Rewriting the History of Israel’s 1948 War
Arthur Szyk (1894-1951) was a great artist. But that doesn’t mean that every world leader he painted deserves our admiration — nor should we assume that Syzk admired every one of them, either.
In a recent essay in The Algemeiner, Samantha Lyons and Irvin Ungar presented Syzk’s 1941 portrait of King Abdullah I of Transjordan. Lyons and Ungar hailed Abdullah as an “Arab peacemaker.” But Abdullah was nothing of the sort.
Lyons and Ungar also claimed that Syzk’s portrait “reveals his admiration for a moderate Middle Eastern leader.” But they present no convincing evidence that Syzk felt that way. The fact that the painting was a “dignified rendering” of Abdullah says nothing about what Szyk thought of him.
Let’s remember that Szyk was an active member of the Bergson Group, which was created and led by activists from the Jabotinsky movement. They regarded Transjordan as a part of historic Eretz Yisrael, which had been illegally and immorally torn from the rest of Mandatory Palestine by the British authorities in 1922.
As the unelected leader of Transjordan, Abdullah was the fascist dictator of a country that was little more than a work of fiction. There were no “Transjordanians.” Their “nation” was concocted by the British in order to give Abdullah a “country” to rule over, after they disappointed him by giving the throne of Iraq to his brother. So they severed the eastern 78 percent of the Palestine Mandate and handed it to him on a silver platter as a consolation prize.
It hardly seems likely that Syzk “admired” the illegal Arab occupier of 78 percent of Israel.
It should be recalled that the idea that Transjordan was a fake country which had been unfairly separated from the Jewish homeland was not just some Jabotinsky movement idea. All the mainstream Zionist leaders protested vigorously when Transjordan was first separated from the rest of the country, and they protested just as loudly in 1946, when the British officially proclaimed Transjordan to be an independent country.
Lyons and Ungar made much of the fact that Abdullah held several secret meetings with Zionist leaders in the 1940s. Historians can debate whether Abdullah would have accepted a Jewish state or would have stuck to the proposal he made to Golda Meir — for “an autonomous Jewish canton with a Hashemite kingdom.”
What we know for sure is what Abdullah actually did: he sent his army, the Arab Legion, to play a leading role in the war of extermination that the Arab world launched against the new state of Israel in 1948. Arab Legion troops attacked Kfar Etzion — and according to the late historian Sir Martin Gilbert, the Legionnaires slaughtered the Jewish defenders who surrendered.
Lyons and Ungar claim that Syzk’s second portrait of Abdullah, in 1949, “signals Szyk’s esteem” for the Arab dictator.
“Esteem” for the king whose forces massacred the Jews of Kfar Etzion after they had surrendered?
“Esteem” for the dictator whose forces carried out the brutal siege of Jerusalem, starving its Jewish residents and then expelling them en masse?
“Esteem” for the king whose forces gratuitously destroyed the synagogues of the Old City?
“Esteem” for the Arab leader who, from the conquest of Jerusalem in 1948 until his death three years later, imposed an apartheid-like rule of the city by preventing Jews from living there or visiting their holy sites?
No, Abdullah I was no peacemaker; he waged war against the Jews, and it’s impossible to believe that Arthur Szyk admired him. Syzk fought to create a Jewish state. Abdullah I fought to destroy it. No amount of rewriting history can change those facts.
Moshe Phillips is national director of Herut North America’s U.S. division; Herut is an international movement for Zionist pride and education and is dedicated to the ideals of pre-World War Two Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Herut’s website is https://herutna.org/