On racist tropes, the Palestinians, and Israel Independence Day

Ursula van der Leyen, secretary of the European Union, sent a warm message of congratulation to Israel on its 75th birthday yesterday, mentioning that the Jewish state had “made the desert bloom”. This seemingly inoffensive, even slightly shop-worn phrase was singled out by the Palestine Authority’s foreign minister for rebuke: he angrily accused the EU of using a “racist trope”.

I suppose he ought to know. Racist tropes are, at least with reference to the Jews, the common currency of the Arabo-Persian Islamic world today, from K through 12 in education, and of course in news and entertainment media. (The hooked nose, the bag of money, the greedy tentacles: the universe as conspiracy theory.) But then, the word Palestine is itself a racist trope. The Romans renamed the Land of Israel “Palestine” after the defeat of the Bar Kokhba uprising in the second century AD, as a deliberate insult to the Jews. They also renamed the city of Jerusalem “Aelia Capitolina”. The Arabic name of the city is Al Quds, that is, “The Holy”. It is named thus because the First and Second Temples stood there. Not because of Jesus Christ, Whom Muslims do not accept as a divine being. Not because of the ascent to heaven of the prophet Mohammed from the “remotest (mosque)”- the legend connecting that, Al Aqsa, with Jerusalem, had not been crafted yet. Hey, “Palestine”, get with the program and stop calling the capital of Israel Al Quds. Call it A’iliya Kabitolinah or something. Stop perpetuating the racist trope of the Bible and all of world scholarship, already!

The early Islamic conquerors of the Holy City— the holy city, that is, of Israel— minted coins emblazoned with a seven-branched Menorah. Just to leave no doubt about what made Al Quds (i.e., ha-Qodesh), well, so darned quds. And early Islamic historiography spells out that Jerusalem was the capital of the Jews, and the site of the Temple. (And not just early texts: down to the mid-20th century this held true in Arab publications.) Now, of course, the Palestinians now deny any connection of Judaism to the Temple Mount at all, and destroy anything they find up there that might have any connection to Herod and his magnificent 1st-century edifice complex. Now THAT’S archeology. (Israeli archaeology, of course, is disparaged as tendentious and mendacious tampering with history in the aid of a colonialist narrative, etc.)

But back to making the desert bloom, draining swamps, and other nefarious Jewish meddling with the pristine, malarial landscape of Ottoman “Palestine”. I live in the Central Valley of California— the biggest agricultural region on the planet. If you like Big Tech, go to the Bay Area. If you like blockbuster movies, Los Angeles is the place for you. But if you like almonds, it’s here in humble inland California. We grow 90% of the world’s almonds. Lots of raisins, too: an Armenian farmer here founded the Sun Maid company whose pretty red cartons are so familiar to every American consumer. Although we had plenty of rain in the Valley this year, the Golden State has been plagued by drought for decades. What saved farming for this region was the Israeli technique of drip irrigation— the dastardly colonialist technique that made all those deserts bloom in Occupied Palestine!— and the Israeli agricultural firm Netafim has a display booth here at Fresno-Yosemite International Airport. But I guess drip irrigation is a racist trope. Sorry, Netafim. Sorry, California farmers. The cancel culture has just canceled you.

Now, I know “racist trope” is just another buzz word from the grab bag of woke, politically correct nonsense, the content-free language of what calls itself the left nowadays. Are the frothings of the PA, an outfit already beneath human contempt, even worth one’s attention? Why risk dignifying them by mentioning them? I think the reason is to know the enemy, to realize that this enemy is implacable and without decency, and that talk of peace with him is self-deception. Forget the chimaera of the two-state solution. One can sing Hatikvah, “The Hope”, till the cows come home. But I’m less hopeful about peace than I’ve ever been: Israel’s 75 and I’m pushing 70. And if the present polarization of Israeli society continues, then the Jewish state may yet achieve what the concerted efforts of armies and terrorists have hitherto failed to do: to make this Third Commonwealth ancient history, just like the first two. What little is left of my hope, and it’s hoping against hope, is that we Jews stop doing harm to each other.

Der Antisemitismus ist der Sozialismus der dummen Kerle. “Anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools.” It could have been the grand old man, Karl Marx himself, who said that. It’s as true today as it was a century and a half ago: the “Squad”, Jeremy Corbyn, the “Palestinian Authority”. Damn the lot of them, face reality, try to celebrate anyhow, keep on making the desert bloom (and other Zionist “racist tropes”, the more the better), and…

Happy Birthday Israel.

About the Author
Born New York City to Sephardic Mom and Ashkenazic Dad, educated at Bronx Science HS, Columbia, Oxford, SOAS (Univ. of London), professor of ancient Iranian at Columbia, of Armenian at Harvard, lectured on Jewish studies where now live in retirement: Fresno, California. Published many books & scholarly articles. Belong to Chabad.
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