Judith Davis

What to Say…A Primer on Israel for Parents and Grandparents

If your family is like ours, the conversation around the Rosh HaShana dinner table this year was about Israel and the anti-Israel/anti-Semitic movements on campus.[1] Our children are being confronted with false narratives of Israeli oppression of Palestinians and challenges to Israel’s right to exist. They are exposed to “Apartheid Week,” an annual event on many campuses, and told “the Jewish state is…a racist, colonial and oppressive state…[that] should be boycotted and even destroyed.”[2,3]

How can parents and grandparents help our children and grandchildren understand these issues without knowing our people’s history? In order to educate ourselves, I have prepared this primer. It is hardly exhaustive. I am using footnotes not only to substantiate my points but to allow readers to further pursue these topics in greater depth.

1) Does Israel practice apartheid?
Apartheid is a legal system of discrimination [4] whose values were clearly rejected in 1948 upon Israel’s founding. We can read the nation’s true values in the words of its Declaration of Independence which proclaims Israel, “will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, religion or sex.” It also declares that Arabic is one of two official languages of Israel, the other being Hebrew.[5]

2) Is Israel racist?
In Israel, Arab citizens are represented in the Knesset, have served on the Supreme Court and share benefits of full citizenship with all other Israelis. However, when considering whether total racial equality has been achieved in Israel, the answer is easy. It has not. I would say the same is true of America, a much older democracy. Both societies are works in progress. In judging Israel’s progress toward equality, let our own struggles provide context. In America, many of us live in suburban enclaves devoid of people of color. Black youths are much more likely than whites to be arrested or even killed. Many of them are also deprived of the same opportunities as whites.

But we Jews are not rejecting America for its failures to realize our ideals. Nor should we reject Israel.

And by the way, a fact that most people don’t know or disregard as an inconvenient truth is that Jews themselves are a multi-racial people. American Jews are mostly descendents of white Europeans. In Israel, however, you will see more Jewish people of color who escaped from Arab pogroms as well as African Jews who fled countries like Morocco and Ethiopia.

3) Is Israel a colonial power?
A favorite anti-Zionist narrative promulgated by campus BDS (Boycott/Divestment/Sanction) and Pro-Palestinian movements is that Israel was created by the United Nations as compensation for the Holocaust and that it was founded by European colonials who stole the land from indigenous Palestinians, much as America was wrested from its native Indian population.
The first thing we need to know is that Israel was created by Jews in Biblical times and only later (in 1948) by the United Nations. Evidence of continuous Jewish habitation in the land for thousands of years is supported by extensive archeological and other scientific evidence.[7,8]
4) Aren’t the Palestinians the indigenous people of Israel?
No, Jews are the indigenous people of Israel. “Palestine” is the name given to the region by the Romans after their conquest in 135 A.D. The Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, killed, exiled and enslaved many Jews. But it is a misconception that Israel was swept clean of its entire Jewish population. Jewish communities continued to exist “on the coast, in the Negev desert, and east of the Jordan, [with] 31 villages in Galilee …and in the Jordan Valley.”[9]

The use of the term “Palestinian” to imply Arab provenance in this area is an excellent stroke of propaganda.[10] Until appropriated by Yassir Arafat in 1964, “Palestinian” was the designation stamped on the passports of Jews living under the British Mandate, Palestine.[11] One of the earliest refutations of the current Palestinian claim to descend from a mythical ancient Palestine can be found in an unexpected source, the Koran, written in the seventh century. The Koran “…clearly declares the Jews…as the only owners of the land of Israel.”[12]

5) So, who are the Palestinians?[13,14,15]
They are descendents of Arabs arriving as laborers during the Ottoman Empire, the British Mandate and the period of the founding of modern Israel. They came from Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and other places as reflected by their family names: “Masri,” the Egyptian, “al-Yamani,” the Yemenite, and so on.

Not even Yassir Arafat, an Egyptian citizen, was a Palestinian. And despite the claims of Mahmoud Abbas, neither was Jesus-a nice Jewish boy who preached in the Temple in Jerusalem in the first century before anyone was Palestinian.

6) What about the “occupation?”
First, both sides agree that a two-state solution will require reaching some agreement about this region, the West Bank, also known by its Biblical names, Judea and Samaria. Although the media commonly refers to the West Bank to as “occupied” or illegally occupied,” it is actually neither. According to international law, territory reclaimed in a war of self defense, a defensive war, is ceded to the victor. In contrast, territory taken as a result of an aggressive war, is considered occupied.[16]

In 1948, Israel was attacked by seven Arab armies, including Jordan’s. Jordan conquered the West Bank and expelled all the Jews, even those whose families had lived there for centuries. Jordan’s occupation was never recognized by the U.N. because it was illegal. Curiously, for the 19 years of illegal Jordanian occupation (1948-1967), there were no complaints about it from the U.N., other countries or the media.[17]

In 1967, Jordan again attacked Israel but this time the Israel Defense Forces successfully defeated Jordan, regaining the territory lost in 1948 and re-uniting Jerusalem for the first time in 19 years. Because this area was won in a defensive war, under international law, it belongs to Israel. Thus, the contention that Israel is an illegal occupier is specious.

Nevertheless, it is fully expected that Israel will have to relinquish parts, not all, of the West Bank in exchange for peace and has already begun to do so.[18]

In conclusion, Israelis are not illegal white colonial occupiers but a multi-racial indigenous people living in an imperfect democracy. The facts simply do not fit the anti-Zionist narrative.

Additional Resources:
Among the best resources for students and their families are, and (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America).
A good overview of archeological evidence for Israel’s continuous habitation by Jews is provided by Wikipedia and “Archeology 101: Jews and the Temple Mount.”[18,19]

1] article by a student at Brown University is an excellent description of what students are facing.
4], Kantorovich, E., The Apartheid Libel: A Legal Refutation, “As international rights lawyers have observed,despite massive systematic oppression of racial and ethnic minorities in countries from China to Sri Lanka to Sudan, the apartheid label has never been applied to those countries by the U.S. or anyone else…” [So, why Israel? J.D.]
10]; This article quotes KGB Chairman, Yuri Andropov, coaching the Arab bloc, “…We had only to keep repeating our themes that the United States and Israel were ‘fascist, imperialist-Zionist countries’ bankrolled by rich Jews.”
11] http//
Quran:Bani Israil, 17:104; cited by Bukay, D. (Summer 2012)Fabricating Palestinian History; Founding National Myths; Middle East Quarterly. p.23-30.
12] op cit
“Where the prior holder of territory had seized that territory unlawfully [Jordan’s 1948-1967 illegal occupation of Judea and Samaria], the state which subsequently takes that territory [Israel] in the lawful exercise of self-defense [1967 preemptive Six Day War] has, against that prior holder, better title.” -Stephen Schwebel, “What Weight to Conquest,” American Journal of International Law, vol. 64 (1970) pp. 345-347
16] After Israel was attacked by Syrian and Egyptian forces, the Israeli government, seeking to avoid a war on three fronts, secretly prevailed upon King Hussein of Jordan to stay out of the fight. Instead, Hussein chose to attack Israel.

About the Author
Dr. Judith Davis is a wife, mother, grandmother and a retired clinical and organizational psychologist, graduate of Hadassah Leadership Academy. Having spent a lifetime studying individuals, groups and other human systems, she is an irreverent observer of details that may be unremarkable to others.