A MAN OF HONOR,
PRINCIPLE AND COURAGE
Deir Yassin –
From Remembrance to
What is wrong with these people?
13 January 2007
By: Paul Eisen
Sight of Yad Vashem
By Paul Eisen
the Truth to Jews
Wednesday September 1st,
by Paul Eisen
of the Jewish State;
Denier of Palestinian Misery
Wiesel for President?
Daniel A. McGowan
September - October 1996
By Israel Shamir
Deir Yassin –
From Remembrance to
07 March 2007
By: Paul Eisen
In a recent piece on The Guardian -
Comment is Free Tony Greenstein says that Deir Yassin Remembered is an
anti-Semitic organization and, along with Roland Rance, Sue Blackwell and Les
Levidow he’s going to try to get the Palestine Solidarity Campaign to have
nothing to do with us. Well, good luck to them, and if the PSC is foolish enough
to bow to this kind of thing, then good luck to them too – they’re going to need
Deir Yassin Remembered is an
international organisation whose aim is to build a memorial to the victims of
the Deir Yassin massacre of April 9th 1948. But the list of victims extends far
beyond the 100 to 130 elderly men, women and children who died that day. It
extends also to the over 750,000 Palestinians expelled in the concurrent Zionist
ethnic cleansing of Palestine, to the over 500 Palestinian towns and villages
destroyed or expropriated by the Jewish ethnic cleansers and now also to their
descendants - the now over six million dispossessed Palestinians living either
as second-class citizens in Israel, in the towns, villages and refugee camps of
post-1967 occupied Palestine, in refugee shanty-towns in Lebanon, Syria and
Jordan and finally in the many Palestinian communities-in-exile in practically
every corner of the world. In short, Deir Yassin Remembered exists to build a
memorial to all of Palestinian life and memory.
But Deir Yassin Remembered is not just
about remembrance; Deir Yassin Remembered is also about resistance. Yes, there
was a time when we spoke passionately about the proximity of Deir Yassin to the
Jewish Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem and about the inextricably close and
agonised relationship between Jewish suffering and the suffering inflicted by
Jews on Palestinians. But not any more. There have been too many deaths, too
many disappointments and now the nearness of Deir Yassin to Yad Vashem serves
merely to underline the stark differences between abused and abuser - and the
continuation of the abuse.
But there's no smoke without fire. If
Tony and his colleagues say that we are anti-Semites and the Palestinian
solidarity movement should have nothing to do with us, there must be something
in it – nobody, surely, nobody could dream up such a thing. Indeed there is
something in it. Tony's complaint rests on three matters - the inclusion in our
Board of Advisers of Israel Shamir, a couple of articles written by myself, and
a recent visit by Dan McGowan, the founder of DYR, to Ernst Zundel sentenced to
five years imprisonment in Germany for Holocaust denial..
To take these in turn: Israel Shamir is
indeed on our board – he is one of twenty members of whom half are Jews, half
non-Jews; half are men, half women. Shamir is an intellectual, a religious
thinker and writer and an outstanding and tireless supporter of Palestinian
rights. He also has severe criticisms to make of the way Jews and Jewish
organisations are currently behaving and have behaved in the past. Shamir has
also proposed the existence of what he would term a Jewish "spirit" or
"paradigm" (which incidentally is by no means confined only to those who
identify themselves as Jewish) which, if unchecked and unbalanced can lead to
But Israel Shamir has never been guilty
of violence nor has he ever advocated violence. He has never discriminated
against anyone, nor has he ever advocated discriminating against anyone. Nor has
he ever advocated denying anyone the right to free speech, or to a fair hearing.
I like Shamir enormously, I find him stimulating and informative and always
gentle in his manner and humane in his approach and I agree with a lot, though
not all, of what he says and writes. Shamir is in full agreement with the spirit
and meaning of Deir Yassin, has contributed enormously to Deir Yassin Remembered
and is an honoured member of the Deir Yassin Remembered Board of Advisers.
Tony also objects to DYR because I, one
of its seven directors, wrote, in a personal capacity, two articles with which
he disagrees. The first, "Jewish Power" examines Jewish identity and the complex
relationship between Judaism, ‘Jewishness’ and Zionism and distinguishes between
Judaism the religion and ‘Jewishness’, the more complex cultural and emotional
identity. It also examines Jewish power, not only in its political manifestation
but also, and more interestingly, its cultural, ideological/religious and
emotional significance. Finally it examines the degree to which Zionism, and
therefore the abuse of Palestinians is a Jewish phenomenon and, if it is, asks
why it is so hard to say so.
The Holocaust Wars was written in three
sections. The first titled “Scum" describes the struggle of Ernst Zundel, now
sentenced to five years' imprisonment in Germany for Holocaust denial. This
section attempts to contextualize and re-humanize Ernst Zundel and Holocaust
revisionism. It also attempts to see the National Socialist regime through the
eyes of the German people. In fact, what this part of the essay really tries to
do is to see the world through the eyes of the ‘other’ - and for an obsessively
curious self-identifying Jew such as myself, who could be more 'other' than
Ernst Zundel? The second section, "The War for the Truth," examined Holocaust
Revisionism - its scholarship and its struggle. Although I stopped short of
coming out in definite agreement with revisionists, I did (and do) find their
case compelling. The last section was called "The War for the Spirit" and was
concerned with the ideological, spiritual and religious meaning of the Holocaust
narrative and the use to which it has been put to enforce Jewish power. For me,
this was the most important section of the essay.
Finally, Dan McGowan, the founder and
U.S. director of DYR, also in a personal capacity, visited Ernst Zundel in
prison. Why he did this, what happened there and what he made of it is all is
described most eloquently in his piece A Visit in Prison with Ernst Zundel- a
piece of writing which for Tony renders Dan and the organisation he founded now
beyond the pale.
But that’s not all; it gets worse –
worse even than Tony knows because DYR does indeed include in its solidarity
discourse a challenge to the notion of a non-religious Jewish specialness and
its possible effects, when empowered, on the Israel/Palestine conflict. Is this
racism? Not at all - Jews are not a race so, strictly speaking, any
anti-Jewishness cannot, by definition, be racist. Is this anti-Semitic? Maybe it
is - it all depends what you mean by the term. Is it acceptable? Who knows? Let
the debate begin.
But look, it really doesn’t matter what
anything means or what is or is not acceptable. Tony and his colleagues will
tell us what things mean and what we may or may find acceptable because Tony is
an arch practitioner of that which he most denies - Jewish power. Does Jewish
power exist? Of course it does. Who has not seen someone stand up in a
solidarity meeting and begin with the words, “As a Jew…”? And who has not seen
the meeting then fall reverently, even fearfully silent? And who, in the course
of their solidarity activities, at one time or another has not felt the brunt of
Jewish collective power? So of course Jewish power exists. The question is how
does it exist, to what extent and to what effect? Let the debate begin.
So on March 10th at the PSC AGM Tony
Greenstein, Roland Rance, Les Levidow and Sue Blackwell will propose, and may
even pass, a motion which will urge the PSC to shun Deir Yassin Remembered. And
their stated reasons are that one out of twenty DYR advisers and two out of
seven DYR directors hold views with which Tony and his friends disagree. Why do
they do this? Why do these largely Jewish activists see their personal struggle
against a perceived anti-Semitism as so important that it overrides any other
considerations, including the good work of Deir Yassin Remembered?
The answer is simple. Like so many
Jewish activists, and particularly those who style themselves as 'anti-Zionist,
Tony and his colleagues’ real priority, despite their protestations to the
contrary, is defending Jews, mainly from what they see as anti-Semitism. Of
course they care about other things too - Palestinian liberation, civil rights.
human rights etc. etc. but when push comes to shove it is Jewish interests that
they will ultimately defend. But why should this be a problem? Why should Jews
and others not defend Jewish interests? The problem is twofold: First because
not only do they prioritise Jewish interests but they also insist that everyone
else must do the same. And they’re not afraid to enforce it either with the
ever-present threat of being labeled an anti-Semite. The second reason why their
defense of Jewish interests is a problem is that they won't admit that they are
doing it and one reason why they won't admit they are doing it is because they
don't really know that they are doing it. At least that is how it was. I now
have a sneaking suspicion many of them are beginning to realise what they are
doing and are now beginning to do it consciously. In effect, self-delusion is
becoming conscious lying.
And why could the PSC, without a
whimper, pass such a motion? The answer is again simple: Like all of us, they
are terrified, terrified of Zionist power and the penalty of defying it – being
branded an anti-Semite or, even worse, a Holocaust denier. And this is what this
is really all about. Because the real reason for this motion is this: Tony
Greenstein, Roland Rance and Les Levidow, three Jewish activists, plus Sue
Blackwell their obligatory non-Jewish associate, want to make it clear who
really runs the PSC, indeed who runs all Palestinian solidarity.
Deir Yassin Remembered does not ‘know’
what is right for the Palestinian people. Only Palestinians can know that. Deir
Yassin Remembered cannot free Palestine. Again, only Palestinians can and will
do that. But Deir Yassin Remembered stands in unconditional solidarity with
Palestinians and in unflinching opposition to those who oppress them and oppress
so many others in the world.
Deir Yassin Remembered has advisers,
directors, members and supporters with very many different ideas and beliefs –
some will agree with all of the above, some with parts of it and some with none
of it. But what they all share is an unconditional commitment to Palestinian
remembrance and resistance. Anyone who wishes to join us is welcome and,
provided they do not try to impose their views on, or try to silence others, we
care little for what else they believe. So, if Tony Greenstein and his friends
will mend their ways, they too are welcome.
* Paul Eisen is the UK Director of Deir
Yassin Remembered. His email is: email@example.com
What is wrong with these people?
13 January 2007
By: Paul Eisen
Sometimes trouble begins with a cloud no
bigger than a man’s hand
An item appeared on the blog ‘Jews Sans
The piece "Countering the Counterpuncher Atzmon" by Jewish activists Tony
Greenstein and Roland Rance is primarily an attack on Gilad Atzmon but, as is
now obligatory in such pieces somewhere towards the end is the standard
reference to “Eisen the Holocaust denier” or “Eisen the racist” etc., etc. I try
as best I can to take no notice but then I notice the following:
To give but a flavour of Eisen’s works:
“World War II - that is, the war against
the East - was really a preventive/defensive war against Communism, which was
The phrase in quotation marks is from
“The Holocaust Wars” Fair enough, except that I didn’t write those words. Those
words are quoted by me from a letter written to me by Ingrid Rimland and she, in
fact, is in turn quoting something said to her. Leaving aside all the usual
smears in the rest of the piece, this was a clear error.
A mistake? Perhaps. Tony Greenstein has
always seemed to me to be a rather tortured, impassioned soul and maybe a little
erratic. But Roland Rance? I don’t think so. Roland Rance is as cold an
ideologue as one could meet and every bit as much now as a Revolutionary
Marxist, as I’m sure he was when he was a Zionist. He’s also well known for his
meticulous use of references and sources, often ticking others off when they
fall short of his exacting standards. Well whatever, I wrote to Greenstein
asking that he check the quote, amend the piece and perhaps write me and publish
a brief apology.
He replied that ‘hell would freeze over’
before he would apologise to me and, in support of his stand went on to alter
the formatting of the quote to make it look as if I had in fact written it. He
then concluded his email with some more abuse.
No joy from Tony, but if Tony won’t help
perhaps the owner of the blog, Mark Elf can help?
I am forwarding to you an email exchange
I have had with Tony Greenstein.
It refers to the piece in your blog
"Countering the Counterpuncher Atzmon". It is clear to me that, either
advertently or inadvertently, Tony and Roland have falsely attributed a quote to
me. I'm not sure what his grounds are, but as you can see, Tony has refused to
put this small point right. Can you put it right?
Mark Elf’s answer? To date, no answer.
I am habitually abused by these people.
They call me a racist, a Holocaust denier and a ‘neo-Nazi and, more often than
not, all three.
They call me a racist. Variations on
this theme have been: “the veteran racist, Eisen” and “Eisen, the racist
polemicist”. But what do they mean? Recently I heard one child call another
child ‘racist’ (both were white) in an argument over a game of cards. In this
case ‘racist’ meant ‘cheat’.
So if I am a racist what kind of racist
am I? Am I the racist elderly couple in the inner city neighbourhood who, in the
privacy of their own home, confess to each other their occasional feelings of
bewilderment at the huge changes in their surroundings caused by the influx of
so very many people who look, speak and even behave, so differently to them? Or
am I the racist hooded Klansman who lynches a black man and douses with petrol
and sets light to his still living body? Or am I the perfectly ordinary folk who
gather round and watch?
They call me a Nazi. But the Nazis are
dead and gone so I cannot be that kind of Nazi. I suppose I could have been the
medium-grade office clerk who joined the party because his boss did or the
besotted housewife at a party rally. I could perhaps be the old Nazi who, like
any old Bolshevik dreaming of revolutions past, sits and dreams of past glories.
But I don’t think so. National Socialists, like any number of other ‘-ists’ are
usually folk who know for sure how the world should be ordered and aren’t afraid
to use force to make their point – and I’m not like that at all.
They call me a Holocaust denier. But
“Holocaust denier” is just an abusive term for a Holocaust revisionist - the
slur being that Holocaust revisionists are like flat-earthers - people who have
lost all touch with reality and deny that anything unpleasant at all happened to
Jews at the hands of the National Socialists and that Auschwitz was just an
early-forties holiday camp. They do not. ‘Holocaust denier’ along with ‘racist’
‘neo-Nazi’, anti-Semite and all the rest is just one more non-definable term of
abuse used rather like the word ‘witch’ - used in the Middle Ages as a curse to
silence those with whom one does not agree.
