Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Zionism, Jihad, and Nakba: The Rebirth of Israel and the Palestinian Catastrophe

By Michael Kaplan

The Mufti and the F├╝hrer. Haj Amin al-Husseini, leader of the Palestinian nationalist movement, with Adolf Hitler,  November 28, 1941.
Heinrich Hoffman/ Wikipedia.


The Palestinian Arab movement has been committed to the elimination of the Jews from its earliest days. Palestinian Arab nationalism was born in opposition to Zionism and remains defined by its uncompromising hostility to the idea and the reality of a Jewish state. Filastin hi arduna, Wa al-Yahud kilabuna! (“Palestine is our land and the Jews are our dogs!”) This has been the rallying cry for Palestinian Arabs ever since the Nebi Musa riots in Jerusalem in April 1920. On this point it made no difference whether Palestinians saw themselves as a distinct people or as part of the larger Arab nation. As early as 1905 the pioneer Arab nationalist Najib Azuri, a Lebanese Christian, warned that Arab nationalism and Zionism were irreconcilable. The two movements were destined to clash in a zero-sum struggle until one achieved a complete triumph over the other:
Two important phenomena, similar in nature and yet opposed to each other, which have not yet attracted the attention of anybody, are now manifesting themselves in Asiatic Turkey, namely the awakening of the Arab nation and the concealed effort of the Jews to reestablish the ancient monarchy of Israel on a grand scale. These two movements are destined to a continuous struggle, until one of the two prevails over the other. On the final outcome of this struggle between these two peoples, representing two opposing principles, will depend the destiny of the entire world.
By 1914, if not earlier, politically engaged Arab nationalists in Greater Syria agreed with Azuri that no accommodation with Zionism was possible. Any further Jewish settlement and nation-building, they concluded, would be harmful to the prospects of an Arab Muslim Palestine. One of these leaders, Haqqi Bey al-Azm, argued that “by employing means of threats and persecutions and it is this last method which we must employ by prodding the Arab population into destroying their farms and setting fire to their colonies, by forming gangs to execute these projects, the Zionists could be compelled to leave Palestine. One hundred years later this logic still shapes the strategies and tactics of Fatah, Hamas, and the Ayatollah Khamenei.


Vladimir Jabotinsky, 1935. Jabotinsky Institute.


That the Arabs were determined to oppose Jewish nation-building and preserve the Arab character of Palestine as part of the dar-al-Islam, should not have come as a surprise to the Zionists. No people have ever voluntarily consented to sharing their land with another people, even one with deep historical and religious ties to it. Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist (right-wing) Zionism, unlike the Labor (left-wing) Zionists, had no illusions about this. “Any native people,” Jabotinsky insisted, “views their country as their national home, of which they will always be the complete masters. They will not voluntarily allow, not only a new master, but even a new partner.” Jabotinsky warned that Zionism could succeed only by confronting and pushing back against the opposition of the Palestinian Arabs.
We cannot offer any adequate compensation to the Palestinian Arabs in return for Palestine. And therefore, there is no likelihood of any voluntary agreement being reached. So that all those who regard such an agreement as a condition sine qua non for Zionism may as well say “non” and withdraw from Zionism.
Jabotinsky’s assessment was confirmed by Awni Bey Abd al-Hadi, who told the Peel Commission:
There is not one nation in the world that would accept voluntarily and of its own desire that its position should be changed in a manner which will have an effect on its rights and prejudice its interests. . . . We as a nation are human beings with our own culture and civilization and we feel as any other nation would feel. It will have to be imposed on us by force.
Since the Palestinian Arabs would violently resist the Jewish return to Zion, the Zionist halutzim (pioneers) would have to respond with “an iron wall of Jewish bayonets.”

