Monday, March 28, 2016

J. Magnes and the Orwellian Ministry of Truth - Eugene Veklerov

by Eugene Veklerov

The demonization of the word Zionism by small but vocal groups has continued unabated. Their tactics include aggressive intimidation and equating the word Zionism ad nauseam with racism, Nazism, apartheid, etc.

The University of California at Berkeley's library has a Jewish museum.  Its official name is The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life.  Who was the person whose name appears on its plaque?

Here is a brief bio-sketch.  He was born in Northern California in 1877, and his name at birth was Julian Leon Magnes.  He became a rabbi and a leader of several groups known for their pacifist activities during WWI and for other progressive causes.  For example, he spoke on behalf of anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, whose case was a cause célèbre of the radical left in the first half of the 20th century.  His contemporaries described him as highly articulate and influential, which makes him a Bernie Sanders of his time.

But he was also an ardent Zionist, which would make him anathema to many of Bernie Sanders's supporters.  This seeming paradox has a simple explanation.  The meaning and connotation of the word Zionism has changed.  And the history of Zionism and Magnes's life are so intertwined that his biography provides a historical context for how the world's conception of Zionism has developed.

Many words have changed over time.  For example, 200 years ago, the word inmate meant housemate.  (Try to introduce your housemate to your visiting parents as your inmate, and watch their reaction!)  Usually, this change is a natural, slow, and chaotic process in that it is not purposefully controlled by any group of people set out to change the meaning of a word from A to B.  Rather, it is driven by rank-and-file speakers of a language.

A totally different way of changing the meanings of words was narrated by George Orwell in his novel 1984.  Orwell describes the fictitious country Oceania and its Ministry of Truth.  The Ministry is in charge of two functions: rewriting history and creating Newspeak, which serves as a tool for mind control.  For example, the word rectify in the Newspeak lexicon means to deliberately alter the past.

That's what happened to the word Zionism.  It used to be a nuanced word, as Zionism has never been a monolithic movement.  It has included such factions as socialist Zionists and religious Zionists, neo-Zionists and binationalists.

A massive assault on the word was launched in 1975, and the role of the Ministry of Truth was played by the United Nations.  By a vote of 75 to 35 with 32 abstentions, the U.N. passed a resolution that determined that "Zionism is a form of racism."  This linguistic finding was short-lived.  In 1991, the U.N. revoked its own determination that "Zionism is a form of racism" by a vote of 111 to 25 with 13 abstentions.  There is something surreal about the huge difference between the two outcomes.  If anything, it attests to the U.N.'s lack of credibility.

Revocation or not, the demonization of the word Zionism by small but vocal groups has continued unabated.  Their tactics include aggressive intimidation and equating the word Zionism ad nauseam with racism, Nazism, apartheid, etc.  Thus, in February of 2016, students of the Brooklyn College interrupted a faculty meeting and demanded "Zionists off campus."  When a computer science professor told the students they were "out of order," they called him a "Zionist pig."  Similar scenes have taken place at many colleges, and it is obviously an orchestrated effort.  The students pick up their cues from many sources, but particularly from radical left-wing professors, who tend to work mostly in departments with the word "studies" in their names (American studies, gender studies, etc.) and from some media sources.

Here is an illustration of the cues that the students pick up.

In 2013, the American Studies Association (ASA) called for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.  Asked by a reporter why Israel was singled out, while other countries have much worse human rights records, the then ASA president, Curtis Marez, replied, "One has to start somewhere."  We are now well into 2016, but my research has not yielded any calls for boycotts of other countries issued by the ASA.  It is becoming increasingly clear that the ASA's moral indignation will end where it began.

The ASA, which was followed by several other learned societies, treats Israel as a Jew among nations.  Marez, who is a professor at the University of California at San Diego, further justified the selectivity of the ASA's boycotts by saying that civil society groups in other countries had not asked the ASA for a boycott.  That argument is hilarious.  A professor of American studies should know that the countries with the worst human rights records have no civil society groups that are independent from the governments.  If targeting the only Jewish country in the world for vilification is not anti-Semitism, what is it?

But let us come back to Julian Magnes.  He attended a public high school in Oakland and was a star pitcher of its baseball team.  Then this all-American boy became a rabbi and a Zionist.  To symbolize his connection to Jews of the past, he changed his first name from Julian to Judah.  Judah Magnes was a prominent leader of many progressive causes.  In 1922, Magnes immigrated to British Mandate Palestine.  Along with Albert Einstein, he was instrumental in founding the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Politically, Magnes belonged to the binational faction of the Zionist movement until almost the end of his life.  The faction advocated a binational state in British Mandate Palestine, in which the Jews and Arabs would have equal rights, rather than a separate Jewish state.  As the head of the Hebrew University, Magnes looked upon the university as a perfect place for Jewish and Arab cooperation.

The dreams of the binationalists suffered a huge blow when a wave of Jewish massacres swept the country in the 1920-30s.  In a truly Orwellian "rectification," historical revisionists want us to believe that the Jews and Arabs lived in peace and harmony before the declaration of independence of Israel, but it was anything but that.  The bloodiest Jewish massacre took place in 1929 in Hebron, a city where Jews had lived for centuries.  Here is an excerpt from the report made by a British commission that investigated the violence:
About 9 o'clock on the morning of the 24th of August, Arabs in Hebron made a most ferocious attack on the Jewish ghetto and on isolated Jewish houses lying outside the crowded quarters of the town. More than 60 Jews – including many women and children – were murdered and more than 50 were wounded. This savage attack, of which no condemnation could be too severe, was accompanied by wanton destruction and looting. Jewish synagogues were desecrated, a Jewish hospital, which had provided treatment for Arabs, was attacked and ransacked[.]
Many binationalists abandoned their goal after the violent pogroms, but Magnes did not.  He kept looking for moderate Arab leaders, but as his biographer Daniel P. Kotzin notes, he never found a serious Arab partner willing to share Palestine on an equal basis with the Jews.  In the meantime, the scope of anti-Jewish violence increased both in Palestine and throughout the entire Arab world, forcing the Jews to flee Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and other Arab countries.

Magnes died in 1948.  In the final months of his life, he gave up on his dream of binationalism and supported Israel's declaration of independence.  He was a dreamer whose dreams did not come true.

This essay uses a brief description of his life to illustrate the events leading up to the declaration of Israel's independence.  These events were pivotal in the evolution of Zionism.  In many ways, they were not too different from, say, the events leading to the partition of the Indian sub-continent into India and Pakistan, when Britain dismantled its colony in 1947.  In both cases, animosity along religious lines made coexistence impossible.

Eugene Veklerov


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

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