Israel and the Holocaust

A lot of nonsense gets talked about Israel and Palestine, some of it by me. In one of the first posts I stated that I believed Zionism was “an objectionable and misconceived project” in part because it “made Arabs atone for European sins.”

Vox’s guide to myths surrounding the conflict explains why this line of thinking is so wrong:

First, Israel was not a creation of European colonialism: Israel’s creation was in large part the work of Jews who moved to present-day Israel, despite European efforts to stop them, and who dragged the world into accepting them as a state. It is true that, in 1917, Britain issued its famous Balfour Declaration promising the Jews a homeland in British-controlled Palestine as long as this did not undercut the rights of non-Jews there. But in the 1930s, as Jewish immigration and Jewish-Arab tension increased, the British tried to sharply limit Jewish immigration into the area, forcing many Jews into refugee camps in Cyprus and elsewhere. Jews smuggled in large numbers of illegal immigrants in the 1940s; Jewish militias that formed to fight Arabs also conducted violent operations against the British, whom they saw as an enemy.

This was not, in other words, a European-Jewish joint project at all. The United Nations did come around to creating a Jewish state with its 1947 plan for partitioning Palestine, but that was in large part a reaction to the chaos and communal violence in British Palestine, which the UN hoped to solve by dividing the territory, not an affirmative plan to create a Jewish state just to. And of the 33 countries that voted for the resolution, only 12 were European; 13 yes votes came from Latin and Caribbean countries. (13 countries voted against it.) To be fair, it is definitely true that the UN ignored Arab and Palestinian objections to the plan, in a way that left them disenfranchised and feeling, not without reason, that their land had been taken from their without their consent. But the point is that it was not a European or Western conspiracy.

Second, Israel’s creation was not just a response to the Holocaust: While it is true that Holocaust galvanized global public opinion in support of Jews, and accelerated Jewish immigration to Israel, it is also true that all the factors that led to the creation of Israel were already well in place before the Holocaust happened. There were centuries of European anti-Semitism, a strongly felt Zionist movement among Jews, many thousands of Jewish immigrants in Palestine, and an international campaign to generate diplomatic support. In some ways, the Holocaust depressed Jewish immigration, because Nazi governments largely forbid it and because it left Europe with so many fewer Jews to emigrate. The question of how big a role the Holocaust played in leading up to Israel’s creation is debated among scholars, but the point is that it was by no means, despite the widespread misconception, the primary impetus for Israel’s creation.

So in summary: oops! This is topic I should really do my homework before opining on.

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