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Beyond Left and Right in Israeli dialogue

This 42nd anniversary of the outbreak of the Six-Day War - source of our great pride and ongoing frustration - is a good moment to affirm that the historical justice and necessity of the sovereign Jewish state are indeed more deeply rooted than Obama noted in his speech
Stuart Schoffman is a research fellow at Shalom Hartman Institute. For more than 20 years, as a writer for the Jerusalem Report and Jewish newspapers in North America, he has combined Jewish scholarship with reportage and analysis of politics, religion and culture. His translations from Hebrew include books by the Israeli authors A.B. Yehoshua, David Grossman, and Meir Shalev. Before making aliya in 1988, he worked as a journalist for Fortune and Time magazines in New York, and


What struck me hard as I read Friday’s morning-after papers was not so much that commentators in Ha’aretz – Gideon Levy, Akiva Eldar, Yossi Sarid, and others – adored Obama’s speech (as did I), and their counterparts in the Jerusalem Post did not. This, like the overall thrust of the President’s historic address in Cairo, was fairly predictable. Columnist Doron Rosenblum of Ha’aretz was spot-on , as usual:

His proposed solutions themselves were not new – they summed up all that is blindingly obvious and perhaps inevitable about the conflict. But how do they say it in real estate? Location, location, location. In policy and rhetoric, it’s not only the content and timing of your speech, but where you make it.

It is equally obvious that for Obama to denounce Holocaust denial, and trumpet the Jewish right to a homeland in Palestine, in front of a huge Muslim audience at an Islamic University, was a stunning, path-breaking move.


But it wasn’t enough for the Post. A number of writers expressed dismay that Obama had not also stressed the biblical birthright of the Jews in the Land of Israel – and therein lay a crucial difference between the two newspapers. Wrote the Post’s editor-in-chief, David Horovitz, in a page-one commentary :

Where he – terribly – missed a vital opportunity from Israel’s point of view, however, was in legitimizing our Jewish nation-state solely on the basis of our people’s persecution through the centuries, which "culminated in an unanticipated Holocaust."


Yes, of course, denying the Holocaust is "baseless, ignorant, and hateful." And yes, "threatening Israel with destruction" does indeed serve "to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve."


But our rights in this land are not predicated solely, or even primarily, on the tragedies that have befallen us during our history in exile. Those rights relate, rather, to the fact that we were in exile – from this land, this historic Jewish homeland. This is the only place on earth where Jews have ever been sovereign, the place we never willingly left, the place to which we always prayed to return.

Guest commentator Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish historian by training, amplified upon that argument. Linking the Holocaust with the establishment of the Jewish State, he wrote in the Jerusalem Post, is a bad mistake:

But besides being historically inaccurate, this false connection strengthens one of the strongest canards of anti-Israel propaganda in the Muslim world: that Europeans guilty of Holocaust crimes established a Jewish state in Palestine at the expense of the local Arab residents to atone for their World War II atrocities.

Ha’aretz subscribers and other liberal Jews, on the morning after President Obama’s brilliant speech, are probably inclined to dismiss the above as boilerplate carping from the pages of a right-wing newspaper. But you don’t have to be right-wing to agree that these critics in the Post raise an important concern. Obama should not be faulted for "missing a vital opportunity" – I think he went mighty far, considering the location, even quoting the Talmud – but at the same time, we on the Jewish left should consider this issue more seriously.


The ancient, biblically based claim to the Land of Israel has been so badly abused and distorted by triumphalist settlers and their fellow travelers that for many of the rest of us it has fallen out of bounds. What makes matters worse is that nowadays, as reported last month by Ethan Bronner and Isabel Kershner in The New York Times, right-wing money is funding politically tendentious archaeological projects in Jerusalem, the scientific accuracy of which is contested by responsible scholars, Israelis included. Dubiously inflating the archaeological evidence for King David’s reign in Jerusalem provides a ripe target for those who would undermine our legitimacy, and thus does more harm than good. In the long run, the stones are less important than the book. The fact remains that the Hebrew Bible – written right here in Israel, in the language we still speak – is the foundation of our legitimate presence in this land.

This 42nd anniversary of the outbreak of the Six-Day War – source of our great pride and ongoing frustration – is a good moment to affirm that the historical justice and necessity of the sovereign Jewish state are indeed more deeply rooted than Obama noted in his speech. At the same time, this affirmation takes nothing away from his magnificent gesture, or from our commitment to do all we can to turn our shared vision of a two-state solution into a reality.

This article appeared originally on the website of Israel Policy Forum .

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