The following letter is a response to a video that my ultra-orthodox relatives were sharing among themselves, their relatives and friends. I found the video quite disturbing although I was already intimately familiar with the views of that side of my family. In writing the letter I hoped that I might reach a few of my many nieces or nephews and encourage them to look more carefully at their opinions and beliefs. I was completely unsuccessful. They all rejected the suggestion that they conduct sincere research to find out if their beliefs were based in reality or fantasy. And their bottom line, predictably, was that the Torah clearly states that God gave the land to the Jewish people. The six minute video can be found at http://beta1.shofar-tv.com/player.php?id=628
If enough of us would only research history we would be more informed and more reasonable. We would understand why some people resist occupation and why others want to occupy and we would be able to make a fair peace where all people, not just Jews, can live in peace and respect each other. I am not particularly interested in convincing people to change their minds or to believe what I have to say. What I am interested in is encouraging people to find out the facts for themselves. Is this an unreasonable aspiration? Is it incompatible with Jewish tradition? If we fail to separate fact from fiction, if we merely listen to uneducated others, to Israel’s leaders or to self-serving journalists, we will be at the mercy of these “experts” who may have ulterior motives, are deceitful or just plain deluded. Thirst for knowledge, once a hallmark of Jewish learning, is fundamental to solving problems, yet today we have “experts” like Dennis Prager whose self-serving proclamations, which have become common belief within Jewish culture, are based not on knowledge but on unexamined indoctrination. And we have followers who abdicate responsibility for their own thinking and its effect on the world by believing whatever corresponds to their own unexamined individual and collective belief structure. Therefore, I hope you will consider the points I make and use them as a springboard to replace myth with real knowledge.
I have been familiar with Prager for many years. He is an extremist on most issues, not just Israel. His greatest thrill in life was shaking the hand of G.W. Bush, likely the most divisive president in U.S. history. He is a segregationist when it comes to Israel/Palestine and a firm supporter of Reverend John Hagee who says that the Nazis had operated on God’s behalf to chase the Jews from Europe and shepherd them to Palestine. And, comparing Adolph Hitler to Moses, Hagee says that Hitler, who was born from a lineage of “accursed, genocidally murderous half-breed Jews,”[i] was a “hunter” sent by God and tasked with expediting God’s will of having the Jews re-establish a state of Israel. Hagee further believes that Jesus Christ will return to Earth and that Jews will have to convert to Christianity or perish in a lake of fire. This kind of ignorance has been at the heart of anti-Semitism for nearly two thousand years. Without it, Adolf Hitler could not have relied on the hatred and the silence of those who supported or closed their eyes to the evils of the Holocaust.
In his video, Prager is guilty of gross distortion. Since he claims to be an authority on the Middle East I have to assume he deliberately distorts although I understand why he would be compelled to do so. He is terrified that his identity, so fused with childhood belief about Israel, could be nothing more than an artificial structure built upon language and cultural belief. He is mortally afraid for what he mistakenly takes as who he is. His terror is manufactured by his own mind and it is the lens through which he sees the world. That lens distorts his view so that he only sees the world in terms of us against them, in terms of his people’s victimhood versus the rest of the world’s hostility and hatred. Because he is so unconscious of his deeper thought processes he can only project his fear-based mental/emotional content onto the world and then assume that the world he sees, colored by all of that, is the evidence he needs to prove himself right. In other words, this kind of thinking, unconscious as it is, always creates its own suffering and then blames the world (in this case and in particular the Palestinian people) for its suffering, treating it as a scapegoat. This process is the primary cause of conflict.
In the video he objects to the Arab world refusal to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” Why would anyone who opposes institutionalized discrimination and land expropriation of Arabs in Israel and in occupied Palestinian territory recognize a “Jewish” state? That would de facto legalize these very policies and deny a positive future to the Palestinian people. Many defenders of Israel, none of whom have actually studied the history, will say Arabs in Israel proper are treated as equals. There is a plethora of Israeli laws, policies, conventions and virulent daily racism that easily refutes that claim.
