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Where are the lives of Jews safest? (Is Israel the safest place for Jews?)
By: Shmuel Amir
Hagada Hasmalit

21 April 2016

Many readers replied to an article I published in these columns (“On the good
Zionists who did not bother to read Herzl”, 18 February 2016). To one of those
I wrote:

“Dear ‘Israel’ [a pseudonym], today the most dangerous place in the world for
Jews is unfortunately the State of Israel. The villa in the jungle is hated by
all its neighbours. If the Occupation continues, then our very existence will
not be safe.”

“Israel’s” reply was not long in coming:

“The State of Israel may be the most dangerous place for Jews. But the vast
difference to all other place in the world is that it is the only place in
which the Jews can defend themselves as was not possible for thousands of
years before. To my great dismay, antisemitism has not been erased from the
world and again raises its ugly head in many places, especially because of the
deep crisis in the economy and the human society in which we live. Zionism is
not essentially only about the State of Israel and those who live in it, but
also about every Jew in the world who may need again, God forbid, to contend
with antisemitism, because this is the only place in which he can defend
himself as a Jew. I would definitely prefer that there be no need of that, but
to my sorrow the experience of the past cannot be discounted or forgotten.
Another sweeping negation of Zionism is not only a failed and unacceptable
attempt to deny not only the existence of antisemitism, but also the
irrefutable right of the Jewish people to flourish and subsist.”

Representations of that kind, it seems to me, are the heritage of many if not
most Israelis, and so they deserve to be answered. I will try to examine
“Israel’s” claims one by one.

First, it must be asked if indeed, as “Israel” writes, Jews who do not live in
Israel are not able to defend their lives. The Second World War proves that
that assumption is incorrect. Here is a quote on the subject from Wikipedia:

“A million and a half Jews fought on the front-lines in the uniforms of Allied
armies, and tens of thousands fought in undergrounds and partisan battalions.
About a half million Jews fell in combat. Jewish organizations in various
countries played an active part of the struggle against the Nazis and to save
the Jews. The participation of the Jews in the Second World War was unique in
that the Jews were struggling against the attempt to eliminate the Jewish
people in areas that were under Nazi control and influence.” [1]

The Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer found that “the percentage of Jews among
the partisans was higher than their share of the general population. […] some
of the Jewish partisans integrated into general partisan units and in other
cases there were units that were entirely Jewish […] The number of Jewish
partisans in the territories of eastern Europe was estimated at about 20-30
thousand. Among the main ones was ‘Zhukov’s Jewish unit’ which comprised about
270 people. In the Vilna ghetto ‘the United Partisan Organization’ was active.
The ‘Jewish Combat Organization’ fulfilled a most important role in the Warsaw
ghetto.” [2]

In light of these facts, how ludicrous and nonsensical sounds the claim that
only in Israel can Jews defend themselves. But then comes the claim that they
did not fight (and die) there as Jews! So the half-million Jews who fell in
battles against the Nazis were not Jews? And who was considered a
Jewish fighter? Maybe we can ignore the “quasi-Jews” who fought against the
Nazis – and really quite successfully – but what about those who perished in
the Holocaust, are they also not to be considered Jews? And what about the
fighters of the Warsaw ghetto and the other ghettos, did they too not fight
and die as Jews? It is revolting to think that there are some among us who see
as victims (and fighters) only the Jews who were Zionists, and as for those
who were not Zionists, they don’t recognize them as “full” Jews.

At the same time, it is hard for the State – for obvious reasons – to renounce
the “less-than-full” Jews that who perished in the Holocaust. Israel will not
give up on the right to be their representative and on the way to reap the
benefits that confers: military, economic, and diplomatic aid, which is
demanded in order to ensure that the Holocaust not recur. For the Holocaust
serves Israel by justifying its existence and especially by justifying its
despicable acts towards the Palestinians in general and in the territories
occupied since 1967 in particular. To criticism it replies: “Nobody can
criticize us; nobody has suffered as we have!”

The Holocaust serves to reinforce the perception of Israel as a place of
refuge for Jews in times of hardship. From Moshe Dayan to Ehud Barak, nearly
all Israeli public figures who have visited the death camps declared there
that if the Jews had listened to the Zionist movement and gone to Israel the
Holocaust would not have overtaken them. Apart from the fact that that is a
cheap and stupid claim (to travel to the US and many other countries would
have been safer), it must be stressed that it was not immigration to Israel
that saved the Jews in the Second World War. What saved them was the victory
of the Allies and especially the Red Army over the Nazis. The Yishuv [3] in
this country faced the danger of destruction by the Nazis on two occasions.
Once when the German General Rommel and his army stood about a hundred
kilometres from Alexandria. Under his command were about 6 divisions,
including two German ones. He needed only a few more divisions to conquer the
Middle East, but the German High Command could not provide them to him.
Although the German army on the Russian Front comprised 160 divisions, it
could not spare a single soldier as it faced the Soviet army. The second time
the Yishuv was saved in this country was when the Soviet army defeated the
Germans at Stalingrad. If not for that, the Germans would have conquered the
entire Middle East. Not much imagination is needed to surmise the fate of the
Jewish Yishuv in this country had that happened. And later Israel would show
its gratitude to the Red Army by declining to send a representative to Moscow
for the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Red Army’s victory.

