The Failures of Progressive-Left Zionism: Ignoring Jewish History

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Progressive-left Jewish Zionists are failing the Jewish people.

If the first way in which progressive-left Zionism is failing is in its ostrich-like reluctance to acknowledge, and seriously discuss, the rise of the Jihad throughout the Muslim Middle East, and another way is through their justifying bigotry against their own people,  and yet another is in the fact that they always play defense, and yet still another way is through the tendency to fall into the moral equivalency canard, they also… as if all of that was not bad enough… fail to place the conflict within the context of Jewish history.

In an article by Raymond Ibrahim entitled Why Christian Persecution Is Islam’s Achilles’ Heel, he writes the following sentence:

On the other hand, Israel—the dhimmi that got away—actually has authority and power over Muslims.

I like that line very much.  Israel: The Dhimmi That Got Away!

That’s very accurate.  Israel is, in fact, the dhimmi that got away.  One thing that I always find striking in conversations around the Long Arab-Muslim War Against the Jews of the Middle East is the utter failure of progressive-left Zionists to place the conflict within the context of century upon century of Jewish dhimmitude under the boot of Muslim imperialism.

This is primarily a left-wing failing, not a right-wing failing, and I say this as an American Jew that comes out of the progressive-left.

Trying to understand the Arab-Israel conflict as it is today without reference to Jewish history, which is to say, without reference to the history of Jewish dhimmitude, would be like trying to understand the history of African-Americans without reference to either the history of slavery or the history of Jim Crow.  It simply cannot be done.  The history of the Jews of the Middle East, and therefore the history of Israel, is entirely incoherent without reference to the fact that Zionism was a reaction not only against European anti-Semitism, but also against the long-standing Arab-Muslim persecution of the Jewish people.

A big part of the problem that Israel has in the current historical moment is that the western countries, and the international left, fail to take the larger history of Arab / Jewish relations into account in their consideration of the conflict.  It’s as if they think that history began in 1967, but it did not.

The west looks at the conflict and sees a Jewish “Goliath” in Sabra tanks facing off against Palestinian “Davids” slinging rocks.  This has been discussed in numerous places, but it remains the foremost conceptual problem that Israel has in terms of the rest of the world.  Prior to 1967, as the true cliché goes, the world saw Israel as a spunky little country filled with Holocaust survivors and their children who stood up against Arab aggression and won.  At that moment, and for a very few years thereafter, there was a brief smattering of western applause.  The underdog won and the west loves the underdog.

Needless to say, however, as soon as the underdog wins he is no longer considered the underdog, now is he?  This perception is entirely false, but it is the dominant one today and it is the one that the local Arab leadership, in coordination with the old Soviet Union, spread via anti-Jewish / anti-Israel propaganda over the course of many decades. This propaganda effort has been hugely successful not because the Arabs have a bigger megaphone than the Jews, despite the disparity in numbers, but because the Jews have refused to discuss the conflict within the larger historical context.

Western progressives, and the European governments, honestly believe that the Jews of the Middle East are the oppressors of the local Arabs, recently dubbed “Palestinians,” and that this is the root of the conflict.  It isn’t.  The root of the conflict is thirteen hundred years of Arab-Muslim oppression of the Jewish people throughout the Middle East, followed by one hundred years of war against us starting the moment that we finally gained our full freedom from dhimmitude with the fall Ottoman empire during World War I.

Here is historian Martin Gilbert to remind us a little of what century upon century of dhimmitude was like:

There could be no building of new synagogues or churches. Dhimmis could not ride horses, but on donkeys; they could not use saddles, but only ride sidesaddle. Further, they could not employ a Muslim. Jews and Christians alike had to wear special hats, cloaks and shoes to mark them out from Muslims. They were even obliged to carry signs on their clothing or to wear types and colours of clothing that would indicate they were not Muslims, while at the same time avoid clothing that had any association with Mohammed and Islam… A dhimmi could not – and cannot to this day – serve in a Muslim court as a witness in a legal case involving a Muslim… Men could enter public bathhouses only when they wore a special sign around their neck distinguishing them from Muslims… Sexual relations with a Muslim woman were forbidden, as was cursing the Prophet in public – an offence punishable by death…


(Martin Gilbert, In Ishmael’s House: A History of Jews in Muslim Lands, Yale University Press, 31 – 33.)

After World War II, in recognition of the millenia of brutality that the Europeans visited upon the Jewish people, the United Nations agreed to recognize the Jewish State of Israel.  What the UN failed to recognize, however, and still fails to recognize, is the long history of Jewish persecution under Arab-Muslim imperial rule, which is also one of the reasons that we require Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.  The Arabs outnumber the Jews in the Middle East by a factor of fifty or sixty to one and because they’ve never accepted any responsibility for their theologically-based persecution of the Jewish people they can portray Jewish behavior as that of an oppressor of Arabs.

This is historically false.

In truth, not only did the Arab world persecute its Jews for centuries, despite the myth of a Golden Era of Muslim-Jewish amity, but they even sided with the Nazis during World War II.   The Mufti of Jerusalem, with the popular support of the Arab people, even intended to bring the Final Solution to the Jewish Question home to Palestine in the event of German victory.

Until progressive-left Jews, who make up the majority in the diaspora, begin to articulate some sense of the history of the Jewish people in the Middle East we can never win the sympathies of world opinion.  It’s probably too late for that, anyway.  The world doesn’t know this history because we fail to enlighten them of it and part of the reason for that is the progressive Politically Correct disinclination to ever say anything negative concerning Islam.

This is a matter of respecting ourselves through articulating our history and if we cannot respect ourselves, then just who will?

About the Author
Mike Lumish is a PhD in American history from the Pennsylvania State University and has taught at PSU, San Francisco State University, and the City College of San Francisco. He regularly publishes on the Arab-Israel conflict at the Times of Israel and at his own blog, Israel Thrives ( He has in recent years given conference papers on American cultural and intellectual history at The International Society for the History of Behavioral and Social Sciences in Dublin, Ireland, as well as at the Western Historical Association in Phoenix, Arizona and the American Cultural Association in New Orleans, Louisiana. Lumish is also the founding editor of the scholarly on-line discussion forum H-1960s. He can be contacted at