Moshe Arens 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Thousands of Jews could have been saved if the British Mandate authorities had not been so ferociously aggressive in enforcing the White Paper, former defense and foreign minister Moshe Arens said at the Czech Embassy on Friday.
Arens, who was recently in Prague to participate in ceremonies marking 20 years since the resumption of diplomatic ties between Israel and then-Czechoslovakia, was invited to the embassy by Czech Ambassador-designate Tomas Pojar to share memories of the renewal of ties and to comment on relations between Israel and other Eastern and Central European countries that had freed themselves from Soviet yoke.
“Common values and ideals ought to make for common strategic interests,” Arens said, but he cited examples in which this was not always the case.
Though Israel shares common ideals and values with Canada as it does with the US, he instanced, Israel did not enjoy a close relationship with Canada until Stephen Harper became prime minister in 2006, at which time he introduced a change in policy.
Despite the recent declaration by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that America’s relationship with Israel is “unshakeable and unbreakable” said Arens, “we may have a change of relationship with the US.”
Israel’s relationship with the US did not start well, he recalled, because the CIA did not anticipate that Israel would be around for long and told then-president Harry S. Truman that there was no point in going out on a limb.
It was only after the Six Day War that the US realized Israel was a factor to be contended with and a strategic interest, said Arens.
Turning to the UK, he recalled the introduction of the 1939 White Paper restricting Jewish immigration and land purchase in Palestine. The White Paper issued by the Chamberlain government was an appeasement to the Arab states, said Arens, emphasizing that there was no question that thousands of Jews could have been saved from the Nazis if the British had not adamantly and ferociously pursued the White Paper.
When turning back a shipload of illegal Jewish immigrants to Palestine in September 1939, the British shot two of the people on the ship. They were among the earliest casualties of World War II, Arens declared.
During the War of Independence, he continued, the British supplied arms to the Arabs, and after the establishment of the state, it was several months before Israel was recognized by the UK. One explanation for this, he said, was that Britain’s strategic interests did not coincide with those of Israel.
By contrast, the French government did see a strategic interest in Israel, but this ceased under the administration of Charles de Gaulle, who worked to establish a closer relationship with the Arab world. Arens noted that there has been a substantial, positive change of attitude under the leadership of President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Germany’s relations with Israel cannot be divorced from memories of the Holocaust said Arens. He added that German governments were so sensitive to the delicacy of their relations with Israel that when there were reports during the Gulf War that German industries had supplied chemicals to Iraq from which gas bombs could be manufactured, high ranking German officials rushed to Israel to offer any kind of assistance that Israel might need.
Although Hungary was the first Soviet bloc country to renew ties with Israel, followed by Poland, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria, Hungary was not the first country to put feelers for diplomatic relations.
Of all the countries that had been under Soviet subjugation said Arens,
Israel’s best friend was Poland. The late president Lech Kaczynski,
whom Arens met on several occasions, “loved Israel, took a great
interest in the history of the Jews and in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.”
Arens said he thought that Eastern European countries that initially
made overtures to Israel wanted to demonstrate their independence as
the Soviet Union began to crumble.
Most countries in Eastern Europe that today are free feel a greater
sense of friendship and sympathy for Israel than most Western European
countries, said Arens. Israel is facing attempts within Western Europe
to delegitimize it, he said, saying that the potential to develop
anti-Israel sentiments is likely in countries that share common values
but no strategic interests with Israel.