It is very sad to have to write that major forces in the academic world, throughout the globe, are subtly, and not so subtly, today advocating the destruction of the State of Israel. Many progressive academics are now openly calling for the dismantling of the Jewish state.
The above statements are not an exaggeration, but tragically true. A red line has been crossed. What was up to now a message of ‘read between the lines’ is now stated loudly: Israel must be destroyed, ‘from the River to the Sea’ there is room only for a Palestinian-Arab- Muslim state. As if a Jewish state does not have a legitimate historical right to exist.
The academic legitimacy now given to the obliteration of our Jewish state has to be recognized as historic turning point. We have to understand that international academia has thus forced us to fight a Second War of Independence.
The battle to change academic thinking is a very different battlefield
The struggle of public relations to influence the opinions of the general public is a very different battlefield than the struggle to change the ‘genocidal’ opinions of academia. Both struggles are ‘holy’ but they require different concepts and language.
For example, since the Gaza war began Israel and Jewish groups have correctly pursued a public relations campaign that has emphasized the plight of the hostages, and the gross cruelty and inhumanity of the Hamas’s October 7h massacre. Emphasizing the human aspects of the hostage’s plight and the utter inhumanity of Hamas’s acts speaks effectively and graphically to the general public’s emotions. I think that generally speaking this public relation strategy has succeeded.
But to succeed on the academic battlefield, we have to speak in primarily intellectual, and not emotional, terms, and use the language and concepts of ‘academic Left progressivism”. We have to take the fight ‘to the enemy, and combat them on their own conceptual turf.’ - metaphorically term this ‘sleeping with the enemy”.
What it means to use academic language and concepts of the progressive Left
Twenty-first century Left academia has disposed of traditional Marxism and has replaced it with a polyglot of concepts that focus on restructuring society so to better support the social cultural self identities of what it terms ‘oppressed, ethnic-gender- sexual minorities’.
These theories divide society into two strata: the oppressing privileged, and the oppressed underprivileged. And the government’s job is to engineer society so as to transfer power and privilege from the oppressors to the oppressed.
And most significant, all the above theories argue that social justice requires that ‘one system of social morality’ applies to the oppressing strata, and that a completely different ‘system of social morality’ applies to the oppressed strata.
In a not so hidden antisemitic perspective, we Jews have been designated as belonging to the ‘oppressing-colonial ’strata, and the Palestinian Arabs/Hamas are ‘privileged’ to be part of the oppressed strata.,
This analysis requires that we and the Hamas be judged by different standards of social morality. Simply, the Hamas can rape and murder and this will be understood as ‘socially just resistance to oppression’, however when Israel kills civilians in military self defense this is considered to be ‘war crimes’.
The current theories of the academic Left have antisemitically ‘stacked’ the social morality cards against us even before the first shot is fired,
Let us now use three academic progressive Left concepts to argue the historic legitimacy of the Jewish state of Israel:
Using progressive academic terms, I argue that the Jewish state of Israel has historic legitimacy because
1) It is the embodiment of the national liberation movement of the Jewish people;
2) The establishment of the Jewish state in 1948 was an act of national self empowerment, not a product of colonial power diplomacy, and
3) The historic legitimacy of the Jewish state is based on the fact that the Jewish people are probably the most historically persecuted and oppressed national minority in world history
Our first argument: We want to define Zionism as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people.
Zionism is the national liberation movement Jewish people in two dimensions. One, the Jewish nation historically requires a national liberation movement to establish our own state in order to liberate ourselves from a long historic record of civic persecution and oppression. Two, we need our own state so that we can fully develop and express our national culture and heritage in all areas of human endeavor, and not just in the realm of religion and spirituality.
The first dimension: Throughout our two thousand year history in exile in almost all countries we were intentionally treated as second class citizens, being restricted to specific, inferior areas of residence, and occupations, and denied equal access to educational, commercial, property endeavors. In almost all countries throughout our history our civil status was comparable to , or worse, than the civil segregation of Blacks in the American South for the hundred years following the American Civil War.
Throughout our history we were also physically persecuted, sometimes systematically murdered (as in ‘genocide’), our properties destroyed, and often expelled from countries of origin.(as in ethnic cleansing’) .
Anyone who knows even a little Jewish history knows that this above ‘black’ description of our history is historically accurate.
