The Shapes of Casual Western Anti-Zionism

by Robert Harris

Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin, Gen. Rehavam Zeevi (R), Gen. Narkis, in Old Jerusalem

Those that criticise Israel particularly harshly over the Jewish State’s handling of the conflict, often argue that ‘Jews should know better’ or words to the same effect. This stance appeals to a protracted history of persecution and genocide in Europe, which reached a peak with the Holocaust.

This seemingly reflexive bias can find expression in some unexpected places. Godfrey Graham, a seasoned cameraman who worked in current-affairs programming at RTE, since the early period of the Broadcaster’s transmission service, described several filming engagements in Israel for his memoir ‘Forty Years Behind the Lens at RTE’, published by Ashfield Press (Dublin).

This relatively detailed article focuses on a number of paragraphs in Graham’s memoir — a book that was clearly not intended to be an exposition of the conflict. There does not appear to be a substantive animus held by the author toward Israel, for he describes his general experiences in quite positive terms. Yet the relevant paragraphs present a clear narrative, which forcefully asserts that the Jewish people of Israel are morally blameworthy, while the Arabs of the region are not. Thus, it represents a good example of the commonplace casually anti-Zionist views often expressed in the West today.

What Israeli-Jews ought to do

Of a visit to Israel in the early 1980s, Graham described (pages 142–144) a pleasant meeting with Chaim Herzog (President of Israel between 1983 and 1993), who was born in Belfast and had strong links with Dublin which were discussed in a convivial atmosphere. However, Graham’s tone darkened when it came to the matter of the conflict:

“We visited refugee camps, where Arabs had been moved to temporary camps in 1944. There is a picture of a very dignified gentleman living in appalling conditions, who made wooden farm instruments and had a philosophical approach to being in the camp but hoped that one day he would have his home and his land back.

The fact that Jerusalem has a strong Arab quarter and that all the great religions are represented there with some important shrines, seems to point to the fact that, ultimately, it must be a capital city that represents all the great religious traditions and not just the city for one dominant tradition. This would seem to me the only fair way forward. Just as the Jewish people longed for a homeland, they should be the first to see the need Palestinians have for a homeland, too.”

In what sense did Graham deem Judaism to be the “dominant” religious tradition of Jerusalem? Clearly he views Judaism’s apparent dominance to have been instituted illegitimately under Israeli rule, rather than being as a consequence of Judaism’s greater ties with the city than that of any other faith, where, for example, the Torah mentions Jerusalem hundreds of times, while it is not named at all in the Koran. Graham’s stance naturally leads to the conclusion that Israel is trying to “Judaise Jerusalem” as many anti-Israel activists allege.

The Jewish populace of East Jerusalem (including the famous Jewish Quarter of the old city) was ethnically cleansed in 1948 by Jordan. The Christian populace of East Jerusalem declined dramatically in the following decades, choosing to emigrate to other parts of Jordan and abroad. We can see that a “dominant” Islamic “tradition” can abuse its power, but, after the Six Day war the Arab populace of Jerusalem has grown at double the percentile rate of the Jewish populace (155% Jewish and 314% Arab) between the years 1967 and 2010. The Christian populace has only grown marginally, and in view of the rapid growth of the Arab-Islamic populace now just represents 2% of Jerusalem, but the dramatic decline under Jordanian rule has been reversed.

While Graham was active in the media, he would have surely been aware that Old (East) Jerusalem was off-limits to the regional Jewish populace because Jordan, which occupied the territory until 1967, prevented Jewish people accessing religious sites (including the Wailing Wall, which is one of the last structural remnants of the Temple Mount compound), in contravention with the Armistice Agreement of 1949 between the two nations. Under Jordanian rule, many Jewish religious sites were repeatedly desecrated and destroyed in violation of Article 8 the agreement, as repeatedly brought to the attention of the United Nations.

