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November 11, 2011 9:18 am

Why Hitchens Is Wrong on Israel

avatar by Jeremy Rosen

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Christopher Hitchens. Photo: Steper.

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.

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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. 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.

This proves, once again, the old saying, “Where the heart wishes to go, the mind is sure to follow.” It’s not the finding fault with Israel I object to. On the contrary, it deserves opprobrium for its failures internal and external. That’s how people grow. It is the now compulsive and politically correct radical Western (and many Jews too) hatred of anything Israeli has become so pathological that it has spilled over into the Wall Street protests and even into Jewish protests against Jews as the following links illustrate. Hatred of Israel has become dogma and, as we know, against dogma there is no room for argument.

‘Occupy’ protestors storm Israeli consulate

Young U.S. Jews aim ‘occupy’ movement at Birthright Israel

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  • To continue Jeremy’s metaphor, the innocent bystander was not innocent at all but complicit in setting fire to the building. He therefore should be punished for arson and not rewarded with rights to the building.
    It is well documented that the Mufti of Jerusalem was in cahoots with the Nazis. But he was never punished for being a war criminal and the genocidal ideology he encouraged is still being propagated today in the Arab and Muslim world.

  • Jeremy Rosen is right to remind people that Jews experienced anti-semitism not just in Europe, but under Islam. Fourteen centuries of institutionalised humiliation as ‘dhimmis’ gives them some rights to seek independence and self-determination in their own state. They never vacated the house altogether and always retained the title deed. In fact they have a deed to much of the surrounding area, which they settled well before the Arabs. Why is it unreasonable to claim 0.01 percent of the Middle East when they lost considerably more Jewish-owned land in Arab states?

  • Steve

    Give me the ideas of an atheist Jew like Hitchens any day over those of the author of this nonsensical article.

    Hitchens’ metaphor says that Jews fleeing a persecuting Europe impacted strongly on the lives of those living in the land where they settled, most strongly post 1948. It further says that this does not give the Arab Palestinians the right to an eternal resentment against the Jews but it does give the Jews a moral obligation to recognise the impact they’ve had and to minimise it.

    The only person who could find anything outré or objectionable in that would have to be the sort of person who thinks that Jews have superior moral rights to a land that “after all, they built first”.

    By the way, does anyone understand the question: “Does he believe the Jews referred to in the New Testament were really Arab Palestinians?”?

    Must close now as I’m off to move into the house I lived in 20 years ago. And woe betide the current residents if they try to obstruct my historic residency rights.

    • jeremy rosen

      I certainly agree with that remark of Hitchens you quote and if you read what I wrote you’ll see I say as much as well. Enjoy your home and I hope in the event of any conflicts arising you will try your best to settle them by mutual, face to face negotiation.

    • caro

      I do, I do, I understand the question: “Does he believe the Jews referred to in the New Testament were really Arab Palestinians?” You see, what’s happened is that the Arab “Palestinians” have stolen the Jewish narrative. According to one of their latest claims, Jesus was a Palestinian. I expect that pathetic self-hating Jew, Hitchens, believes that, too. It’s just too easy.

  • PaulDorio

    Jews have been oppressed, enslaved, beaten, killed, and otherwise denigrated since time immemorial. I have always strived to understand a reason why, and yet have failed. Any reasonable thinking person who suggests that America and the rest of the world “throw their hands up and let the Middle East eat itself” has thought little about the fact that numerous Arab states,which surround Israel, have alwaysu fairly held a negative view of the state and its people. America’s support of Israel has been one foreign policy stance that has been relatively unwavering for decades. The rest of the world could care less about what happens to Israel and its people. Yet America, thankfully, has stood by her side. It is not an issue of “theocratic state,” as “salvage” puts it. Nay, it is an issueof human decency and the right to coexist peacefully in similar geographic regions. Is it reasonable that Palestinians. Jews, Catholics, etc can not live together in Peace? Or perhaps should your discussion of Atheism be shelved in favor of the togetherness that comes from disparate people who believe in a single higher being, regardless of His name? I have always been equally amazed and saddened that supposedly god-fearing peoples refuse to see that they have such strong similarities duetothefact that they all believe in one higher being. Islam, Judaism and Christianity stem from common ground. Why people of these three faiths cannot or refuse to see each other as brethren is the ultimate sadness in this world,and a sadness that must be overcome.

    • PaulDorio

      Correction: I wrote “have always fairly held a negative view” when I meant to write “have always held a fairly negative view…”

      …big difference in connotation!

    • salvage

      >Jews have been oppressed, enslaved, beaten, killed, and otherwise denigrated since time immemorial.
      As have Muslims, Christians, Pagans, Natives, Aboriginals and any other minority that finds themselves at the mercy of a stronger power that worships a different god.

      > I have always strived to understand a reason why, and yet have failed.

      Really? Try harder, the answer is pretty obvious.

      >Any reasonable thinking person who suggests that America and the rest of the world “throw their hands up and let the Middle East eat itself”

      Yeah, we should throw more money, weapons and war at the problem, hey it hasn’t worked so far but you know what they say keep doing the same thing over and over again and eventually you’ll get a different result!

