On New Year's Eve I spent some time chatting with a Cambridge Don and his schoolteacher wife. Very nice people. The man was from San Francisco originally and made a joke about how that means he was necessarily a Liberal, in the American sense. Indeed he was, though we found we had a lot of common ground. One thing that struck me forcefully, though, was his view that the State of Israel was founded as a consequence of the Holocaust. I'm not entirely sure why, but the fact that he is Jewish made this even more surprising to me.
Because while the Holocaust might have provided the impetus for the final push for independence from the British Mandate, it was most certainly not the reason, nor was it the justification, for the foundation of Israel. This matters a great deal. The concerted attempt to present this false account of history, promoted by an unholy collection of people from the extreme "left" through the President of Iran and various assorted fascist nutters like David Duke, and shamefully reinforced by sloppy, incomplete and inaccurate reporting by the BBC and other parts of the "Liberal" media, has a very specific purpose. This is to frame the past as an Imperialist imposition of a European population on the innocent and suffering Palestinians as a response to a problem that was itself entirely European - the Holocaust.
This false version of history provides the following useful tools for the anti-semitic Axis:
1. Israel can be depicted as an imperialist, European Crusader State of no legitimacy and with the likely longevity of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.
2. If the scope, scale or even the reality of the Holocaust can be challenged, then even the alleged justification for the establishment of Israel can be shown to be a fig leaf covering simple naked imperialism.
3. It can be argued that since this is just a European problem, a Jewish homeland should be created in Europe or even somewhere like Alaska, as Ahmadinejad has suggested:
"They have invented a myth that Jews were massacred and place this above God, religions and the prophets," Ahmadinejad said in a speech to thousands of people in the Iranian city of Zahedan, according to a report on Wednesday from Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting.The reality is this: the State of Israel has at least the same legitimacy, for exactly the same reasons, as do the States of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and all the other Gulf states. I italicised the words "at least" because one of the points of legitimacy for some, but not all, of these states is a historical antecedent: there was in the past something resembling a country with some correspondence to modern territorial boundaries. Israel has this, but Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states (with the possible, tentative exception of Yemen) do not. Arguably, Lebanon does not either.
"The West has given more significance to the myth of the genocide of the Jews, even more significant than God, religion, and the prophets," he said. "(It) deals very severely with those who deny this myth but does not do anything to those who deny God, religion, and the prophet."
"If you have burned the Jews, why don't you give a piece of Europe, the United States, Canada or Alaska to Israel," Ahmadinejad said.
"Our question is, if you have committed this huge crime, why should the innocent nation of Palestine pay for this crime?"
I am not suggesting this de-legitimises these states. Such an argument would in turn legitimise a claim for independence by, say, Wessex. But few countries face allegations of illegitimacy. Perhaps there is another, besides Israel, but I can't bring it to mind at the moment. And there is a reason for this, a reason that is a very deep and ancient evil. Today, it carries the slightly inaccurate label "anti-Semitism".
All of these countries were formed in the aftermath of the First World War. For a couple of millennia previously, they had been ruled by a variety of empires: Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Sassanian, Mamluk, Mongol... the list becomes exhausting. For about four hundred years, the main occupier had been the Ottomans, who can be associated with modern day Turkey. The Ottomans sided with Germany during WWI and shared in the defeat. Allied powers found themselves faced with a region in which there were in some cases what could be described as national traditions and in other cases not; in some cases there were active nationalist or dynastic fights for independence and in other cases not.
Far from engaging in an "imperialist" project, Britain and France, having been granted Mandates by the League of Nations, set about acting as midwives to new and newly independent autonomous countries, beginning with recognition of those dynastic movements, like that of the Saudis, that had been allies during the War. This was in 1920. In 1922 the League of Nations specifically ratified the establishment of a state of Israel, with far larger territory than presently occupied. In 1926 Saudi Arabia (or rather its immediate predecessor the Kingdom of Nejd and Hejaz) was recognised by Britain.
In other words, every country in the region was formed in the aftermath of the First World War, under the auspices of the League of Nations. Every single one, including Israel. Aftermaths can be protracted.
The reason why the foundation of the State of Israel was so delayed is simple: Arab opposition. This grew during the 1930s and Britain, quite simply, got cold feet. As European anti-Semitism grew during the same decade, Britain even banned Jews from travelling to Israel to save their lives. This was one of the most shameful acts by this country in the whole of the twentieth century.
But travel there they did, continuing a slow return that began shortly after their expulsion in the third century AD, speeding up in the eleventh century, again in the eighteen, then the nineteenth, then the twentieth centuries. And if you are, as a people, moving to an area from which you originate and from which you were expelled by an imperial invader then it is a return. No other word is appropriate.
The growth of Arab opposition to Israel coincided with the growth of a way of thinking we now call Islamist, and with the alliance of some of these early Islamists with Nazi Germany. It was fuelled by the entirely imperialist notion that if an area had been conquered once by Muslims then it must remain always Islamic. The same reasoning lay behind the growth at the same time of the view that southern Spain should be reconquered for Islam. Other newly formed states in the region either were Islamic or had large Muslim populations (Lebanon). Only Israel would have an entirely non-Islamic identity.
So here is what I might mildly call an irony. In their acquiescence to this myth, that Israel was formed because of the Holocaust, European Liberals are allying themselves with an insupportable and imperialist project. So it is that they have consequently found themselves marching with people like David Irving fan Lady Michelle Renouf and David Duke, the founder of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and under banners of organisations like Hezbollah, whose leaders make no secret of their wish to kill all Jews everywhere.
Of course there are extreme Zionists who are the mirror image of the Islamists, but they are a tiny minority, if a vocal one. Israel, uniquely, went on to become a prosperous, democratic state, and the most secular state in the region. It is the only state in which it is genuinely safe not to be in the majority religion.
It is, in short, a state that deserves our support. But even for those who find it hard to give this, or who have overwhelming reservations about some aspects of Israeli policy, it is entitled to an accurate account of its history.