Exile in the Middle East

18/05/2012 16:38


A few days ago, the Palestinian Arabs marked the 'nakba' or 'catastrophe', which commemorates the displacement of thousands of Arabs during the upheaval of 1948. It is thought that around 600,000 refugees were created as a consequence of the Arab rejection of the Jewish state and the ensuing assault on the newly-born Israel. The Palestinian leaders deliberately spread false rumours that women were being raped in order to provoke Arab armies to fight on their behalf. The Arab armies encouraged the Palestinian to evacuate while they fought their war against the Israelis. The refugee crisis was not engineered by Israel, nor did Israel deliberately expel the Palestinians. According to the Institute for Palestine Studies, 68% of refugees "left without seeing an Israeli soldier".

Israel's neighbours refused to incorporate the displaced Palestinian Arabs, preferring to keep them in camps in the hope that the Zionist entity would soon be destroyed. In fact, Mahmoud Abbas has accused the Arab armies of forcing the Palestinians to emigrate and then putting them into ghettos. The United Nations aggravated the problem by creating a unique category for the Palestinian Arab refugees. The UN recognized that many of the refugees who fled their villages had not lived there very long. (Figures show that many of the refugees migrated to the Holy Land in order to take advantage of the employment prospects created by the early Zionists). The UN's decision was to establish a unique criterion for the Arab refugees. Any Arab who had lived in Israel for only two years before fleeing was classed as a refugee. Moreover, their descendants are also classed as refugees. There was a sevenfold increase in the Palestinian population between 1967 and 2002. Arafat said that the wombs of Palestinian women were the “secret weapon” of his cause. The UN has perpetuated the crisis by maintaining Palestinian refugee camps and handing out aid money.

The other major refugee problem which arose in the Middle East at the same time as the ‘nakba’ was that of the 850,000 Jews kicked out of Arab lands in the wake of Israel's independence. In Iraq, Zionism was punishable by death. Israel, which was already coping with Jewish migrants fleeing war-torn Europe, managed to assimilate the Jewish refugees. The violence against the Jews across the Arab world was both deliberate and staggering in its intensity. The head of the Jewish community in Tripoli described the Arab torture and murder of Jews as “bestial”. In Aleppo, Syria, 300 houses and 11 synagogues were destroyed. Following Jordan’s annexation of Judea and Samaria (the ‘West Bank’), all but one of the thirty-five synagogues in East Jerusalem were destroyed. The ancient Jewish cemetery on Mount of Olives was desecrated. Tombstones were used for construction, paving roads and lining latrines. Jordan, pursuing a Judenrein policy, ethnically cleansed the West Bank. This was the only time in over 1,000 years that Jews were forbidden to live on this particular piece of land. This is not to mention the decades of Arab violence against Jews across the Holy Land, the most notorious incident being the Hebron massacre of 1929.

Below is an article by Matti Friedman, printed in the Times of Israel on May 15th 2012.

A different history of displacement and loss

There is more than one way to look at the commemoration of 1948′s Palestinian defeat and dispersion

On May 15, many in the Arab world and elsewhere mark the Nakba, or the “Catastrophe,” mourning the displacement of the Palestinian Arabs during the 1948 war with Israel. This year, as always, the commemoration will obscure the collapse at the same time of a different Arab society that few remember.

I have spent a great deal of time in the past four years interviewing people born and raised in Aleppo, Syria. Some of these people, most of whom are now in their eighties, are descended from families with roots in Aleppo going back more than two millennia, to Roman times. None of them lives there now.

On November 30, 1947, a day after the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into two states, one for Arabs and one for Jews, Aleppo erupted. Mobs stalked Jewish neighborhoods, looting houses and burning synagogues; one man I interviewed remembered fleeing his home, a barefoot nine-year-old, moments before it was set on fire. Abetted by the government, the rioters burned 50 Jewish shops, five schools, 18 synagogues and an unknown number of homes. The next day the Jewish community’s wealthiest families fled, and in the following months the rest began sneaking out in small groups, most of them headed to the new state of Israel. They forfeited their property, and faced imprisonment or torture if they were caught. Some disappeared en route. But the risk seemed worthwhile: in Damascus, the capital, rioters killed 13 Jews, including eight children, in August 1948, and there were similar events in other Arab cities.

