Has Hitch heard of Jews from Arab lands?

Christopher Hitchens (Photo: Steper)

Ex-Trotskyist journalist and author Christopher Hitchens may be admired for his stand in favour of the Kurds, against Islamism and for oppressed peoples everywhere. But on Israel and Jews from Arab lands, he has something of a blindspot. Jeremy Rosen takes him to task in Algemeiner:

I enjoy reading Christopher Hitchens, the Anglo-American gadfly journalist, even when he gets it completely wrong. Here is an example. In his autobiography, Hitch-22, this is what he says about Israel:

“Suppose a man leaps out of a burning building…and lands on a bystander in the street below. Now make that burning building Europe and the luckless man the Palestinian Arabs. Is this a historical injustice? Has the man below been made a victim with infinite cause for of complaint and indefinite justification for violent retaliation? The man leaping from the burning building much still make such restitution as he can to the man who broke his fall and must not pretend he that he never even landed on him. And he must base his case on the singularity and uniqueness of the original leap.” (Page 381)

Since the paperback edition has a preface dated 2011, it is reasonable to assume that, whatever else he may have revised or modified, Hitchens stands by that silly, misleading, and completely unworthy metaphor.

If Europe is the fire, which fire is Hitchens referring to? Medieval Europe with its ghastly record of torment and murder when, after continuing oppression, thousands of Jews trekked across Europe desperate to find peace of mind and body in the land they had always looked to and prayed for, for thousands of years? Is it the Expulsion from Spain in 1492 that led to mass migration of Jews to the Land of Israel? Then in fact the Ottoman Sultan welcomed Jews and encouraged them to settle in Safed and the North of Israel, where there was industry and agriculture to support them. Perhaps he meant the depredations of the Cossacks in 1648, when another wave of European Jews made their way to their Holy Land? He could have referred to the migrations of the nineteenth century in response to Russian anti-Semitism. Does Hitchens share with Obama the myth that Israel was simply the creation of the Holocaust? Does he believe the Jews referred to in the New Testament were really Arab Palestinians? Was there no history in between 70 and 1948?

How does he deal with thousands of Jews attacked, tortured, and killed after Israel declared independence, and the millions of Jews expelled from Arab lands without a penny to their names? Were they thrown out of the same window or a different one? Or was it a myth?

And if I stay with the analogy and agree that the Jews were thrown out of several houses over several periods, is there not a difference to their being thrown out into their own back garden as opposed to the street? What if the pedestrian had intentionally stood underneath the falling man instead of stepping aside or trying to break his fall instead of being an unwitting and accidental victim? And what if the pedestrian had actually refused to allow the fire exits to be used and had blocked them up? Would he be so innocent then?

I recognize that history changes, rights change, often there are conflicting rights, and one must always do whatever one can to minimize human suffering and seek as equitable a solution as possible (provided of course both sides are prepared to negotiate). Ben Gurion gave a far better analogy–the analogy of two families claiming the same home. That is closer to reality. Many Arabs migrated into Palestine when Jewish immigration created jobs and opportunities. But still, if two people do share a home they can negotiate a settlement and agree to a partition. But what if one side resolutely refuses to partition the house, then claims foul when he is evicted and keeps on trying to climb back in?

I am not saying Israel was and is innocent of any fault. I am saying that accommodation was once possible and much easier than it is today. Indeed, that was the famous position of King Abdullah I, when he accepted the Peel Commission and partition, before he was assassinated by Arab nationalists who refused to share or even divide the house. Now Muslim fundamentalists unabashedly want the total eviction of all Jews from the house.

Neither am I saying the Jews were or are the perfect tenants. They did indeed take good care of their part and built on impressive extensions. But they also made a lot of noise. They were and are aggressive neighbors, quick to retaliate and overreact. Innocents have been killed. Yet, to be fair, they have given some of the extensions they built back to the original owners. They have encroached more and more into the parts of the house that even they agree should be inhabited by the other side. As for the others, they have stood by as their space is reduced and have refused to deal, expecting and hoping that one day the council would evict the other party and that would be the end of the story.

The Hitchens metaphor is an implicit denial of the rights of Jews under Islam, who were living in another burning house altogether, to find a haven in a home that, after all, they built first. If eviction is the criterion, what about earlier evictions? Is there a statute of limitations? Is Hitchens saying Jews from all over the known world never stayed in that house originally? If Arabs can claim back the place from which they were driven, why cannot Jews? If the objection is to conquest, then object to Arab conquest too (My emphasis). Is eviction the evil? Were not Jews evicted? Is religion the cause of the problem? Why not include all the religions that have coveted the land, and let each recognize the rights of the other. But where one religion refuses to countenance other and teaches its faithful to demand the eviction of the Jews, then it is the man in the street who started pushing people out but then complains when he himself finds he is on the outside.

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  • I heard the other day that during the time when Jews were banned from the UK groups of Sephardic Jews were doing well on the island.

    Now to follow CB's lead what can we conclude from that info-bit?

    Right, if there were Sephardic Jews in the UK they can't have been anywhere else. Simple, isn't it?

  • Now dont be silly – OFCOURSE all Jews come from Europe!!!! No Jews existed in the Middle East until 1948! Didnt you know?

  • Of course you are right – the myth that Jews are colonialists has about as much credibility as 'apartheid' Israel….

  • There are other facts to consider:

    1) Why does the UN define a Palestinian refugee as someone who lived in Palestine for only 23 MONTHS before fleeing? Is that to accommodate an indigenous community, or a settler one?

    2) Jews have been the majority in Jerusalem since the first half of the nineteenth century;

    3) For the past 3000 years, the only people to bring forth a native-born, sovereign ruler over the land of Israel/Palestine are the Jewish people. The entire time that a Jew has not ruled the land, it has been in the hands of a foreign, imperialist power.

    4) So… How is it that the only people to be sovereign over that land for thousands of years, and who have been a majority in the capital city for hundreds of years, are foreign interlopers from Europe; whereas the people who are allowed refugee status after living there only 23 months, and never have birthed a native-born sovereign over that land, are indigenous? Someone explain that to me.

  • bataween
    it was only after I had said publish that I guessed that in all likelihood you had been my source for it.


    i.e. I forgot once again to confirm how indispensable you are and no irony intended it needs confirming over and over IMHO.

  • An excellent article, immortalised in PoNR's sidebar.
    Yes, Yemeni Jews fled to what was then Palestine in the 1880s and of course in previous centuries there were earlier migrations of Jews from all parts of the Ottoman empire including Morocco and Algeria.
    I think Hitchens has mellowed towards Israel since marrying a Jewess but he has never come out in public support, for instance like Bernard-Henri Levi or other intellectuals.

  • Maybe I overread it, but …

    The other day I read a summary of what happened to Jews in Arab lands


    i.e. it didn't start after 1948, far from it.

    What I don't remember is whether any of those persecuted Jews fled to not-yet Israel? If they did, Rosen should have mentioned them and even if they didn't they deserved an appearance.

    Hitchens is just a variety of the "unless Israel becomes perfect …" crowd. In his case I think the IDF is OK but some believers must mend their ways. And until they do all the rest is up for some regular kicks in the shin.

    IMHO Hitchens has a way with language but is smart enough to realize that he is no Orwell and that hurts.

  • Of course he's heard of it. Just like Helen Thomas, during her long life in the US, must have heard of one or two Lebanese Jews.
    Just like the anti-Zionist Jewish crowd, he simply doesn't know how to deal with it.
    Once upon the time, the first thing they taught you in graduate school was to deal with the evidence. It seems that got knocked off as well.


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