The second dimension: The ‘liberation from two thousand year of Jewish exile’ means possessing the sovereignty that will allow expression of our people hood in all areas of life. The Jewish people require a nation state in order to develop, in accordance with our national values and traditions, a people hood that expresses itself in all sectors of public life, from the arts, to the military, to the economy and agriculture, and to welfare and health systems. We demand the same degree of independence that all other third world liberation movements demand.(
(Rav Kook’s theology and faith used the Kabala to make this exact same argument: that the redemption of the Jewish people means returning to the Land and Israel and establishing a Jewish state so that all the spiritual dimensions of Clal Yisrael (the people hood of Israel) can find expression in all areas of human endeavor. For example, unlike other Orthodox leaders, Rav Kook saw the early secular, socialist pioneers as actively participating in the Redemption by doing the work of Meshiach Ben Yosef, by building the first, more materialistic, floor, of an eternal Jewish Home.)
Our second argument: The Jewish people are the ‘indigenous’/native people of the Land of Israel (the River to the Sea). We have ‘come home’. The post colonial paradigm is not relevant to the founding of the Jewish state.
This is probably the most important argument that we have to make.
Leftist academics argue that the Arab population is the indigenous /native population because it has been the majority population since the Muslin conquest and occupation in the year 638.They go on to argue that in the late 19th century the European colonial powers then began to take Eastern European Jews and ‘artificially’ plant them in the Land of Israel in order to help them gain control over the Mid Eastern oil fields and international trade routes ( particularly the Suez Canal)
To disprove this absurd post-colonial argument we will want to argue the following points:
1) The Jews were the dominant political –cultural nation in Israel from (at least) 900 BCE till 400 CE. Greek, Roman, Christian and Islamic civilizations were all heavily influenced by their interaction with the Jewish political-cultural presence in Israel during this period. Endless archaeological findings confirm these truths.
2) The Jews continued to visit and settle in Israel throughout the centuries. Returning to Israel has been a central theme of our religious and cultural life throughout our exile.
3) The renewed and increasing Jewish re-settlement of the Israel at the end of the 19th century was not a military conquest, nor an enterprise ‘jump started’ by a colonial power.It was a ‘self initiated’ enterprise (from the bottom up) by the Zionist national liberation movement to escape the growing political and civilian anti –Semitism, pogroms and discrimination/persecution against Jews , in mid and late nineteenth century Europe. Land was bought from Arab landowners who claimed it. Agricultural settlements were said up in difficult terrain. World wide Jewry financially helped.
No colonial power provided any assistance. The Muslim Ottaman empire was sovereign. Our return to Israel was an act of self help and self empowerment.
4) After World War One the Arab countries of Syria , Iraq , Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon were established and indirectly ruled by the British and French colonial powers. Those states are ‘colonial creations’.
5) The League of Nations in 1922 gave Britain a mandate to establish a Jewish Homeland in the Israel/Palestine. ( This was parallel to the creation, from the disbanded Ottoman Empire, of the five Arab states listed above). The British built infrastructure in Palestine, but made no contribution, and often hampered, ongoing Jewish settlement. Again, creating in Palestine Jewish immigration, settlement and building state institutions (health, education, self defense, industry) were all acts of self development and self empowerment by worldwide Jewry and the Zionist national liberation movement.
6) From 1945 till 1948 the Jews conducted the largest military resistance to British colonial rule of any colony, and Britain had to station 100,000 soldiers to rule over 550,000 Jews and the Arab population. The extent of Jewish military resistance was a major factor in Britain’s decision to leave Palestine.
7) Although the Arab population was a clear majority in Israel/Palestine from the beginning of the Islamic conquest in 630 CE, Palestinian Arabs only began to develop a significant consciousness in the end of the nineteenth century. The Arab Palestinian movement supported Nazi Germany in World War Two.
8) Palestinian Arabs rejected the UN partition plan in 1948 ( which the Zionist movement accepted) which would have allowed them to establish their own independent state.
9) In the 1948 war it was the Arab States (and not the Jewish leadership) of Syria, Egypt and Jordan that openly opposed the establishment of a Palestinian Arab State because their sole intention of invading Israel/Palestine was to annex areas bordering on their territory such as the Galilee ( to be annexed by Syria), the Negev (to be annexed by Egypt) and the ‘’’West Bank’ ( and actually annexed Jordan). The Jordanian army in 1948 was commanded by the colonialist power of Britain.
10) Up until the late 1980’s the Arab League recognized Jordan, and not Arafat and the PLO, as the presumed sovereign of the 'West Bank'.
In summary, the current state of Israel is the heroic creation of the Jewish people, the culmination of three thousand years of Jewish history. Its creation bears no resemblance to the colonial territories and possessions of European powers in places such as Algeria, Africa and India.
