Exactly 100 years ago, in 1923, the Zionist politician Ze’ev Jabotinsky, wrote:
“Every native population in the world resists colonialists as long as it has the slightest hope of being able to rid itself of the danger of being colonised. That is what the Arabs in Palestine are doing, and what they will persist in doing as long as there remains a solitary spark of hope that they will be able to prevent the transformation of ‘Palestine’ into the ’Land of Israel’.”(Quote in: Rashid Khalidi, The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine, London 2020, p. 12)
Rarely has a Zionist so openly described the reality! A hundred years later and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is just mirroring Jabotinsky’s statement, but with Israel as the colonist. However Netanyahu couldn’t have done so without the crucial help of Western powers. And here’s how.
The United Kingdom
One early supporter of Zionism was the future Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, who was strongly influenced by his Jewish friends in his Manchester constituency where he was briefly MP.
Six years before Jabotinsky’s article, in 1917, The Balfour Declaration had committed the UK to support the establishment of a “national Jewish homeland” – a diplomatic concealment phrase for a Jewish state in Palestine. Since then – with the exception of the period 1937-44 (following the report of the Peel Commission) and the war of 1948 (when it helped Jordan to prevent the Israeli occupation of the West Bank) – British policies have more or less consistently supported Jewish immigration and the strengthening of the state of Israel.
It is the United Kingdom, up to the 20th century the world’s leading power, which bears the most important responsibility for the creation of Israel – at the expense of the Palestinian Arabs.
The United States
US President Truman in 1947, together with Stalin’s Soviet Union, supported the United Nations Resolution 181, which proclaimed a “two-state-solution” for the contested land. As we know from his biography, Truman regularly read the bible and believed in the Jewish aspirations for the “Holy Land”. Moreover, he had clear political motives, as he openly stated that in his constituency were no Arab supporters but only strong Jewish ones. This constitutes a clear parallel to Winston Churchill in the UK.
Still, until the early 1960s the US, with an eye on the oil-rich Arab Gulf states and the competition with the Soviet Union over influence in the Middle East, kept some distance from Israel. The massive arms deliveries to and economic support of Israel only started after the 1967 Six-Day War, when the Israeli army defeated the Arab adversaries and conquered East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Since then the US has contributed annually more than $3bn in financial and military aid to Israel.
This support has a strong domestic base. Today Israel’s Jewish population is some 7.2 million, slightly less than the US Jewish population of 7.6 million. The US political system is very much susceptible to political lobbyism: The members of the House of Representatives are elected for only two years and always have to consider their re-election chances, which allows rich donors and strong lobbying groups to shape their attitudes. In addition the Christian right-wing groups, particularly in the South of the US, who read the Old Testament every day and believe every word in it, consider Israel as ’God’s chosen country’ (like their own!).
Against the advice of many US diplomats and strategy experts, the governments in Washington D.C. have more or less decisively supported Israel in its wars against Arab neighbours (1973, 1982 etc.). The Biden Administration’s stance in the most recent Gaza conflict very much fits to this pattern.
The Jewish population and its influential groups, while strongly caring about Israel’s well-being, are by no means united. While some very much support the right-wing governments of Benjamin Netanyahu, many others (probably the majority) have always advocated and intensively worked for the “two-state-solution”, a peaceful co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians.
There is a strong connection between the history of the US and Israel: both countries are the product of settlers, colonists who have taken the land from the indigenous population. This alone might explain the US support for Israel, but does not exonerate it from its responsibility for the suffering of the Palestinians.
The Jewish population in France today consists of less than half a million people (449,000 in 2020), while the Arab population, primarily from the North African Maghreb, is between 4 and 7 million. This Arab preponderance and potential activism puts the French government in a delicate position when it comes to French Middle East policy.
Historically France, since the time of the Crusaders, has cared most about Lebanon with its Maronite-Christian population. However, the 1975 civil war shattered the delicate balance between the different religious-political groups. Israel’s invasion of 1982 could not stop the internal radicalisation and the growing influence of Shiite, Iranian-supported groups.
While France’s role in the Israel-Palestinian conflict today is rather marginal, there has been one significant period of time, which only few people are aware of. It was during June 1954 and February 1955, when Pierre Mendes France was Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the Fourth Republic, that Israel gained the crucial knowledge of how to build a nuclear bomb. Previously French nuclear experts had been given secret support from the US of how to build nuclear weapons and they passed this technology on – with the knowledge of the French Prime Minister – to their Israeli colleagues. Thus, both France and Israel, after the US, the Soviet Union and the UK, became nuclear powers (the PR China to follow later). The Israeli nuclear reactor of Dimona in the Negev desert was later inspected by US experts to insure its ‘peaceful purpose’, since the US government in the second half of the 1960s worked towards the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. However, Israel managed to conceal its critical nuclear facility under ground and the US governments have since accepted it.
Up to this day, Israel does not declare to be a nuclear power, but regards it as its ultimate guarantee of survival against any adversary. Already in the 1973 war, it seems that the Egyptian President Sadat was well aware of Israel’s nuclear capability which was why he agreed to the ceasefire after his army having crossed the Suez Canal.