Britain’s Peel Commission, the first body to recommend a two-state solution, showed great insight when it explained the intractable nature of the conflict in words that apply just as much in 2016 as they did in 1937:
An irrepressible conflict has arisen between two national communities within the narrow bounds of one small country. About 1,000,000 Arabs are in strife, open or latent, with some 400,000 Jews. There is no common ground between them. The Arab community is predominantly Asiatic in character, the Jewish community predominantly European. They differ in religion and in language. Their cultural and social life, their ways of thought and conduct, are as incompatible as their national aspirations. These last are the greatest bar to peace. Arabs and Jews might possibly learn to live and work together in Palestine if they would make a genuine effort to reconcile and combine their national ideals and so build up in time a joint or dual nationality. But this they cannot do. The War and its sequel have inspired all Arabs with the hope of reviving in a free and united Arab world the traditions of the Arab golden age. The Jews similarly are inspired by their historic past. They mean to show what the Jewish nation can achieve when restored to the land of its birth. National assimilation between Arabs and Jews is thus ruled out. In the Arab picture the Jews could only occupy the place they occupied in Arab Egypt or Arab Spain. The Arabs would be as much outside the Jewish picture as the Canaanites in the old land of Israel. The National Home, as we have said before, cannot be half-national. In these circumstances to maintain that Palestinian citizenship has any moral meaning is a mischievous pretence. Neither Arab nor Jew has any sense of service to a single State.
The commissioners concluded that “this conflict was inherent in the situation from the outset.” And for both internal and external reasons – the intensification of Jewish and Arab nationalism in Palestine, the rise of Nazi Germany and the persecution of Jews in Europe – it would only get worse. “The conflict will go on, the gulf between Arabs and Jews will widen.” 

The 130-year war between Israelis and Arab Palestinians has always been a war of identity, a a war of blood and faith, an existential clash between irreconcilable national and religious aspirations.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Israel, Islam, and the Clash of Civilizations

By Michael Kaplan


Israeli female soldiers of the 33rd Caracal Battalion take part in a graduation march in the Negev desert. Female warriors are an important symbol in the clash of civilizations. The IDF is the one army that ISIS fears.  Menahem Kahana/Getty Images


The world – the Western and Islamic worlds that is – has a most unhealthy and irrational obsession with Zionism, the Jewish people, and the Jewish state. An ocean of ink has been spilled over the past hundred years – and terabytes of cyberspace filled up these days – on the existential conflict between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs.

In fact the Israeli-Palestinian conflict claims a far larger share of the world’s attention than it deserves. Geopolitically it’s not that important; “a 20th century problem surrounded by 21st century chaos,” in the words of one diplomat. Indeed, the fate of Israel and the Palestinians is far less important to the geostrategic interests of the United States than events elsewhere in the Middle East, East Asia, and beyond. Former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer is right when he asks “can it be proven that it would make a substantive – vice emotional – difference to U.S. security if . . . every Palestinian killed every Israeli, or vice versa . . . ?” The “brutal but correct” answer says Scheuer is that it doesn’t. Ethno-religious communal conflicts, like that between Israel and the Palestinians, “evoke sympathy and stir emotion,” but none of them, “regardless of who wins, endanger U.S. interests.”

Ah, but there’s the rub. While Scheuer overstates his case – Israel, as General David Petraeus points out, does have strategic value as a stable nation with an advanced economy and a powerful military that shares American cultural and political values in a part of the world that is increasingly unstable and dysfunctional – the American people do have a considerable  historical and emotional investment in Israel.

Ever since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, Americans have seen themselves as the “New Israel.” “Come, let us declare in Zion the work of the Lord our God,” proclaimed the Pilgrim leader William Bradford, quoting the prophet Jeremiah. Adherents of the Calvinist faith, and this includes Puritans and Jacksonians, gave their children Hebrew names (Abraham, Samuel, David, Jeremiah, Abigail, Rachel, Esther, Sarah, Dina, etc., etc.,) and bestowed upon the New World such biblical place names as Shiloh, Bethel, Bethlehem, Jericho, and New Canaan. Preachers and pamphleteers portrayed the American Revolution as a reenactment of the biblical Exodus: the Continental Army became the “army of Israel” under the command of the providentially chosen George Washington, the Moses who led the thirteen colonies out of bondage to “Pharaoh” George III, through the wilderness of war, to the promised land of independence. The Reverend Abiel Abbot announced in a 1799 sermon: “It has often been remarked that the people of the United States come nearer to a parallel with Ancient Israel, than any other nation upon the globe. Hence Our American Israel is a term frequently used; and common consent allows it apt and proper.”




Early Americans were among the first Zionists. In 1819 John Adams wrote to the Jewish American writer and politician Mordecai Manuel Noah: “Farther I could find it in my heart to wish that you had been at the head of a hundred thousand Israelites . . . & marching with them into Judea & making a conquest of that country & restoring your nation to the dominion of it. For I really wish the Jews again in Judea an independent nation.”