But let's set the record straight about
my own "Holocaust denial". I wasn’t at Auschwitz, so I don't know exactly what
did or did not take place there. I am also no scholar, but I have had a fair
look at the evidence and as far as I can see, the revisionists, at the very
least, need to be taken very seriously indeed. But that’s not the point. I am
not in the slightest bit interested in the hydrogen cyanide traces in brickwork
or how long it takes to burn a corpse but the fact is that there is a strong
possibility that a distortion of massive proportions is being peddled big-time
and savagely enforced. The Holocaust narrative and its enforcement are major
arms of Jewish or Zionist power, a power which is the gravest and most pressing
threat facing humankind today, a power which I want to defy and resist wherever
and whenever I can.
Not only is the Holocaust narrative used
to sacrelise Jewish suffering and so make it possible for Jews to do anything
they like in Palestine and elsewhere, but the enforcement of the Holocaust with
its marginalization, criminalisation and even incarceration of offenders is used
as a frightener. “Watch it!” they say to any wanabee resistor, “If we can
enforce this, we can enforce anything.” And the result is a world which will
think, say or do anything, anything, anything rather than be called a Holocaust
But back to those comments. The net is
just full of them - “Eisen the Holocaust denier”, “Eisen the racist”, “Eisen the
Nazi sympathizer”, “Eisen the Nazi”, “Eisen the Zundel- lover” and Eisen the
anti-Semite” and all made by people who have neither met nor spoken to me, have
not met anyone who knows me or has spoken to me and, I’m sure in most cases,
have not read anything I have written except selected quotes presented
out-of-context to them by others. As I have wearily come to say; if someone will
tell me what a Holocaust denier, an anti-Semite and a racist is, I will gladly
say whether I am one.
If you click the links of these and
similar comments you will be immediately transported to Sue Blackwell’s website
– and specifically to “ Sue's famous pages on Palestine and Israel”. Please do
visit it (it’s a riveting read), and while there don’t forget to click onto
Sue’s “Nazi Alert” feature http://www.sue.be/pal/nazis.html, where, after
consultation with her ‘Jewish friends’ (her words – “I have now had a chance to
take a closer look at this site and consult Jewish friends on their views of
it."), Sue selects those suitable for public pillorying. Do go there and do read
a selected catalogue of my crimes.
A little while ago I wrote to Sue saying
that, since she had never met me, spoken or written to me, she couldn’t possibly
know very much about me, so why did she label me so publicly and so terribly and
with such terrible results? Like Mark Elf, Sue’s answer was no answer. Sue did
not reply. I imagine it is part of Sue’s principled stand on racism never to
talk to Nazis.
Finally, one more comment, also on Jews
“I would agree that Paul Eisen is not a
good thing, but don't think that people talking about the need for a Palestinian
perspective should be lumped in with him, or on the other hand seen as
‘Not a good thing’! ‘Paul Eisen is not a
good thing”! My goodness, what am I - a cheeseburger from McDonald’s, an
outbreak of bird flu, high cholesterol?
What’s with these people? Why do they
behave this way? Why do Tony, Roland and Mark misquote me but refuse to correct
this small error. “Dear Paul, You are a racist and a Nazi but we misquoted you.
Sorry.” There, was that so hard? Why does Sue Blackwell, who has never met me,
spoken nor communicated with me in any way, using selected and out-of-context
evidence, put me in a public pillory where anyone who wishes may, at their
leisure, smear and malign me? Why, when you Google my name will you find any
number of meaningless slurs about some character called ‘Paul Eisen’ – a
brand-name for an individual who I, and anyone who knows me, will find
completely and utterly unrecognizable?
Who are these people? Who are these
Jewish ethnic campaigners, these ‘secular’, ‘left-wing, and ‘anti-Zionist’ folk
who, the more secular, left-wing and anti-Zionist they are the more they attack
me! Who are they? Why do they do this? What does this all mean?
Amongst all the smears – Eisen-the-this
or Eisen-the-that, there is one accusation you will never see. This is: “Eisen
the traitor”, “Eisen-who-went-against-his-tribe”,
“Eisen-who-likes-to-tell-the-Goyim-what-Jews-really-think, Eisen who said (gasp)
that Zionism is Jewish, that (shhh…not so loud) Jews are not suffering, that
there is such a thing as Jewish power, that (stop, stop) people sometimes
dislike Jews for (wait for it…) a reason.
Are these people stupid? They sometimes
seem so with their predictable, repetitive slogans and smears. All this is that!
All that is this! Racist! Racist! - Nazi! Nazi! Strange, because they appear
educated (I understand that Sue Blackwell is a lecturer in a university) and
they’ve certainly all read a lot. (A lot goes in, a lot comes out, but does much
And boy, do they know a lot.. Never in
my life have I met people who know so much.
“You insist on locating your worldview
in the centre of any possible discourse. Why do you do it? Because you are a
supremacist Jew. You must believe that you know better. You must believe that
you know better than the SWP what is important for the British working class.
You must think that you know better than the Palestinians what is right for the
Palestinian people. Are you familiar with the notion of modesty? Just
contemplate over the remote possibility that you may not know better.....” Gilad
Atzmon ‘in conversation’ with Tony Greenstein
A supremacist Jew? No Gilad no! Surely
not! This cannot be! Or could it? Could it be that for these secular, leftist,
anti-Zionist Jews knowing everything about everything and enforcing it is their
particular brand of choseness and supremacism? That these secular, leftist,
anti-Zionist Jews who no longer worship God but who now worship Jewish
victimhood and the Holocaust in fact now worship themselves?
And could it be that the ferocity, the
mindless savagery with which they, collectively (always collectively) pursue and
hound their prey, is the same impulse we see prescribed in Deuteronomy,
re-enacted in Palestine and Lebanon and now policing the net? And could it be
that the justification - whether for laying waste to Lebanon, ethnically
cleansing Palestine, bombings, assassinations, silencing critics in the U.K.,
smearing opponents on the internet, or just refusing to put right a tiny little
error in an article on a blog - is the same:
We are special. We are chosen. We have
suffered. We know what is good for you. We can do anything!
* Paul Eisen is a director of Deir
Yassin Remembered- London.
Sight of Yad Vashem
By Paul Eisen
Over the years, our attention has been
drawn to the close proximity of the village of Deir Yassin to the Jewish
Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem. Jews have been encouraged to visit Deir Yassin,
the symbolic starting point of nearly six decades of Palestinian dispossession,
and from there to look across to Yad Vashem. Palestinians (if only they could!)
have also been asked to visit Yad Vashem - the symbol of Jewish suffering - and
to look across the valley toward the birth site of their own tragedy.
Everybody was happy. Jews of conscience
were of course pleased to see Jewish suffering again at the centre of the
discourse but also happy to extend their narrative of suffering to include
Palestinians. Palestinians were perhaps less pleased at having - yet again - to
acknowledge Jewish suffering in order to help achieve their own liberation, but
they recognized the importance of the publicity that the link between Deir
Yassin and Yad Vashem brought to their cause.
Of course, one had to be careful. As is
so often the case with these things, there was always a but. After all, who in
their right mind would compare the massacre of a hundred Palestinians at Deir
Yassin with the industrial-scale slaughter of six million Jews? And who would
dare draw comparison the 1948 expulsion of over 750,000 Palestinians to the
near-successful attempt at physically exterminating every last Jewish man, women
and child in Europe?
Both atrocities have seen their fair
share of deniers over the years. Many Zionists, either with conscious intent or
out of ignorance, have denied Deir Yassin. "There was no massacre at Deir Yassin,"
they say; "It was simply a battle - a battle that the Palestinians lost. These
things happen in war and anyway, they did the same to us." Also, "No, the
Palestinians were not expelled; they ran away, and anyway, they didn't love the
land as we love the land - just look how neglected it was until we came along to
make the desert bloom."
The Holocaust too has come under
assault. Over the last fifty years, revisionist scholars have amassed a
formidable body of substantial evidence, which runs in direct opposition to the
traditional Holocaust narrative. "Where is the evidence," they say, "for this
alleged gargantuan mass-murder? Where are the documents? Where are the traces
and remains? Where are the weapons of murder?" These revisionists all
acknowledge of course, that there was a terrible assault on Jews on the part of
the National Socialist government, but disagree as to the scale, motive, and
methods cited in the typical narrative, a narrative that most of us choose or
are obliged to accept. "What befell the Jews", they say, "was a brutal ethnic
cleansing accompanied by dispossession, pillage and massacre."
A brutal ethnic cleansing accompanied by
dispossession, pillage and massacre... terms surely familiar to any Palestinian.
But no matter how similar the Jewish and
Palestinian histories of suffering may seem, the similarities conceal important
First, by all accounts, and according to
any version of the events, what was done to the Jews of Europe took place a long
distance from Yad Vashem, while what was done to the Palestinian people took
place right there at the village of Deir Yassin and right there throughout the
whole of Palestine.
Second, the perpetrators of the atrocity
against Jews had nothing to do with Palestine or Palestinians, while
perpetrators of the Palestinian tragedy were and are Jews.
Third, the perpetrators of the atrocity
against Jews have been roundly condemned over the years and punished for their
crimes, and have mostly shown contrition, while the perpetrators of the massacre
at Deir Yassin have been honored for their crimes, continue to take pride in
them, and live on in their ideology and in their deeds.
Fourth, what befell the Jews had a
beginning, a middle, and an end, while the assault on the Palestinians goes on
with no end in sight.
And one final difference: If the living
evidence for the veracity of the Holocaust narrative is a safe, secure and
empowered Jewish people, at home wherever they may be, the living evidence for
the veracity of Deir Yassin and the Nakba is a Palestinian people dispossessed
and exiled and longing to go home.
Paul Eisen, Director Deir Yassin
the Truth to Jews
Wednesday September 1st,
by Paul Eisen
What Israel and Zionism have done, and
are doing, to the Palestinians is indefensible, yet so many Jews defend it. How
and why do they do this? And why does the rest of the world seem complicit and
unable to speak out?
The Original Sin Many arguments can be
advanced in favour of a Jewish state in Palestine, from the simple right of the
Jewish people to national self-determination, the right of Jews to return to
their ancestral homeland, and the need of a suffering and persecuted people for
a haven where they can be safe and secure.
Jews can define themselves as they wish.
If they feel themselves to be a nation, then they are a nation. But, in
accordance with the dictum, that ‘your freedom to swing your arm ends where your
finger touches my nose’, it is when this self-definition impinges on others that
the problems begin. It is then that others may ask whether this Jewish sense of
nationhood-often an emotional and religious matter based on a perceived sharing
of history and even of destiny-can ever be realised politically. What it boils
down to is this: Jews, like any other people, may have the right to establish
and maintain a state of their own, but, do Jews have the right to establish and
maintain a state of their own in Palestine, already the home of the
Palestinians? All this may, and will be argued, but what is beyond dispute is
that, for Jewish national self-determination and statehood, it is the
Palestinians who have paid a terrible price.
By 1947-48, Palestinians had been
reduced to a state of anxiety and insecurity, and in 1948, when the State of
Israel was established, a traditional Palestinian society was no match for its
democratic, egalitarian and fiercely ideological foe. As a consequence, an
entire way of life was obliterated. At least 750,000 Palestinians were driven
from their homes and into exile, more than 450 of their towns and villages were
destroyed or pillaged and people who had lived a settled life for generations
ended up either in tents in Lebanon, Syria or Jordan, or as a bereft and
traumatised diaspora in every corner of the earth.
Nor was all this an unintended
by-product of war. Although the idea that the Palestinians just ‘ran away’ has,
in the main, been dispelled, we are still left with many stories, obfuscations
and downright lies about where responsibility lies for this ethnic cleansing.
The critical issue now centres on the question of intentionality.
The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians,
like most instances of ethnic cleansing, was intentional, premeditated and
planned. But we need not bother looking for direct documentation. Although there
is mounting evidence for the desires and intentions of the Zionist leadership to
cleanse the land of Palestinians, the architects of the Nakba left no ‘smoking
gun’. There was no written order, because there was no need for a written order.
Like other instances of ethnic cleansing, the expulsion of the Palestinians was
done on ‘understandings’. As Ilan Pappé has noted, every local Haganah
commander, and all the men under their command at every village and town, knew
exactly what was required. Sometimes a few shots in the air would be sufficient,
and sometimes a full-blown massacre was needed. However, the result was always
the same. 
This was the original sin. Since then,
the sin has been compounded many times over, as Israel has continued its assault
on Palestinians and Palestinian life. From border raids and massacres to the
occupation and the settlements, to the slaughter of 20,000 in Lebanon, through
provocations, closures, expulsions, demolitions, arrests, torture and
assassinations, right up to the chicaneries of Oslo and the Roadmap where
Palestinians were to be bamboozled into going into their cage quietly, Israel
and Zionism have sought to destroy the Palestinians, if not always physically,
then certainly as a people in their own land.
‘... While we babble and rave ...’ ...
Only then will the old and young in our land realise how great was our
responsibility to those miserable Arab refugees in whose towns we have settled
Jews who were brought from afar; whose homes we have inherited, whose fields we
now sow and harvest; the fruits of whose gardens, orchards and vineyards we
gather; and in whose cities that we robbed, we put up houses of education,
charity and prayer while we babble and rave about being the ‘people of the Book’
and the ‘light of the nations!’ (Buber/Chofshi).  For a relatively small
number of Jews, support for what is being done to the Palestinians is a
relatively easy matter. God gave the land to the Jews, the Palestinians are
Amalek, and if they will not submit to Jewish rule they must, and will, be
destroyed. Just like those Germans who relinquished Nazism only when the
Russians were on the streets of Berlin, such Jews will abandon their militant,
eliminationist Zionism only when the options finally close down.
But for most Jews things are not so
simple. Defending the indefensible is never easy, and many Jews, intellectually
sophisticated, secular and liberal in their instincts, require more than just
careful selections from the Bible to justify what is being done to the
Palestinians. These Jews have had, over the years, to tell themselves a lot of
stories. For some this has been easier than for others. For some, perhaps the
majority, it has been simple enough to swallow the Israeli and Zionist line
whole: Jews came to a land inhabited only by rootless peasants, and battled
against overwhelming odds to establish their state. Since then, Israel, an
island of Western decency in a sea of Arab decadence and decay has had to battle
for its very survival.
