Wilfried Weissmann’s recent letter attempting to blame the Middle East’s myriad problems on the Jewish people’s right to safety, security and self-determination through the creation of a national homeland in the Middle East is a lengthy, largely incoherent and at times verging on anti-Semitic rant which requires a firm, and detailed response.
The letter is not all flawed: Mr Weissmann acknowledges the millennia-old community of Jews in Palestine. But he fails to acknowledge the twin pillars that the early Zionist movement was based upon – the optimistic ideal of self-determination, and pessimistic despair about the perilous position of European Jews.
This is not self-determination based on race, as Mr Weissmann implies; it is self-determination based on people-hood: common language, common culture, common history and, crucially, a common experience, that of inescapable and murderous racism in the form of anti-Semitism. That is why there are European Jews, Middle Eastern Jews, and African Jews, all of whom benefit from the safety, security and prosperity of Israel.
The Jews were not ‘a nation or race that deserved a modern Jewish state’. Instead, as the Holocaust and countless other atrocities proved, the Jews needed a state.
Mr Weissmann’s portrayal of Theodor Herzl’s book, “Altneuland” is especially repellent. Altneuland was a utopian, idealistic novel portraying the Land of Israel in which Arabs have full and equal rights with the Jews. The quote provided does not occur in the book; the actual quote from Theodor Herzl notably includes the phrasing “it goes without saying that we shall respectfully tolerate persons of other faiths and protect their property, their honour, and their freedom”.
Later Zionists were even more emphatic, as Mr Weissmann conveniently forgets to mention. In the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel is included an appeal to the Arab participants to “participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship”.
In his letter, Mr Weissmann points to genuine atrocities committed during the creation of the State of Israel. But for every Deir Yassin in the 1948 war there was a Hadassah, when dozens of Jewish doctors and nurses were brutally slaughtered by Arab forces.
As for the flight of Palestinian refugees, this was indeed a tragedy. But as Benny Morris, an accomplished scholar on the topic, points out, this was ‘born of war, not by design’. And this was a war that was triggered by the Jewish acceptance of the United Nations Partition Plan and the Arab leadership’s rejection of the state they were offered, because it also allowed a Jewish state to exist. It was a war that saw the fledgling Jewish state invaded on all sides, and which required the Jewish state to absorb hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees forced into exile from their homes across the Arab world. It is unfortunate that Arab states have not provided the same generous treatment to the Palestinian refugees as Israel accorded to Jewish refugees of the conflict.
Settlements, as Mr Weissmann points out, are a problem in the development of a peaceful solution, indeed within Israel there is a lively, impassioned debate about settlements. But it is not settlements that are the root of the problem: settlements have been evacuated many times before and, in the event of a peace deal, may be evacuated again, as Israel has always been prepared to give up land for peace. Unfortunately, despite offers by Israeli prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert of close to 100% of the West Bank, no peace deal has been forthcoming – largely the consequence of Palestinian intransigence.
Mr Wiessmann criticises the ‘nation-state law’ recently passed, albeit narrowly, by the Knesset. Indeed many in Israel and in the pro-Israel community criticise this law. But to compare this law, after which Israel’s minority communities will continue to enjoy full and equal protection under the law, to apartheid, is frankly grotesque, while the claim that this law spells the end of interreligious marriage is utterly false.
Particularly disturbing is the author’s evident glee at the disgraceful and nakedly anti-Semitic portrayal of the Israeli prime minister in the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet. As the IHRA definition of antisemitism makes clear, comparisons of Israeli policy to that of the Nazis constitutes antisemitism. Both the author, and Dagbladet should be ashamed to take such joy in doing so.
Mr Weissmann’s bias becomes clear in his portrayal of Mossad. Just as the United States has the CIA, and the United Kingdom has MI6, Israel, with its many enemies, has an intelligence service dedicated to the safety of its citizens, Jewish and Arab. The claim meanwhile that Mossad’s motto is “Murder is Our Business” is laughable.
The author appropriately ends his letter with a rehash of one of the most common anti-Semitic tropes: that of a money-backed Jewish conspiracy within the corridors of power. Just like all other interest groups, Jewish organisations lobby the US government on behalf of their members. To ascribe the abrogation of the Iran deal, or the events in Syria to Jewish lobbying is bizarre.
Mr Weissmann’s letter, in summary, is deeply unfortunate. This debate is an important one; it does not need the exaggerations, distortions and falsehoods that Mr Weissmann has used.