Jacksonians tend to identify with Israel, ancient and modern. Nineteenth-century Jacksonians saw themselves as Israelites engaged in the holy work of winning the land from the Native American Canaanites. While fighting the Seminoles in Florida in 1818, Andrew Jackson declared that his soldiers were “like the Iseralites of old in the wilderness.Jackson believed his army acted as “the hand of heaven . . . pointed against the exciters of this war,” on a mission to scatter the enemy “over the whole face of the Earth. Present-day Jacksonians admire Israeli strength and resolve and view the Jewish state as a valuable ally in the war against radical Islam. They also see Israel as a valiant David that shares American values, surrounded by a sea of Arab Muslim Goliaths whose social, cultural, and political mores leave Jacksonians baffled, whose states and societies are in meltdown, and whose embrace of jihadist terrorism places them beyond the pale of civilization and renders them enemies of the United States.

Israel is the source of the Abrahamic faiths that claim the loyalty of at least half of mankind. Though small in number as a people the contributions of the Jews to world civilization is immense. (Though, as Yuval Noah Harari points out, Judaism as a religion has had a very minor impact on civilization, other than as the source of the ethical monotheism universalized by Christianity and Islam.) And so the historical and emotional importance of Israel and the Jews to America and the world guarantee that Israel’s actions and destiny will remain at the center of the world’s stage. (See, for example the current issue of Foreign Affairs, cover shown below.)




Of course when it comes to Israel and the Jews it’s just not possible for most observers to be fair and balanced, or engage in calm, reasoned discourse. Israel and the Jews push too many hot buttons for too many people – religious, historical, cultural, psychological, and political – for Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. Friends and foes of Israel, living in alternate realities, committed with passionate intensity to uncompromising positions, engage in take-no-prisoners ideological jousts that inevitably devolve into incoherent paroxysms of righteous anger and rage. (And yes, most of the anger and rage against Israel, these days largely on the Leftis driven by anti-Semitism. Walter Russell Mead calls this new incarnation of Jew-hatred the Israel Outrage Industry. See: Helen Thomas.) There is simply too much historical and emotional baggage for all involved.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Existential Wars of Blood and Faith

By Michael Kaplan


I and my brother against my cousin. Middle Eastern tribalism: A Bedouin camp in the Transjordan in the 1890s. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.


The conflicts of the twenty-first century are shaping up, as strategic analyst Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Peters predicted, to be “wars of blood and faith.” This is true of the civil war in Syria, where an estimated 470,000 people have been killed, and similar conflicts across the developing world, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and even America’s post-9/11 war with radical Islam. Jacksonian America is after all a folk community that embodies the blood and faith element of American life (just listen to Toby Keith). These wars are driven by the existential issues of tribal and religious identity: Who am I and who is God? Is God a kind, loving, and merciful father, or is he a harsh, hate-filled, and punitive tyrant? “Will the god of love and mercy triumph over the god of battles?” Colonel Peters asks. Millions will die in the coming years trying to answer these questions.

These conflicts are made even more savage by the pressures of globalization. A recent study by Hebrew University political scientist Pazit Ben-Nun Bloom asserts that while globalization “has increased interpersonal contact between individuals from culturally diverse backgrounds,” it has not promoted greater tolerance or acceptance of difference. Nor has it promoted religious liberty and protection of minority groups. Just look at the Muslim Brotherhood’s bloody jihad against Coptic Christians in Egypt and ISIS’s even bloodier jihad against Christians, Yazidis, and all minorities in the Middle East. Instead globalization’s freewheeling cultural diversity and upheaval “induces perceived threat to a hegemonic religion, which leads to more restrictions on religious freedom.”

People really don’t like having cultural and religious differences shoved in their faces. Shadi Hamid makes the less than inspiring observation, “that the more people interact, the more they dislike each other.” This is just as true of subgroups – smaller tribal, family, and cult identities – within an ethno-religious society, as for example the intensifying conflict between ultra-Orthodox Haredim and the Israeli mainstream over issues of female sexuality and military service. Or the conflict over LGBTQ rights and transgender bathrooms in the United States. Such subcultures can live together peacefully in the same nation if they are given enough autonomy and breathing space to follow their own customs and mores and develop their own communal institutions, and eschew the urge to impose their will on the rest of the nation. Dutch political scientist Arend Lijphart wrote that “subcultures with widely divergent outlooks and interests may coexist without necessarily being in conflict. Conflict arises only when they are in contact with each other.” We need to accept that some differences, especially those of blood and faith, are simply too intractable to be bridged. Contrary to the liberal ideal of all people coming together to sing Kumbaya and celebrate their diversity, the best we can hope for in many ethnically and religiously divided societies is a sort of “voluntary apartheid” where the different groups try to keep out of each others faces.