But for some, after 1967, and the
occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the illegal settling of the land, and,
later, the war in Lebanon, the Intifadas, and the work of the new Israeli
historians in uncovering the truth of Israel’s birth, the story has had to be
’End the occupation!’
Many Jews, now aware of the injustice
associated with the establishment of Israel, but still unable to relinquish
their belief in Israel’s essential innocence, have congregated around the
slogans: ‘End the occupation!’ and ‘Two states for two peoples!’ That there is
no ‘occupation’, and that there will never be a true Palestinian state on the
West Bank and Gaza, are simply denied.
The long-term Zionist strategy for the
conquest of Palestine was always to wait for what Ben-Gurion called
‘revolutionary situations’, meaning situations which would provide cover under
which the take-over of Palestine could be completed. The first of these
‘revolutionary situations’ presented itself in 1947 and 1948, when, under the
cover of the conflict, 78 percent of historic Palestine was transformed into
Israel. Another such situation presented itself in 1967.
Israel in 1967 was not the innocent
party threatened with annihilation by the Arab states (though its population
probably thought it was). Israel had been preparing for such a war for years.
Neither was Israel’s victory anything other then totally expected by anyone who
was even a little bit in the know. Like the 1947-48 conflict, the war of 1967
was an opportunity gladly taken for the take-over of the remaining 22 percent of
Palestine. This was the fulfilment of Zionism’s historic mission.
There is, then, no occupation. There
never was an occupation. If there had been an occupation, and the Israelis had
the slightest intention of ending it they would have done so years ago. The fact
is, that no Israeli government, either of the left or the right, has ever shown
any intention of fully withdrawing back to the 1967 border. No Israeli
government, left or right, has shown the slightest inclination to permit
anything even remotely resembling a real Palestinian state to be established on
the West Bank and Gaza. Any state that could emerge would be tiny, fragmented
and weak, being simply a legitimisation of Palestinian surrender. The
occupation, in fact, has been a fig-leaf to conceal the reality of the final
conquest of Palestine.
Nevertheless, for many Jews the
occupation is the bedrock of Israel’s essential innocence. Occupations are
temporary and can be reversed, and this one, they believe, was the result of a
war which Israel did not seek. So, Israel and Zionism are still, at heart,
innocent. The Jewish state, established at the expense of another people’s
national life, is still blameless. It is the occupation that has ‘forced’ Israel
into the role of oppressor, and if only Israel would withdraw to the borders of
1967 all would be as it had been, only better: the gains of 1948 would then be
secured, Jews would have their Israel with its ‘moral foundations’, and the
Palestinians would be contained within a bantustan with a semblance, but not the
reality, of justice. For many Jews, this would mean that they could have both
their empowerment and their consciences.
The sin of moral equivalence
To talk about ‘a cycle of violence’ in
the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians is to commit the sin of ‘moral
Conceived in the Israeli and Jewish
peace camps, taken up by the mainstream and pretty much the entire solidarity
movement, and now underpinning all acceptable discourse on Israel and Palestine,
is the notion that the conflict in Israel/Palestine is not the brutal
dispossession and oppression of one people by another, but a tragic conflict
between two equal, but conflicting rights. This notion emerged after 1967 when
doveish, more moderate Zionists, realising that the story of a blameless
innocent Zionism could no longer be sustained, but still unable to acknowledge
Israel’s guilt, after years of denying the very existence of the Palestinian
people, began to concede that the Palestinians also had a story which ought to
In this new narrative Israel is not
guilty, because no one is guilty, and Israel is not the oppressor, because there
is no oppressor. Everyone is an innocent victim. Variations on the theme include
the I’ve suffered, you’ve suffered, let’s talk approach, and what has been
called the psychotherapy approach to conflict resolution, You feel my pain and
I’ll feel yours. Proponents of this theory say that the two sides are not
listening to each other. If only each side would hear the other’s story a
solution would surely be found.
But it is not true that neither has
heard the other’s story. Palestinians have heard the Zionist story ad nauseam,
and they have certainly heard enough about Jewish suffering. It is not, then,
both sides that need to listen: it is Israelis, and Jews who need to listen.
But, as is heard so often from inside
the Jewish and Israeli peace camps, both sides have a point of view, and both
sides must be heard; both sides have suffered, and right or wrong is never on
one side only. This, of course, is true, but did these same Jews, then
struggling against apartheid and now campaigning for the ‘justice’ of a
disempowered statelet for Palestinians on a mere remnant of what was once their
homeland-and many were the same Jews-say then that we had to see both sides of
the picture? They did not. They acknowledged that white South Africans were as
deserving of peace and prosperity as black South Africans, but they never lost
sight of who was the victim and who was the perpetrator.
Nor are the two sides in
Israel-Palestine equal in power, or in moral weight. Israel, a modern
Western-style state, with the fourth most powerful army in the world, faces a
civilian population with a few poorly armed militias, and enforces a claim which
is highly questionable. Jewish claims to Palestine are not only more complex
than Palestinian claims, but are also more contentious. Even whilst
acknowledging a Jewish connection with Palestine, and even if one might wish to
see a Jewish presence there, the historical evidence can hardly justify
exclusive Jewish ownership.
This recasting of the struggle as a
conflict between equals means that Jews do not have to see Israel for what it
is: a powerful state, founded and maintained on injustice, oppressing a weak and
defenceless civilian population. Instead, they see it for what they would like
it to be: a tiny, embattled state, well-intentioned, but caught up in a tragic
conflict of equal but opposing rights. So, an assault by the fourth most
powerful army in the world on a largely undefended refugee camp becomes just
part of a continuing ‘cycle of violence’, and the imposition of surrender on an
exhausted and defeated people can be recast as ‘negotiations’, or ‘peace talks’.
Good cop/bad cop
Zionism’s eternal good cop/bad cop
routine has for years deflected criticism, and provided for Jews and others a
means of reconciling what they see with what they want to see. The good cop is
the secular ‘left’, meaning the Labour Party and its offshoots, descended from
the old Labour Zionism of David Ben-Gurion, while the bad cop is Likud,
descended from the old revisionists founded by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, and now joined
by the religious fanatics and the settlers. And the argument runs, that Israel
and Zionism are not themselves responsible for their crimes, but only extremist
elements therein. If only the good guys were in power, things would be alright
for the Palestinians.
History, however, does not bear this
out. The fact is that certainly as much, if not more suffering has been
inflicted on the Palestinians by Labour governments and the left, than by Likud
and the right. It was Labour Zionism which created the pre-state society that
excluded Palestinians, particularly in the organisation of labour. It was Labour
Zionists, good, humanistic, left-wing kibbutzniks who directed the ethnic
cleansing of 750,000 Palestinians, and the destruction of their towns and
villages. It was Labour Zionism which established the present state with all its
discriminatory practices, and it was a Labour government that held the
Palestinian citizens of Israel under military government in their own land for
eighteen years. Finally, it was a Labour government which conquered the West
Bank and Gaza, and first built the settlements, and it was a Labour government
that embarked on the Oslo peace process, coolly designed to deceive the
Palestinians into surrendering their rights.
The difference between the good cop and
the bad cop is not their final destination but only how they get there. Both
Labour and Likud, indeed the whole of mainstream Zionism, has as its aim the
complete conquest of the whole of Palestine, from the Mediterranean Sea to the
Jordan River, with as few Palestinians therein as possible. The only difference
is that, whilst Likud and the ‘right’ understand, as they have always
understood, that the only way to achieve this was through force, Labour would
prefer, along with the use of force when necessary, to deceive their victims
into going into the cage quietly. And, when the good cop has failed, and the
victims have proved themselves unwilling to walk into the cage unaided, as they
did at Camp David at the end of the Oslo process, what do they do? Why, they
call in the bad cop, in this case, the butcher, Ariel Sharon.
The Palestinians have had 100 years of
good cop, bad cop, good cop, bad cop. The good cop led them down the Oslo path
and made them the generous offer of a tiny, fragmented and trashed statelet on
just part of 22 percent of what is their own land, under the political and
economic control of Israel, and under the guns of the Israeli military. And,
shock, horror, they turned it down. So the Israelis called in the bad cop,
Sharon, who has done his worst. Now after more than two years of relentless
assault the victim is nicely softened up. So, in comes the good cop. In his hand
is a piece of paper. On the piece of paper is a new peace plan. The peace plan
offers just that, peace for the victor, but very little justice for the victim.
All the Palestinians have to do is to sign, and the pain will go away. There is
little doubt that the overwhelming majority of Jews, including many in the peace
camp, will be clamouring for them to sign.
A light unto the nations
‘Le tzionut, le sozialism ve le achvat
amim (‘For Zionism, socialism, and internationalism’) -Motto of Hashomer Hatzair
(‘The Young Guard’) Within many Jews there is the deep and abiding wish for the
return of the ‘Beautiful Israel’ of their childhoods. This was the Israel that
was conceived in universal ideals of socialism and justice to be ‘a light unto
the nations’. That such an Israel never existed, and could never have existed,
The notion of ‘Beautiful Israel’ lies at
the very foundations of Political Zionism with roots deep in Jewish history.
Zionism, which connects a modern Jewish state in Palestine with its supposed
biblical antecedent, never saw itself as just another colonial enterprise,
though it certainly was that. But it was much more as well. Zionist thinkers,
though generally secular, used Jewish religious sentiment to further their
cause, but this was not just cold-blooded political manoeuvring. Like so many
ideologues, the early, and also later and present-day Zionists, believed their
Even for the least observant Jew, Jewish
identity is a complex and resonant issue, and Jewishness may be experienced a
long way from the synagogue, the yeshiva, or any other formal aspect of Jewish
life. Jewish history, inextricably linked with Judaism, is also the bedrock of
many secular Jews’ sense of Jewish identity. The founders of modern political
Zionism, as secular a bunch as one could meet, still had a powerful sense of
their history, and even destiny, with all the inevitable emotional and religious
overtones. For many of them, and certainly for many of the Jewish masses who
offered their allegiance, the founding of a Jewish state in Palestine was, if
not overtly religious, still profoundly emotional and spiritual.
Many of the founding fathers of the
modern state defined themselves as socialists. Unable to choose between their
socialism and their Zionism, they tried to combine the two, believing that
Zionism and Socialism could go hand in hand in building a Jewish state, founded
on principles of equality and social justice, an absurdity really, since the one
stood for universal principles and the other for Jewish ethnic interests. The
motto of Hashomer Hatzair (The Young Guard), which formed the core of the
‘left-Zionist’ Mapam party, Le tzionut, le sozialism ve le achvat amim (For
Zionism, socialism, and internationalism) is significant in that Zionism always
Loftier than most run-of-the-mill
colonial enterprises, pre-state Zionism did not so much rob the natives-though
they certainly did plenty of that-as ignore them. Central to the pre-state
society and the state itself were socialist structures such as the Histadrut
trades union, which presided over both the organization of Jewish labour and the
exclusion of non-Jewish labour. That their lofty socialist principles rarely
extended in practice to non-Jews need not be attributed only to cynicism, but
also to a moral schizophrenia that has always made Zionism so hard to analyse
and therefore so hard to oppose.
But there was another Zionism: Cultural
or Spiritual Zionism that envisioned a Jewish community, a spiritual, religious
and cultural centre in Palestine, living in peace and equality with the
Palestinians. These voices of bi-nationalism, led by such as Ahad Ha’am, Martin
Buber and Judah Magnes, were small in number and increasingly marginalised. In
retrospect it is hard to see that they had any effect on Zionist policy, or made
much difference to present-day Zionist ideology. But these traditions were, and
are, very important to Jews theologically and had an enormous cultural
effect-the revival and development of the Hebrew language and literature, and
the establishment of centres of learning, such as the Hebrew University and the
Haifa Technion, were to have a huge and positive effect on the scientific and
cultural progress of the pre-state Yishuv and of Israel.
But the theological and cultural effects
of this Spiritual Zionism were nothing compared to the effects they had on the
marketing of Political Zionism. One need not doubt the sincerity of these
voices, nor of those Jews who hold them dear, to note how, with that particular
blend of conviction, hypocrisy and self-delusion on the part of Political
Zionists, they have been used to mystify and obfuscate, and so better promote, a
far less scrupulous vision. Many leftist Zionists, such as those in Hashomer
Hatzair, took great pains-whilst working for a Jewish majority through
immigration, directing and participating in the ethnic cleansing of 1948, and
subsequently building their socialist and utopian (but only for Jews) kibbutzim
on stolen Palestinian land-to cloak themselves in the rhetoric of
bi-nationalism. The sincerely held beliefs of Buber, Magnes, Ahad aham and
others were used to give Zionism that messianic, moral tinge which has done so
much over the years to bamboozle us all. Today, these traditions are often cited
as evidence of Zionism’s essential goodness, and many Jews today now look back
on them with nostalgia, and cling to them for comfort, and also to conceal from
themselves and others Political Zionism’s manifest character.
These moral ambiguities are evident, not
only in the divisions within Israel, the Zionist establishment and the Jewish
community world-wide, but also often within many individuals. Zionism, the drive
for the return of an ancient and suffering people to their God-given homeland,
is for Jews a compelling ideology. This surge of power to the powerless, this
messianic story of return, the utopianism, the intensity, the near religious
fervour of Zionism, blended with enormous dollops of self-delusion, constitute a
heady mix which has gone straight to the head of many an otherwise sober and
rational Jew, and has led to some strange and contradictory behaviour: left-wing
Jews at solidarity demonstrations calling over loudhailers for justice for
Palestinians, whilst at the same time vigorously defending Israel’s right, as a
Jewish state, to discriminate officially against non-Jews; the ‘progressive’
Rabbi Michael Lerner claiming that Israel cannot be discriminatory, since it
accepts Jews of all ethnic backgrounds, and that the establishment of Israel
with the attendant obliteration of Palestinian society amounts to ‘affirmative
action’ for Jews;  and the appearance at Palestine solidarity rallies of
organised Jewish youth in full Zionist regalia, blue shirts with stars of David
on their badges and flags, carrying placards calling for an end to the
It is within these ambiguities and
contradictions that so many Jews have found places of refuge from the moral
condemnation of the crimes committed in their names. When confronted with the
crimes of Israel and Zionism or the charge that Israel and Zionism are, by
definition, discriminatory, many Jews will answer ‘Ah, but that’s not the Israel
I love’, or ‘That’s not the Zionism in which I believe.’
