Is Israel morally obliged to fix Palestinian folly?

Palestinian refugees leaving the Galilee in October–November 1948. (Source: Wikipedia - via Jewish News)
Palestinian refugees leaving the Galilee in October–November 1948. (Source: Wikipedia - via Jewish News)

In his interview in this newspaper last week, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell conceded it was “of course” antisemitic “to oppose a Jewish state”, a phrase that he doubtless intended should stand as shorthand for “oppose the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own”. But he asserted that it was not antisemitic to call a state racist (by which he meant Israel) and he professed to justify that proposition with the claim that he regularly denounced the British state as racist.

Logically, he is perfectly right. It is not necessarily antisemitic to castigate the 
state of Israel as racist. However, there is a crucial caveat. 

It would not be antisemitic to make such a criticism so long as it is based on substantial evidence (a) that Israel came into being  on the back of an identifiable national (ie governmental) racist policy, or (b) that such a policy has since been espoused and implemented, or both (a) and (b).

But it would be antisemitic if meticulous scrutiny of the historical record showed no such evidence and that the accusation reflected nothing more than prejudice and the careless parroting of a non-evidence-based mantra.

The state of Israel could legitimately be castigated as racist if at its inception the government of David Ben-Gurion had inspired or encouraged a policy of 
systematic wholesale expulsion of Arabs from territory conserved or occupied by Israeli forces during the course of the War 
of Independence. 

As revealed two weeks ago, Jeremy Corbyn infamously declared in 2013 that a group of British Zionists who had “berated” Palestine’s Ambassador Manuel Hassassian, needed a lesson in history (as well as, apparently, in English irony). The real irony is that neither Hassassian nor Corbyn appear to appreciate some basis facts.

For an unassailable lesson, they need look no further than Professor Benny Morris’ study, The birth of the Palestinian refugee problem, 1947-1949. When the book came out in 1989, it was widely acclaimed from both sides of the divide as objective, exhaustive and pulling no punches. 

Morris’ deep researches revealed a good number of instances of Za’hal units expelling Arab communities in certain newly seized border districts, either for genuine security reasons or possibly in some cases on manufactured pretexts. Yet there was no evidence of a systematic policy of expulsion perpetrated by the government nor even of 
a trickle-down from high-sourced hints.

Egged on in part by Palestine’s Arab leadership, multiple Arab countries broke international law by invading the fledgling Jewish state to reverse by force of arms 
UN partition resolution 181 of 29 November 1947. 

They were repulsed and the price they paid for that gravest of crimes against humanity was Israel’s justifiable expansion of its borders. As Menachem Begin crisply observed, “fortunes of war”.

Prof Morris demonstrated that the vast majority of the Arab population who fled from their homes typically did so to avoid getting caught up in a battle zone or in fear 
of reprisals.

The crunch question has always been this. Does Israel bear a legal and/or moral obligation to put right the consequences of the Palestinian leadership’s own folly by reabsorbing a population who would pose a challenge to the security, integrity and character of the Jewish realm? 

If the answer is yes, then  Israel is a racist state. If no, then take a hike Mr McDonnell. 

About the Author
David Wolchover is a Barrister and author of Culprits of Lockerbie
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