17 May in Jewish history — then and now

17 May 1939 was one of the darkest days in our long national history. This was the day of the ”White Paper”, the British document which , for all intents and purposes, meant an abrogation of the Balfour Declaration. This was the day in which another nail was put in the collective coffin of European Jewry. The day to remember in infamy, so far as we Jews are concerned. Political scientists will tell us , that there was nothing special against the Jews, as this was a part of the overall policy of appeasement. They will will also tell us, in fact I myself say it in my classes, that confronted with the impending world war,Britain preferred hundreds of millions of Muslims and Arabs over the 18 million Jews of the world[today we are only 14 million], a logical choice, made inevitable exactly because the British knew , that the Jews had no alternative, but to fight the Nazis, whereas the Arabs had-to rebel against the British, which they did at any rate in Iraq in May 1941.

Political scientists will also tell us, that the ”White Paper” did not mean, that the British were inherently antisemitic, as ,after all, the Balfour Declaration itself was such a pro-Jewish document. All the above may be legitimate points for discussion/debate, so here is my take in this major historic controversy. First, yes, the Balfour Declaration was pro-Jewish, because it was pro-Zionist. It was not about Uganda, Rhodesia, Argentina, New Papua , or any other such exotic country as a possible ”national home” for the Jews.[all these places were , at one point in time, or another, mentioned as possible refuge places for the mass of the Jewish people]. It was about Eretz Israel, because it was about historic justice and rehabilitation, as much as it was about feasibility. Eretz Israel was the only feasible solution for the millions of persecuted Jews, even though in 1917 , the Jews were still a small minority in their homeland, and a much bigger one in 1939. History has proved, that this continues to be the ONLY collective feasible solution to our national problems. That said, I am fully aware of the conflict with the Palestinians, the need to resolve it peacefully and through compromise, if possible, and the tragedies involved with it to both sides. However, as a Zionist , and as I understand Zionism to be, a national solution to the Jewish problem in our homeland, supersedes any other consideration. So when the British Government accepted Zionism we had the Balfour Declaration, and when they rejected it , we had the ” White Paper”.

Then there is another historic lesson; The Jews cannot be left with no more than ONE option, when it comes to national survival.

We had no option in 1939 — Ben-Gurion in one of his great statements, said that ”we would fight Hitler as if there was no While Paper, and fight the White Paper as if there was no Hitler”. We fought only Hitler, as nearly 15% of the entire Yishuv population volunteered to serve in the British Army. The largest per capita of every other nation in the world fighting the Nazis!.

We started fighting the White Paper, when the Irgun declared the rebellion against the treacherous British occupiers, when two things became so painfully clear. First, that our people were gassed in Europe, and that the British will not open the gates of Eretz Israel. Today, no ”white Paper” can exist, despite the moronic call of a columnist in HAARETZ to stop Aliyya to Israel, but are we really ready to diversify our political and diplomatic options in the world. Let us be honest about that-our dependence on the US is not ONLY the result of an unavoidable necessity-It is ALSO the behavior of a spoiled kid, when its big daddy says NO, and the kid, alas , can only shout and cry aloud. Pardon me, but this is exactly what Bibi Netanyahu did with regard to the Iran nuclear deal and the Obama Administration handling of it. We can develop alternatives to the damaging reliance on the US, we have the power to do it, and we may be forced to do it as the situation in the US is changing in ways which are not in our favor. At least we have the ingredients necessary to do it, and we totally lacked them in 1939, and throughout the tragedy of the Holocaust.

This is not 1939, and when an anti-Semitic British MP calls for a relocation of the Jews from ”Palestine” to the US, our Zionist response to this Red Fascist moron, is that a relocation of Jews to Eretz Israel is thge solution, and it is happening, though on a much slower pace than desired.

About the Author
Dr Josef Olmert, a Middle East expert, is currently an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina
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