Monthly Archives: May 2011

The Borders That Never Were

When the guns stopped. July 20, 1949Recent pronouncements by the US president have again focused attention on the “pre-1967 borders of Israel,” and they are being spoken about as if they lay in some golden age of legitimacy that Israel abandoned when it made war on the Arab world in 1967.

Some years ago I was on a cable TV show in Toronto, part of a panel of pro- and anti-Israel speakers, and one of my interlocutors was an attractive young Arab woman who represented the Canadian Branch of an Arab-American organization. The issue of Israel’s security barrier came up, and she trotted out the standard line about Israel lying about the anti-terror motive that Israel claimed for building it. Surly, she claimed, if Israel were only motivated by a desire to fight terrorism, they could have built it on “their own land” inside the “1967 borders.”

I asked her if she was actually stating, on national TV, that she as a leader of a major Arab organization in North America was publicly accepting the legitimacy of Israel within its pre-1967 boundaries – a recognition never before proffered by any Arab government (except for Egypt and Jordan)?

She spluttered and tried to change the subject, but the cat was out of the bag – and she was the one who had untied the string!

We all know that Israel is a unique country, but one of its lesser-known peculiarities is that for most of its history, it had no borders. The Jewish state’s first, recognized border only came into being in January 1980, with the implementation of the peace treaty with Egypt. Before that, all Israel had were ceasefire lines.

In 1947 the UN had proposed a partition of the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean into Jewish and Arab states. The Jews (reluctantly) accepted this suggestion; the Arabs rejected it. Local Palestinian Arabs and the armies of five Arab states set out to strangle the Jewish state in its cradle. The Jews stubbornly refused to die, and when the fighting stopped in July 20, 1949, they were in possession of 50 percent more land than had been allocated to them under the UN plan. But this was not some new agreement; it just happened to be where the Jewish forces had beaten their genocidal attackers to a standstill. That’s where the situation was and stayed until the attack was renewed against Israel in 1967.

The “pre-1967 borders” were really the post-1949 ceasefire lines. These boundaries of a failed genocide are today being spoken of as if they are Israel’s natural borders that the Jewish state is required to draw back to. She is not. Even the UN Security council accepted this point when, in the famous resolution 242, they looked forward to a peace in which Israel (like other states in the region) is entitled to boundaries that would be both “secure” and “recognized” – something the 1949 ceasefire lines manifestly were not.

Whatever your views are on the desirability of Israel making territorial concessions, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that Israel is required to return to the borders that never were.


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What’s worse than a self hating Jew?

There have always been Jewish enemies of the Jewish people. The Talmud speaks of the moser (informer) as being comparable to a serpent. Often they were motivated by venality or personal vindictiveness, occasionally by apostasy.

In modern times, more complex psychological motivations also developed, resulting in the “self-hating Jew” — what one Israeli official describes as “people who are proud to be ashamed to be Jewish”! I could multiply examples almost indefinitely, but what’s the point? We all know the Noam Chomskys, Gerald Kaufmans, and Ronnie Kasrills of the world. (Ironically, anti-semitism is one of the few professions that has not discriminated against Jews — the Jew haters have always admitted Jews as full members in good standing.)

Jewish anti-semites are not going to go away, and we have largely learned how to deal with them. We have to put our feelings of betrayal and revulsion to one side and deal with them on the (de)merits of their arguments. If a gentile anti-semite is wrong, the fact that someone who shares the same views is himself Jewish, isn’t going to make him right.

Today, however, we face a much more dangerous phenomenon: the Jew who identifies strongly with the Jewish community, perceives himself to be “pro-Israel,” may even call himself a “Zionist,” yet has internalized the anti-Israel agenda.

The anti-Israel agenda
What is the anti-Israel agenda? For the last seventy years or more, anti-Israel and anti-Zionist rhetoric has asserted the same basic arguments:

  1.  Jews are not a nation.
  2. Jews are therefore not entitled to national rights. If they are entitled to national rights, they are not entitled to them in their ancient homeland.
  3. If their nationalism is illegitimate, it must be racist in conception and apartheid (and/or Nazi) in application.
  4. If they have succeeded in regaining control of their homeland, it is ipso facto by theft and not by right.
  5. 5. As an illegitimate state, Israel has no right to exist.
  6. With no right to exist, Israel has no right to self-defense.
  7. Any land Israel has gained through self-defense is held illegitimately.
  8. As an illegitimate state, Israel isn’t entitled to friendship, support, or allies.
  9. The crime of Israel’s existence is so heinous that it dwarfs all other issues in the Middle East, or anywhere else in the world for that matter.