Speaking the truth to Jews It is
understandable that Jews might believe that their suffering is greater, more
mysterious and meaningful than that of any other people. It is even
understandable that Jews might feel that their suffering can justify the
oppression of another people. What is harder to understand is why the rest of
the world has gone along with it.
That Jews have suffered is undeniable.
But acknowledgement of this suffering is rarely enough. Jews and others have
demanded that not only should Jewish suffering be acknowledged, but that it also
be accorded special status. Jewish suffering is held to be unique, central and
most importantly, mysterious.
Jewish suffering is rarely measured
against the sufferings of other groups. Blacks, women, children, gays, workers,
peasants, minorities of all kinds, all have suffered, but none as much as Jews.
Protestants at the hands of Catholics, Catholics at the hands of Protestants,
pagans and heretics, all have suffered religious persecution, but none as
relentlessly as Jews. Indians, Armenians, gypsies and aborigines, all have been
targeted for elimination, but none as murderously and as premeditatedly as Jews
Jewish suffering is held to be mysterious, and beyond explanation. Context is
rarely examined. The place and role of Jews in society-their historical
relationships with Church and state, landlords and peasantry-is hardly ever
subject to scrutiny, and, whilst non-Jewish attitudes to Jews are the subject of
intense interest, Jewish attitudes to non-Jews are rarely mentioned. Attempts to
confront these issues are met with suspicion, and sometimes hostility, in the
fear that explanation may lead to rationalisation, which may lead to
exculpation, and then even to justification.
The Holocaust, ‘the ultimate mystery’
The stakes in this already fraught game
have been raised so much higher by the Holocaust. Is the Holocaust ‘The ultimate
mystery, never to be comprehended or transmitted’, as Elie Wiesel would have us
believe?  Are attempts to question the Holocaust narrative merely a cover for
the wish to deny or even to justify the Holocaust? Was Jewish suffering in the
Holocaust greater and of more significance than that of anyone else? Were the
three million Polish Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis more important than
the three million Polish non-Jews who also died? Twenty million black Africans,
a million Ibos, a million Kampucheans, Armenians, aborigines, all have perished
in genocides, but none as meaningfully as the six million Jews slaughtered in
the only genocide to be theologically named, and now perceived by Jews and the
rest of the Western world to be an event of near religious significance.
Whether there is anything special about
Jews is not really relevant. What is relevant is that a large part of the
Western world, even the most secular part, seems to believe that there is, or
are not confident enough in their disbelief to say so. Similarly, whether the
world believes that Jewish suffering is qualitatively and quantitatively
different from all other suffering is also irrelevant. The fact is that most
people seem compelled to agree that it is, or to remain silent.
Christianity occupies a central place in
Western culture and experience and Jews occupy a central place in the Christian
narrative, so it is no surprise that Jews and Jewish concerns receive a lot of
attention. The Western world, though largely secular but still Christian in its
cultural foundations, seems at times obsessed with Jews, and unable to see them
for what, in the words of Richard Rubenstein, they may well be, ‘a people like
any other whose religion and culture were shaped so as to make it possible for
them to cope with their very distinctive history and location among the peoples
of the world.’  Jewish life seems at times to be at the very heart of Western
concerns. And this goes way beyond the religious contexts. From Jewish history,
stories of struggle from the Hebrew Bible, such as the Exodus from Egypt, have
become paradigms for other people’s struggles and aspirations. The emigration of
Jews from Eastern Europe into their Golden Land in America has become as
American a legend as the Wild West. Jewish folklore and myth, stereotypes of
Jewish humour, food, family life-all are deeply woven into the fabric of
Western, particularly American, life.
Christian attitudes towards Jews are
complex and contradictory: Jesus was born a Jew and died a Jew, and yet,
traditionally, His teachings supersede those of Judaism. Jesus livedamongstJews,
His message was shaped by Jews, yet He was rejected by Jews, and, it has been
widely believed, died at the behest of Jews. So, for many Christians, Jews are
both the people of God and the people who rejected God, and are objects of both
great veneration and great loathing. Jewish suffering at the hands of the
Christian majority is a matter of great shame and guilt. Yet still, in the minds
of some Christians, and possibly buried deep within many more, are notions that
the suffering of Jews is, for the killers of a God, deserved. This ambivalence
is reflected in the secular world too, where Jews are widely admired for their
history and traditions and for their creativity and success, yet are also
regarded with some suspicion and dislike for their exclusivity and supposed
sense of their own ‘specialness’. Jews seem either loved or hated, and, now
since the Holocaust, publicly at least, they seem loved, or at least if not
loved, then certainly, indulged.
During much of their history in Europe
Jews were persecuted, culminating most recently in the slaughter in the death
camps. The relationship between that ultimate slaughter and the centuries of
antisemitism that preceded it, the relationship of the Church to that
antisemitism, and the intensity and duration of persecutions of Jews throughout
history, all of this is appropriate for examination. The nature of those
persecutions may also be investigated, and even the possible collusion by Jews
themselves in their own victimhood, all may be subject to proper scrutiny. But,
just as in the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians there can be no
argument about who are the victims and who are the perpetrators, there can be no
doubt that, for much of their history in Europe, Jews were victims. Western
society, both Christian and secular, bears a heavy responsibility for Jewish
suffering, and this responsibility is now rightly being taken very seriously
But what, when these legitimate feelings
of responsibility are employed to conceal rather than reveal the truth? What,
when Christian and other responsibility for Jewish suffering is used to justify
the oppression of another people? What, when even the issue of who is the victim
and who is the perpetrator becomes confused, when yesterday’s victim becomes
today’s perpetrator, and when today’s perpetrator uses its past victimhood to
justify its present abuse of another people?
The establishment of the State of Israel
in May 1948, coming just three years after the liberation of Auschwitz in
January 1945, marks, for Jews, the transition from enslavement to empowerment.
This empowerment of Jews took place not only with the establishment of Israel,
but also continuously, from the mass emigration of Jews to the West in the late
19th and early 20th centuries, to the present day. Today in the West Jews enjoy
unparalleled political, economic and social power and influence. Jews are
represented way beyond their numbers in the upper echelons of all areas of
public and professional life-politics, academia, the arts, the media and
business. Even more than the political and economic power which Jews possess,
however, is the social power. Jews have a moral prestige derived from their
history and traditions as a chosen, and as a suffering people. In these more
secular times, however, especially since the Holocaust, it is as a suffering
people, that Jews occupy their special place in Western culture.
We see this in both public and private
life. Public statements involving Jews or Israel so often include the almost
obligatory reference to past Jewish suffering. And in private conversations
whenever the subject arises, voices are lowered reverentially and words are
carefully chosen. Who is able, when discussing the present suffering of
Palestinians, to avoid inserting a reference to the past suffering of Jews? As
if no matter what Jews do, account must always be taken of their own suffering.
And who, when discussing the amount of Holocaust memorialisation that has taken
place in the West-memorials, foundations, academic chairs at universities, study
programmes, days of remembrance-who is able to avoid nervously inserting the
words, ‘quite rightly’ into their sentences?
On being cursed as an antisemite
Jews have not been just passive
recipients of all this special treatment and consideration. The special status
accorded to Israel’s behaviour in Palestine, and Jewish support for it, is not
something that Jews have accepted reluctantly. On the contrary, Jews and Jewish
organisations have demanded it. And at the heart of this demand for special
consideration is the demand that the whole world, whilst recognising the
uniqueness of Jewish suffering, should join with Jews in their fears about
antisemitism and of its resurgence.
Antisemitism, in its historic, virulent
and eliminationist form, did exist and could certainly exist again, but it does
not currently exist in the West in any significantly observable form. Jews have
never been so secure or empowered, yet many Jews feel and act as if they are a
hair’s breadth away from Auschwitz. And not only this, they require that
everybody else feel the same. So soon after the Holocaust this is perhaps
understandable, but less so when it is used to silence dissent and criticism of
Israel and Zionism.
Jews, individually and collectively, use
their political, economic, social, and moral power in support of Israel and
Zionism. In their defence of Israel and Zionism Jews brandish their suffering at
the world, accusing it of reverting to its old antisemitic ways. They claim that
criticism of Israel and Zionism is in fact criticism of Jews. Just as the Jews
were, in the past, the objects of classic antisemitism, so Israel, the state of
the Jews, is the object of a new, modern antisemitism. They will concede that
Israel, like any other state in the world, is not exempt from criticism, but
they do claim that Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is so exempt. In
effect, we may criticise Israel for what Israel does, but not for what Israel
But what is Israel? Defenders of Israel
claim that Jews, like any other people, are entitled to national
self-determination and statehood, and that to deny Jews that which is granted to
all other peoples is discriminatory. Thus anti-Zionism is, in effect,
antisemitism. But, even leaving aside the fact that Israel was established on
the expulsion and exile of the Palestinians, is Israel as a Jewish state merely
giving to Jews that which is given to all other peoples? Is Israel, a state
which officially defines itself as for one ethnic group alone, the same as other
states? Israel is the state of the Jews and of only the Jews. In its
immigration, land, planning and housing laws and practices, military recruitment
regulations and many other laws, practices and customs, Israel officially and
unofficially, overtly and covertly, discriminates against non-Jews. In any other
context, with any other people this would be deemed discriminatory and perhaps
even racist. Of course, one may agree or disagree with any of this but is such
agreement of disagreement necessarily antisemitic?
Is a Jewish state acceptable in this day
and age? Are the Jews a people who qualify for national self-determination, or
are Jews a religious group only? Post-Holocaust, does the Jewish need for a
state of their own perhaps even justify the displacement of the Palestinians?
Are Jews who wield power to serve what they perceive as their own ethnic
interests and to support Israel to be held politically accountable? What is
antisemitism? Is anti-Zionism antisemitism? All this and a great deal more could
and should be debated. What need not be debated is this: that every complexity
and ambiguity of Jewish identity and history, every example of Jewish suffering,
every instance of anti-Jewish prejudice, however inconsequential, is used to
justify the crimes of Israel and Zionism. Every possible interpretation or
misinterpretation of language, and every kind of intellectual sophistry is used
by Zionists to muddy the waters and label the critic of Israel and Zionism an
antisemite. Words and phrases become loaded with hidden meanings, so that even
the most honest critic of Israel has to twist and turn and jump through hoops to
ensure that he or she is not perceived to be an antisemite.
And the penalties for transgression are
terrible. For those who do not manage to pick their way through this minefield
the charge of antisemite awaits, with all its possibilities of political,
religious and social exclusion. No longer a descriptive term for someone who
hates Jews simply for being Jews, ‘antisemite’ is now a curse to hurl against
anyone who criticises Jews, and, increasingly against anyone who dares too
trenchantly to criticise Israel and Zionism. And for those Jews of conscience
who dare speak out, for them there is reserved the special penalty of exclusion
from Jewish life and exile.
Zionism and the State of Israel now lie
at the very heart of Jewish life and so many Jews, even if unaffiliated
officially to Zionism, have supported it, and continue to support it in its
aims. Indeed, almost all the organised Jewish establishments throughout the
world, in Israel, Europe and North America have used, and continue to use their
power, influence, and, most importantly, their moral prestige, to support Israel
in its attempts to subjugate the Palestinians. And the rest of the Western
world, by its support for these efforts, and by its silence, is complicit in
Marc Ellis’ ‘ecumenical deal’, which
translates also into a political deal, says it all. It goes like this: To the
Christian and to the entire non-Jewish world, Jews say this: ‘You will apologise
for Jewish suffering again and again and again. And, when you have done
apologising, you will then apologise some more. When you have apologised
sufficiently we will forgive you ... provided that you let us do what we want in
Palestine.’ The situation in Israel/Palestine gets worse and worse. The hatred
against Israel and the West grows and grows. Increasingly, Jews are perceived as
complicit with power and injustice. There is growing rage. Meanwhile Jews
themselves retreat further and further behind the walls of a blind and misplaced
Albert Camus, at a gathering of
Dominican friars, commenting on Pope Pius XII’s manner of addressing the
What the world expects of Christians is
that Christians should speak out loud and clear, and that they should voice
their condemnation in such a way that never a doubt, never the slightest doubt,
could arise in the heart of the simplest man or woman.  On 14 November 2001
Marc Ellis, addressing a meeting at the General Synod of the Church of England,
closed with the words.
Your responsibility ... is not to
patronise us, not to flee in fear from us, not to treat us as children, and not
to repent endlessly for the Holocaust. Your job is to speak honestly to us, to
even scold us, to point the finger in the way we pointed the finger at you, to
tell us to stop before it’s too late. For those able to see it, the irony is
Paul Eisen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a
director of Deir Yassin Remembered, an organisation in memory of the Deir Yassin
massacre, the massacre of Arab Palestinians by Jewish militiamen outside
Jerusalem in 1948. This year, they remembered the Arab victims of that massacre
- 9 April - on the same day that Christians commemorated Good Friday.
This article is a chapter in a
forthcoming book, "Speaking the Truth about Zionism and Israel", edited by
Michael Prior and published by Melisende (London) in March 2004. ISBN 1 901764
26 5, £12.95.
Footnotes  Ilan Pappé, in a lecture
given at the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London), 10
 It is unclear which of the men
actually wrote this, but it appeared in the Jan/Feb 1961 issue of Ner (Light),
the journal of the binationalist movement Ichud (Unity), with which they were
 Walid Khalidi, in a lecture, ‘The
Prospects of Peace in the Middle East ‘, delivered at Brunei Gallery (SOAS), 8
 Michael Lerner, ‘Say “No” to the
Zionism is racism lynch mob’, in an email from Rabbi Lerner (13 August 2001)
 Wiesel, Elie. 2000. And the Sea Is
Never Full: Memoirs, 1969, translated by Marion Wiesel. London: HarperCollins.
