Alan Baker is a distinguished, British-born Israeli expert in international law and Israel’s former ambassador to Canada. According to Baker, the US State Department promulgates the notion that, “Israel’s settlement activity is the source of all evil in the world, and the US is waging a massive war of ‘Gog and Magog’ against this evil. No international terrorism, no Islamic State, no Iranian nuclear threat, no Syria, no Hezbollah, no Hamas, no hunger, no global warming [is as bad as Jews building in their homeland].” (Jerusalem Post 8/1/16)
Furthermore, Baker makes the compelling point that the current administration has gone far beyond previous ones in labelling Jewish construction (even in our eternal capital Jerusalem) as “illegitimate,” “corrosive to the cause of peace,” “systematically undermining the prospects for a two-state solution,” and “entrenching a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict.”
Is this how the US should treat a close ally, probably America’s most important partner in defense R&D, uniquely positioned as the Western, non-Islamic bulwark in the Middle East, sharing Jewish (Judeo-Christian to them) values? Absolutely not. So, from where does this disparagement of Jews in the Middle East come?
During the 1990s, I read Robert D. Kaplan’s The Arabists: The Romance of an American Elite. It opened my eyes to the ardor that State Department types have for the romantic, swarthy denizens of the Middle Eastern deserts. Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes wrote an excellent review of this book, which merits quoting:
“The Arabist tradition goes back to 1827 when Eli Smith, an upright Yankee from Yale and the Andover Theological Seminary, took off for the mountains of Lebanon to learn the Arabic language. Unlike the British Arabists, they strove only to bring their vision of Christianity to the Middle East.
“The Arabist impact on US policy dates back to the late 1940s, when Washington first got actively involved in the Middle East. [The] Arabists lacked the imagination to understand either the United States or American interests abroad. They loved a pristine Middle East, and regretted its modernization. Against all evidence, Arabists quixotically sought to show the ‘essential harmony of Western and Arab-Islamic culture.’ But most of all, they hated Israelis, whom they blamed as much for spoiling their century-old idyll as for the Palestinians’ plight. Washington’s increasingly strong support for Israel caused many Arabists to slide into anti-Semitism.”
Sentiments about European and “Palestinian” Jews came to a head during the presidency of FDR. A patrician, Roosevelt was the exemplar of the WASP political class who were born to lead the United States, at least in their own estimation. According to Rafael Medoff, the American historian and founding director of The David Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, “The US immigration system [administered by the State Department] severely limited the number of German Jews admitted during the Nazi years to about 26,000 annually – but even that quota was less than 25% filled during most of the Hitler era, because the Roosevelt administration piled on so many extra requirements for would-be immigrants.”
Medoff documents various times when Roosevelt disparaged the Jews. “The most common theme in Roosevelt’s private statements about Jews has to do with his perception that they were ‘overcrowding’ many professions, exercising undue influence, and needed to be ‘spread out thin’ so as to keep them in check.”
Adding to his concerns about the impact of Jews, Roosevelt didn’t want to anger the Arabs, was concerned with being re-elected in a society where anti-Semitism was common, and indifferent to the Jews’ fate under the Nazi regime. Nevertheless, Roosevelt succumbed to pressure from Jews and others and established the War Refugee Board in 1944, which did save the lives of several hundred thousand Jews. (The Truth About FDR and the Jews)
Due to FDR’s untimely death near the end of WWII, an unprepared Harry S. Truman became president. Though Roosevelt had kept Truman in the dark about almost everything including the Manhattan Project, it fell to Truman to fight the State Department over support for the independence of the State of Israel. Perhaps Truman’s most prestigious antagonist was the storied former general, George C. Marshall, whom Truman installed as Secretary of State in 1947.
