The Ethical Spectacle, April 1995,

Two Snippets of Israeli History

First, two propositions:

1. By writing articles critical of Israel, I, as a Jew, open myself to accusations of self-hatred or antisemitism. This is such a complex accusation I will not try to deal with it in detail here; I will write more about it another time. In brief, I am proud to be Jewish, but I do not agree with much of the policy and behavior of Israel, the Jewish state. Despite the efforts of many, Jews and others, to blur the distinctions in order to serve their own agendas, dislike of Israel and hatred of Jews need not be synonymous. If I placed Israel off limits because I am Jewish, I would have no right to publish the Ethical Spectacle. One of the major missions of the Spectacle is to expose double standards, not perpetuate them.

2. Those who claim to hold the moral high ground ought to be examined even more closely than those who make no such claim. In large part because of Germany's genocide against the Jews, Israel is shrouded in a fog that, from the outside, may seem like a moral glow. But this fog hides profound hypocrisy, anxiety and (I hope) self-doubt.

The Assassination of Count Bernadotte

On September 17, 1948, four men dressed in Israeli Army uniforms assassinated Count Folke Bernadotte, the man appointed by the United Nations to mediate the growing Arab-Jewish dispute. The four killers were never brought to justice.

Israel's founding Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, knew who the assassins were: members of the so-called Stern Gang, a Jewish terrorist group of several hundred members founded in 1940. Ben-Gurion made a behind-the-scenes deal with the murderers: freedom from prosecution if they would cease violence. The man who organized the killing of Count Bernadotte was Yitzhak Shamir, who later became Prime Minister himself.

Kati Marton, writing in the November New Yorker, summed up the reasons for the murder:

Stern's explosive rhetoric and uncompromising nationalism foreshadowed those of today's Palestinian radicals. Like them, Shamir's underground hated what the United Nations mediator stood for: compromise, conciliation, the abandonment of maximilist demands in the service of turning enemies into neighbors.

The killing of Bernadotte contributed materially to the successful sabotage of the peace efforts. More than five decades of murder and counter-murder have finally brought us back to a serious prospect for peace in a bloody land. But there are still terrorists on both sides, the Jewish machine-gunner in the mosque, the Arab suicide bomber, determined to prevent this.

Deir Yassin

Certain names should be on everyone's lips, but are on no-one's. Most of the people I ask about Deir Yassin, people who profess to understand the politics of Israel, to be intimately involved with them, have never heard of it.

On April 9, 1948--thus five months prior to the killing of Count Bernadotte-- the combined forces of the Stern Gang and the Irgun (military arm of the Revisionist party, commanded by Menachem Begin, later Prime Minister) carried out reprisals in the Arab village of Deir Yassin. Like the Stern Gang, the Irgun was responsible for many horrors; but Deir Yassin may have been the worst.

The villagers had actually signed a nonaggression pact with a nearby Jewish village when the Stern Gang decided to destroy Deir Yassin to teach the Arabs a lesson for over-running other Jewish settlements. As a senior Irgun officer later said:

The clear aim was to break Arab morale and raise the morale of the Jewish community in Jerusalem which had been hit hard time after time...

The villagers resisted the 120 Jewish attackers, as they had a right to, and a heavy machine gun and a mortar were brought up to end the battle. Then the raiding party entered the village and started behaving like a Nazi Einsatzkommando. Twenty-three men were led off to a quarry and executed in cold blood, and between 90 and 230 others were shot down in the village.

Begin's statement afterwards:

Accept my congratulations on this splendid act of conquest....

News of Deir Yassin spread quickly and was influential in causing much of the Arab population to flee the borders of the newly declared Israeli state. Israel, of course, has built a whole structure of ownership based on the "abandonment" of their houses and lands, as well as arguing ceaselessly that those who fled in 1948 did so needlessly and do not deserve to come back.

(Source for the Deir Yassin information: Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews (Harper Perennial, 1987).

What do these two events--the murder of Bernadotte, and "ethnic cleansing" at Deir Yassin--establish? That the state of Israel is rooted in the blood of one of its native populations, the Arabs. Two men, Begin and Shamir, later leaders of their country, were terrorists who planned and executed murders, and a third, Ben-Gurion, knew of murder and made secret deals protecting murderers.

Reverting to the issue of the Holocaust as a shield or an excuse for the Israelis, Israel is not, and has never been, primarily a nation of Holocaust survivors. Political Zionism has its roots in the 19th century and before. While Begin was a refugee from Poland, Ben Gurion had been in Palestine since early in the century, as had many of the early leaders of the new Israeli state. One early right-wing Zionist leader was Vladimir Jabotinsky, who wrote in 1923:

Zionism is a colonizing adventure and therefore it stands or falls by the question of armed force. It is important to build, it is important to speak Hebrew, but, unfortunately, it is even more important to be able to shoot--or else I am through with playing at colonization.

(Quoted in Beit-Hallahmi, Original Sins, (Olive Branch Press 1992), a book by an Israeli professor which I highly recommend. Beit-Hallahmi sums up as follows:

It was easy to make the Palestinians pay for 2,000 years of persecution. The Palestinians, who have felt the enormous power of this vengeance, were not the historical oppressors of the Jews. They did not put Jews into ghettoes and did not force them to wear yellow stars. They did not plan holocausts. But they had one fault. They were weak and defenseless in the face of real military might, so they were the ideal victims for an abstract revenge...

A country founded in blood--built on the backs and the corpses of a group of its inhabitants--is badly off-balance and will never recover, if it does not undertake a terrible soul-searching, a flight from violence and lies. There is a stirring, a yearning for peace and relief from violence today, but it is still being mitigated by hatred, denial, greed, and the desire for revenge. When the Israelis learn to police their own lunatic fringe, can avoid offering with one hand what they withdraw with the other, and face the Palestinians with firm honesty, there will be a chance.