      >has thought little about the fact that numerous Arab states,which surround Israel, have alwaysu fairly held a negative view of the state and its people.

      No, I think the negative view came right around the time the West declared that Palestine was theirs to give away to the Jewish refugees and the people already living there should find someplace else to go. Weird how that upset them huh? Why can’t they understand that when the West meddles it’s for their own good? Silly wogs.

      But it’s so much easier to declare the Arabs as monsters and their eviction noble… probably the same way the Jews were thrown out a few thousand years before.

      See what I mean? It’s not religion but political and cultural environment that determines the oppression of this people or that.

      >Islam, Judaism and Christianity stem from common ground. Why people of these three faiths cannot or refuse to see each other as brethren is the ultimate sadness in this world,and a sadness that must be overcome.

      Because religion is insanity and delusion, you can’t expect sane and sensible behaviour to come from such stuff. There is an exception however, the leaders of the Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities came together to scream their hatred of homosexuals when the gays tried to do some Pride stuff in Israel.

      That’s one thing most theists of the Old Testament can all agree on; their god hates fags and so do they.

      Perhaps that foundation of fear and loathing can be built upon.

  • Mike W

    You neglected to say that lots of the innocent by-stander’s cousins are welcomed as family members in the burning man’s portion house, but none of the burning man’s cousins are welcomed on the by-stander’s side. As a matter of fact, the poor innocent by-stander has declared that when he builds his own independent home he will kick out all of the burning man’s cousins and not allow any remain as boarders. In addition, the innocent by-stander has declared that none of his own cousins who used to live in the burning man’s house will be welcomed in his new home either.

  • jeremy rosen

    No thats not what I intended to imply. The house is the Land of Israel/Palestine call it wht you will. In 1947 the UN voted for two States, to share the house. The Jews accepted the deal even though they were not given what they wanted. The Arabs refused hoping they would exterminate the Jews. They declared war and attacked. But when they lost they didn’t simply cry ‘foul’ they refused to negotiate as they they did at Khartoum in 1967… Thats the metaphor.
    J

    • Sean

      Point taken, but isnt that a bit of stretch? In Hitch’s metaphor he asks:

      “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? ”

      He leaves this open, as a question, not a statement.

    • Sean

      I just re-read these comments. you write ” The house is the Land of Israel/Palestine…”

      But the man is jumping OUT of the burning house.

      The Jews did not flee Israel ?!

      • caro

        Actually, no. The Jews did not flee Israel. Ever. They were driven out. In spite of their enormous influence on the rest of the nations, the Jews are a very small people, only about 13 million world wide. The sovereign state of Israel is strong, now.

        • salvage

          >The sovereign state of Israel is strong, now.

          Really? Than why do they need billions of dollars in aid from the U.S.?

          A curious species of sovereignty.

  • jeremy rosen

    Yes indeed, I do believe your negative preconceptions lead you to make false comparisons and prevent you from listening/understanding what is being said to you.

    According to your logic America is a theocracy because religion influences the politics of Goverbnment and the Republican Party. And it is an Apartheid State because racist judgments have been delivered by some courts and some judges.
    I see no point in discussion if you simply ignore what I say.J

    • salvage

      Yup, not a theocracy at all:

      http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-israel-women-20111113,0,7356238.story

      Yet Israeli women say that recently some of their most basic rights have come under attack, including singing and dancing in public, vying for student government positions at a religious college, appearing on billboards in Jerusalem, speaking on a religious radio station and even using the sidewalk during religious celebrations.

      Feminists who once thought Israel’s battle for gender equality had been mostly won are warning of a new assault from Israel’s fast-growing ultra-Orthodox community, which is seeking to expand religious-based segregation into the public realm.

      ————————————

      Can anyone explain why this particular sect of Judaism is so obsessed with what’s between their legs and why they imagine their god shares in it?

    • salvage

      The proposal by some members of the Knesset to strip the Arab language of its current status as one of the official languages of the State of Israel is a senseless move and, what’s more, a sign of disrespect toward the more than one million citizens of Israel whose mother tongue is Arabic.

      http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/israel-s-shameful-attack-on-arabic-must-be-stopped-1.395617

      _____________

      Six Palestinian activists, clutching national flags and surrounded by dozens of reporters, were dragged off an Israeli bus they planned to ride into Jerusalem after a standoff with police Tuesday.

      They were detained and then released a few hours later in the West Bank, said pro-Palestinian activist Jonathan Pollack.

      The Palestinians boarded the Israeli bus in a widely advertised action hoping to draw attention to what they call discriminatory measures in the West Bank, particularly travel restrictions.

      http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hy5eRi04tNoilT-NifPlHfta5J5w?docId=a56ddc888aeb4c81b3f9e5fef57214d0

      Yeah, I must be a total Nazi to think that this stuff is in anyway like South Africa was.

  • Sean

    Hitchens metaphor is just that: a metaphor, not “an implicit denial of the rights of Jews under Islam”.

    “what if the pedestrian had actually refused to allow the fire exits to be used “. What does that imply? that the Palestinians forced Western Europe to be antisemitic?