Prager refers to the UN Partition Plan of November 1947, UN Resolution 181, which the Arab countries rejected. First, what right did the UN have to take land from one people and give it to another people? How you would you feel if you were the aggrieved party? And does Palestinian rejection of 181 justify Israel’s continued expropriation of Palestinian land? Does it justify the brutal methods of a relentless occupation? Resolution 181 took 56% of mandatory Palestine and gave it to the Jewish people who owned about seven percent of the land. Forty-three percent went to the Palestinians with the remaining one percent, Jerusalem and Bethlehem, under the authority of the United Nations. The new Jewish state would have a 49% Arab minority that would have become a majority probably in less than five years. It is utterly naïve to believe that Israel would have accepted such an outcome yet, in an explicit pledge made to the UN the Jewish Agency – under the leadership of David Ben-Gurion – falsely stated that the new state “will not be Jewish in the sense … that the Jewish community will be superior in status to other communities.”[ii] In other words, acceptance of 181 was a tactical move and a prelude to future expansion. David Ben-Gurion, May 1947: “Does anybody really think that the original meaning of the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate, and indeed, that of the millenarian yearning of the Jewish people, was not that of establishing a Jewish state in the whole of Eretz-Israel?”[iii] In December 1947 Ben-Gurion said: “There are no final settlements in history, there are no eternal borders, and no political demands are final.” One week later he pledged to his political party’s Central Committee that the borders established by 181 were not final. Following Ben-Gurion’s lead, Yigal Allon, the most prominent Israeli general of the 1948 war stated: “the borders of partition cannot be for us the final borders … the partition plan is a compromise plan that is unjust to the Jews. . . . We are entitled to decide our borders according to our defence needs.”[iv]
If, like Ben-Gurion, you believe the millenarian yearning of the Jewish people entitles them to all of Eretz-Israel then why don’t you admit, as Jabotinsky, Dayan[v] and others have done, that you also believe in eternal conflict – unless the Palestinian people docilely consent to this interpretation of Judaism and accept their fate as an inferior people whose need for self-determination is irrelevant in the face of Jewish self-determination.
Prager discusses Gamal Nasser and Arab rhetoric. Yes, Arab rhetoric was bloodthirsty but Prager, the Middle East expert, ignored mentioning the numerous peace proposals beginning in 1949 that came from Syria and Egypt. Nasser attempted to settle the conflict yet each Israeli prime minister from Ben-Gurion to Meir completely ignored him as well as the English, Maltese, Quaker, Yugoslavian and Jordanian emissaries who spoke for him, just as Ariel Sharon ignored the 2002 Saudi offer.
Additionally, Prager says that Egypt, Jordan and Syria were planning to attack Israel in 1967 in order to “extinguish” it. Were he honest this expert would have discovered what Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, Chief-of-Staff Yitzhak Rabin, and Opposition leader Menachem Begin all acknowledged:
Eshkol: The Egyptian layout in Sinai and the general build up there testified to a militarily defensive Egyptian set-up, south of Israel (Yediot Ahronot, October 16, 1967).
Rabin: Nasser didn’t want war. The two divisions he sent to Sinai would not have been sufficient to launch an offensive war. He knew it and we knew it (Le Monde, February 28, 1968).
Begin: In June 1967 we again had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai did not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him (New York Times, August 21, 1982).
Prager mentions the three No’s that Arab countries agreed to at Khartoum. That was a public relations disaster for the Palestinians that allowed Israel to claim it was Arab countries, not Israel, that opposed peace. Since the 1980s however, the PLO has been open to dialogue about peace but Israel has always placed obstacles in their way.
If you look at maps of Israel/Palestine from 1948 to the present you can see the absurdity of the oft-repeated lie that Israel has always been willing to exchange land for peace, as Prager asserts. Yes, Israel gave up the Sinai for peace with Egypt but that does not mean it was ever willing to give up the West Bank for peace. Peace with Egypt was strategic in that it eliminated Israel’s greatest military threat in the Middle East, yet it took until 1979 before Israel made that peace. Israel could have had virtually the same peace in the early 70s – prior to the Yom Kippur War – had it not cavalierly dismissed Arab requests for talks. Per capita, in just three weeks Israel unnecessarily sacrificed the equivalent of three times the number of Americans lost during the ten years of the Vietnam War, all because of disinterest in peace. And I again must mention Israel’s failure to respond to the Saudi plan and its sabotage of the Bush Roadmap for peace. Furthermore, Hamas, which was created by Israel in collaboration with the Muslim Brotherhood, has repeatedly said it would accept a peace negotiated on the basis of the 1967 lines if it were approved by the Palestinian people. Israel knows it can make peace with Hamas but uses the rhetoric of some Hamas militants to make excuses for not making peace. Peace would have an enormous moderating effect on Hamas. Israeli and American advisers are all cognizant of this. Neither Egypt nor Jordan was required to recognize Israel as a precondition for peace talks.
