but in perfect harmony with it.”

Jabotinsky thought that this view was nonsense. “To think that the Arabs will voluntarily consent to the realization of Zionism in return for the cultural and economic benefits we can bestow on them is infantile,” he wrote in 1923 in “The Iron Wall,” his most famous essay. This fantasy, he argued, “comes from some kind of contempt for the Arab people,” a paternalistic belief that they were “ready to be bribed to sell their homeland for a railroad network.” Jabotinsky understood that the conflict between the Jews and Arabs was not about dollars or land, but about ideology and said that Zionists harmed their cause by failing to address that fact head on.…

What’s more, Jabotinsky was a classical 19th-century liberal who championed full civic equality. Although he would later flirt with the idea of voluntary transfer of Arabs out of Palestine, he firmly opposed their mandatory expulsion.… In a 1940 essay, Jabotinsky laid out a systematic program of rights for the Arabs, proposing, among other things, that every Cabinet led by a Jew in the future Israel should offer the vice-premiership to an Arab. In the very fight song of the Revisionist youth organization that he founded, Betar—which declared that “Two Banks has the Jordan: This is ours, and that is as well”—Jabotinsky also wrote: “From the wealth of our land there shall prosper The Arab, the Christian, and the Jew.” Even at his most militant, he called for fraternity. Far from being an out-and-out racist, Jabotinsky was one of the only Zionist leaders to take the Arabs seriously and promote a significant role for them in the future Jewish state.

It’s true that Jabotinsky did not hold Arab culture in high regard. In the “Iron Wall,” for example, he wrote that “culturally, [Palestinian Arabs] are 500 years behind us.” But in many ways, Jabotinsky openly respected Arab aspirations far more than most Labor Zionists under Ben-Gurion.

2. Jabotinsky’s racism toward Arabs informed his maximalist demand for a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan River.

There is no doubt that Jabotinsky insisted on both sides of the Jordan River—not only today’s Israel and the Palestinian territories, but Jordan as well. But he did not do so out of a desire to punish the Arabs or a belief that they didn’t deserve their own state.

Instead, Jabotinsky justified his demand by invoking the need to save European Jewry from extermination. Years before the Holocaust, he sensed an “elemental calamity” approaching for the Jews of Europe. In a tragically prophetic speech in Warsaw on the Ninth of Av in 1938, he begged the crowd to listen to him and immigrate to Palestine at what he saw as “the very last moment” before catastrophe: “For heaven’s sake! Save your lives, every one of you, as long as there is time—and time is short!” Jabotinsky tirelessly carried this message with him across the continent, a desperate, would-be rescuer of its Jews.

It was Jabotinsky’s obsession with sheltering millions of European Jews, not some anti-Arab bigotry, that drove his territorial claims. Even as he expressed “the profoundest feeling for the Arab case,” Jabotinsky argued that it simply could not compare to the Jewish need for refuge. “When the Arab claim…[for] Arab State No. 4, No. 5, or No. 6…is confronted with our Jewish demand to be saved,” he said, “it is like the claims of appetite versus the claims of starvation.…” To Jabotinsky, Arab desire, however legitimate, could not measure up morally to Jews’ existential crisis.

3. Jabotinsky called for never-ending war against Palestinian Arabs until they succumbed.

In referring to Jews “crushing” and “immiserating” Palestinian Arabs with military might until they break, writers like Peter Beinart and Andrew Sullivan are offering a shallow interpretation of Jabotinsky’s iron wall.

Jabotinsky first proposed the iron wall in 1923 less as a literal buffer than a demonstration of strength meant to convince the Arabs that the Jews were there to stay. Given the natural defiance of the native population to Jewish settlement, Jabotinsky understood that as long as a “spark of hope” remained that the Arabs could expel the Jews, they would not relent. Only when “there is no hope left…when not a single breach is visible in the iron wall,” he wrote, would “extremist groups lose their sway” and moderates rise to “offer suggestions for compromise.…”

The iron wall was not meant to be an excuse for ruthless force, but a display of resolution and permanence that would eventually lead to reconciliation.… Sallai Meridor, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States and Betar youth member…[said that ] contrary to conventional wisdom, “the iron wall article suggests that Jabotinsky was ready for significant compromise under certain circumstances. He was strongly against offering it as long as the Arabs had not given up completely on the desire to get rid of the Jews, but he foresaw that [if they did so], there could be an agreement based on mutual concessions” on the major issues for both sides. As eager as Jabotinsky was to establish Jewish sovereignty, he was just as eager to make peace with the Arabs once they recognized the inevitability of the Jewish state.

Of course, you wouldn’t know any of this from recent critics, who, by reading history backwards from the present, have demonized and simplified Jabotinsky’s legacy to attack their current political foe, Netanyahu. But if Jabotinsky really is central to Bibi’s thinking, then perhaps those critics are as wrong about the present as they are about the past.