This viewpoint has no nuance and no shades of grey. It is Manichean in it’s depiction of Israel as the ultimate evil and the Arabs and Muslims as the ultimate victims. It doesn’t matter where you board the train of anti-Israel ideology, it has only one destination: the eradication of Israel.

Taking antisemitism to the non-antisemites
The “trick” of anti-Israel advocacy is to take people’s legitimate questions about a specific Israeli policy and encourage them to segue into questioning Israel’s legitimacy. If you can find examples of unpleasant things going on (Israeli soldiers searching Palestinian Arabs houses for weapons, for example) then these are just further illustrations of how illegitimate the “Occupation” is.

Once you adopt the anti-Israel agenda, reasoned debate is no longer possible.

You might have a thoughtful discussion about what methods are both legitimate and effective for a country to use to defend itself against asymmetric warfare being waged against it from the midst of a civilian population, or you can talk about Israeli “war crimes” in Gaza. You can’t have both. The first is an open ended discussion (that may or may not include legitimate criticism of Israeli actions); the latter is just a slide down the ladder of its own logic to the inevitable conclusion that the Jewish state can’t redeem itself from the original sin it was born in.

To put the anti-Israel agenda in a nutshell, “Israel is the problem.” Put that way, the ultimate (or perhaps, final) solution is self-evident. Framing the debate as being about Israel, rather than the ongoing rejection of Jewish rights in our own homeland, poisons discourse in two ways. It traps supporters of Israel into a constantly defensive position, and it urges critics of Israel down the slippery slope of demonization.

What is singularly lacking in current discourse about Israel is a sense of the fundamental rightness of Israel’s case. We have spent so long explaining why we are not as bad as our enemies claim we are, that we have forgotten to say that we are better than anyone could imagine. There needs to be talk of Jewish heroism, humanity, and ingenuity. We must go beyond the mild admiration generated by Israel’s advances in hi-tech, to the inspiration of a nation winning back its ancient patrimony after an unprecedented exile, of the vision needed to achieve that goal and the greatness of spirit required to defend it.

In order to get away from the Israel-is-the-problem approach, we need a collection of stories. (These come from

  • Major Roi Klein, who in battle in Southern Lebanon on July 25, 2009, threw himself on a hand grenade, stifling its explosion and saving the lives of his comrades. His last words were the heartfelt recitation of the Jewish declaration of faith, “Shema Yisrael, HaShem Elokeinu, HaShem Echad” (Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One). These were the same words spoken by Jewish martyrs down the ages.
  • Sherri and Seth Mandell’s teenage son, Koby, and his friend Yosef Ish-Ran were brutally murdered by Arab terrorists on May 8, 2001. The Mandells rose above their tragedy to found an international foundation (The Koby Foundation) to help other families who have lost siblings, children, or parents to terror.
  • Shlomo Mula, as a teenager, set out to walk from his village in Ethiopia to his homeland in the Land of Israel in 1984. After a journey in which he faced wild animals, bandits, and torture, he was rescued by Israeli clandestine operatives and finally reached the Jewish state. In February 2008, he was elected to Israel’s Parliament (the Knesset).
  • Yisrael Meir Lau was born in Poland in 1937 and was imprisoned in Buchenwald as a child. Scion of a family of Jewish scholars that boasted 37 generations, son after son, of rabbis, he felt that he had been rescued from the jaws of the beast to pick up the fallen torch of his heritage. He dedicated his life to religious studies and ministering to the needs of others, and in 1993 became Chief Rabbi of Israel.

If the “not quite self-hating Jews” of the world, including the young adherents of J Street U, saw the story of Israel as being reflected in these accounts, they would have a firmer grasp on the truth of the Middle East.


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