France therefore can be regarded as another important contributor to the safeguarding of Israel’s existence.
The systematic persecution and slaughter of some six million of Germany’s and Eastern Europe’s Jewish population during the German Nazi rule of 1933-45 can be regarded as the culmination of (Christian) Europe’s anti-Semitism history. Never before had a country so systematically persecuted its Jewish minority, and then it tried to deport and kill all Jews all over Europe. This barbaric act explains why post-War Germany today is declaring Israel’s survival and well-being as its own ‘Staatsräson’ (reason of state) as famously quoted in Chancellor Merkel’s speech to the Knesset in 2008. While Germans deny a ‘collective guilt’ for the Holocaust, official Germany accepts a “collective shame” about what had been done. The Holocaust Memorial and the Jewish Museum in the centre of re-united Berlin and the constant efforts of German politicians to assure Israel of their sympathies demonstrate this determination.
To be sure, the Holocaust or Shoah happened after the Balfour declaration and the immigration of thousands of Jews to Palestine. Nevertheless, the world’s shock after the concentration camps had been liberated and the truth had become public after May 1945, clearly accelerated Jewish immigration and strengthened the determination to establish a Jewish state in 1948.
The Federal Republic of Germany, proclaimed in 1949, very soon became one of the most important supporters of Israel. Not only did it pay individual compensation money to the survivors of the Holocaust, but it also supported Israel with crucial financial and military aid. Chancellor Konrad Adenauer und Israel’s Prime Minister David Ben Gurion were the driving forces of this cooperation. Especially during the 1950s and early 1960s West German support was important for Israel’s economic and military consolidation. Little known is the fact that West Germany later supplied Israel with submarines, capable of carrying nuclear weapons, thus helping to establish a sea-based nuclear deterrence.
This explains why, up to this day, the Holocaust dominates Germany’s attitudes and actions towards the Middle East in general and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular. The Palestinians have been and continue to be the clear victims. They have no responsibility for the Holocaust whatsoever, yet they have to pay the price for Germany’s good will towards Israel and its readiness to neglect or even justify any wrong-doing or crime committed by an Israeli government.
Hardly anybody in Germany questions the constant denunciation of “anti-Zionism” or “anti-Netanyahu policy” as “anti-Semitism”. To protest against inhuman or criminal Israeli government activities is not a denial of the right of Jews to live in peace everywhere!
While continuously paying lip-service to a “Two-State-Solution” German politicians have never dared to publicly criticise Netanyahu’s governments and act against their ‘Apartheid’ policies. Germany’s diplomacy during the recent Gaza war is a case in point. Foreign Minister Baerbock, visiting Israel and the victims of Hamas’ atrocities, hastened to defend “Israel’s right of self-defence”. She neglected the fact that the Hamas crimes of 7 October 2023 can be understood (but not at all justified!) as the consequence of 17 years of “putting more than 2 million Palestinians in a cage” to quote the Israeli Ha’aretz columnist Gideon Levy. Also there is no word from Berlin about the “impending genocide” against the population of Gaza (recent quote of Prof. Omer Bartov, Brown University).
Thus, Germany has fully joined and even excelled in the “Western club” of Israel’s friends.
Be it because of their Christian heritage, with the Bible as the basis of their faith, be it for Realpolitik considerations (to have a “reliable military partner” in a turbulent Middle East), be it because of domestic considerations (responding to pro-Israeli pressure groups), or be it just because of the shame about the incredible crimes committed by their ancestors against European Jews, Western powers have always decided that the Arabs in Palestine had to pay the price for all of it.
The following statement by prominent US scholars (Omer Bartov et al.), ’Letter on the Misuse of Holocaust Memory’, in: The New York Review, 23 November 2023 seeks to clarify the use of “Holocaust” and “Anti-Semitism” in today’s Western discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
“Appealing to the memory of the Holocaust obscures our understanding of the antisemitism Jews face today and dangerously misrepresents the causes of violence in Israel-Palestine”.
Israeli leaders and others are using the Holocaust framing to portray Israel’s collective punishment of Gaza as a battle for civilization in the face of barbarism, thereby promoting racist narratives about Palestinians. This rhetoric encourages us to separate this current crisis from the context out of which it has arisen. Seventy-five years of displacement, fifty-six years of occupation, and sixteen years of the Gaza blockade have generated an ever-deteriorating spiral of violence that can only be arrested by a political solution. There is no military solution in Israel-Palestine, and deploying a Holocaust narrative in which an ‘evil’ must be vanquished by force will only perpetuate an oppressive state of affairs that has already lasted far too long.
Insisting that “Hamas are the new Nazis”, while holding Palestinians collectively responsible for Hamas’s actions, attributes hardened, anti-Semitic motivations to those who defend Palestinian rights. It also positions the protection of Jewish people as more important than the upholding of international human rights and laws, implying that the current assault on Gaza is a necessity. Invoking the Holocaust to dismiss demonstrators calling for a ‘free Palestine’ fuels the repression of Palestinian human rights advocacy and the conflation of anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel.”
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