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Aurele Aaron Tobelem

Poisoning the Well: Anti-Zionism and the Myth of Permanent Enmity

Head of the Arab delegation to the Versailles Peace Conference Emir Faisal and Zionist Organization President Chaim Weizmann in Transjordan, 1918 (Wikimedia Commons)

“The Jewish movement is national and not imperialist […] interested parties have been able to make capital out of what they call our differences.” 

Cynics might roll their eyes at this quote which appears to have been lifted from an Israeli propaganda playbook. Such skeptics might be surprised to learn that it was not uttered by a member of the Israeli Knesset, a founder of the Zionist movement, or a Jew in any of the four corners of the world. 

Instead, the cited work is a letter penned by Arab leader Emir Faisal – later King Faisal I of Iraq – to American jurist and pioneering Zionist Felix Frankfurter, dated 3 March 1919. Faisal was the son of Hussein ibn Ali, the Sharif of Mecca and later King of Hejaz who in June 1916 declared the Arab Revolt against Ottoman rule. Frankfurter’s reply to Faisal two days later expressed the same desire for mutual cooperation: 

We each have our difficulties we shall work out as friends, friends who are animated by similar purposes, seeking a free and full development for the two neighbouring peoples.

This call to friendship evidently persisted despite the onslaught of riots and futile commissions which came to characterize British Mandatory Palestine. For example, in a May 1947 speech to the United Nations General Assembly, prominent American Zionist Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver proclaimed that the Jews “come to Palestine not to fight the Arab world, but to live at peace with it.” 

Jewish communities across Europe and the Middle East-North Africa region, devastated by religious or racial policies of ethnic cleansing and genocide, had no serious interest in conflict or domination. They certainly did not have the time to premeditate the dispossession of Arabs in British Mandatory Palestine, a claim which has become commonplace in anti-Israel discourse. Even radical thinkers of the Revisionist Zionist bloc had long rejected the idea of expelling Arabs on a mass scale. As Ze’ev Jabotinsky very clearly stated in his 1923 Iron Wall essay: “I consider it utterly impossible to eject the Arabs from Palestine.” 

More than 20 years later, in December 1947, Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion would communicate to his HaAvodah (Heb. “Labor”) Party regarding Arabs that “the state [of Israel] will be their state as well.” If Zionism was simply a conspiracy to usurp the Palestinian Arabs, one might then ask: Why would Ben-Gurion insist upon Arab equality, in spite of rising violence in the region which, by that point, had already left hundreds of Jews dead? To the deeply misguided protestors who currently suffocate our cities, it seems that such questions are simply not worth asking.  

The inability to move past fabricated narratives indicates a more dangerous dynamic within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Interference from above, and sabotage from below, ultimately crush all prospects of mutual understanding between Arabs and Jews. At the outbreak of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, these roles were filled by foreign imperial administrators and radical elements of clerical societies and underground insurgency movements. 

Consider the 1930 Shaw Report, compiled by British judge Sir Walter Shaw following a wave of horrendous Arab-Jewish violence culminating in the 1929 Hebron Massacre in which one of the most ancient Jewish communities dating back to Biblical times was decimated. “The Arabs”, wrote Shaw, “have come to see in the Jewish immigrant not only a menace to their livelihood but a possible overlord of the future.” In other words, the Jews should expect nothing less than to be brutalized by Arab mobs, on account of their competing quest for self-determination: there could be no alternative. As is generally the case with self-fulfilling prophecies, the nonchalance and incompetence of British colonial rule in the following decade would ensure the realization of Shaw’s remarks. 

Yet, for a tower to topple for good, its foundations must be compromised. This can only be achieved by powerful forces emanating from below. For example, in 1933, the infamous Salafist cleric Rashid Rida wrote, “Whoever sells a piece of Palestinian soil and its surroundings to the Jews or the English acts like someone who sells them the al-Aqsa Mosque and the homeland at large.” (Gudrun Krämer, A History of Palestine: From the Ottoman Conquest to the Founding of the State of Israel, p. 251). 

His words would be echoed a decade later by the notoriously antisemitic Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. In a January 1944 radio broadcast from Nazi Germany, al-Husseini declared that any Arab Muslim who supported Jewish state-building in Palestine would be “guilty of high treason against the Arabs.” (Jeffrey Herf, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World, p. 195). Rida’s fatwas and al-Husseini’s polemics paralleled Shaw’s methodical observations in that they envisioned no alternative for Arab-Jewish relations other than treachery and violence.  

