Neumann, Michael: The Case Against Israel, CounterPunch and AK Press, January 2006, ISBN 1-90485-946-1, 220 pages, $16.50 (paperback)
[ed. Dr. Amir wrote a Letter to the Editor following Gilles d'Aymery's review of Prof. Neumann's book and the two of them went on to have an extended exchange on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, published over two months in the Letters to the Editor (we intend to reconcile that exchange in one file to be published on April 24). Aymery sent a pdf copy of the book to Amir, who in turn sent the following review.]
(Swans - April 10, 2006) Here is my impression on Michael Neumann's book.
The author states in the preface that his biases are pro-Israel and pro-Jewish. That statement is inaccurate. He thinks that Israel was founded in sin by an illegitimate movement and its foundation was wrong. He may have pro-Jewish bias but he has definitely anti-Israeli bias.
The author spends a lot of time trying to debunk the right of self-determination, calling it "alleged." He writes that Woodrow Wilson made self-determination an inalienable right for disenfranchised people around the world. But in Neumann's opinion: "Neither international approval nor the UN's Charter are sufficient to bring rights into existence." And then he brings a most bizarre comparison stating that if the UN said that people have the right to eat their children, would that make it so? And he adds: "There is no right of self-determination of peoples. The whole idea is a bad one." This outlandish comparison speaks volumes about the substance of this book.
One has the impression that this total denial of the right to self-determination of peoples is there so that the right of the Jewish people to self-determination could be denied. The author writes that "when Zionism began, the Jews had no common language and their traditions were in many cases widely dissimilar" and that "Zionism was a movement that advocated not so much the defense of an ethnic group as the formation of such a group in Palestine." The author could not be more wrong. One can understand the reason for him being wrong. After all, there is not a single case in the whole of recorded history that a people lost its territory, was dispersed all over the world for more than 1900 years, and in spite of that, did not disappear from the world stage. It was able to preserve its historical memory, its religion, its strong emotional attachment to what it calls Eretz Israel (later known as Palestine). That is why on Passover, a Jewish family in Yemen, or in Russia, or in Germany, or in Morocco, would say "Next year in Jerusalem." Without that common historic memory and this attachment to the land, the Zionist movement would not have existed because the Jewish people would not have existed. Zionists did not have to "form" an ethnic group in Palestine. It simply gave the Jewish people the push to strive to reestablish its sovereign nation state in the place of its origin.
The author is unwilling or unable to accept those undeniable historic facts.
I would like to live in a world without borders, without nation-states, without armies and warfare, without crime and prisons. But, as long as the world is full with nation-states, Israel, as the nation-state of the Jewish people, will continue to exist.
The author is also wrong when he states that the membership of mainstream Jewish organizations does not greatly exceed the membership of dissident Jewish groups, implying that a large part of world Jewry does not support Israel. In fact, the overwhelming majority of world Jews support the existence of Israel as a Jewish nation-state. Some of them disagree with certain policies of Israel, just like some Israelis do, but they support its right to exist.
The author says that some Zionists doubted the existence of a Palestinian people. The fact is that the term "Palestinian Arab people" was not in wide use. The inhabitants of mandatory Palestine considered themselves part of the Arab nation and especially part of Syria. One of the witnesses in front of the Peel Commission said that the term Palestine is a "Zionist term." And indeed several institutions of the Zionist movement in Palestine bore that name. The Palestine Post was the English language Zionist paper. The Anglo-Palestine Bank was the name of the most important financial institution of the Zionist movement.
In fact, the Zionists knew very well that another people lived in Palestine. The sentence "A land without a people for a people without a land" was written by the British Jewish writer, Israel Zangvil. It was NEVER the official position of the Zionist movement. In fact, already in 1923, the prominent Zionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinski wrote that in the future Jewish state, if the Prime Minister is Jewish, the vice-Premier will be Arab and vice versa. In a poem he wrote one can find the line: "There [in the future state] will be prosperity and happiness for the son of the Arab, the son of the Christian and my son." In his article titled "The Iron Wall" he writes that the Arab people in Palestine, being a normal people, will object the establishment of a Jewish state. That is why the Jews have to be strong enough, so that the Arabs will understand that they have no chance to overrun them militarily.
The author quotes Trotsky who said that every state is founded on force. And he adds: "If Zionism attempted to establish a Jewish state in Palestine, it attempted to establish a Jewish monopoly on violence in Palestine." And then he remarks that "there are many states which are democratic, constitutional, respecters of human rights. Why mightn't a Jewish state be like that?" But then he says that there is no state whose protections could not vanish. And then he makes another bizarre assertion: "Canadians or Americans can decide to revoke their constitution and draw up another one, perhaps specifying that all redheads born on Tuesdays should be executed." This is as bizarre as the "right of parents to eat their children." In fact, the Israeli Declaration of Independence clearly states that ALL Israeli citizens, regardless of their gender, religion, or ethnic origin, have equal rights. That is why one can find Arab citizens of Israel in the schools and universities, as teachers and students, in the police, army, and the judiciary, all the way to the Supreme Court. This means that contrary to the author's assertion the "monopoly of violence" is not only Jewish...
