On Being a Leftist and a Zionist, p.2

First, the fundamental premise of the Left's view of the conflict - that Israel is Goliath and the Palestinians are David - is flawed. Actually, Israel is David, and the Arab nations are Goliath. The Palestinian Arabs are pawns of Arab oligarchies and monarchies, brutally massacred when necessary (as in Jordan), housed in despicable refugee camps when convenient (as in Lebanon and Jordan), and used as pawns against Israel by some of the most corrupt regimes on the planet. Their current predicament stems from the constant refusal of the Arab oligarchies to grant the Palestinians a voice. It was the Arab elites who attacked Israel in 1948, causing the UN Partition Plan to end. It was the Arab elites who refused to grant Palestine independence between 1948 and 1967. And it was the Arab elites, royalist dictators, military dictators, etc., who warmongered in 1967 - Israel begged Jordan to stay out of the war and not open the West Bank front - leading to the occupation of what are now the 'territories.'

The Arab oligarchies and monarchies, hundreds of millions of subjects strong and equal in size to over a thousand Israels, are Goliath. Yes, the modern state of Israel was born out of 19th century Europe but that doesn't change the fact that Israel, the New-Jersey-size state founded by one million refugees from antisemitic Europe, is David. The Palestinians are the pawns of Goliath caught in the middle.

Second, Israel is the only economically progressive state in the region. People look at Israel's standard of living and compare it to the Palestinians', and observe that Israel looks like America whereas Palestine looks like the Third World. Why is that? Remember, seventy years ago, Israel was nothing. A few fenced-in collective farms, poverty-stricken cities. Over seventy years, Jewish philanthropy - those International Zionist bankers you hear about - and concentrated economic development, coupled with US foreign aid ironically coupled to a rigorously Socialist egalitarian ethic, has created a Western standard of living from scratch. At the same time, hundreds of billions of Arab petrodollars have created... vast palaces for the ruling elite. Average Saudis live in squalor while the House of Saud drives sports cars into swimming pools. Egypt, the world's largest recipient of UN Food Aid, has a ruling elite that travels the world while millions of its citizens - indeed, more people than there are Palestinians in Palestine - die of preventable disease. Israel does not look like America because of sinister forces; the Arab world looks like the Third World because of them.

Third, Israel is the only non-militaristic state in the region. Israel was a nation of one million Jews surrounded by tens of millions of Arabs. Palestine, which originally included all of Israel, the Palestinian territories, and Jordan, was first partitioned by the British, who gave the East Bank of the Jordan to Arabs, and then by the UN, which partitioned the West Bank roughly half-and-half between the Jews and the Arabs. Unsatisfied with 75% of Palestine, vastly larger and superior Arab armies all attacked Israel the day after the mandate expired. Their rhetoric was Hitlerian - they were going to finish the work of the Nazis, they said, and push the Jews into the sea. Likewise in 1967, when Nasser and his ilk broadcast the same message over their airwaves while massing their forces for attack - we are going to finish Hitler's job, he said, explicitly, and kill the Jews.

Both times, Israel fought back and prevailed, partly because of technology, partly because of tactics, and partly because of luck. Some Arabs were caught in the middle - those residing within what is now Israel and Palestine. These Arabs saw themselves as of the same nation as the Arabs in Jordan and even Egypt and Syria - there were no 'Palestinians.' (The UN and the League of Nations, until 1967, meant the Jews when they wrote 'les palestiniens.') There were only Arabs. Yet over fifty years, these Arabs' self-conceptions changed. Palestinian nationalism supplanted pan-Arabism. Now, instead of occupying 'Arab land,' Israel was occupying 'Palestinian land.' Instead of a tiny nation (still today smaller in population than Philadelphia) reclaiming its homeland on a sliver of territory equal to less than .5% of the Arab world, Israel became known as the imperialist oppressor.

In the brief narratives I have sketched, the traditional loyalties of the Left - democracy, economic justice, favoring of displaced peoples' right to self-actualize, concern for the underdog - ought to favor Israel, not the Palestinian Arabs. But of course, if you forget about history, the picture looks very different, because the existential reality is now that Israel has the tanks and the Palestinians have refugee camps. Israel occupies territory in which Jews are a tiny minority, and were mostly settled there as a policy of acquiring more lebensraum for the Jewish people.

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May 2002

jay's head