 Rubenstein, Richard L. 1992. After
Auschwitz. History, Theology and Contemporary Judaism. Baltimore: The Johns
Hopkins University Press.
 Camus, Resistance, Rebellion, and
Death, 1995, in Mark Chmiel, ‘Elie Wiesel and the Question of Palestine’, Tikkun
17 (No.6 November/December 2002): 66.
Sunday, February 5, 2006
Paul Eisen - setting some things
straight Editor's Note: I've known Paul for a few years, presented "virtually"
through a paper he wrote, "Silencing Dissent". I can honestly say, I've always
liked him very much, even when we have had disagreements. I've never known him
to be "disagreeable", and this I like, admire and respect (and wish I could
emulate). Paul is blessed with something that is more rare than a hen's tooth:
AN OPEN MIND AND TOLERANCE. Yes. Paul is that unique category of a person who
has no preconceived notions of things, he has an inquiring mind, a natural
curiosity and a humanity that can only inspire. He has been unjustly accused of
hate speech, Holocaust Denial, support of Hitler and many other things. He has
been attacked and vilified in a way that is nothing short of obscene. And, he
has often refused to defend himself. He lets the storm grow around him, and he
has stayed out of the fray. This has frustrated me, because I at times have felt
the duty to defend him, and that has lead others to vilify and ostracise me, but
I can also understand him and why he does it. He has written some papers, and
others drag him into their fights, usually ignoring his writing, but latching
onto some aspect such as his communication with "Nazis". If he were to spend all
his time defending issues which deflect and distort his thought and character,
it would be a large burden to bear, so I think he waits for the storm cloud to
pass, and he carries on with his other important work.
I have read his papers. I don't agree or
like everything in them, but that is not essential. They are interesting, they
are thought provoking, and they make some points that are important to consider.
I think Paul is promoting investigation, promoting a search for truth and for
justice, and this is the basis of his work, not some "bone to pick". I know that
many have ideas of him based on his associations. I don't think this is fair
either, just as I have been associated with people I am not affiliated with, but
still communicate with, largely disagreeing, but attempting to remain civil.
This is the nature of activism. We are going to agree on some things, disagree
on others, and that is normal. I too have very strong aversions to some people
in "the campaign", I think some of them do great damage to it, for the sole and
singular reason that they do not put the Palestinians first. To me, that is the
primary issue. I don't care as much about the rest, because a true supporter of
Palestinians cannot be racist, cannot be full of hate, but inspired by a sense
of justice and a love of humanity. Call me closed minded, I might be, but to me,
that is what the Palestine Solidarity Campaign is all about. That is where I
have my arrows pointed, against those who insist upon putting Jews, Americans,
Israelis, the Hegemony, Capital, Power, first. I put the Palestinians first, and
so does Paul. This is why I support him.
I am publishing here a
paper Paul sent out, which clarifies issues many seem to have with him. I think
it is a good point for discussion, and hope everyone reads it in the spirit it
was written, and in the spirit in which it was placed here: With an OPEN MIND.
Paul, I don't understand what it means when you say Zundel is anti-Jewish, but
does not hate Jews. Can you elaborate? David
I answered: Dear David Thank you for
your note which contains the first interesting question I've been asked since I
put out "The Holocaust Wars". Of course, that means that there is no simple
I'm not sure Ernst Zundel hates anyone
much. I haven't met Ernst Zundel but I have read a lot about him and some of his
writings and I have been in quite extensive email contact with his wife, Ingrid.
Regarding Ernst, neither in his writings nor in the very many descriptions of
him I have heard and read can I detect any sign of what might be called hatred
for anyone or anything. I wish I could say the same for his opponents.
Ingrid, I know a little better, and I
must say that what I do know, I rather like. Again, I can't detect any hatred,
but in her case I would say that she may well dislike Jews insofar as she
approaches any encounter with them with the expectation of disliking them. Of
course for both of them (and indeed the entire revisionist community), part of
any dislike they do feel for Jews or Jewishness, may, at least in part, be
attributed to the appalling way they have been treated by Jews.
Like most people I have been surrounded
all my life with very clear, distinct and almost strident moral statements about
such things as "racism", "anti-Semitism" and "National Socialism" (there's no
grey areas with these things - they are simply evil) so you can imagine, for
someone as curious as me, how interesting it was to get to know Ingrid. Imagine!
I was talking to a real live "Nazi"!
Regarding their racism, I suppose she
and Ernst would say that different groups who have lived together for a long
time will inevitably definitely develop some shared characteristics. For
example, I remember one exchange when she claimed that, like so many Germans,
she had no sense of humour whatsoever, (actually, she does and it's quite
delightful) and, when I protested she asked me whether I had ever met a German
stand-up comic. I think she also asked me if I had ever met a Jew who could
write a poem to a tree!
Another little exchange I remember with
some pleasure was when I was describing to her how, at times I found it quite
thrilling to be the centre of attention. She thought that this was very Jewish
indeed (I can't disagree), but that for her, being the centre of attention was
what she most disliked. She wrote how she had on so many occasions appeared
before huge and rapturous audiences and each time, as they applauded, her heart
was stone cold. This essential difference between us was she felt, partly due to
our respective Jewishness and German-ness. Did I fully agree? Probably not, but
it was kind of interesting and there is some truth in it.
I think people like her (and me too)
believe that these characteristics are the product of very many subtle and
interacting factors. Ingrid would include some biological factors in that too.
After all, people who live together, breed together. Although I am not all that
interested in the subject, I really can't say that it outrages me or even that I
particularly disagree with it.
Both Ernst and Ingrid and indeed very
many revisionists and so-called anti-Semites know that I am a Jew who actively
claims Jewish identity. Both Ernst and Ingrid are, I think, fond of me and
respect my choice of identity even if they might wish I would choose another.
So, they don't much like the Jewishness but still quite like the Jew.
The last point on Ernst and Ingrid has
become something of a mantra that I have had to recite so many times in the last
year or so: Neither Ingrid nor Ernst has ever used violence, nor have they ever
called on anyone else to use violence. Neither has ever discriminated against
anyone on ethnic or religious grounds, nor have they called on anyone else to do
so. Finally, and for me, most importantly, neither has ever suppressed anyone's
right to think, speak and write freely or called on anyone else to do so. Can
the same be said for their opponents - particularly those anti-Zionist, and
often Marxist Jews?
Of course none of the above means that
all Jews are funny and self-obsessed or that all Germans are dour and diffident
or anything else for that matter...... or does it?
My friend Shamir has proposed the
existence of a Jewish ideology or spirit which is voluntarily possessed by all
who claim to be Jewish and also, he would say, by many who don't. I think he is
saying that Jewishness is not an ethnicity or national grouping like any other,
but a community of shared feelings and beliefs - and this goes way beyond the
obviously religious. Hitler called Jews "a race of the mind" though I would
prefer to wonder if they are not a "race of the spirit". I think Shamir would
further propose, and I might agree with them, that if such a spirit exists it is
concerned with chosenness and specialness, particularly in the Jewish claim of a
special history of suffering, and also, in many ways, in a suspicion and disdain
for non-Jews. Of course, one can say that many, perhaps all, communities display
such characteristics. This is certainly true, but do these other communities
have these characteristics as absolutely central to their identity? Which other
group positively worships its own specialness and victimhood in the way that
Jews, both religious and secular, seem to do.
There are of course millions of
self-identifying Jews who, in their daily lives and throughout their lives,
display pretty well none of these characteristics. But that is not to say that
they do not exist and also that, under certain circumstances, they will not
become more prominent. Is it possible for Ernst Zundel, Ingrid Rimland and
myself to like these folk whilst still not liking those characteristics? The
answer is that we can and we do.
Perhaps the best example is from my own
experience. I come from a family of North London Jews. My family, who are very
dear to me, are, on the outside at least, pretty ordinary folk. Like so many of
their time and place they are smallish traders, business people, family folk
etc., etc. But my family is a bit unusual in that, for some reason, they seem to
be particularly tolerant people. In all my childhood I don't think I ever heard
a racist, sexist or homophobic word or any such term used in my house. This was
not because my parents were leftists, or humanists or any other kind of - 'ists.'
No-one ever said that racist or discriminatory language was wrong - they just
didn't do it - it was just not the way we looked at the world. I also never
heard the words "Goy" or "Yok" or "Shikse" (Actually I can remember once or
twice hearing the latter from my mum, but only when she was really upset about
But we were Jews and we lived as Jews,
albeit fairly non-ideological ones, and, as such I was brought up with unspoken
feelings of difference, specialness and with a pervasive unease about non-Jews.
At school I, and I'm sure all my Jewish school-mates, felt somewhat different
and perhaps a little superior to our non-Jewish classmates teachers etc. (By the
way I have spent quite some time looking at pictures of the 16 year old Lev
Bronstein, one day to become Leon Trotsky, and wondering what were his feelings
in this regard). So I always ask myself: If I with my upbringing could harbour
such notions, what must other Jews be feeling? Of course they will all deny it,
these fine anti-Zionist Jews, and they certainly will believe absolutely their
own denials, but I simply don't believe them.Were my family nice people? Of
course they were - they were (and are) wonderful people. Do I love them? Of
course I do. Would Ernst and Ingrid like them? I'm sure they would. So again,
Ernst, Ingrid and myself are able to somewhat dislike Jewishness but very much
One final point: I'm not absolutely sure
about any of the above and I certainly would not insist that anyone agree with
me. Whatever I say or write is always characterised by doubt and hesitation.
Some have said that this is because I'm afraid of coming clean about my beliefs.
But that's not true. It's simply that I am never so sure about anything, other
than the value of keeping an open mind and tolerating other opinions. Others
feel differently. They are sure that they are anti-Zionist and are therefore in
solidarity with Palestinians. They are sure that Ernst Zundel is a dangerous
neo-Nazi and must be silenced. They are sure that Palestinians need to live in a
secular, democratic state. Well, I'm not so sure, and I think that it is our
uncertainty, and our lack of any desire to impose our opinions on others which
is at the heart of the differences between on the one hand, Gilad Atzmon, Israel
Shamir and myself, and on the other, those who so attack us. Good luck Paul.
Paul Eisen is a director of Deir Yassin Rememberedpaul@eisen.demon.co.uk
UPDATE: "Dear Mary"
Dear Mary Thank you once again for your
spirited defence of me, my opinions and my right to express them in the face of
attacks by the likes of Sue Blackwell and Deborah Maccoby.(see:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/JustPeaceUK/message/17465 , respectively)
You're right. The article by Sue
Blackwell certainly was not, as Deborah claims, "excellent". For some reason Sue
seems to define her left wing credentials in general, her solidarity with
Palestinians in particular and her all-round right-on "goodness" by her
willingness to accede to the wishes of Jewish activists and by bowing endlessly
to Jewish power.
Mary, I realize that you are sometimes
exasperated by my reluctance to answer such attacks. And the reasons you cite
for my attitude are quite right. But there are other reasons too. Firstly, I
don't stand up well to combat. I'm no Gilad Atzmon, who, like Samson amongst the
Philistines, seems to be single-handedly knocking out the opposition. Unless you
can do "a Gilad" well (and I really can't) I think arguing with these people is
an utter waste of time. Tony Greenstein, Roland Rance, Charlie Pottins, Deborah
Maccoby, Joel Finkel and many others like them will never change simply because
they can never change.
And Mary, I know you don't always like
the company I keep, so I approach these next remarks with some trepidation. You
know the story of the scorpion and the frog crossing the river to Paradise. The
scorpion wants to cross the river to Paradise and tries to persuade a frog to
take him on its back. At first the frog hesitates. "You are a scorpion" says the
frog, "If I carry you on my back, you will sting me and kill me." "Of course I
won't sting you." answers the scorpion, "If I were to sting you, you would drown
and cause me to drown as well, so what would be the good of that?" Finally the
frog agrees. Halfway across the river, surprise, surprise, the scorpion stings
the frog. As both frog and scorpion sink beneath the waves, the frog, in its
death throes, looks up to the scorpion and to heaven and asks, "Why? Why?" The
scorpion, also dying, replies, "You ask why? The answer is simple; I stung you
because I'm a scorpion."
This old tale was recounted to me in a
moment of exasperation by Ingrid when we were discussing what her opponents like
to call "race" (Actually "identity" would probably be a better description.) For
Ingrid, just as a scorpion will never change, so Tony Greenstein, Roland Rance,
Charlie Pottins, Deborah Maccoby, Joel Finkel and many, many more will never
change simply because they cannot change. Dare I say it? In some ways -
complicated, human, subtle ways - a Jew will always act like a Jew. Or perhaps,
more obviously and less controversially, a deeply ideological Jewish activist
will always act like a deeply-ideological Jewish activist.
I note, that when Ingrid first suggested
this, I was a bit put out. I asked, "Are you saying that a Jew is a kind of
human, like a scorpion is a kind of insect? "She answered, "Come on. Did I say
that Gentiles are like frogs? Fables are shortcuts to facets of human nature."
And later, when I asked, "Are you saying
that I can never rid myself of my compulsive and destructive tendencies?" she
answered, "No, I am not saying "Paul" is like that, and you know I am not saying
that. I am not saying Shamir is like that. And I am not saying Israel Shahak or
Uri Avnery or any number of responsible human beings that we know under the
label "Jew" are like that. But I am saying and you yourself have alluded to
that, that there is an abundance of what you call a corrosive tendency in "Jewishness"
that hurts and destroys when there is no need for it."
Now, a lot of people are now going to
start jumping up and down yelling "Racist!" and "Nazi!" But, as so often with
this kind of thing, whilst neither I (nor Ingrid) would agree literally that a
Jew will always act in a certain way, figuratively and allegorically, there's a
lot in that tale. (One of the troubles with our opponents is that they have no
imagination whatsoever and therefore, no sense of humour. In fact, I'm coming to
think that the secret weapon in the Jewish Marxist arsenal is the ability, quite
simply, to bore us all to death.)
