Monday, February 25, 2013
Israel and the Sad History of Jewish Property Rights
After reading Jan Gross’s “Golden Harvest,” the Polish historian’s ground breaking study of the Holocaust, I began to understand what for so long had perplexed me — how it is that so many people feel impelled to weigh in on the affairs of Israel and the Jews. While murder and mayhem remains a constant in the world, no other nation attracts so much critical attention. (The United Nations has passed far more resolutions with respect to the state of Israel than the rest of the world combined.) And in a remarkable display of moral hubris, the heirs and descendants of those who extinguished their Jewish populations in the forties have felt themselves entitled to render moral judgment on the survivors and their progeny.
Jews for millennia were spurned as Christ-killers and heretics by Church and Mosque respectively and denied standing in the communities where they lived. While rejecting Judaism itself, the Christian Church laid claim to the Jewish Bible, which it annexed, abridged, and renamed the “Old Testament.” And over time the Christian world came to regard as patrimony whatever else the Jews possessed. (Islam in its ascendance picked up where Christianity left off.) To this day the mainstream Protestant churches in America stand foursquare with Fatah and Hamas, averring the Palestinian cause and condemning Israel. Jew killing has never been a moral problem for them, but the Jewish claim to the land of Israel disturbs them deeply.
Landless for two thousand years, dependant on the reticence of peoples ill-disposed toward them, Jews survived precariously, lorded over by gentile “hosts” in societies that were variously hostile. When so inclined, their hosts would confiscate their property, issuing and enforcing decrees against them. Subject to the will and whim of others, Jews remained dependant on their sufferance and largesse. As tenant farmers and as tradesmen, they owned only what was allotted them, allotments that could be reduced or removed, dispossessing them at will. At times dispossession would encompass their very existence – witness the Crusades, the Inquisition, innumerable pogroms, and, ultimately, the Shoah. A sense of entitlement seems to have passed into the DNA of formerly host societies, and continues in altered form until this day – e.g., the violent hostility of the Arab/Persian world which remains at war with Israel and the turpitude of Western nations who support or excuse it. Even in our own time, Europeans afford themselves a privileged position with respect to Jewish interests, threatening and cajoling Israel to redistribute its property to its enemies.
Financially reliant on petro-dollars, the West in its cupidity has chosen to appease the Arabs and support them in their conflict with Israel, no matter that Arab hatred of the Christian West runs second only to their Jew hatred. Islam’s jihadist ambitions and its utter rejection of a Jewish or Christian presence in the Middle East are inconvenient truths suppressed to win favor with the Arabs for their oil money.
But in spite of their great wealth, Arab societies are in a shambles, and, who better to blame for it than Jews? At the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict are generations of impoverished refugees living shiftless lives on United Nations handouts for more than sixty years. They are portrayed as victims, no more responsible for themselves than children. (A comparable number of Middle Eastern Jews fled persecution in their home countries and found refuge in Israel where they were absorbed and integrated into the fabric of the country.) The wealthy Arabs states, without the least diminution in their lavish lifestyle, could have transformed the condition of their poor relations but chose instead to “drive the Jews into the sea.” Oil rich Arabia dwarfs Israel physically and economically, but it is Israel that is held responsible for Arab poverty, just as Jews for centuries were held responsible for crises in the West. The “Zionist Entity” with its “settlements” is the moral culprit, and justice demands that, “like a cancer,” it be cut out. The benighted ways and terroristic activities of the Arabs are excused or rationalized away. Israel’s refusal to cede its heartland is “the main obstacle to peace.”
A nomadic people, Arabs for centuries moved hither and yon throughout the Middle East. Only with the arrival of the British and the development of a Jewish homeland did some claim an identity related to the sparsely populated area called “Palestine,” originally a Roman appellation. The wealthy Arab states, which deflect dissent by inveighing against Israel, decry the suggestion that a place for their brethren could be found elsewhere in the vast land mass of the Middle East.
From his research, Gross learned that the nations (primarily Poland in his work but all of Europe by implication) regarded the existential situation of the Jews as theirs to determine. Those to whom Jews were required to answer, be they German or Pole or Russian or Ukrainian or Italian or Greek or Spanish or Turk (to name some of the more significant actors in their long and tragic history), could deny them acceptance and remove whatever security they enjoyed. Indeed, their status could be altered at will, even when they had been living in a locale for centuries. Whatever the Jews possessed could be taken and they themselves sent packing. Without moral or legal standing, their possessions could be absorbed as common property. The host giveth, the host taketh.
Gross illustrates this point with examples from the war years in Poland where Jews were often blackmailed by their so called protectors – Poles who, for their own reasons, hid them. According to his research, extortion for safe keeping was not at all exceptional. The major motivation of “benefactors” was to gain access to the hidden property of Jewish victims. (It was an axiom of belief that even the most impoverished of Jews had hidden away riches.) And when Jews resisted their demands, their Polish protectors took umbrage — threatened them with violence or betrayal to the Germans. Since the Jews were doomed and defenseless, their stubborn hold out was denying Poles their due. Polish Jews were favoring the Germans over their fellow countrymen. And, for many Europeans, Jewish “intransigence” is a source of consternation to this day. They are much displeased when “shitty little Israel” will not jump at their command.
Of course, not all Europeans are hostile and certainly the majority of the American people hold Israel in high esteem — a loyal friend who shares their deepest values. But Europeans generally, as well as Arab sympathizers in this country, demand that Judea (from which the Jews derive their name) and Samaria — lands documented in the holy books of both Judaism and Christianity, and recorded in the annals of history as theirs for three thousand years — be surrendered to their enemy. For its recalcitrance, Israel is threatened with economic reprisals and denounced in international forums. Some Europeans regard the very existence of Israel as an injustice — an insult to their moral sensibilities. They embrace the Arab narrative with respect to “Palestine,” a narrative that denies the historic connection of Jews to their ancient land. Wars and mass murders committed by the Arabs give them no pause. Like Poles, Ukrainians, and Baltic people in the forties, so-called peace organizers support these self-confessed killers and organize public protests on their behalf. Jews must surrender the land, i.e. the real property of their people. Refusal, their critics claim, is pointless. Surrender is inevitable. Israel will perish if it does not give way. (They know what’s best for Jews. They always have.) The land in question, including much of Jerusalem and its environs, will be redistributed to “displaced Arabs” who have been dealt a perceived injustice. Under certain circumstances, Jews might be permitted to retain a small portion of their ill-gotten gain. (When a gain is Jewish, it is ill-gotten by definition.)
In the star chamber of world politics, the privileges of ownership are available to some and not others — Israel in particular. Its de-legitimization by the Left, abetted often by Jewish leftists, fits well with the Left’s disparagement of property rights in general. Arab failure, in repeated attempts, to destroy Israel and rid the region of its Jewish presence elicits their sympathy. Immersed in relativism and empathetic to all forms of failure, they accept Palestinian Arab claims ipso facto and dismiss those of the Israelis. Israel’s improbable success and contributions to the world at large make it all the more troubling in their eyes. Though the existential threat to it from Iran grows by the day, it fails to arouse their concern. Jewish tragic history has been relegated to a footnote and deemed no longer relevant, Jewish survival a parochial anomaly with no place on their “universal” agenda. The success of capitalist Israel, thriving in the face of worldwide opposition, adds insult to the injury suffered by the Arabs. For the Left, pacifism, gay marriage and unlimited abortion occupy the moral high ground. Jewish land is an oxymoron, a Zionist pipedream, internationally condemned to requisition and redistribution by the United Nations. Alas, the “holy land” belongs neither to Jew nor Arab, but is the common property of any and all people.