    This is a most nonsensical article.

  • jeremy rosen

    No I did not suggest religion is not interwoven in Israeli politics which I deplore as much as I deplore ALL religious coercion regardless of where it comes from. But that does not make a Theocracy. You can’t compare it to Iran where religious authorities have a veto. THAT is theocracy.You do jump to wrong conclusions dont you?
    As for Apartheid, you should read Richard Goldstone’s excellent article to realize your hatred is getting in the way of clear rational thinking.Apartheid ishere discrimination is embedded in law. Do not confuse discrimination or disadvantage with racism.

    • salvage

      >But that does not make a Theocracy.

      Yes it does. Is it as bad as Iran? Of course not and I never said it was, is it as good as America, Canada and every other Western nation the keep church and state separate? Again, of course not.

      >No I did not suggest religion is not interwoven in Israeli politics

      I didn’t say you did, I am saying that because it is true and that is why Israel is a theocracy, religious tests are a must to wield any sort of power. The state encourages and supports one religion over all others. People of that religion can gain citizenship because of that religion. The country’s very existence both physically and politically is accredited to a god if not “holy scripture”. If that’s not theocratic than what is it?

      >to realize your hatred i

      Ah sweet anti-Semitism, it’s such a great tool isn’t it? Someone says something you don’t like about Israel you won’t talk facts and points made but rather dismiss it as the talk of a “hater”. That is so much simpler all around isn’t it?

      >Apartheid ishere discrimination is embedded in law

      Oh and there’s nothing like that in Israel…
      ———
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/dec/24/israel1

      Chinese workers at a company in Israel have been forced to agree not to have sex with or marry Israelis as a condition of getting a job.

      According to a contact they are required to sign, male workers may not have any contact with Israeli women – including prostitutes, a police spokesman, Rafi Yaffe, said.
      ———
      And there certainly isn’t anything like Israeli Identity Cards that distinguish the religion of the bearer, I know, it’s not quite as overt as it was when I was there but it’s still there.

      Shall we talk restrictions on movement? Water rights? The segregation of economy?

      No, you’ll just call me a crazed-by-my-hatred hater and continue to think how righteous it all is without ever bothering to get the whole story.

      Hint: There are no good guys in the Middle East, there aren’t even lesser evils (as if evil can be quantified and compromised). There are only lunatics who think their god is the only real one and their foolish and innocent victims.

  • salvage

    Israel is not a Theocratic State,

    Yeah, it is or are you seriously suggesting that religion isn’t deeply interwoven within the politics and culture. Democracies strive to keep church and state separate in Israel it’s all but impossible to see where one ends and the other begins.

    >not with a legal system based on British, Ottoman as well as Jewish Law

    There isn’t theism in monarchist, Muslim and Jewish laws?

    >or with a Supreme Court made up of secular Israelis and Arabs.

    Uh huh, and how far in the political structure would a Christian or Muslim get?

    I’ve been to Israel, I’ve witnessed first hand the “apartheid light”, it’s no proper democracy. I’m sure it would become one if they killed / drove off all the people who would vote it away until then equality would be a clear and present danger.

    >As for Atheists, so far neither the Soviet nor the Cambodian or the Chinese atheists give us any reason to believe they’d do a better job.

    Yes, those Atheist Revolutions… no, sorry, those were communist revolutions. In fact in history there has been only one regime that was rooted in atheism and it was of course a bloody disaster but it was only a small part of the French Revolution and it didn’t last long.

    But I don’t think you want to get into body counts where theism comes into it, after all Europe and the Middle East are the hearts of religion and all they’ve been doing is slaughtering each other for at least 1,500 years.

    In fact if you compare religion and prosperity in our current world the more religious a nation the lower the quality of life.

    The more people forget all that silly god nonsense the more they can work on solving the real world problems rather than begging some sky god’s intervention.

  • jeremy rosen

    Drunks dont usually listen to different points of view but I’m glad you expressed your view. It would help if you had more information. Israel is not a Theocratic State, not with a legal system based on British, Ottoman as well as Jewish Law or with a Supreme Court made up of secular Israelis and Arabs.
    As for Atheists, so far neither the Soviet nor the Cambodian or the Chinese atheists give us any reason to believe they’d do a better job.
    I do indeed agree with you and Professor Edward Luttwak who argues that wherever World Powers intervene in a conflict they inevitably prolong it.
    Jeremy

    • salvage

      >atheists give us any reason to believe they’d do a better job.

      Came across this little info graphic:

      http://i.imgur.com/VBgbO.jpg

      Makes sense, the less people worry about some bizarre god and its surreal plans to solve problems the more they can focus on reality.

  • salvage

    >hatred of anything Israeli

    Not, it’s a hatred of things Israel does that is foolish, immoral, short-sighted, detrimental to not only her well-being, the region and the world.

    Your support of Israel is akin to a drunk who gets hostile with the well meaning friends who keep on bailing him out of jail.

    Hopefully one day America and the rest of the world will throw their hands up and let the Middle East eat itself.

    Perhaps in 20 to 40 years when atheism becomes the mainstream people will understand how pointless it is to support one theocratic state against another.

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