Another reason that I don't join some of
these internet battles is that for me, to do so is to bow to unjust power. Sue
calls me a Holocaust denier. But Holocaust denier is just an abusive term for a
Holocaust Revisionist - the slur being that Holocaust revisionists have somehow
lost touch with all reality and deny that anything unpleasant at all happened to
Jews at the hands of the National Socialists and that Auschwitz was just an
early-forties holiday camp.
To me, a Holocaust revisionist (denier,
if they like) is an entirely honourable thing to be. So why should I rush to
deny that I am one? By no means do I agree with everything Ernst Zundel
believes, but his flamboyant activism makes me both laugh out loud at his antics
while standing in silent awe at his courage. Similarly with Professor Robert
Faurisson, whose courage and quest for exactitude puts the likes of Noam Chomsky
and Norman Finkelstein to complete and utter shame. Revisionists seem to me to
be, along with the Palestinian people, amongst the bravest people on the
planet.But let's set the record straight about my own "Holocaust denial".
I wasn't at Auschwitz so I don't know
for sure exactly what did or did not happen there. But I have had a fair look at
the evidence and it looks to me that the revisionists are more right than they
are wrong. Now, I'm not 100% sure, so technically I suppose I'm not a denier,
but what the hell?One last reason why I don't respond to such attacks is that to
do so would be to obscure their message and I don't want to do that. I want the
world to hear these people loud and clear and for that, they need no help from
In a widely circulated Arab publication
Sue told the entire Islamic world to bow down to the Holocaust. I judge this to
be not the smartest move from someone who professes to be in tune with the
suffering of Palestinians. No-one is asking Sue to change her views but, in my
opinion, silence would have been a more thoughtful option.
And Deborah is equally misguided. She
says I am attempting to spread Holocaust denial within the Palestinian
solidarity movement. I can only tell her, "Deborah, you're too late. I don't
need to do a thing. The game is up, the cat's out the bag, the Emperor is stark
naked and, in the words of that great Jewish master of mimicry, Robert
Zimmerman, (a.k.a. Bob Dylan) 'The whole wide world is watching.' "
Take care Mary, Paul
Paul Eisen is a director of Deir Yassin
of the Jewish State;
Denier of Palestinian Misery
Wiesel for President?
Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has
suggested Elie Wiesel to replace Moshe Katzav as President of Israel. Katzav is
being forced to resign amid charges of rape.
Wiesel's qualifications for the job are
unimpeachable. He is the icon of what Norman Finkelstein has called "The
Holocaust Industry' and as such he has served as a prop to "get the Jewish vote"
by every American President since Gerald Ford. He defends Israel as "the Jewish
state," in spite of the fact that over half of the population in the lands
controlled by Israel is non-Jewish, mostly Palestinian Arabs. He won't call
Ketziot or Gaza a concentration camp; he won't call the "security barrier" a
wall; and he won't admit that Israel is an apartheid state where Jews have the
hegemony and where non-Jews have lesser rights or none at all.
To Wiesel the Holocaust concerns only
Jewish suffering, a culmination of 2,000 years of persecution by the goyim. Like
the virgin birth, the parting of the Red Sea, and Noah's ark, the Holocaust is
mystical, unfathomable, and unquestionable. For Wiesel "Auschwitz cannot be
explained nor can it be visualized.... The Holocaust transcends history.... The
dead are in possession of a secret that we, the living, are neither worthy of
nor capable of recovering.... The Holocaust [is] the ultimate event, the
ultimate mystery, never to be comprehended or transmitted." (Elie Wiesel,
"Trivializing the Holocaust," New York Times, 16 April 1978.)
He is a multi-millionaire, but carefully
cultivates the image of a perpetually disheveled professor. Although he has won
the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Guardian of Zion
Medal, and the Oprah Book Award, many people in Israel resent the way he has
used the Holocaust to make his living. Some Israelis refer to him as a "sho'an."
The word "sho'a" is Hebrew for Holocaust; with the suffix it indicates a
professional specializing in the subject. So it is both funny and derogatory,
not unlike Norman Finkelstein referring to Wiesel as the "resident clown" of the
Israel Shahak, a Holocaust survivor who
lived and worked in Israel, referred to Wiesel as a "patriotic liar," a patriot
not of Romania, the country of his birth, nor of the United States, but rather a
patriot of "the Jewish state" of Israel. Wiesel is said to have pressured
Clinton to pardon fugitive financier Marc Rich and he has long advocated the
release of convicted Israeli spy, Jonathan Pollard. But he remains silent when
Israel kidnaps Mordechai Vanunu (for whistle blowing that Israel has nuclear
weapons), jails him for 18 years, and continues to confine him under virtual
house arrest. The further incarceration of Vanunu, after serving a full
sentence, was disturbing even to arch-Zionist Alan Dershowitz, but not to Elie
Wiesel for whom Vanunu was not a hero to the anti-nuclear world, but simply a
traitor to Israel.
In 1948 Wiesel worked as a journalist
for the Irgun, a gang of Jewish terrorists who committed the massacre at Deir
Yassin, arguably one of the most pivotal events in twentieth century Palestinian
history. Yet this "world-renowned humanitarian" refuses to apologize or even
acknowledge the murder, mayhem, and ethnic cleansing caused by his employer. He
frequently goes to Yad Vashem, the most famous Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem
and from the Children's Museum he looks across the valley to Deir Yassin. But he
never acknowledges what his employer did there; as a patriot he simply "will not
say bad things about Jews."
Wiesel often quotes the great Jewish
spiritual thinker and scholar, Martin Buber. But he ignores that Buber said,
"The Deir Yassin affair is a black stain on the honor of the Jewish nation."
Like the ever-obedient patriot Wiesel consistently ignores the butchery
committed by Jews at Deir Yassin and at Sabra and Shatilla and at Qana and in
Wiesel pontificates, "The opposite of
love is not hatred, but indifference." And it is complete indifference that he
has repeatedly shown to the Zionist dispossession and dehumanization of the
Palestinian people. Proclaimed a "messenger to mankind" at his 1986 Nobel Prize
Acceptance Speech, Wiesel "swore never to be silent when human beings endure
suffering and humiliation." Does that mean that he considers Palestinians to be
less than human? Perish the thought that he regards Palestinians as
Untermenschen like the Nazis considered Jews and Gypsies.
Many Israelis think Wiesel should have
settled in Israel after the war instead of moving to France and then to the
United States where he became a citizen in 1963. He proclaims, "A Jew may be
Jewish far from Jerusalem; but not without Jerusalem. Though a Jew may not live
in Jerusalem, Jerusalem lives inside him." Now at age 78 it is perhaps Wiesel's
last chance to move there and to serve his country at the same time.
Daniel McGowan is a Professor Emeritus
at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and the current director of Deir Yassin
Remembered, a group of Jews and non-Jews working to build a memorial at Deir
Yassin on the west side of Jerusalem. He can be reached: email@example.com
Daniel A. McGowan
September - October 1996
The Link - Volume 29, Issue 4
Early in the morning of Friday, April 9,
1948, commandos of the Irgun, headed by Menachem Begin, and the Stern Gang
attacked Deir Yassin, a village with about 750 Palestinian residents. It was
several weeks before the end of the British Mandate. The village lay outside of
the area that the United Nations recommended be included in a future Jewish
Deir Yassin had a peaceful reputation,
had cooperated with the Jewish Agency, and was even said by a Jewish newspaper
to have driven out some Arab militants. But it was located on high ground in the
corridor between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and one plan, kept secret until years
afterwards, called for it to be destroyed and the residents evacuated to make
way for a small airfield that would supply the beleaguered Jewish residents of
By noon over 200 people, half of them
women and children, had been systematically murdered. Four commandos died at the
hands of resisting Palestinians using old Mausers and muskets. Twenty-five male
villagers were loaded into trucks, paraded through the Zakhron Yosef quarter in
Jerusalem, and then taken to a stone quarry along the road between Givat Shaul
and Deir Yassin and shot to death. The remaining residents were driven to Arab
That evening the Irgunists and the
Sternists escorted a party of foreign correspondents to a house at Givat Shaul,
a nearby Jewish settlement founded in 1906. Over tea and cookies they amplified
the details of the operation and justified it, saying Deir Yassin had become a
concentration point for Arabs, including Syrians and Iraqis, planning to attack
the western suburbs of Jerusalem. They said that 25 members of the Haganah
militia had reinforced the attack and claimed that an Arabic-speaking Jew had
warned the villagers over a loudspeaker from an armored car. This was duly
reported in The New York Times on April 10.
The final body count of 254 was reported
by The New York Times on April 13, a day after they were finally buried. By then
the leaders of the Haganah had distanced themselves from having participated in
the attack and issued a statement denouncing the dissidents of Irgun and the
Stern Gang, just as they had after the attack on the King David Hotel in July,
The Haganah leaders admitted that the
massacre "disgraced the cause of Jewish fighters and dishonored Jewish arms and
the Jewish flag." They played down the fact that their militia had reinforced
the terrorists' attack, even though they did not participate in the barbarism
and looting during the subsequent "mopping up" operations. 1
They also played down the fact that, in
Begin's words, "Deir Yassin was captured with the knowledge of the Haganah and
with the approval of its commander" as a part of its "plan for establishing an
Ben Gurion even sent an apology to King
Abdullah of Trans-Jordan. But this horrific act served the future State of
Israel well. According to Begin:
Arabs throughout the country, induced to
believe wild tales of "Irgun butchery," were seized with limitless panic and
started to flee for their lives. This mass flight soon developed into a
maddened, uncontrollable stampede. The political and economic significance of
this development can hardly be overestimated. 2 Of about 144 houses, 10 were
dynamited. The cemetery was later bulldozed and, like hundreds of other
Palestinian villages to follow, Deir Yassin was wiped off the map. By September,
Orthodox Jewish immigrants from Poland, Rumania, and Slovakia were settled there
over the objections of Martin Buber, Cecil Roth and other Jewish leaders, who
believed that the site of the massacre should be left uninhabited. The center of
the village was renamed Givat Shaul Bet. As Jerusalem expanded, the land of Deir
Yassin became part of the city and is now known simply as the area between Givat
Shaul and the settlement of Har Nof on the western slopes of the mountain.
The massacre of Palestinians at Deir
Yassin is one of the most significant events in 20th-century Palestinian and
Israeli history. This is not because of its size or its brutality, but because
it stands as the starkest early warning of a calculated depopulation of over 400
Arab villages and cities and the expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinian
inhabitants to make room for survivors of the Holocaust and other Jews from the
rest of the world.
Deir Yassin’s story is one of two
peoples' struggle for the same land. The details are important for both the
victor and the victim. In founding Deir Yassin Remembered, I was prodded to
action in part by these considerations:
Although most scholars no longer believe
the myth that Israel was "a land without people for a people without land," that
propaganda is still being taught today. Resurrecting the memory of Deir Yassin
serves to dispel such nonsense. Palestinians were dispossessed in 1948 and
continue to be dispossessed today in the name of building a Jewish state in
Eretz ("Greater") Israel.
The pernicious and persistent
association of "Arab" and "terrorism" by the media is biased. The Irgun and the
Stern Gang were unequivocally Jewish radicals who committed terrorist attacks
against British, Arab, and Jewish targets, including the massacre at Deir Yassin
and the assassination of the first United Nations mediator, Count Folke
Bernadotte. Menachem Begin and Yitzak Shamir led Irgun and Stern, respectively,
and both later became Prime Ministers of Israel.
If Jewish terrorists massacred, robbed
and looted at Deir Yassin (as attributed to Jewish sources in The New York
Times, 4/13/48), who can continue to claim "purity of arms?" That the Haganah,
now known as the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), supported the Irgunists and the
Sternists during the attack on Deir Yassin and then stood by silently while the
"dissidents" commenced "mopping up operations" is reminiscent of the "purity"
shown by the IDF at Sabra and Shatilla in Lebanon.
If Jewish claims to property in Eastern
Europe are valid--and I believe they are--why are claims to restitution of
Palestinian property in Deir Yassin and all the other cities and villages not
valid? After the massacre at Deir Yassin the Haganah promised, "We will maintain
the graves and the remaining property and return it to the owners when the time
comes." Is it so wrong to ask when that time will come?
The idea of remembering the significance
of Deir Yassin and of using the motto of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, "Hope
lives when people remember," has caused some Zionists to label the Deir Yassin
Remembered project "gross beyond description."
The heart of such objections is that
"remembering" the Deir Yassin catastrophe and the ethnic cleansing that it
precipitated is reminiscent of the Holocaust. We are taught there was only one
Holocaust, you spell it with a capital letter and it refers to the persecution
of Jews by the Nazis. Palestinians are simply not allowed to have a holocaust.
Theirs was a population "transfer" to make room for a truly persecuted people
returning to a land from which they had been driven 2,000 years ago.
It is similar to the way that bias and
prejudice against Palestinians cannot be called anti-Semitic, even though
Palestinians are clearly of Semitic origin. Anti-Semitism means anti-Jewish;
Palestinians don't count.
Even prison camps for Palestinians, like
Ketziot in the Negev, which precisely fit the definition of concentration camps,
may not be referred to as such without raising the hackles of even some very
liberal and linguistically savvy people who well understand the distinction
between a concentration camp and an extermination camp, like Auschwitz.
Likewise "Arab terrorism" is taken for
granted; "Jewish terrorism" borders on blasphemy or anti-Semitism and must be
disguised or denied or ignored as much as possible.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, Elie Wiesel,
and many others refuse to call the 1946 attack by the Irgun on the King David
Hotel an act of terrorism, because they say, and rightly so, that it was carried
out by guerrillas attacking the British army headquartered there.
