Israel and the Indians -- and Lobbies Too

James Adler

Over and over we hear it, either magisterially, or sarcastically, all over Israeli online newspapers and blogs and sites on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Israel is not doing anything other than what the Europeans did to the Indians.

Bradley Burston, an admirable and respected columnist and editor at the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, whom a couple weeks ago we saw writing against any move of Israel's capital from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, writes this week, in his magisterial vein, about Israel's most severe critics, in his piece, "When Jihad says 'Kiss, make up, and kill the Jews'" []:

"Let the comments fly in, from bottomlessly self-congratulatory supporters of Palestinian statehood in Australia, New Zealand, Berkeley, from all those places where white people like yourselves exterminated indigenous populations with impunity. And stole the land on which your condo was built."

Whew !

Now let's hear from some public "talkbackers" about Burston's column, some of the public's defender's of Burston's point and replies to an Australian talkbacker who is a critic of Israel (and a critic of Bradley's accusation).  But a warning--Caveat emptor! These are not for the thin-skinned; they are not, to say the least of it, polite.

"As to Australia - the model for apartheid - give it back and go home you Brit."

And another: "In the 1870`s Jews began to move there in an attempt to build their own country. Like the west of the US, like Australia and like Europe for centuries different people ended up competing for the same land."

And another:  "What do you want 8th generation Australians to do about what our ancestors did over 220 years ago?  To start, you can use genocidal history to temper your self righteousness.  (Fat chance).   Could you please tell me how many generations need to pass before genocide becomes acceptable?  Sounds like Bradley touched a raw nerve."

And another:  "Rightee Hoooo, so what you are saying is that if Israel too can fight on for 220 years and hold on to the land then they too will be off the hook like you guys? You are the epitome of hypocrisy yourself!"

"Do you live on the property of the Massachuset or any of the Algonquian branch of the Algonquian-Wakashan tribe? I guess the wars and pestilence finished them off like all the other native peoples of North America by deliberate and premeditated terror tactics." I suggest not to let that bother you. At least, you can always throw stones at someone else and feel good about yourself. Especially with a name like apartheid. Makes you feel high and mighty-No?"

Whew again!

Needless to say, there is a whole lot to say on this. And it seems to me to be a complicated issue.  Here is only a little--more later.

I sent this pseudonymously to the same Ha'aretz page:

Many peoples have committed past crimes by modern human rights standards, and all they can do is redress them.

No one suggests European-Americans - or, for that matter, America's kaleidoscopic variety of all the world's peoples -- including Jewish Americans - leave. Similarly no one suggests South African Afrikaners or Israeli Jews leave- or give up their homes or communities.

No one suggests that anyone give up anything.

But notably all Western Hemisphere countries -- some of which are as much as 90% mixed heritage Euro-Indians, and thus through many of them much intermarriage --, South Africa, Australia, etc., have redressed their past crimes and abandoned, in both their legislation and in their social psyches, their demographic obsessions. They maintain no barrier or restriction in movement anywhere in their lands or societies, and maintain no legal inequality in status or rights between aboriginals and anyone else in any way.

Native Americans, as individuals, families, or larger groupings are within the law in moving and living anywhere in America from San Francisco to Long Island. The only exception, among claimants to Western and Democratic rank, is Israel. Among countries that claim democratic western rank, only Israel refuses to redress its past offenses, in either in its formal legislation or in its social psyche to abandon both its demographic laws and obsessions.

Among countries that claim democratic western ranking, by the 1960s those who had not abandoned these had dwindled to only the southern states of the United States, South Africa, and Israel. Then it was only South Africa and Israel. Now it is only Israel.

It is the only nation left doing this which claims democratic western rank. This is why it holds the western world's attention - as South Africa and the U.S. South also held its attention before they abandoned those demographic fixations.