The author asks: "Were or were not the Zionists going to accept a state in which, perhaps in matters of life and death, it was possible for the citizens to decide against the Jews?" Now, it would be more than interesting if the author could point to a single state in which the citizens will decide against themselves. Again, one of his more than bizarre statements.
I agree with the author that bi-nationalism was never a real option. Only a miniscule minority of Zionists supported the idea and it had no chance whatsoever of being implemented.
The aim of the Zionist movement was clearly spelled out in the title of Herzl's book, The Jewish State. It is true that most of the political observers were sure that this was just an inaccessible dream. But Zionism proved all of them wrong.
The author writes about the Jewish National Fund. This is one of the best examples of how the worldwide Jewish community contributed to the Zionist idea. The small blue and white saving box of the Fund could be, and still is, found in many Jewish homes all over the world. That is why the land purchased in Palestine was the land of all the Jews. Again, a concept difficult for the author to understand.
The author spends some time on the Biblical and historic claims of the Jews in Palestine. He quotes archaeologists Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman's book, The Bible Unearthed, to show how unreliable the Bible is. He has to remember the old saying: In archeology the lack of evidence is not evidence of lack. But, most importantly, even a minimalist like Finkelstein does not deny that the Jews became a nation in what later became known as Palestine. In his opinion, there was no conquest from the outside. The Jews apparently evolved from local people. They had kingdoms, they had prophets, they wrote the Bible. What counts is not how big their kingdoms were. What counts is that the Jews originated in Palestine and remained emotionally attached to it through the centuries of dispersal. That is what prompted them to try and resume their independence there. And recent genetic research shows clearly that modern Jews from many different countries are much closer to each other and to Palestinians and Syrians than they are to their non-Jewish neighbors. This indicates that they originated in the Middle East.
Yes, the Greeks ruled over much of Asia Minor, including Turkey. The author says that if the Greeks would claim Turkey they would be considered insane. But the fact is that nobody in Greece has ever claimed Turkey. And the descendants of the ancient Saxons, Danes, Jutes, and Bohemians are not pressing their historical entitlements, precisely because they all lost all connections to those entitlements. But the Jews did not lose their historical memory. That is why when a Jew in Poland builds a new home he will leave a small part of the outer wall unfinished as a reminder of the destroyed Temple. That is why the bridegroom in a Jewish wedding to this day will break a glass; again, a reminder of the destroyed Temple.
The author writes about the Arab uprising of 1936, but says nothing of the Jewish uprising of 1946, when the same Palestinian Jews revolted against the British colonial power. They were able to cause the UN intervention and very possibly the end of the British Mandate.
Also, because Zionism was not a religion-based movement it really does not matter how the ultra-Orthodox Jews felt about it. It is totally irrelevant that some Judaic scholars see Israel's military exploits as blasphemy. The Jewish claim on Palestine is based primarily on national reasons, not religious ones. And this claim is both valid and legitimate.
The author thinks that the Palestinians were justified in rejecting the 1947 UN partition plan, because it would have allowed those terrible Zionists a base from which they would have attacked and taken all of Palestine. This is nothing but supposition, which the author cannot prove. On the other hand, nobody denies that Israel was stronger than Jordan from 1948 to 1967. It could have easily taken the whole of the West Bank. It did not, for the simple reason that Israel was ready to make the Green Line its permanent border had the Arabs accepted the territorial compromise. In 1967, Israel warned King Hussein to stay out of the war. If he had complied, the whole of the West Bank would have still been Jordanian.
Had the Palestinians accepted the UN plan their state would have been 58 years old today.
The only reason they did not was their refusal to accept a Jewish independent state in Palestine regardless of its size. And they did all they could to destroy this state. They failed. Jabotinski was right when he said in 1925 that a strong Jewish army will prevent any effort to destroy the Jewish entity. Now, Egypt and Jordan recognize Israel and some Arab countries have economic relations with Israel. In the Oslo accords, the PLO (representing the Palestinians) accepted the principle of the territorial compromise and recognized the legitimacy of the Jewish state.
I agree with Neumann's opinion on the West Bank and I hope Israel will be able to withdraw (with agreement or unilaterally) from most of the West Bank.
In short, in my opinion, the author's premise that Zionism was illegitimate and that the founding of Israel was an immoral act, is totally wrong. Zionism was, and is, the movement of national liberation of the Jewish people, and ended up being one of the most successful national liberation movements.
I do not think that this is an "elegant intellectual" book as I found its basic premise flawed.
Neumann, Michael: The Case Against Israel, CounterPunch and AK Press, January 2006, ISBN 1-90485-946-1, 220 pages, $16.50 (paperback) -- You can buy the book directly from CounterPunch's On-line Bookstore.
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