After East Jerusalem’s recapture, Levi Eshkol, the Israeli prime-minister of the time, promptly declared that the holy sites of all faiths in Jerusalem would be protected, as would their freedom to worship at such sites. Moshe Dayan famously ceded control of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif to the Islamic Wafq, and established the precedent of giving Muslims exclusive rights of worship on the Temple Mount Compound. This is a matter of the utmost sensitivity to the Islamic faith — hence the rioting when Ariel Sharon visited the site, a visit that was used as an excuse by Arafat for the commencement of the Second Intifada, which was still a major news story at the time of the publication of the memoir.

Therefore, under the rule of the Jewish State there is a seemingly unique situation where the leaders of the “dominant tradition” actually repress their own religious rights to placate another religious grouping, which has a longstanding hostility toward the “dominant tradition”. This Islamo-supremacist denial of the most basic of Jewish religious rights also extends to attempts to claim the Wailing Wall for the Muslim faith, an effort that began in the 1920s to the present. Historically, related Islamic conspiracism surrounding the Temple Mount has led to acts of genocide (1929), and the continued incitement thereof. Yet the accusations that Israel is an “apartheid” nation continue unabated with the anti-Israel movement.

It is difficult to see how Graham can suggest that the Jewish people of Israel have not attempted to facilitate an Arab-Palestinian homeland. This stance would necessitate ignoring such well-established facts as Arafat walking out of the Camp David talks (2000), the Taba talks of 2001, etc., which offered all of Gaza, almost all of Judea and Samaria, and a large swathe of East Jerusalem with substantive control over the Temple Mount. It should be noted that Jordan/Transjordan already constitutes more than three-quarters of what was originally envisaged to be the “Jewish National Home” and as such represents the established nation for the Arabs of the region. When speaking of a “homeland” for Arab-Palestinians, Yasser Arafat’s assertion, when he spoke to reporter Arianna Palazzi in 1970, is relevant:

‘From the Arab standpoint, we mustn’t talk about borders. Palestine is nothing but a drop in an enormous ocean. Our nation is the Arabic nation that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea and beyond it… The P.L.O. is fighting Israel in the name of Pan-Arabism. What you call “Jordan” is nothing more than Palestine.”’

Criticism of Jewish-Israeli morality

When visiting Israel to film a Gate Theatre production of iconic Irish play ‘Juno and the Paycock’, Graham decided to again focus on supposed Jewish-Israeli immorality in relation to the plight of the Arab-Palestinians (page 226):

“While in Israel, our team got an opportunity to visit the profoundly moving sculpture depicting the Holocaust. That image will remain with me forever. We visited a refugee camp where Arabs had been told way back in 1948 they were going for a temporary period. The tragedy of the displacement of the Arab people is something the Israelis should understand, given the Jewish experience and their long journey to find their homeland. We met one man (his picture is presented on previous page) who had spent most of his life in this ‘temporary’ refugee camp. He had tremendous dignity and lived in just two very small, bear rooms but, despite his horrible experience, retained a gentleness of spirit that inspired all of us who met him. I often wonder whether he is still alive.”

This paragraph begins with a rather detached image evoking the subject of the Holocaust, which is contrasted with another image of an Arab-Palestinian refugee, before expounding on the latter subject. Graham seems to be intentionally reinforcing his point with this juxtaposition — that there is a lacking in the substance in the national morality of the Jewish-Israeli populace, since they, of-all-people, should understand the suffering of another group, given the way in which Jewish people were persecuted.

Graham fails to explain why “Arabs had been told way back in 1948 they were going for a temporary period” to a refugee camp, He appears to refer to the many Arab-Egyptian and Arab-Palestinian people who left a newly independent Israel at the instruction of Arab invaders so the Jewish State could be more easily destroyed, with the promise that they could soon return (within a few weeks) once the deed was done. Others left out of fear of reprisals once the Arab forces began to fail in their objective. This is a crucial point that goes to the very heart of pan-Arab aggression and existential rejectionism. Graham’s assertion may be indicative of perceptive bias, where vital facts are disposed because they do not comply with a certain narrative, or the omission may be more intentional, because it would greatly undermine attempts to hold Israeli-Jews responsible.