Needless to say, the rhetoric hasn’t changed much since. We must not forget that the atrocious Hamas terror attack on October 7th was committed against a backdrop of warming relations between Israel and Arab states bolstered by the Abraham Accords. Nor should we forget that the Islamic Republic of Iran and the State of Qatar have consistently supported Hamas in its quest to eradicate Israel. As in the 1930s and 1940s, any attempts to challenge the orthodoxies of the anti-Zionist camp and create mutual friendship between Jews and Arabs have been quashed with unspeakable barbarity.  

A number of popular agitators in the West, and the academics who enable them, are but part and parcel of this historical initiative, aimed at dividing two peoples who would otherwise have cause to celebrate their common ground. Desperate to achieve such a goal, they have leveled every accusation under the sun. Israel is falsely decried as a white supremacist settler-colony on stolen land, a Jewish ethnostate which on account of its inborn Arabophobia cannot but commit the abominable crimes of dispossession, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. 

Of course, all of these claims inevitably fall apart under direct examination. But this does not deter the crusading wokeists who wholeheartedly rejoice in using Israel as a stick with which to draw an unbreachable line between Arabs and Jews. 

These watermelon-obsessed fanatics may dub themselves “pro-Palestinian”, yet they totally ignore actual ethnic cleansings of Palestinians committed under the brutal Assad regime in Syria, or the apartheid they face in the Republic of Lebanon. Their morbid fascination with the Jewish state has mutated into a grotesque religion whose object of worship is the delusional fantasy of Israel’s obliteration. They resort to the most morally repugnant rationalizations for genocidal Jew-hatred, cheered on by their coreligionists in Tehran and Doha

All of this is cleverly disguised under the pretense of “liberation.” Yet, our so-called liberators are happy to imprison Arabs and Jews in perpetual conflict. Why else would any reasonable human being praise the horrors of October 7th, knowing that Israeli retribution against Hamas and loss of innocent lives in Gaza would inevitably ensue? We should come to expect such cruel apathy from those who for decades have disingenuously weaponized the sacred language of peace in order to sow discord between our communities. 

The TikTok warriors of today, who daily threaten Jews in New York, London, Paris and elsewhere, would most likely suffer an aneurysm at the sight of early 20th century cordiality between Zionist Jews and Arab nationalist rulers. They are not alone in the timeline of rabid fear-mongering, thinly disguised as social justice. Rather, they constitute the newest iteration of “interested parties” to which Faisal alluded in his letter more than a century ago. 

Whether they admit to it or not, the anti-Israel camp in the West constitutes the auxiliary force of an oppressive terror program, whose members have declared their intent to repeat October 7th “again and again” until Israel is annihilated. It is a travesty that such shameless liars have risen to prominence in the modern culture wars. 

So, what should one do when a well has been poisoned? The natural response would be to drink from a different well, but global leaders instead continue to pursue the antidote for toxins far beyond their ability to contain. For instance, President Biden stated on 31 May that the primary objective for diplomatic negotiations regarding Israel-Gaza is to reach “a durable end to the war.” A sustainable peace plan must ensure that the suffering of today does not become our permanent tomorrow. Yet, alongside many of his predecessors and international colleagues, the President appears to have resigned himself to the position that a long-term solution to the wider conflict is out of sight. 

If we are to resolve this conflict, we must commit ourselves to facticity rather than rhetoric. We must elect to move past the calumnies that too often circulate in academia, fill the cesspools of social media, and come to inform public policy to the detriment of all. Action and humanity, rather than cowardice and enmity, are our sharpest tools, and our peacebuilding initiatives should utilize them to the fullest extent.  

Despite the challenges ahead, the vision espoused by Faisal and Frankfurter – of a region in which Jews and Arabs can both self-determine and enjoy peaceful relations – should not be a historical outlier lost to the sands of time. As remarked in the timeless writings of Zionism’s founding father, Theodor Herzl: If you will it, it is no dream.  

About the Author
Aurele Tobelem is an undergraduate History student at King's College London. A Sephardi Jew of French-Moroccan origin, he is predominantly concerned with exploring and documenting Jewish relations in the Middle East and North Africa. He is the President of the KCL Israel Society and a Youth Advocate for Harif UK.
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