However, all these considerations do imply that there is truth in the Indian analogy.  Israel was envisioned in the same 1490s-1940s period that the Americas (north and south) and Australia and New Zealand and South Africa immigration came about. It has had more trouble because it came at the tail-end of the period. If most Zionist immigration had taken place soon after 1700 or 1800 rather than soon after 1900, it probably would have gone much more easily.  The moral sensibilities of human societies do change. And so although Israel began within the 1490s-1940s period of worldwide settler immigration, it did so by such a close shave --  got  in so closely "under the wire" -- that it has had many more problems.

Of course, that the migration took place, from the perspective of the European and Eurocentric historical time-line, late in the game, should not and need not be a concern of, and certainly is not the fault of, the Palestinians.

In any event  it does seem to sensible to suggest that Palestinian and Arab violence have, from the beginning, had a major role in the Yishuv's and Israel's responses. Without such repeated onsets of violence and terror against innocents from the beginning, there would arguably today be no security fence, no checkpoints, no by-pass roads, no border or access impediments, and -- mainly -- there would not even have been any displaced Palestinian refugees in the first place in 1948-49.

And Israel hasn't had a moment's respite, a moment's peace, to try to live out a demographics free life-- in short, to try to abandon its demographic obsessions. I realize that the constant neighboring threats and violence constantly throws demographics back into their lives. That's what makes it such a complicated conflict, and now mainly an ethnic conflict.  In sum, Israel also has a case.

But there still may be more -- much more! -- to consider about "Israel and the Indians."


Calev Ben-David, the director of the Jerusalem Office of "The Israel Project," wrote a column, "Sore Losers," last week in The Jerusalem Post, in which he says that

"...nobody in the political and media mainstream thinks it's exceptional, or certainly a sign of divided loyalties, for Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, Irish-Americans, Taiwanese Americans, African-Americans and many other ethnic groups to involve themselves in policy debates (often via official lobbying organizations just like AIPAC) in regard to foreign states to which they have cultural roots or ties..."

But is this so?

It seems to me people often talk about Miami's Cuba Lobby, and also used to talk about the Taiwan ("Formosa") Lobby (against Communist China's admission to the UN and so forth).  Arguably,  in fact, we have had decades of artificially bad relations with Cuba because of the Cuba Lobby and artificially warm relations with Israel because of the Israel Lobby.  Everyone talks about it and knows it and many deplore the baleful influence of the lobby in the first case with Cuba, so why is it so bad to talk about it and know it in the second case with Israel?

Moreover, as for other countries, their peoples have warm cultural relations with their homelands but don't encourage the US to give their foreign country massive military and political aid in a conflict with a foreign neighbor of that foreign country, dragging in the US for decades, encouraging us to give to their country 1/3 of the aid that we give to the whole world combined, angering a billion people at us, and precipitating 9/11-style reactions; only the Israeli lobby does this.

People used to say Peter Jennings was Canadian and no one raised issues of dual loyalties, so why Israel but not Canadal?  Yes, but Canada was not entangled in a Megaconflict with a third country, infuriating a billion people connected to that third country against the US, and entangling the US in that conflict to give Canada billions of dollars in military assistance against that third country.  If this had taken place, there would indeed have been questions of whether Jennings could give accurate balanced news of the conflict, and also questions about whether Canadians should be advisors at the highest levels of the US government--particularly advice about how America related itself to the conflict, and questions whether there were dual loyalties involved. And the Jennings we all remember would have encouraged this open discussion.

Also, Ben-David says the critics can't win arguments so they make personal attacks.  But more obviously, the Israel lobby does this.  The authors of the Walt-Mearsheimer report are personally attacked much more than their arguments are civilly discussed.  And many critical books and articles on the Cuba and Taiwan lobbies have been published, and most, if ever criticized, are done so in a civil manner, and their authors certainly never experience personal attacks, such as have incurred the authors of the Walt-Mearsheimer study.

It seems that Israel has been the beneficiary on double standards about our foreign policy lobbies.

Comment On This Article
(Please include your name so that we may publish your remarks.)

Return to the Table of Contents

Articles may be quoted or republished in full with attribution
to the author and

This site is designed and managed by Neil Turner at Neil Turner Concepts

Harvard Square Commentary, February 5, 2007