At the time of the UN vote, there were about 10,000 Jews in Aleppo. By the mid-1950s there were 2,000, living in fear of the security forces and the mob. By the early 1990s no more than a handful remained, and today there are none. Similar scripts played out across the Islamic world. Some 850,000 Jews were forced from their homes.

If we are to fully understand the Israel-Arab conflict, the memory of these people and their exodus must be acknowledged — not as a political weapon, a negotiating tactic or as part of a competition about who suffered more, but simply as history without which it is impossible to understand Israel and the way the Arab world sees it.

Everyone knows the Palestinian refugees are part of the equation of Mideast peace, and anyone who is interested can visit a Palestinian refugee camp and hear true and wrenching stories of expulsion and loss. Among the Jews expelled by Arabs, on the other hand, one can find few who think of themselves as refugees or define themselves by their dispossession. Most are citizens of Israel.

Of the 20 families in my fairly average Jerusalem apartment building, half are in Israel because of the Arab expulsion of Jews, and that is representative of Israel as a whole. According to the Israeli demographer Sergio della Pergola of Hebrew University, though intermarriage over two or three generations has muddled the statistics, roughly half of the 6 million Jews in Israel today came from the Muslim world or are descended from people who did. Many Arabs, and many Israelis, consider Israel a Western enclave in the Middle East. But these numbers do not support that view.

These Jews have shaped Israel and are a key force in the country’s political life. They also make Israel very different from the American Jewish community, which is overwhelmingly rooted in Europe. They are a pillar of Israel’s right wing, particularly of the Likud party. They maintain a wary view of Israel’s neighbors — a view that has been strengthened by the actions of the Palestinians but that is rooted in their own historical experience and in what might be considered an instinctive understanding of the region’s unkind realities.

The legacy of their exodus in the countries they left behind is harder to detect, but it, too, is significant.

In many Arab towns and cities there is an area where Jews used to live. In some cities, like Cairo, this area is still called harat al-yahud, the Jewish Quarter. Reporting there several years ago I found people who could show me the location of a certain abandoned synagogue, which they knew by name. A man who once showed me around Fez, Morocco, knew exactly where the old Jewish neighborhood, the mellah, had been, though there was not a single Jew there and had not been for many years. There are remnants like this in Aleppo, Tripoli, Baghdad and elsewhere. The people who live in or around the Jews’ old homes still know who used to own them and how they left; this extinct Jewish world might have been forgotten elsewhere, but millions in the Arab world see evidence of it every day.

As I have reported this nearly invisible story, it has occured to me that we often hate most the things or people that remind us of something we dislike about ourselves, and that here lies one of the hidden dynamics of the Israel-Arab conflict. It is one papered over by the simple narrative of Nakba Day, which posits that a foreign implant displaced a native community in 1948 and that the Palestinian Arabs are paying the price for the European Holocaust. This narrative, chiefly designed to appeal to Western guilt, also conveniently erases the uncomfortable truth that half of Israel’s Jews are there not because of the Nazis but because of the Arabs themselves.

Israel is not as foreign to the Middle East as many of its neighbors like to pretend, and more than one native community was displaced in 1948. If many in the Arab world insist, as they do each Nakba Day, that Israel is a Western invader that must be repelled, it is a claim that belongs to the realm not only of politics but of psychology — one that helps repress their own knowledge that the country they try to portray as alien is also the vengeful ghost of the neighbors they wronged.

The animal Holocaust: An odious comparison?

08/05/2012 02:49


Is it right for animal rights groups to use the Holocaust to highlight animal exploitation?

Among animal rights advocates, there is a growing tendency to refer to the Holocaust when describing the horrific plight of animals misused and abused for food, clothing and cosmetics. There is even a book entitled Eternal Treblinka: Our treatment of animals and the Holocaust. But is it right to harness the worst disaster ever to befall the Jews in order to highlight animal abuse?

Many Jews dislike the word "Holocaust" because it has religious and sacrificial connotations. Instead, the word Shoah, meaning disaster, is preferred. But does this mean the word "Holocaust" is now free to use by groups whose interests have nothing to do with the Jewish people?

