The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen, in a July 18 op-ed on the current fighting between Israel and Hizbullah (“Hunkering Down With History”), declared that Israel’s creation was a “mistake.” He based this judgment of Israel on its Arab Muslim neighbors’ opposition to its existence.
Cohen’s statement exhibits a twisted morality both in its premises and its bias. Are we to believe that any state that is subjected to religious or ethnic hatred and assault from its neighbors is therefore a “mistake”? Or, if Cohen does not endorse this as a general principle, why the selective attack on the Jewish state?
The origins of Israel’s modern rebirth lies in the victorious allies’ creation of a number of new nations from the territories of the empires defeated in World War I, new national homes for previously disenfranchised peoples.
In addition to the allies’ mandating, with subsequent League of Nations endorsement, establishment of a national home for the Jews in part of the former Ottoman empire (and creation of Arab national homes – Syria and Iraq – in the area as well), the allies facilitated the birth, or rebirth, of various states in Europe. A number of these – for example, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Poland – were opposed by their neighbors, particularly neighbors who thought they had a better claim to the new nations’ territory. Was the creation of Poland and the Baltic states therefore a mistake?
The League of Nations granted Great Britain a mandate to foster establishment of the Jewish national home and promote the Jews’ “close settlement” of the land. But British authorities repeatedly reneged on their obligations to the Jews, driven both by a wish to cultivate the Arabs and by hostility to the Jews.
Churchill, for example, complained on various occasions about the anti-Semitism rife among British civil administrators and military forces in the Mandate. The League of Nations time and again criticized British dereliction regarding its mandate obligations to the Jews, but the rise of fascism in Europe in the nineteen-thirties, the League of Nations’ failure to respond effectively to fascist aggression, and the consequent virtual demise of the League gave Britain a freer hand.
It used that freedom of action to limit and then block the entry of Jews seeking to escape Europe in the late thirties and during World War II. One would think that morality would deem the delay in establishment of the Jewish state the “mistake,” not its subsequent creation and the ingathering of survivors from Europe and the besieged Jews of the Arab world. But Cohen thinks otherwise.
In a related vein, virtually every ethnic and religious minority in the Arab world is and has been under siege, victims of what one liberal Arab voice has called the “twin fascisms” that hold sway in that world – Islamism and pan-Arabism.
Christians suffer under myriad pressures across the Middle East and North Africa and many have been forced to flee the Arab states. Christians are not allowed to practice their religion at all in Saudi Arabia, and the Arab government of Sudan, with the support of other Arab nations, has pursued a genocidal war against the largely Christian blacks of the southern Sudan, killing some two million.
With regard to Muslim but non-Arab minorities, Saddam Hussein murdered up to 200,000 Kurds in northern Iraq, the Sudanese are currently engaged in a genocidal campaign against the Muslim but black population of Darfur, and the millions of Muslim Berbers of Algeria have for decades been subjected to a campaign of forced Arabization and recurrent physical attack; all this, again, with general support from the wider Arab world.
For all the horrors visited over the years on Israel in terrorist and more conventional attacks, Israelis have suffered less than a number of other minorities living amidst the Arabs.
This is because Israelis, including the Jewish refugees from the Arab world, have the instruments of nationhood that enable them to defend themselves.
Surely it is unfortunate that these other minorities do not have access to such self-protection, and a mistake that the world has done so little to help populations such as the Christian blacks of the southern Sudan, the Muslim blacks of Darfur, the Berbers of Algeria, and, until recently, the Kurds of Iraq gain the national independence or at least autonomy that would facilitate their defense. But, no – according to Richard Cohen, the mistake lies not in that but rather in the Jews having been given the means to protect themselves.