The clash of civilizations. Charles Martel stops the Islamic invasion of Francia at the Battle of Poitiers, October 10, 732. Wikipedia.


Ben-Nun Bloom and her co-authors conclude:
that increasing awareness of diverse cultures, ideas and traditions as a result of globalization increases the perception of threat to religious, cultural and national integrity and results in a backlash that manifests itself in distrust of and even aggressive attitudes towards alien cultures and lifestyles. Globalization thus creates a threat to the sense of group integrity, which in turn leads to fears of loss of identity and the sense of a disintegrating community and generates strong resistance towards other value systems, such as other religions.
In fact globalization is provoking its opposite: a re-tribalization of much of the world. Faced with moral chaos through the overthrow of age-old customs and values by globalization, people are falling back on their primal tribal identities. Or to borrow Tom Friedman’s metaphor, people are rejecting the Lexus for the Olive Tree. Ethnic street gangs, usually linked to the drug trade, are the new tribes of urban America’s economic and spiritual wastelands. God Himself, Ralph Peters writes, is being re-tribalized. “Far from monolithic, both the Muslim and Christian faiths are splintering, with radical strains emerging that reject the globalization of God and insist that His love is narrow, specific, and highly conditional.” This is not a recipe for peaceful coexistence.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Reviling the Rabble: Bret Stephens Wants to Teach Jacksonian America a Lesson

By Michael Kaplan

Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal has long been one of my favorite columnists. He talks more sense on foreign policy issues like the threat of radical Islam or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than a whole conga line of bloviating pundits. (See, for example, here, here, here, here, and here.) This has, to Stephens’s credit, earned him the overheated hatred of the Left. (See these examples from the left-wing anti-Semitic website Mondoweiss, here, here, here.)

So I was very disappointed when Stephens launched into a tirade against Jacksonian America on a May 29 Fareed Zakaria GPS panel. (GPS transcript here.)





Stephens, usually the conservative on a GPS panel, descends here into the same liberal internationalist contempt for the people of flyover country—reviling the rabbletypical of host Fareed Zakaria:
I most certainly will not vote for Donald Trump. I will vote for the least left-wing opponent to Donald Trump and I want to make a vote that makes sure he is the biggest loser in presidential history since, I don’t know, Alf Landon or going back further.
It’s important that Donald Trump and what he represents, this kind of ethnic quote “conservatism” or populism, be so decisively rebuked that the Republican Party and Republican voters will forever learn their lesson that they cannot nominate a man so manifestly unqualified to be president in any way, shape or form.
So they have to learn a lesson in the way perhaps Democrats learned a lesson from McGovern in ’72. George Will has said let’s have him lose in 50 states. Why not Guam, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia too.
This sounds too much like the smears against Jacksonians as stupid, ignorant, racist, sexist, bigoted, homophobes, xenophobes, and Islamophobes that’s the stock-in-trade of the Left. Just read any article in Salon, the Huffington Post, or watch any episode of Real Time with Bill Maher. In calling for Trump voters to be taught a lesson they will never forget, Bret Stephens displays an elite contempt for the intelligence and interests of much of the American public. Rush Limbaugh observes that Stephens, speaking for the elites and the establishment, is telling the base, “you people are gonna have to get your minds right. You’re gonna have to learn how big a bunch of screw-ups you are.” While Matthew Continetti notes that Republicans are unsure whether they should mock and insult Trump supporters or show them some respect. I should not have been surprised. Sadly bashing the base and reviling the rabble is now a tactic of the conservative Never Trump movement too.

Stephens’s tirade makes it clear that the tension between Jacksonians and movement conservatives in the Republican Party has morphed into a very public and hostile schism. As Walter Russell Mead put it“Jacksonian voters are less dogmatic and less conservative than some of their would-be political representatives care to acknowledge. Jacksonians like Social Security and Medicare much more than most Republican intellectuals, and they like immigration and free trade much less. The Never Trump movement is driven not just by personal hostility to Donald Trump but even more by a fear and loathing of Jacksonian America as fierce as any on the Left. And Jacksonian voters in this GOP primary season have said loud and clear that they don’t want intellectual conservatives like Bret Stephens, anymore than they want liberal progressive elites, telling them what to think, how to feel, and who to vote for.