There are some dangers here. First of all, drawing a parallel between the Final Solution and the abuse of animals runs the risk of downplaying the sheer scale and disaster faced by the Jews during the 1930s and 1940s. What happened to the Jewish people under the Nazis was an unprecedented disaster and one which wiped out two-thirds of European Jewry (or one-third of the world's Jewish population). The Final Solution was a deliberate and systematic attempt to 'ethnically cleanse' the world of Jews. This was motivated by a very real hatred of a particular people and was rooted in a highly-toxic mix of racial and religious discrimination.

The abuse of animals is horrific but it is not rooted in hatred towards animals. Yes, animals are abused, tortured and killed on a massive scale on a daily basis, and there is no excuse for it. What humans do to animals is exploitation of the worst kind, but it is not a deliberate attempt to rid the world of animals. In this sense, the Holocaust and animal exploitation are qualitatively different.

Another danger is drawing a direct parallel between animals and the Jewish people. While most people reading this article are animal lovers and view animals and humans as equals, anti-Semites have historically used animal imagery to demean and insult the Jewish people. Even today, Jews are called pigs and monkeys by Muslim anti-Semites. Also note that Jews have been repeatedly described as sub-human, i.e. as brutish, less than human.

Then there is the platitude about the Jews being led like lambs to the slaughter, which is apt (given its Biblical origins), but also robs the victims of their individuality and erases the many example of heroic Jewish resistance.

In short, the direct comparison between the suffering of the Jewish people and the suffering of animals is likely to be considered offensive. Organisations such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum have expressed concern over the (mis)use of Holocaust terminology. In fact, the ADL has described the trend as “disturbing.”

When Ingrid Newkirk, the president of PETA, stated that "six million Jews died in concentration camps, but six billion broiler chickens will die this year in slaughterhouses,” many people – Jews and non-Jews – were understandably upset. She then went on to blame her Jewish members of staff for the campaign. This is no way to win sympathy for the plight of animals. Quite the reverse, it makes animal rights campaigners seem either anti-human or just plain crazy.

Hijacking the special nature of the Holocaust is also troubling at a time when there is a frightening upswing in both Holocaust denial and Holocaust revisionism in the West and among Muslim populations. Indeed, the Holocaust is an incredibly sensitive issue in Israel and among the Jewish diaspora. It is the single most traumatic event to happen to the Jews since the Romans ethnically cleansed Israel and changed the name to Palestine in 135 CE.

Another problem with the Holocaust comparison is that it fails to take into account the type of suffering involved. Yes, animals suffer pain and are physically abused every day. But when a person – or in the case of the Jews, an entire people – are incarcerated and brutalised, there is the overwhelming sense of loss and hopelessness, of fear of what has happened to loved ones, the prospect or experience of rape, and the knowledge that someday soon he or she will be gassed and incinerated, along with their families. Animals, on the other hand, do not (as far as we know) experience reality in such a heightened fashion. They do not experience the passing of time or fear the imminence of death in the same way humans do. Of course, this is not to detract from the very real psychological suffering of animals. We all know that a mother cow suffers separation anxiety when her calf is taken away, and there is plenty of evidence to show that pigs and sheep panic when they see or sense their companions being slaughtered. Animals in labs show signs of anxiety and distress. This is to be expected and should not be explained away. But I am arguing that there is a difference in the quality of emotional suffering. The Nazi assault on the individual Jew was not only an attack on his or her identity, race and religion, but a deliberate attempt to degrade their experience of what it means to be human. As I stated earlier, the Nazis actively pursued a policy of altering the status of the individual Jew from that of a human being to that of a sub-human. Animals are indeed robbed of the opportunity to live a life free from oppression and pain, but they are not made to undergo the existential humiliation of being rendered sub-animal.


Having laid out the numerous arguments as to why holocaust references should be avoided, there may well be a case for returning to the original meaning of the word to highlight the plight of animals. The meaning of the word comes from the Greek holocaustos, used to describe a religious animal sacrifice that is completely consumed by fire. So, the word 'holocaust' originally referred to the death of an animal for human purposes. Strip out the religious connotations, and we are left with the possibility for re-adopting the word for a new purpose.

So even if we agree that holocaust with a lower ‘h’ is acceptable, I am still not convinced that it is acceptable to use the "Holocaust" (with a capital ‘H’). Of course, it is tempting to draw parallels between animals and people being herded together and transported to godforsaken places, or experimented on for useless medical research, or their skin used to make sofas or lampshades. But there is a point where such comparisons become gratuitous.