They define terrorism as "soldiers
deliberately attacking and killing civilians." By this definition, Deir Yassin
was unequivocally a terrorist attack. But since it was perpetrated by Jewish
instead of Arab terrorists, it is deliberately ignored. With overwhelming
evidence of the atrocities committed, as well as the condemnation by Jewish
leaders from Ben Gurion to Buber to Einstein, denial is problematic. The
alternative is silence. Deir Yassin Remembered is the opposite of that silence.
It is shocking to interview students at
Hebrew University and to discover that most have not even heard of Deir Yassin
or the destruction of Palestinian villages in general. Most have visited Yad
Vashem, Israel's national memorial to Holocaust victims and Israel's founding,
never realizing that it looks across at Deir Yassin about a mile to the north.
In his essay, "Zionism as a Test Case in
the Morality of Nationalism," Elias Baumgarten, a professor of philosophy at the
University of Michigan and a member of the Jewish Peace Lobby, condudes by
Acknowledging the violation of
Palestinian rights is a prerequisite of a morally acceptable Jewish nationalism.
The duty to acknowledge and make restitution also suggests the kind of practical
measures Israel should take in the current conflict. ... It should teach in its
schools the truth about the destruction of Arab villages in Israel... . It
should create memorials and commemorative holidays for Palestinian victims.
Israel should, in short, create a Jewish nationalism with a transformed
relationship both to its own past and, in the present, to the Palestinian
In 1989 I knew nothing about Deir Yassin
and six years later I had started Deir Yassin Remembered to work toward building
a memorial to the Palestinian victims massacred there on April 9,1948. People
often ask me why. I am not Jewish and I am not Palestinian. It is a project
totally unrelated to my fields of study, namely, monetary theory, personal
finance, and forensic economics. The work absorbs a monumental amount of time.
It has generated financial, social, and academic costs and it has strained
personal relationships that had been built over several decades.
It started around 1985 when colleges and
universities were overwhelmingly demanding that their pension funds no longer
invest in South Africa. As a conservative professor of economics at Hobart and
William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York, I disagreed with such prohibitions
and political obstructions to the free flow of capital.
I began to ask questions publicly, such
If apartheid is evil, why is it bad for
South Africa and acceptable for Israel? Why is the expropriation of land for the
exclusive use of whites condemned, while the expropriation of land for the
exclusive use of Jews condoned? If Krugerrands are to be banned, why not
diamonds; does cutting them in Israel remove the Black blood on them?
Such uncomfortable questions for
comfortable members of the college community were largely answered by silence.
The one exception was the flamboyant Richard Rosenbaum, Vice Chairman of the
Board of Trustees of Hobart and William Smith Colleges and later a gubernatorial
candidate for the state of New York.
In a letter to The Chronicle of Higher
Education Rosenbaum expressed "grave concern ... that a professor might be
teaching students distorted and, in some cases, totally false information." He
promised, in writing, to take me “on a mission" to Israel, "in the certain
knowledge that anyone with a shred of an open mind would come back a friend of
But alas, Mr. Rosenbaum could not get
Malcolm Hoenlein, the Executive Director, Conference of Presidents of Major
American Jewish Organizations, to pay for the trip. In reneging on the offer,
Mr. Rosenbaum passed on a parting insult that he said originated with "a wise
man" with whom he had shared my correspondence:
"Why take him to Israel; he's obviously
a bigot and that experience will make him think he's an informed bigot."
But if Rosenbaum and friends found my
questions on the efficacy of divestment and the comparisons with Israel to be
offensive, others, like Walter Williams, the John M. Olin Distinguished
Professor of Economics at George Mason University, found raising them to be
courageous. Invariably they would first ask if I had tenure; when informed that
I did, they would encourage me to use it and freely express opinions and beliefs
which, although politically incorrect, were well founded or irrefutable.
The South African divestment
confrontation caused me to begin to study Israel and to use it in pedagogical
examples. When lecturing on international trade, for instance, I would point to
the fact that the Israeli diamond industry provided a living for some 20,000
people and accounted for over a fifth of the value of the country's visible
foreign trade (1990 figures).
For the United States to ban the sale of
Krugerrands was a politically acceptable way to fight apartheid; to ban the sale
of diamonds would have caused an uproar.
When studying labor markets, I often
stimulated discussion by illustrating disequilibria caused by ethnic or
religious discrimination. For example, I would point out that when workers from
Gaza go to Israel they work largely with no benefits in a country with a very
strong labor union orientation, at least for Jews. So it is no surprise that as
Palestinians they are confined to jobs in agriculture, menial construction, and
I wanted to study Islam, not
extensively, but at least at the introductory level. The religion department at
our colleges had five full time faculty and offered 39 courses, ten on Judaism
and the Holocaust. But there was no course on Islam.
I was astounded! Not a single course was
offered on this major religion to which roughly 25 percent of the world's
population subscribe. I compared it to an economics department with no courses
in macroeconomic theory or a math department with no calculus.
In response to my queries, the religion
department said that Islam was very complicated and that there was no one
qualified to teach such a course. One member defended the department's
shortcoming, saying the colleges had very few Muslim students, as if that
mattered. By that analogy colleges without Russian students have no reason to
A unique feature of our colleges is that
the faculty is encouraged to teach new courses, especially those that cross
disciplines, involve women's studies, and lead to travel abroad. I proposed such
a course, called "Palestine and the Palestinian People: Political, Social, and
Economic Issues," to begin in the winter semester of 1990. The course was to be
a senior forum taught by three professors, a political scientist, an
anthropologist, and an economist.
The course precisely met the stated
curriculum goals and was approved by the committee on academic affairs, despite
some Zionist reservations and the administration's insistence that at least one
of the professors be Jewish. The latter demand was met by adding a second
political scientist who was Jewish, although not a Zionist.
To learn more about Palestinians, I went
to my first meeting of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) in
the spring of 1989. It was there that I learned of ADC's Eyewitness Israel
Program which took small groups of Americans to visit Palestine and observe
first hand the brutality of the occupation.
I immediately applied for the program
and was rejected, probably because I did not fit the stereotypical profile: I
was not a doctor, a sociologist, a labor union leader, a minister, or an
organizer for human rights. I was a conservative, an economist, and a life-time
member of the National Rifle Association and those were not considered good
credentials. Nevertheless, I continued to call and write to ADC, eager to go.
When another participant dropped out at the last minute, I was ready with
passport and money to pay my own way.
While in Palestine I lived in Jabalia,
the largest of the refugee camps in Gaza. I visited hospitals and cottage
industries and spoke with doctors, social workers, lawyers, and leaders in the
intifada. I photographed Israeli patrols shooting live bullets and rubber
bullets at children who routinely attacked them with stones.
I went to Hebron, Jerusalem, Ramallah,
and Jenin. I tried to visit the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, for which
permission was denied, and offered the Israeli lawyer Lea Tsemel $2,000 to take
me to the Ketziot prison camp in the Negev. (She was unable to take me, but she
remembered my visit and unhesitatingly joined Deir Yassin Remembered when I
asked for her help six years later.) I made many contacts among the Palestinians
and some among the Israelis.
Teaching a course on the Palestinians at
a liberal arts institution is daunting, especially where 20 percent of the
students, key people in the administration, and key people on the board of
trustees are Jewish.
In 29 previous years of college
teaching, I had never been summoned to the provost's office. In the second week
of the term, I was summoned and told that there were grave concerns--a now
familiar warning--about the course and that it might "need to be canceled"
unless it was immediately given "more balance," meaning, of course, a
pro-Israeli spin. I pointed out that the course was already balanced and that
canceling the course for such a spurious reason would most certainly damage the
colleges' reputation when the argument was aired in The Chronicle of Higher
Education or the local press.
But it was not just Zionist criticism by
some administrators that made teaching or saying anything positive about the
Palestinians difficult. It was a sense of constantly being on guard and of
having to back up any statement with a Jewish source.
If you wanted to talk about Palestinian
refugees, you first had to refute the Zionist propaganda that there were no
Arabs living in Palestine when the Jews returned; many students came convinced
of the well worn myth that it was a "land without people for a people without
land." You had to get by the propaganda in Golda Meir's claim that there is no
such thing as a Palestinian; they are all just Arabs. You had to break the image
that the Arabs were Nazis, that Palestinians are inherently anti-Semitic, and
that today's settlers are invariably peace-loving, devoutly religious pioneers.
You had to correct the impression that the Six Day War was started by the
Palestinians; you had to clarify that a "preemptive strike" is when our side
initiates war and a "sneak attack" is when the other side fires first; you had
to show that making reference to Israel's attack on the USS Liberty is not a
gratuitous, anti-Semitic footnote, but an unresolved piece of American history
which has been flushed down the memory hole, where unpleasant things are put to
be deliberately forgotten.
To lecture about Palestinians, you
inevitably were forced to speak about the Holocaust, to which the Palestinians
did not contribute, which was a genocide committed by Christians, and which had
nothing to do with Muslims. In spite of Zionist tales of Hitler-meets-the-Mufti,
the Palestinians no more collaborated with the Third Reich than did the Stern
Yet if guilt for the Holocaust cannot be
laid on the Palestinians, its horror serves as the final apology for injustices
committed by Jews against Palestinians. The apology goes something like this:
"Yes, what the Zionists have done, and continue to do, to the Palestinians is
not right, but you really can't blame them after all Hitler did to the Jews." It
is the ultimate excuse which covers not only Zionist behavior immediately after
World War II, but every year and every generation since then.
The course, after all, was about
Palestinians, and it was frustrating to have to get to that subject only after
first reviewing the darkest chapter in Jewish history, a chapter which shows
Jews to have been far greater victims than any victimization the Palestinians
can ever imagine.
The fact is that if every Palestinian in
the West Bank and Gaza were executed tomorrow, the number of victims would not
equal half of the number of Jews executed in World War II, but so what? Why does
a description of the political, social, and economic characteristics of one
people have to be prefaced and twisted to fit the history of another? Many
courses are given on Jews with no mention of Palestinians; no courses are given
on Palestinians without extensive discussion of Jews and Zionism.
In spite of pressure, more subtle than
overt, it is a tribute to Hobart and William Smith Colleges that such a course
on the Palestinians was allowed to be taught at all. Yes, I was forced to
"balance" the course--the film Days of Rage was balanced with Exodus, "The Gun
and the Olive Branch" was read along with "The Israel-Arab Reader," and Mubarak
Awad was "countered" by Phillipa Strum.
But I was allowed to buy "Palestinian"
books for the library, although there was no special budget as there is for
Judaic Studies. I was even encouraged by the President of the colleges to
present a "balancing" speaker when Benyamin Netanyahu visited the campus;
Professor Edward Said filled the role with his usual eloquence.
I also was encouraged to invite Hanan
Ashrawi to "balance" a presentation by Elie Wiesel. Both were invited to join
the Board of Advisers of Deir Yassin Remembered; Professor Ashrawi readily
accepted; Professor Wiesel has declined even to answer.
[See the accompanying article, "Elie
Wiesel and the Sound of Silence, " on this web site.--Ed.]
Teaching a course on Palestinians
sparked interest all across the college community. After an Israeli woman artist
and close friend of the provost held an art exhibit, I secured support for an
exhibit by the Palestinian artist Kamal Boullata. The art department helped with
the exhibit; seven pieces of Boullata's work were purchased by people in the
local community; and his moving film, Stranger at Home, was shown with hardly a
dry eye in the audience.
It was trendy at the time for Hobart and
William Smith professors to use vanity license plates to stimulate interest in
their disciplines. A geology professor's plate read "DEVONIAN;" a science
professor's read "BOTANY." The plate on my old Peugeot read "INTIFADA."
People who didn't know intifada from
enchilada began to recognize the word and to understand its meaning, a "shaking
off" of occupation and control.
Although some people were nervous about
riding in a car with INTIFADA license plates, I drove the car for four years,
including trips to New York City, with no incident other than a few finger
gestures. Parked in front of the colleges on Main Street, the license plate was
said to have turned away some potential students and some potential donors, but
there was never pressure to remove it. To the contrary, the plate became a
symbol of someone standing up for the human rights of a people others had
learned to despise at worst and to ignore at best. It caused me to be invited to
present lectures to local community groups and to colleges throughout upstate
I have come to believe that it is not
enough "to see the light" regarding Palestinians, their victimization, and their
struggle to survive as a nation. Crying for the world to recognize injustice and
to do something is no more a realistic solution for Palestinians than it was for
Jews under the Nazis or the Bosnians under the Serbs. The path for Palestinians
to follow in achieving human rights and a national state has been blazed by
others, including Gandhi and Mandela, and by Jews on so many levels who have
built the state of Israel. "Righteous Gentiles" can see the light, work
tirelessly for the cause, and even sacrifice their own lives for it, but only
the victims, in this case Palestinians, can make the change a reality.
When Deir Yassin Remembered was founded,
its board was structured to include half Jews, half non-Jews, half men and half
women. This was not simply an attempt to be politically correct or to be in
keeping with the northeastern liberal arts environment in which its director is
employed. Rather, it is based on the belief that both victim and victor need to
remember Deir Yassin and take part in its memorial.
Nor was the massacre simply "a male
thing." Palestinian women and children were brutally massacred and Jewish women
took part in the attack and in the subsequent mopping up operations. Jacques de
Reynier, a French Red Cross employee who arrived after the massacre, described
the Irgunists and Sternists as follows:
All are young men and women, including
teenagers, armed to the teeth with pistols, machine guns, grenades, and large
cutlasses, most of them covered with blood, in their hands. A young woman,
beautiful but with eyes of a murderess, shows me her cutlass, still dripping
with blood as she carries it around like a trophy. They are the 'mopping up
team,' which probably goes about its business very conscientiously.4
Even Nathan Friedman-Yellin, successor
to Stern Gang founder Yair Stern, condemned the "shocking" murder of women,
termed the attack a "massacre," and said it was "too cruel." He complained that
it was not authorized by the leadership and that it spoiled "our image" in the
eyes of the Soviet Union. Others, like his Sternist rival, Yisrael Scheib
(Eldad), and Menachem Begin insisted that without Deir Yassin "the State of
Israel could never have been established."5
Today there are 17 members on the DYR
board, three short of our goal. The board represents a remarkable collection of
leaders with one common thread--a strong conviction that the memory of Deir
Yassin should be preserved.
