Wednesday, July 7, 2010

What Obama Doesn't Understand About Zionism Part II


by Leo Rennert


2nd part o2


On November 2, 1917, the British foreign secretary, Arthur James Balfour, takes pen to paper and addresses a brief letter to Baron Lionel Walter Rothschild. This is the entire text:

Dear Lord Rothschild:


I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which have been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet.


His Majesty's Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a NATIONAL home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.


I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.




Arthur James Balfour


Many theories have been advanced for why Britain, the world's greatest empire at the time, decided to further the Zionist cause.


The geopolitical rationale for Britain is that Russian Jews might encourage Russia to stay in the war on the allied side against Germany and that American Jews might get Washington to strengthen the recent U.S. entry into the war -- at a time when American troops are not yet active on the battlefield.


Another factor is a close friendship between Winston Churchill, an active supporter of the Balfour Declaration throughout his political career, and Britain's leading Zionist, Chaim Weizmann, a chemist who developed a system for commercial production of acetone for badly needed supplies of explosives for the western front.


There also is British recognition of the valor of Jewish soldiers from Britain and other parts of the Empire -- more than 2,300 of them give their lives to the allied cause. Five win the Victoria Cross.


And finally, Balfour, Lloyd George, and other top British leaders, because of their own religious backgrounds, are steeped in the Old Testament, with its repeated references to a divine promise to establish a sovereign Jewish commonwealth in the Promised Land.


Churchill, who was not exactly a very religious figure, nevertheless was a keen student of history and a great admirer of Jewish contributions to human progress toward a more civilized world.


In any event, the Balfour Declaration is endorsed by the League of Nations after the war, when it assigns Britain a temporary mandate to run Palestine. The U.S. Congress also weighs in with its full support.


In 1921, a pivotal year in Zionist history, Churchill becomes colonial secretary and plays a critical role in promoting and implementing the Balfour Declaration. During a lengthy tour of Palestine, he rebuffs demands by Arab leaders to repudiate the Balfour Declaration, telling them:

Where else could a national home for Jews be established but in this land of Palestine, with which for more than 3,000 years they have been intimately and profoundly associated? We think it will be good for the world, good for the Jews and good for the British Empire. But we also think it will be good for the Arabs who dwell in Palestine.


A year later, Churchill drafts his 1922 White Paper, which opens Palestine to 300,000 Jewish immigrants in the following fourteen years. Amid Arab protests and political opposition at home, Churchill famously says at the time, "Jews are in Palestine -- of right and not on sufferance."


And with quite a different take than President Obama's on the historic roots of Zionist claims, Churchill tells the House of Commons in January 1949, when the Labor government still has not recognized the new state of Israel, that "[t]he coming into being of a Jewish state in Palestine is an event in world history to be viewed in the perspective, not of a generation or a century, but in the perspective of a thousand, two thousand or even three thousand years."


Did Churchill fulfill all Zionist hopes? Not exactly. When he became colonial secretary, Churchill severed Trans-Jordan -- now Jordan -- from Palestine and handed it to the Hashaemite dynasty. Zionist leaders, having failed in their protests, accepted Churchill's decision.


In Harry Truman's time, Zionist leaders similarly accept a further shrinkage of Israel's borders, settling for the 1947 U.N. partition plan to establish two states -- one Jewish, one Arab -- both west of the Jordan.


Even so, Truman has to overcome strong opposition from his own State Department to the partition plan before the U.S. casts its vote in favor. A year later, Truman also defies the State Department by recognizing Israel ten minutes after David Ben-Gurion declares independence.


Like Churchill, Truman plays a vital role in the establishment of the Jewish state, motivated in no small part by his own Christian fundamentalism.


To fully grasp what made Truman click, Clark Clifford, who was Truman's White House counsel, later recalled that he and Truman often would peruse the Old Testament at Israel's difficult birth. Truman especially was drawn to the end of Deuteronomy and, no great surprise, to the verse that starts: "Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto the Mount of Nebo..." Like Churchill, Truman had a keen understanding of Zionism's roots.


And unlike Obama, Truman got it right in conjuring up the real roots and rightful claims of ancient and modern Zionism.


So why does President Obama's misreading of Zionist history matter? Why should we care that he traced Zionist aspirations to the Holocaust?


Because it matters greatly in resolving the seemingly never-ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


In his Cairo address, President Obama fell into what I call the "Ahmadinejad trap." The Iranian president is well known for his Holocaust-denial, and easily refuted on that score. But Ahmadinejad has not one take, but two takes on the Holocaust.


While denying it on one hand, he acknowledges it on the other -- sort of -- to buttress his argument that, yes, there was plenty of Jewish persecution in Europe, but why should we Muslims in the Middle East have to pay the price for Europe's bad conscience? Why does the Holocaust justify the arrival of latter-day colonialists who supplanted the  indigenous population -- the Palestinians? 


Ahmadinejad is not the only leading figure on the world stage to propound this notion that Israelis are recent European interlopers in a land to which other people -- Palestinians -- have superior historical claims. Far from it.


You can hear this revisionist argument in Palestinian circles and throughout the Arab world -- a total denial of the historical reality that Jews, in fact, are the most indigenous people in Palestine -- by a margin of several millennia.



Leo Rennert

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


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