Graham described an Arab-Palestinian refugee in understandably sympathetic terms but this man, and his contemporaries, suffered because the Arab-Islamic world refused to accept Israel’s existence, and instead chose to wage a war of aggression. It is their misfortunate that the sole Jewish State in existence was not destroyed, and that the Jewish people did not face genocide — a very real threat made by Azzam Pasha in 1947. The so-called “Nabka” (Catastrophe), where between 472,000 and 650,000 Arab-Palestinians were displaced, could have been avoided if the Arab world recognised the right of Jewish independence with UN Resolution 181, in what constituted just a small portion their ancient ancestral homeland, in a rather small fraction of the original British Palestine Mandate, instead of waging an unofficial sectarian war from 1947 to 1948, and invading one day after Israel declared its independence in 1948, with a coalition of seven armies.

The Arab states refused Arab/Arab-Palestinian refugees citizenship, and curbed their basic rights. Israel feared they would become a fifth column in the absence of peace but still offered to take back 100,000 at the Lausanne talks of 1949, to which the Arab nations refused. Nevertheless, 50,000 refugees did return under a family reunification programme, as well as a further 75,000 displaced by the Six Day War. Israel also absorbed vast numbers of Jewish people fleeing persecution in Arab lands. Thus, if Graham wants Jewish people to accept the notion of an Arab-Palestinian homeland (which they have), then that request must be justly conditional upon Arab-Palestinian society accepting Jewish self-determination in Israel. Otherwise, strife is merely continued, albeit at a higher intensity a la the defacto nation of Gaza.

Graham only mentions Arab-Palestinian terrorism in passing, when relating Chaim Herzog’s humorous remark that the SAM rockets fired by “Palestinian factions” (pages 143 – 144) were in range of his Tel Aviv home: “He said that a SAM could make a huge mess of your fruit trees if you were not careful.”

Paradoxically, Graham criticises the now-independent Jewish-Israelis who have a homeland, for not understanding the displacement of the Arab-Palestinians from the 1948-49 War of Independence. Yet it has long been a key demand of Yasser Arafat’s PLO to push for a so-called “right of return” to nullify Israel’s existence as a principally Jewish State. The two conditions are mutually exclusive so it seems Graham is indirectly criticising Israeli-Jews for not seeking a loss of their own homeland, their own self-determination, and religious freedom, free of the persecution visited upon them by the Islamic world for over a millennia, which peaked with their oppression, genocide and expulsion from the Arab-Islamic world between the 1920s and 1970.

An authentic homeland?

Graham appears to doubt the strength of the historic links between Israel and the Jewish People, since he describes the re-establishment of Israel as their “long journey to find their homeland”. In an earlier paragraph Graham talks of “the Jewish people” having “longed for a homeland” [emphasis added].

Graham may have in mind Theodore Herzl’s early flirtation with the idea of establishing a Jewish safe-haven in South America, because it was further away from the locus of the imperialist ambitions of the Western powers, which saw opportunities to carve up the territories of the ailing Ottoman Empire, and also avoided Palestine’s geographical proximity to the Russian Empire which had brutally oppressed its quite large Jewish populace. However, the defacto Zionist movement’s return to Palestine preceded Herzl. It seems the secular-minded Herzl may not have fully appreciated the scale of the importance of Palestine to the Jewish people — an importance that led to migration back to the homeland hundreds of years earlier, long before the Zionism movement was devised, and so Herzl’s idea was abandoned.

A passing knowledge of Jewish culture and history demonstrates that the Israeli State is located on part of the ancient homeland of the Jews. They constitute an indigenous people, which numerousobjective genetic studies have demonstrated. It explains the fact that Jerusalem features so strongly in the Torah, in prayer and in sayings, and, as such, are morally entitled to live in a region from which their ancestors were displaced, by successive pagan, Christian and Islamic empires. This is rather more than merely “a” homeland, that the Jewish people journeyed to “find” after fleeing the Christian West.


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