Given the small number of board members,
its diversity is astounding--Muslims, Jews, Christians and agnostics, some very
rich, some very poor. There are politicians turned academics and academics
turned politicians. There are those with tenure and security and others whose
involvement could cost them their jobs and endanger their families. All stand
ready to rebuff criticisms of anti-Semitism or self-hatred. They seek to restore
the tradition of critical thinking demonstrated by Walter Benjamin, Hannah
Arendt, and Martin Buber, and the moral vision of the Jewish people seeking
justice for all. They want to open the doors of the silent side of Elie Wiesel
and others who systematically ignore the injustices against the Palestinians.
Most Israelis and most visitors to
Israel do not go to Deir Yassin. Tour guides in Jerusalem are mostly Jewish or
Christian and they do not know, or do not care to know, its location and the
true story of the massacre. Most of our board members also have not been there.
Yet Deir Yassin remains largely intact in the form of a mental hospital in the
Givat Shaul district of West Jerusalem. The remaining Palestinian buildings are
beautiful, quite distinctive in style and color from other buildings in the
area. They are surrounded by the Orthodox Jewish settlement of Har Nof and the
industrial area of Givat Shaul.
There are no markers, no plaques, and no
memorials at Deir Yassin; parking is a problem and access to the mental hospital
grounds is, understandably, restricted. But tourists today can help keep memory
alive and reinforce our efforts to memorialize Deir Yassin by asking about and
visiting the site.
Most visitors and virtually all
politicians visit the most famous Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem. Literally, Yad
Vashem means "a monument and a name," figuratively "a monument and a memorial."
The name is drawn from Isaiah where God says to those who keep his covenant, "I
will give them ... a monument and a name ... an everlasting name that shall
never be effaced." Conceived in 1942 and codified in the 1953 "Law of
Remembrance of Shoah and Heroism--Yad Vashem," this memorial park is Israel's
preeminent national shrine.
One of the most important tasks of Yad
Vashem has been to record the names of every Jewish victim of the Germans to
perpetuate the memory of the martyrs whose graves are unknown and unmarked. In
his book, "The Texture of Memory," James Young writes, "The function of memory
in this project is precisely what it has always been for the Jewish nation; in
addition to bringing home the 'national lessons' of the Holocaust, memory would
work to bind present and past generations, to unify a world outlook, to create a
vicariously shared national experience.”6
Of course, this is exactly the
underlying task of Deir Yassin Remembered in its quest to build a memorial. For
Palestinians, whose culture and history are largely oral, passed down in stories
from generation to generation, the memory of Deir Yassin is paramount and cannot
be denied. While there are those who would belittle it when compared to the
scope of the Holocaust, to paraphrase Young: "The function of memory in this
project is precisely what it has always been for the Palestinian nation; in
addition to bringing home the 'national lessons' of The Catastrophe of 1948,
memory works to bind present and past generations, to unify a world outlook, to
create a vicariously shared national experience."
It is a chilling fact that the Deir
Yassin massacre took place within sight of Yad Vashem. The irony is
Did those who conceived of the noble and
necessary project of building the most important Holocaust memorial realize that
the site they had chosen was tainted by brutalities of the past? While the idea
of Yad Vashem was conceived long before the massacre, construction began years
after it. Were the ghosts of Deir Yassin ignored or simply bulldozed over? In
dedication ceremonies at Yad Vashem, did no one ever look to the north and
remember Deir Yassin? Did no one speak of it? Were its martyrs so deeply buried
that their cries for justice could never be heard?
1. Menachem Begin, "The Revolt," London,
W. H. Allen, 1964, pp. 162-166.
3. The New York Times, 13 March 1948, p.
4. Jacques De Reynier, "1948 In
Jerusalem," [translated from French to English by Sophie Elkin, Geneva, NY,
October, 1995], p. 73 in original book.
5. Jerusalem Post Magazine, May 31,
1996, p. 23.
6. James E. Young, "The Texture of
Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning," New Haven, Yale University Press, pp.
By Israel Shamir
come to our Northern retreat: The snow has melted and uncovered meadows that
somehow managed to stay pale-green; thick ice on the lake has broken up and
crawled up on the shore like so many white crocodiles; now a warm wind blows and
the sun shines as if it means business. The Spring has come to conclude the
gorgeous winter: our soul needs darkness as well as light, and here at latitude
60°N, a snowball-throw from the Arctic Circle, where I am spending a few months
far away from the relentless Mediterranean sunshine, darkness has been provided
in heaps as generous as the mounds of ice cream in a child’s dream. God knows, I
have longed for darkness and seclusion -- for cold, dark low skies, with plenty
of prickly stars -- for snow-bound fields and snow-embroidered pines -- for
low-lying sun, for the laze of late mornings, for short days and long evenings,
for live fire in the fireplace, for skates on the ice and skis on the slope --
and it has been given in full. And now radiance pours into our world, promising
the resurrection of Light from Light, Lumen de Lumine, Φώς εκ φωτός.
This is the time
for good news. In London, Palestinian Solidarity dismissed a motion by Jewish
activists to ban Deir Yassin Remembered, the most dynamic and
non-apologetic of Palestinophile bodies, because of (among other sins) their
association with me. On Saturday March 10th
at the Palestine Solidarity Campaign Annual General Meeting,
two motions were proposed by Tony Greenstein
and Roland Rance, both extremely long and explicit, demanding from friends of
Palestine that they make the “fight against
antisemitism and Holocaust denial” their main agenda. Chutzpah is an
understatement for such impudence. These guys are so dishonest that I was not at
all astonished when Greenstein
was outed as a credit card fraudster. Greenstein had
besmirched DYR, DYR Chairman Prof Dan McGowan,
the British Director of DYR, Paul Eisen
and our friend Gilad Atzmon in the Guardian in a piece called
The seamy side of solidarity, and had attacked me in
a long text called
Anti-Semitism is no response to Zionism. They tried
to stop DYR, though DYR provides scholarships to Palestinian children, brings
awareness to masses and commemorates Palestinian struggle and suffering. They
were answered by
Ramzy Baroud and
Both motions were
voted down by an astounding absolute majority - 95%, reported
Mary Rizzo’s blog. The British friends of Palestine
decided in favor of freedom of thought and in favor of pluralism, and rejected
the Procrustean bed of narrow social analysis forced by the Jewish activists. If
accepted, the motion would have delegitimized not only Gilad or Paul Eisen or
myself, but Michael Neumann and Jimmy Carter and Walt and Mearsheimer as well.
Anybody referring to the Israel Lobby would have been deemed an antisemite and
banned. It would have made obligatory belief in the Jewish antizionist myth of
creation: only Imperialism is guilty, while Jewish Lobby is an invention of
antisemites, a view beautifully
deconstructed by M. Ahmad. Preoccupation with
holocaust would have become a duty for any friend of Palestine. But those who
wish Palestine to be free, want to be free themselves: free to read, write and
say whatever is their wont. And so to protect this sweet freedom they rejected
the Jewish diktat.
This is a small thing
compared to the wonders of nature, or even compared with some major fights
people have elsewhere; but do not pooh-pooh it -- this was an important battle
and a great victory, albeit on our turf. As Churchill once said, it is not the
beginning of the end, but it is the end of beginning. For many long years,
they’ve gotten whatever they wanted. Right-wing Jews attacked Ken Livingstone
and Jimmy Carter for their “antisemitism,” while left-wing Jews attacked my
friends and me for the same reason and with the same viciousness. One could not
mouth the word “Jew” without worshipful admiration and still retain one’s place
Scared by this
onslaught, timid allies would opt out, partake in the ostracism themselves, stop
answering letters, join in condemnation. Websites, let alone printed media,
wouldn’t publish my essays, conference organizers would disinvite. Like the
leather-coated Commissars of the dreaded Cheka, Jewish activists would barge
into any discussion enforcing their one and only true discourse, and folks would
stand at attention. Only the strongest in spirit, the most determined and the
most freedom-loving withstood their swarm assault. Is the London vote a
harbinger of change? Could it be that the long winter of our discontent is
It is possible, for this
is the prevailing wind from the East. Despite its own wonderful civilization and
creature comforts, the West has always taken its better and more profound ideas
from the East, be it Christianity from Palestine or Socialism from Russia. And
now Russia offers Volya, unlimited and untranslatable Russian freedom,
as its antidote to the war on liberties otherwise known as the “war on terror.”
Russia is unbelievably free, or rather full of volya: one may smoke in a
restaurant or in a pub, one does not have to brace a seatbelt, even parking is
free if available. More importantly, one may say and write and publish
practically anything at all. Beside all the freedoms available in the West,
Russians may be gays or sneer at gays, bewail the holocaust or regret it was
over too soon, be feminists or bait them, love Israel or call for its speedy
dissolution. Yes, every liberal and Jewish-owned newspaper in the West bemoans
the lack of freedom in Russia under the ‘bloody KGB dictator Putin’ (or in
Venezuela under the bloody dictator Chavez, or in Cuba under the bloody dictator
Castro – whoever they do not like is always a bloody dictator, isn't he?), but
Russians are free from political correctness and Jew-worship, that annoying
features of the post-war West.
Recently a group of
Russian writers visited Israel and met there with their readers: there are more
than a million Russian-speaking Israelis. The readers did not beat around the
bush and demanded from the authors that they swear allegiance to the ruling
ideology: condemn Iran, glorify Israel, this fortress of democracy in the
Middle East, denounce the Russian supply of weapons to Arabs, and slam Russian
antisemitism. Jews usually feel like creditors, and easily come up with demands.
A Western visitor would
deliver the goods, though he would probably complain to his spouse afterwards.
Denial of omnipresent and eternal antisemitism is not better than denial of the
holocaust. But Russia is free, and when readers asked the Russian writer Maria
Arbatova to tell them how she suffers from antisemitism and how dreadful life in
Russia is under Putin’s dictatorship, she demurred.
she said. Moscow today is like the Paris of the 1960s:
we have more events in a day than you have in a month. Today, glorious Moscow is
a world center. As for you, we are tired of you, and the Arabs are tired of you
and of your demands. This failed Western project has outlived its usefulness. If
my children were to even think of moving to Israel, I’d tell them: over my dead
body! Russia never had antisemitism. I never experienced it in the whole of my
fifty years of life. You say Jews could not find a job? It happened once to my
Jewish mother that she was rejected, but she immediately found another, better
job by using her family connections.
This was the answer a
prominent Russian liberal writer gave to the Israeli readers. Far from being a
Russian nationalist, the leading feminist writer Maria Arbatova’s grandfather
was an important Jewish leader, and her great-grandfather was a founder of the
Zionist movement in Tsarist Russia. But her reply was universal and
paradigmatic. In the West, Tony Jutt and Harold Pinter could say that -- maybe
Philip Weiss. Others are still scared. But the words that the German bishops
mouthed and then repented can be easily said in free Russia, by descendents of
Jews, or by anybody. The mystic charm of Jews has worn off in Russia, where
Political Correctness is unheard of, and where the churches are full and people
bless each other with “Christ is Risen”. Instead of scaring and offending Jews,
as American multicultural theory would have it, so many of my Moscow friends
consider themselves ‘just Russians’ despite having a Jewish parent or two, and
with an intermarriage rate of about 80% Russian Jewry is a thing of the past.
Many of them had been misled by Zionist propaganda, but they had enough time to
recognize it and regret their haste.
Israel did much to
disabuse them: Even very wealthy Russian Jews found themselves less than welcome
in their “historical homeland”: The oligarch Gusinsky is under police
investigation, and whenever he comes from his Spanish home he is taken straight
to police HQ; one of the richest Russian Jews, Gaidamak, had his bank account
sequestered. Less prominent Russians were mistreated and exploited by
established Israeli old-timers and their progeny, just as exiles from Morocco
were mistreated and exploited some forty years ago. Hardly any of them carved
out a career worth mentioning. The eternal war proposed and advanced by Israeli
leaders has little appeal for them; Hizbullah missiles taught them that Israel
is not immune and invulnerable anymore, and a forthcoming Israeli offensive
against Syria or Iran may cause many casualties among Israeli civilians. Corrupt
even by Middle Eastern standards, prejudiced to the point of jaundice, Israel is
probably the least attractive place for the upward-mobile and dynamic.
As the result, tens of
thousands of Russian Israelis trek back to Russia and find their real country
and their real home there in their native land. The Zionist idea had romantic
appeal, but such things do not last. In the 1970s, I met in Tanzania with some
American Blacks who moved to Africa on a wave of romantic search for their
roots. The experience rarely lasted more than five years tops. During that time,
they came to recognize that they are Americans for better or for worse, while
Africans are organized into many nations and tribes, none of which they could
fit into. You can’t “come back” after two hundred, let alone two thousand,
Russian scientist Dan
Axelrod from St Petersburg told me of his Israeli relatives who would dearly
love to return to that city and buy back the apartments they sold some ten years
ago, in Yeltsin’s days. The only thing that stops them is the sad fact that
these apartments’ value has increased tenfold since then. Axelrod has no
worries of this sort: this son of Jewish parents is a regular church-goer,
observes strict Orthodox Lent, is married to a Russian woman, baptised their
children and loves his country Russia. It seems Russia has found an answer to
the Jewish Question: neither by German fury nor American submission, but
through assimilation in Christian love. This Russian model is the only one that
can work, and it will eventually work in Palestine, too.
This is an
additional reason why Putin’s Russia is much hated and much denigrated in the
official zionist-controlled Western mainstream, and this is why she is loved by
friends of Palestine. A Swedish friend of mine and of Palestine, Stefan L.,
wrote to me: “You're absolutely right about Putin. That he is a hostage of the
oligarchs is one thing, but when he for one reason or another speaks the truth -
we love him, the little rat-faced spy with a Kalashnikov accent. And every time
we are reminded of Yeltsin’s existence we swear him eternal loyalty.”