But the Soviet Union saved not only the Yishuv in this country. The historian
and journalist Susan Butler,* explained in her last book, Roosevelt and
Stalin: Portrait of a Partnership
, that if the Nazis had conquered Russia
when continental Europe was still at their disposal, then even the USA could
not have withstood Hitler.

One can surmise that the at least partial ignoring of the role of Jewish
combatants in the Second World War can be attributed to the Zionist outlook.
Zionism famously “negated the Diaspora”, and in doing so it also negated the
“Diaspora Jew”. [4] That Jew, as described in Zionist sources, is not very
appealing. He is a “luftmensch” [someone who makes a living out of thin
air], that is, a hustler (sacher-macher). He is not productive, he is
not connected to the land or to occupations that require physical labour. He
is frail and cowardly and of course not suitable to be a fighting military man
(in the First World War the percentage of Jews in German army surpassed non-
Jews relative to their share of the total population. I myself had a teacher
in the Jewish school in Berlin who had lost a hand at the front, and who
displayed his wooden prosthetic hand with pride.)

Zionism appropriated the image of the wretched Jew from the antisemitism that
was prevalent in Europe. And the claim that Jews cannot defend themselves also
derives from that spirit. Hence also the disgraceful treatment the Yishuv
first accorded to Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust. In those days it
was acceptable to say that “they went to like lambs to the slaughter.” As if
they had a choice, as if the millions of non-Jews who were also exterminated
in the death camps acted differently from the Jews.

The myth of the wretched Diaspora Jew is one of the foundations of Zionism.
Consciously or unconsciously, Zionism adopted from antisemitism the image of
the wretched Jew which fitted its objective of persuading the Jews to leave
their “exile” and to “ascend” to the Promised Land. Franz Oppenheimer, one of
the first of the Zionist leaders in Germany, said that radical Zionism is “the
photographic negative of antisemitism”** Even Borochov was apparently
influenced by anti-Jewish concepts in his theory about “the inverted pyramid”:
among the healthy peoples there is a broad base of productive creative working
people and on the tip are the idle people, whereas among the Jews the pyramid
is inverted – on the bottom are masses of idle unproductive people and only at
the top are productive working people.

Unlike the Diaspora Jews, we Sabras here in Israel are romantic heroes. We
fight to the last drop of blood. Life here may be more dangerous, we may
endanger ourselves more than the Jews of the “Exile”, but the most important
thing is that we die as Jews. As Trumpeldor (a real Diaspora Jew – a Russian
officer) put it: “It is good to die for our country.”

Those who claim that only in Israel are Jews safe need at least to remember
that we declare here nearly every day that we are in danger of destruction and
that we are destined to live by our swords. Israel is like Janus with two
faces: one face says that we are strong and can withstand the Arab states,
reassures the population so they do not leave the country and represents the
government as defending the security of its citizens. The other face says that
we are not secure and the whole world is against us. Former Prime Minister
Levi Eshkol used to say that Israel is “a nebechdiker Shimshon” (a
pitiful Samson). Israeli propaganda emphasizes more the pitiful face. That is
the basis for unending demands on other countries for weapons and diplomatic
support. Internally the emphasis is on fear to for the existence of the state
because “the Arabs want to destroy us”. And the public believes that
propaganda (which is cultivated from the cradle to the university).

“Death to Arabs”: incitement and invective against Palestinians are the bases
of the politics of force of Israeli governments. It is the glue that holds
them in power over the frightened nation.

And indeed we do live here in fear for our existence. But that is not because
of the antisemitism that is “raising its head” throughout the world. What is
called antisemitism is mostly protest and anger against Israel’s occupation
and oppression of the Palestinians. If the Occupation does not end there is no
future for Israel. The young Palestinian woman with the scissors is in the end
stronger than the tank and the airplane.

* Susan Butler. Roosevelt and Stalin: Portrait of a Partnership. Alfred
A. Knopf. 2015.

** Rina Rekem-Peled. “ha-Tziyonut - bavu’ah shel ha-antishemiyut: ʻal ha-yaḥas
beyn tziyonut le-antishemiyut be-Germania shel ha-Reich ha-Sheni” (Zionism - a
reflection of antisemitism: on the relationship between Zionism and antisemitism in Germany of the Second Reich). In ha-Anṭishemiyut ha-
Germanit : haʻarakhah me-ḥadash
(German antisemitism: a reassessment).
Editors: Yaakov Borut, Oded Hailbroner. Am Oved.

Translator’s notes

1. Translated from the Hebrew version of the Wiki article, “History of the
Jews during World War II”.

2. Translated from the Hebrew version of the Wiki article, “Partisan

3. Yishuv: the Jewish community in Palestine before the creation of the State
of Israel.

4. The two Hebrew words translated here as “Diaspora” – “gola” and “galut” -
literally mean “exile”.

Translated from Hebrew by George Malent

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