Our third argument:, if the progressive-post colonial paradigm divides society into the sectors of ‘privileged oppressors’ and ‘disenfranchised oppressed’ populations, then the Jewish nation should be probably classified as the most oppressed, disenfranchised nation in world history.
Are progressives historically blind? They refuse to see three thousand years of Jewish history. They only look at the Jewry of the twenty first century. They see that today the vast majority of Jews are economically secure and comfortable. Antisemitism exists, but it has yet to critically endanger this Jewish sense of social security. Thus progressives conclude that today’s Jews are part of the oppressing, ‘have yes’ forces in modern society who structure society so as to continue the oppression of the ‘have nots’ such as gender and sexual minorities, and Black, colored and non Western ethnic minorities.
Thus Jews have to be judged by a different social morality that that of the oppressed groups of society. As mentioned above, progressives thus term Israeli military self defense in Gaza as ‘genocide’, and the barbaric Hamas massacre as a ‘heroic act of national resistance’
But the current social status of world Jewry is an ‘historical optical illusion’. For over two thousand years Jews have been the most consistently, internationally oppressed ethnic minority in human history. During this period between nine to ten million Jews have been murdered because they were Jews (that is genocide) . The Assyrians, Babylonians, and Romans murdered between one and two million Jews (on the background of struggles for Jewish independence). Islamic extremists in North Africa, Crusaders in Europe, blood libel pogroms in Christian Europe, Spanish Christian crusaders, the Cossacks, and White and Communist armies each murdered hundreds of thousands of Jews. And finally the history’s greatest, most truest act of genocide, was the systematic extermination of six million Jews in the Nazi Holocaust.
Jews were consistently expelled and exiled (that is ethnic cleansing) by these adversaries. Jews were expelled from almost all Western and Central European countries from 1000 ce to 1700 ce (Spain being the most famous example in 1492)
And historically up till the French Revolution and Jews were denied equal civil rights and discriminated against in all spheres of social life in both the Christian and Moslem world. Throughout history, our civil status was at least as bad as that of the Blacks in the segregated South (1865- 1970’s). Only strong internal, faith and family cohesion and resources allowed us to survive as a People
Progressives take history seriously in their social arguments. They argue that the 1619 arrival of slavery to America determined the racist nature of American society more than the 1787 American Constitution. They use history to make the argument for reparations for American Blacks, and the land claims of Native Americans. And though almost all third world countries gained independence over close to eighty years ago, progressive claim that these countries are still being oppressed by Western economic and cultural imperialism.
But when it comes to determining whether the Jews should been categorized as a ‘oppressed ethnic minority’ and thus deserve to establish an independent Jewish state in their ancestral, indigenous homeland, progressives are struck with historical blindness.
I have no illusions: Our young Jewish brethren are the truest audience for these academic arguments
The above arguments will not convince, and will have little impact, on true believing progressives for two reasons.
One, their degree of ideological casuistry, commitment and ‘true believer-ness’ of today’s progressives is on par with the Russian Marxist-Bolsheviks of the 1930’s who when released from punitive internment in Stalin’s Siberian ‘work’ camps went home and continued to praise the greatness and justice of the Great Leader (Stalin) who imprisoned them.
Two, I also strongly suspect that traditional antisemitism is a real cause of much of this historical blindness. And close to ten million dead Jews will not convince them of anything.
Thus our audience for the above arguments must be Jews under the age of forty. But, in the last fifteen years, ninety per cent of Jews under the age of 40 , particularly those on campus, have basically been exposed only to the one sided, historically blind, progressive attack on the historical legitimacy of our Jewish State, and are literally helpless to argue the opposite. Their knowledge of Jewish history, and the indigenous Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel, is minimal, if it exists at all.
This article is the outline of the history we are obligated to teach them so that they can knowledgably defend the Jewish state against the false arguments of progressives, and , most important, feel proud to be Jewish .
If every Hillel on college campuses would offer, and succeed in attracting a meaningful number of students, to a five session course on Jewish history (according to the above outline) it would do wonders.
Jewish history, clearly and charismatically taught, is our best argument against the progressive indictment of the Jewish state.
It is already ‘too late’.
The red line has been crossed. Almost half of young Americans no longer accept the legitimacy of our Jewish state. We must immediately go on the ‘offensive ‘and counter attack NOW!! The above article suggests that the three academic arguments argued above, using progressive language and concepts, should give us the ‘academic framework to start such a counter offensive.
Dr. Chaim C. Cohen, whose PhD. is from Hebrew U., is a social worker and teacher at the Hebrew Univ. School of Social Work, and Efrata College. He lives in Psagot, Binyamin.