Jonathan Freedland is perhaps the last Zionist columnist to write for the Guardian newspaper since its takeover – ( the Middle East desk’s takeover at any rate) – by militant anti-Zionist Marxists. You could also say the same about another bastion of leftist media in the UK, The New Statesman, whose latest issue has several articles about Israel, one of them written by Freedland.
Freedland does the New Statesman a service by defining Zionism in the true sense of the word – stripped of all its ‘right-wing settler expansionism’ baggage. Someone needed to write that the much-maligned word means the right of Jewish people to have a state of their own – nothing more, nothing less – and Jonathan does that well.
But here comes a passage that gets my goat :
The first step is surely to face the historical record with honesty. It is no good to pretend, as Israel’s supporters did for several decades, that the violent dispossession of the 1947-49 period did not happen. It did and there needs to be a reckoning. Instead of seeking to ban all public recognition of the Naqba, as the Knesset did last year, Israel needs to look plainly at the circumstances of its birth and understand why Palestinians regard that event as a catastrophe.
That process has begun: what’s more, the work of revising the original Zionist narrative, excavating the truth of 1948 from the archives, was done by Israel’s own “new historians”. Of course it needs to go further. Several years ago the Israeli daily Haaretz aired a proposal for a national memorial day to mark the Arab dispossession, along with a project to name and commemorate each of the Arab villages that was left empty by its inhabitants, who had either fled or been expelled. The idea found few takers.
The circumstances of Israel’s birth are that the Arab side rejected partition and instigated a war. That’s why those Arab villages were left empty. The Palestinian Mufti was a cheerleader for war and the destruction of the Jews. Does the aggressor never have to pay a price? What if the Arabs had won? Should the Jews apologise for winning?
What’s more, the historical record will always be distorted until Arab historians do like the Israeli ‘new historians’ and honestly examine the crimes and misdemeanours committed by their own governments against their innocent Jewish citizens.
But these Jews don’t even enter Freedland’s consciousness. What about the Jewish quarters of Baghdad, Cairo and Tripoli – even Aleppo, now in the news – laid waste of their Jews, their property seized and their communal buildings abandoned? What about the acres of Jewish land sequestered? And that’s just the material losses. What about the lives destroyed by their uprooting, the families dismembered, the communities atomised? Would Freedland support a Memorial Day for the Jews?
My blood pressure went up another notch when reading this quote from the famous novelist Amos Oz, resurrected by Freedland: Israel had a moral right – the right of the drowning man. Such a man is entitled to grab hold of a piece of driftwood even if another man is already holding it. The drowning man can even make the other man share it, by force, if necessary. His moral right ends, however, the moment he pushes the other man into the sea.
To perpetuate the analogy, the other man holding the driftwood already possesses a whole fleet of ships, some of which he pirated from the first man. But the other man will not give up his claim to the driftwood. Why has there been no proper inventory of losses on all sides? No proper reckoning? Why do Freedland and Oz promote such a one-sided and misleading account?
Aside from decontextualising it, Freedland and Oz still misunderstand the Palestinian-Israel conflict as one over territory, whereas it has long been an ideological struggle to prevent the despised Jews from ruling themselves. But that’s another story, and pigs will fly before we ever see that particular argument put forward in the New Statesman.