In short, any reasonably objective person who does research based upon a wide range of Israeli state historical archives would deduce that throughout its history Israel has always favored expansion – via the heartless and selfish theft of Palestinian land – to peace. Just this year the Palestine papers illustrated this point.
I know some of you will bring up the 2005 Gaza disengagement of 8,000 Jewish settlers. Israel’s reasons for following through on that action were to relinquish responsibility, as required by articles 55 and 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, for the well being of the Gazan population and to provide a smokescreen for the continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank. While 8,000 settlers were removed from Gaza, freeing up over 25% of the Gaza Strip’s desperately needed water resources for its 1.6 million starving citizens, 12,000 settlers were given Palestinian land in the West Bank. In other words, Israel used the Gaza pullout as a way to distract attention from its unilateral redrawing of the boundaries of Greater Israel at the expense of negotiation with the Palestinian Authority. Another factor is that while the West Bank is rich in natural resources Gaza is not.[vi] What kind of people, by the way, would hoard more than 25% of critical resources when they represent but one-half of one percent of the population? I would submit that the answer is a people who consider their neighbors less than human. What does that say about such a people’s own humanity?
Prager claims that Palestinians want Jews dead. I have met many Palestinians in the U.S, Israel and the West Bank and not one has ever hinted at such a heinous desire. In fact, all would like to live in peace with their Jewish brothers and all made clear that the problem is not religion but Zionism. Today, unfortunately, the majority of Jewish defenders of Israel have made Zionism an essential element of Judaism.
Of course there are Arabs who would like to see Jews dead, just as there are Jews who would like to see Arabs dead but I would bet there is a far greater percentage of Jews who would be relieved, if not happy, were the Palestinian people destroyed. If you would read Israeli newspapers and the accounts of various Israeli and other Human Rights groups about the behavior of Israeli soldiers and settlers in occupied Palestine you would be exposed to some of the most primitive hatred imaginable. I have seen this hatred in the writings and speech of countless Israeli and American Jews, some of whom I know personally. I wonder if the Torah encourages Jews to hate their neighbor and to discriminate against and steal from their neighbor if their neighbor happens not to be Jewish. Deuteronomy 10:19 and Genesis 18:1-5 certainly do not.
Prager finishes his diatribe with irrelevant, yet typical, arguments that merely show how deluded and bigoted he is. His statement that Arabs have many states and Jews have only one is based on the tribal consciousness of separateness, of an unwillingness to live together in peace. It is the statement of a deluded, self-righteous and self-destructive segregationist whose life is dedicated to the humiliation and destruction of another people all because of a narcissistic need to protect a false identity into which he has never had the courage to inquire. The fact that there are many Arab (an ethnic group) states and only one Jewish (not an ethnic but a religious group) state does not justify deliberate policies and practices that routinely violate international humanitarian law and that have caused immense suffering for an entire people while costing a large segment of the Jewish people their humanity and their collective soul. Speaking as a Jew I cannot ally myself with this disturbing position.
If the purpose of the Jewish people is to bring blessing to the world, if T’shuva (repentance, transformation) really is a valued concept in Judaism, then it is incumbent upon every Jew to reflect upon his or her views, to overcome the dangers of indoctrination and dehumanizing beliefs and awaken to the clarity and compassion that is the authentic nature of reality. That is the true path to Peace.
[i] “National Mega-pastor Hagee: Hitler Was a ‘Half-Breed Jew,’” by Troutfishing, http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/08/01/760593/-National-Mega-pastor-Hagee:-Hitler-Was-a-Half-Breed-Jew
[ii] Shlomo Ben-Ami, Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy (Oxford University Press, 2006), pp 32-34.
[v] Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky (1880-1940) was founder of the Zionist Revisionist Movement and leader of the militaristic underground organization known as the Irgun (IZL). Moshe Dayan (1915-1981) was the fourth Chief-of-Staff of the Israel Defense forces (IDF) as well as Minister of Defense and Foreign Affairs.
[vi] Since the disengagement natural gas reserves, which Israel covets, have been discovered off the coast of Gaza.