However, I think it is reasonable to use the Jewish catastrophe as an example of mankind’s depravity. Ironically, this view was set out by Matt Prescott, who was behind one of the PETA campaigns. He stated: "The very same mindset that made the Holocaust possible – that we can do anything we want to those we decide are 'different or inferior' – is what allows us to commit atrocities against animals every single day […] The fact is, all animals feel pain, fear and loneliness. We're asking people to recognise that what Jews and others went through in the Holocaust is what animals go through every day in factory farms.”

I think a couple of good points are made here. First, the decision by certain humans to exploit whomever they consider to be inferior should not be tolerated. Secondly, there is the rather moving comparison between the pain, fear and loneliness of the concentration camp prisoner and the animal in the lab or slaughterhouse, notwithstanding my attempt to differentiate between the quality of suffering involved.

If we are to use the word "holocaust," then it must be made clear that it does not detract from the suffering of the Jewish people, nor must the word ever be used carelessly. Used respectfully, the holocaust is an evocative expression of our horror at the scale of animal abuse. It is also an effective way of demonstrating that when it comes to animals, some human beings are indeed brutal, controlling, exploitative and uncaring – a bit like the Nazis.

The fascist Left

05/05/2012 11:39


It is not only the Palestinians and the wider Arab world that is to blame for the Middle East crisis. Western complicity in the form of left-wing fascism  has to shoulder its portion of blame.

It would be easy to write a diatribe against Islamists and jihadists. Of course, such fundamentalists are anti-Semitic and are outraged that the Jews have built a nation in their midst. I am not underestimating these radicals: they are dangerous and fanatical, and are completely lacking in the values that underpin democracy and human rights. But what is more worrying is the fact that such people have found a willing audience in the West, particularly Europe.

The Left, since the 1960s and the decline of Stalinism, has struggled to find a narrative. This crisis became even more evident following the collapse of communism and the Berlin wall. With the exception of the Left’s curious obsession with Cuba, the Palestinian cause has become the main focus of the socialists, which has led to the exclusion of every other geo-political issue. The Left has effectively joined forces with reactionary Muslims and what binds them together is violence and anti-Semitism.

The Left in its current form is nothing short of fascist. It is the kind of fascism that promotes street violence and the boycotting of Jewish shops. Left-wing fascism is a violent and revolutionary phenomenon  that is sweeping across campuses in the UK, Europe, the US and other Western nations. Its main preoccupation is the demonization and delegitimization of Israel, although the USA and the UK government are subject to unfair criticism too. Tellingly, despotic and cruel regimes in the Muslim world are of no interest to the Left (except when they are forced to defend them e.g. the Stop the War coalition/Iraq). Nor does it interest the fascist Left that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East where gay culture is normalised, where there is gender equality and where Israeli Arabs have full citizenship rights.

What is truly mind-boggling is that the Left and fundamentalist Islam have found so much common ground. It can only be the fact that both movements  are inherently anti-Semitic and anti-American. And violent. Otherwise, they are polar opposites in term of their respective approaches to human rights, gay rights and gender equality.

The fascist Left in Europe has a stranglehold over global public discourse on Israel and is killing fair and balanced reporting in the media.  Indeed, it could be argued that Israel’s biggest problem is not Iran or the Palestinians, but the horrific media assault on the Jewish state. On top of this is the malicious boycott and divestment campaign, where even individual Israelis are targeted. Worse still is the “apartheid” slur, which is not only erroneous and inapplicable, but an insult to the true victims of South African apartheid. Indeed, some South Africans, along with many African-Americans and Israeli Arabs, have spoken out against the “Israel=apartheid” slur.

Although the Palestinians and the wider Arab world are historically to blame for  the crisis in the Holy Land, the fascist Left’s flirtation with anti-Semitic Islamist movements has seriously jeopardised peaceful relations between Jews and Arabs, and soured relations between the Israeli Left and the European Left. The Left-Islamist alliance is not about creating peaceful conditions on the ground but destroying Israel’s reputation and morale, in the hope of overturning the “Zionist entity” completely.

