In the New York Review of Books’ February 7, 2013 issue, long the home-away-from-home platform for Avishai Margalit, one of the founders of Peace Now, now Professor Emeritus and also an awardee of the Israel Prize, he published a book
review. The bi-weekly, where he espouses his political and ideological opinions
(what he expressed in his Hebrew University lectures other than academic matters I have no firsthand knowledge), has long been a base of cognitive guerilla warfare against Israel and Zionism. Among the many writers who express views of extreme discomfort with Jewish nationalism to outright hostility to the Jewish state are/were Tony Judt, Amos Elon, Bernard Avishai, Eyal Press, Hussein Agha and Robert Malley, Geoffrey Wheatcroft, Jonathan Freedland and lately, Ta''yush activist and Hebrew University (again that institution?) lecturer, David Shulman, , among others.
The “British Rule” referred to there was the Mandate over Palestine.
I found several things I disagreed with. Ten, actually
. On one of them I decided to write a letter to the editor. It has been published.
To the Editors:
Avishai Margalit errs in his book review essay [“Palestine: How Bad, & Good, Was British Rule?,” NYR, February 7]. He writes that the League of Nations Mandate over Palestine conferred on Britain was to prepare the country “to be a ‘national home for the Jews,’ without ‘impairing the civil and religious rights of the indigenous Arab people.’”
That is quite wrong as the Mandate decision does not include the phrase “indigenous Arab people.” The phrase that actually appears is: “nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” Arabs, as such, are not mentioned. Political rights were the prerogative of the Jewish people. Residency rights, religious rights, personal liberty rights were to be assured. But nothing more than that and certainly no state which was to be established in the territory of Transjordan, partitioned from the original Mandate area in 1922.
Avishai Margalit replied, penning this:
Yisrael Medad is right about the wording of the League of Nations’ Mandate document. But since the “indigenous Arab people” (my expression) and “non-Jewish communities in Palestine” (the Mandate document expression) are coextensive, apart from 1 percent of others, it is a difference that makes no difference.
If wording counts, it is more important to remark that the Mandate document doesn’t mention “political rights” for the Jewish people in Palestine. The only reference to “political rights” is the rights of “Jews in any other country.” The expression “national home” lacks any juridical meaning, unlike, say, home rule. The Mandate document deliberately left vague what the rights of the Jews in Palestine are. It is Medad who gives prerogative political rights to the Jews in Palestine rather than the wording of the Mandate.
The interpretation Medad gives to the Mandate expression “civil rights” as confined to residency rights and personal liberty rights is again of his making. There is no reason to believe that “civil rights” in the Mandate document meant to preclude the rights of the non-Jews to citizenship in any future state in Palestine.
Let’s start with something that isn’t in that reply.
Margalit avoids my reference to Transjordan and one can already suspect something is wrong.
The British established that non-state to solve any specific Arab political demands, demands they pushed in violent acts of terror, murder and incendiarism. "Palestine", the area west of the Jordan River, was reserved exclusively for the Jews - but, again, and again, under pressure from Arab terror, the Jewish National Home continued to be whittled away, again and again. Partition plan after partition plan.
Margalit asks us to excuse his own academic error by claiming it doesn''t make a difference what was written since he provides an alternative reading. But is that reading correct?
In truth, there were serious Christian claims to the country, to preserve it as a Holy Land. The Pope, we know, turned down Herzl because of that.. But more important, I did not write that that Arabs, or any other non-Jew, could not possess Israeli citizenship. That is a left-wing tactic: impugning an opinion your opponent really didn''t state. A sort of straw-man trick.
This is the letter I sent in as a rebuttal:
In Avishai Margalit''s reply to me, admitting his error, he impugns to me an opinion I did not express nor, to make clear, do I hold, when he writes "There is no reason to believe that “civil rights” in the Mandate document meant to preclude the rights of the non-Jews to citizenship in any future state in Palestine", ("Palestine: What the Mandate Said", March 7, 2013).
My point was that that "future state in Palestine", at least west of the Jordan River, was to be a Jewish one. An Arab state in historic Palestine was not at all contemplated. However, due to Arab terror in Jerusalem in April 1920, when Jews were killed, and other violent agitation, Winston Churchill, as Minister of Colonies, decided during March 1921 to truncate the original Jewish National Home area. He created an Arab emirate in Transjordan and prohibited Jews from either owning land or settling there, a policy the League of Nations agreed to but only as a form of postponement (Article 25 of the 1922 Mandate decision). That policy surely discriminated against and precluded the rights of Jews who were indigenous to the country living in Hebron, Gaza, Nablus (Shchem) and Jerusalem for centuries. The future ruling family of what eventually became the Kingdom of Jordan, incidentally, originated in Saudi Arabia.
Allow me a further clarification of my point:
No Arab state was contemplated in "Palestine" because not only did no one think there was a specific Arab Palestinian nationality that required a state - and in fact, there wasn''t and so no legal or historical right that could be demanded were to be considered - but there were to be created several other Arabs states, i.e., Syria/Lebanon, Iraq and, as it developed, Jordan, in addition to the existing Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc., in which Arab nationalism was to be nurtured and ultimately fulfilled - Spring or falls - but not at the expense of the quite legitimate Jewish nationalism.
Using the phrase "Jewish National Home" in junction with "historical connection" trumped any non-Jewish claims to that same land.
That is the real difference and Margalit contributes to downplaying that narrative.
And that is where Margalit fails - fails as a Jew, as a Zionist, as an academic.