The galling absence of the Jewish Nakba

On Monday 7 September, the Van Leer Jerusalem
Institute will be launching a book about the Holocaust and the
Palestinian ‘Nakba’ titled “The Holocaust and the Nakba: Memory, National Identity, and Jewish-Arab Partnership.”It would be more apt, however, to link the flight of Arab with Jewish refugees, argues Lyn Julius in the Times of Israel:

The Mufti meets Hitler, November 1941: he had every intention of exterminating Jews in Arab countries

the Institute has been fending off a torrent of accusations that the
book, which emerged from seven years of collaboration between Arabs and
Jews, is making an offensive and dangerous comparison between the
systematic murder of a whole people by the Nazis, and the flight of
700,000 Palestinian Arab refugees in wartime. 

To juxtapose the words Holocaust and ‘Nakba’ trivialises the Holocaust. It also de-contextualises the flight of the Arab refugees from Israel: the ‘Nakba’
was a catastrophe that the Arab leadership brought upon their people by
failing to inflict a catastrophic defeat on the Jews of Palestine. They
would have shed few tears for the defeated Jews had the 1948 war, which
they launched, had a different outcome.

As yet few critics of the Van Leer initiative
have drawn attention, except in a cursory way, to the galling absence
from this distorted reading of history of the ethnic cleansing of a
greater number of Jewish refugees — the Jewish ‘Nakba’. Almost a
million Jews were driven out of their homes in Arab countries about the
same time as the Palestinian Arab refugees fled Israel. If the Arabs
lost their war against the new state of Israel, they decisively won
their war against their innocent non-combatant civilians of the Jewish
faith. Before a single Arab refugee had left what was to become Israel,
the Arab League pre-meditated its war against ‘the Jewish minority of
Palestine’, and drew up a Nuremberg-style plan of persecution.

Prof. Gabriel Motzkin, director of the Van
Leer Institute and a professor emeritus of Philosophy at the Hebrew
University, has said: “the real issue about the ‘Nakba’ is that
Israeli society is “unwilling to understand the trauma that constitutes
the identity of this other people.” But Professor Motzkin spares nary a
thought for the trauma suffered by the Jewish refugees. Torture,
imprisonment, arrest, murder, execution on trumped-up spying charges,
dispossession and expulsion of a million Jews — all count for nothing in
Professor Motzkin’s selective reading of the facts.

Jews not only lost livelihoods, homes, shops, schools, shrines, hospitals, synagogues and deeded private land five times the size of Israel, but a 2,500 year-old heritage predating Islam by a millennium.

The Jewish ‘nakba’ was also an Arab-Jewish ‘nakba’ —
it tore a gaping hole in the Arab cultural, social and economic fabric
from which they have never recovered. Cities such as Baghdad — one-third
Jewish — were emptied overnight.

Most Jewish refugees fled to Israel, where
half the Jewish population hails from Arab and Muslim lands. This makes
Israel both a necessary haven from Arab Muslim anti-Semitism, and the
legitimate political expression of an indigenous Middle Eastern people.

A comparison between the two ‘Nakbas’
— one Arab, one Jewish — might be more appropriate: an exchange of
roughly equal refugee populations took place, as was common in 20th
century conflicts.

But swathes of world opinion are in denial about the Jewish ‘Nakba’.
Arab states have never acknowledged that a mass violation of Jewish
rights took place, much less admitted guilt or offered compensation.
Over 100 UN resolutions relate to Palestinian refugees; not one to the
more numerous Jewish refugees.

What is especially painful is that Israel’s
own elite army of moral narcissists, such as Professor Motzkin, collude
with the purveyors of the ‘Palestinian Nakba‘ narrative, while
wiping from memory a trauma that afflicted their own Jewish people. This
can only pour fuel on the flames of hatred, while perpetuating a
monopoly of Palestinian victimhood.

Oddly enough, the European Holocaust did have an impact on the Jewish ‘Nakba’. The Palestinian leader Haj Amin al-Husseini, with the overwhelming support of the Palestinian Arabs, was a willing collaborator in the Nazi extermination of the Jews. He had every intention of perpetrating the genocide of Jews living in the Arab world. After inciting the 1941 Farhud
against the Jews of Iraq, he spent the rest of WWII as Hitler’s guest
in Berlin, together with sixty other Arabs. His poisonous radio
propaganda broadcasts primed an illiterate Arab populace to massacre
Jews among them even before the creation of Israel.

 His legacy, and that
of the Muslim Brotherhood he partnered, endures to this day.

There’s material enough for another book: “The Holocaust and the Jewish Nakba.” Somehow, I don’t think the Van Leer Institute will be interested in launching that one.

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