Has the Left thought through the consequences of its unholy alliance? Is it a partnership that is here to stay? Or is it a short-term marriage of convenience? I think it is the latter. It is fairly obvious that the Islamists and the Left are using each other to further their sordid agendas. As things stand, the Left may want to consider what life would be like if the Islamists had their way, not only in Israel, but in Europe. How do gay rights and gender equality share the same political space as Sharia law? (Take note, Queers for Palestine). So I say to those who condemn gay-friendly Israel and support Hamas and its ilk: “Every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government." (This is a quotation from Rainborough who spoke in the Putney Debates of 1647).

Of course, not every individual on the Left is anti-Semitic but they are certainly guilty of ignorance and extreme bias, and collectively they form an anti-Semitic grouping. By singling out Israel for condemnation and alleviating the Arab world of accountability, they have helped destroy the Jewish people's faith in the gentile media. However well-meaning some of these left-wingers are, good intentions "do not make good deeds"; neither can good intentions "prevent the consequences of bad deeds from being bad”. (John Milton).

Defence of the Israeli People

04/05/2012 11:51


In 1651, the poet John Milton wrote his Defence of the English People, a response to a piece of propaganda by Claudia Salmasius. Salmasius had argued that Oliver Cromwell and his rebels were guilty of regicide after executing King Charles I. Milton's defence was not only a justification of Cromwell and the parliamentarians, but an attack on Salmasius' inconsistent arguments. 

Salmasius argued that the crime of regicide was a crime against humanity committed by "traitors," not men, but "monsters." Moreover it was a crime against nature, that the act of killing the king was so shocking that it was "as if rivers were now flowing backwards" and rain had "turned to blood." Salmasius called on foreign kings and the whole of Europe to revenge the blood of Charles I, and he advocated the persecution of the rebels whom he dubbed a "hated root" and "wicked sect." He also declared that the rebels had acted unlawfully because they had no legal justification in executing the king. The establishment of a republic was dangerous because it was unprecedented. In fact, he likened the Cromwellian government of England to a military tranny.  

Today, the same kind of slander and hyperbole is used against the Jewish commonwealth, Israel. According to its detractors, Israel is not only run by war criminals but is an illegitimate state, founded on the blood of the Palestinian people. Israel's enemies say the Jewish state has no right to exist and should be wiped off the map. Some say that Israel is an apartheid state, a fascist state, a military tyranny, an occupier, a usurper of the natural order of things. Like the establishment of the English republic, the Zionist project is an aberration that must be reversed. That is the view of Israel’s fiercest critics.

According to Milton, Salmasius was a "mouthpiece" of "infamy" and "lies," on the payroll of the royalists. As well as being a "lying hired slanderer," he was ignorant of English politics and history. As well as attacking his opponent's credibility, Milton dismantled the argument that England was better off under a king even when the king was imperfect. Instead, the English people deserved a degree of self-rule, free from the yoke of oppression. In fact, the overthrow of Charles I was a righteous act carried out by a noble people. 

Moving forward to the 21st century, supporters of Israel have to refute the arguments of contemporary Salmasiuses, who are either ignorant or deliberately deceiving the public. Not only do Israel's advocates have to defend Israel's right to exist, we have to counter the relentless deceptions in the media, that “mouthpiece” of lies. Like Milton, we have to remind the world that the Jewish people have a right to decide their future, and they had no option but to free themselves from their Arab oppressors in 1947-9 and 1967.

Milton was a defender of liberty and justice, but he was careful to distinguish between liberty and mob rule. If Milton was writing today, I believe he would express his bitter distaste for the hypocrisies and excesses of Israel's detractors and would seek to amend the public record on Israel. Yes, he probably would be described as a Christian Zionist, but Milton was never an orthodox Christian, and he held many secular views about self-rule and justice. Milton had no time for dishonest and hypocrisy, and I'm sure he would have no problem in exposing the lies about Israel. Even if Milton was not an outright supporter of Israel, I still think he would be troubled by the media distortions and the violent rhetoric against the Jewish state. In his Defence of the English People, Milton states that he speaks on behalf of the entire world against the "foes of human liberties." The biggest threat to liberty today comes from Islam, the Left, the liberal media and cultural relativism.

In his day, Milton identified the English people with Israel. Both, he believed, were embattled nations chosen by God to establish a way of life in a particular land, without having to answer  to foreign powers.  To paraphrase Wordsworth…

Milton! You should be living at this hour […] return to us again, and give us virtue, freedom, power.



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