As America’s top diplomat, George C. Marshall agreed with the state department’s objections to the recognition of the State of Israel in 1948. There were several reasons: the recognition of Israel undermined the proposal for a United Nations trusteeship, which the United States had publicly supported; Marshall believed that Israel did not have the manpower or weapons to wage a successful war against the Arab armies; Marshall doubted that the US was capable of providing Israel immediate military support; and he was discomfited that President Truman’s decision to recognize Israel had been influenced by domestic political considerations. (history.state.gov)
Marshall was probably correct in all his assumptions, but Israel miraculously triumphed in spite of these “facts.” Truman stood by his promise to Chaim Weizmann to support and recognize the establishment of the Jewish State, even overriding the State Department’s refusal to do so. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that the State Department has never warmed to the idea of Israel, a tiny Jewish state among hundreds of millions of Arabs.
While Arabists no longer rule the State Department, and despite the fact that many officials in the agency are Jewish, the State Department still maintains a strong anti-Israel stand in the realm of diplomacy. As Alan Baker points out, the rhetoric emanating from “Foggy Bottom” poisons the atmosphere about Israel domestically and internationally. Most disheartening is when Jews themselves fall for the anti-Zionist narrative, a description of Israel’s actions so dire that it makes American Jews ashamed of Israel, and sometimes of even being Jewish.
The latest example of this is from one of the most acclaimed American Jewish historians, Hasia Diner. A Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies and History at NYU, Diner’s latest revelations have been spread by the Haaretz newspaper/hate-sheet, which purports to be the conscience of the Israeli intelligentsia but actually is just an apologizer for the Palestinian Authority. In an op-ed which recently appeared, Diner calls Zionism a “naive delusion” which has made her feel uncomfortable entering any synagogue that strongly supports Israel.
An article on the Times of Israel website reports that Diner condemns Israel’s “occupation of the West Bank” [Judea and Samaria, homeland of the Jews], as well as the growth of Israel’s haredi and right-wing sectors [in what was originally a Socialist state]. Israel “is a place that I abhor visiting, and to which I will contribute no money, whose products I will not buy, nor will I expend my limited but still to me, meaningful, political clout to support it,” says Diner.
“The Law of Return can no longer look to me as anything other than racism.”
What can one say about such “conversions”? I maintain that the steady drumbeat of State Department denunciations, anti-Semitic/Zionist propaganda, perennially biased headlines and articles against Israel in the mass media, and the wide-open, defamatory digital world, all serve to cause diffident Jews to renounce their heritage and join the haters.
If this poisonous atmosphere can cause a respected professor to throw in her lot with the haters, what chance do impressionable students have, when even their teachers subtly or openly subvert them and ingenuous fellow students don keffiahs and make kumbayah with the hate-mongers?
There are countervailing forces against this madness. They can be parents and grandparents proud of their heritage and knowledgable about the history of the Jews and Israel. They can be organizations such as standwithus.com, HonestReporting.com, camera.org, and many others who disseminate our proud traditions. They can be the birthright/taglit programs (birthrightisrael.com) which bring hundreds of thousands of young Jews from around the world to visit Israel, where they can see our vibrant democracy in action and meet Israelis in the flesh.
But there is the nagging doubt, “Is this enough?” Personally, I say that the Jews will defeat their enemies, no matter their numbers. A people that has endured for thousands of years against the greatest odds, that has succeeded to reinvigorate its ancient language and recovered its homeland, an independent nation that has risen to the highest ranks in less than 70 years – that is a nation and a people that will endure.
Despite the best (or worst) efforts of the State Department to blame and delegitimize Israel, it just won’t work. Jews are living in our indigenous land, the land that most Jews -but not all – were expelled from two thousand years ago. We have returned to our homeland and we will not be dispossessed from it again. Israel has the power to resist, and the more we do so, the less inclined will Western powers be to try to displace us.
Israel is blessed to have the US as its ally; America is equally blessed by being allied with Israel. That is the fact that the State Department needs to internalize and then transmit to the world, instead of the anti-Zionist message it broadcasts today.