By Lee S. Bender and Jerome R. Verlin
Early in his first term, President Obama told the whole world in his speech from Cairo: “It is easy to point fingers — for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by Israel’s founding.”
This was gravely misleading.
Israel was not “created and founded,” artificially and out-of-the-blue, in 1948 — but rather, Israel re-attained its independence that year as the natural fruition into statehood of the once-sovereign homeland of the Jewish people, who — over almost two millennia of continuous foreign invader and empire rule — never deserted that home, despite all attempts to eradicate them.
And that is the case we must make.
The argument for Israel is typically made on the legal side — the Balfour Declaration, the San Remo Conference of 1920, the Palestine Mandate, UN Security Council Resolution 242. These are critical, yes, but not enough to counter the pervasive, but wholly false, sentiment that Jews stole Arab land.
Many Americans, both hostile and friendly to the Jewish homeland, wrongly believe that “the Romans exiled the Jews.” This shows how deep-seated and widespread this vast misperception of an almost-2,000-year separation of Jews from the land of Israel is among the American public.
For example, former President Carter in the “Historical Chronology” of his book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, writes: “135 [CE]: Romans suppress a Jewish revolt, killing or forcing almost all Jews of Judaea into exile.” President Carter’s introductory “Palestine Historical Chronology” doesn’t mention Jews again until 1917, suggesting a Jewish absence of 1,782 years.
A 1922 Congressional Record Statement, favorable to the Jewish homeland, thought this misperception was true:
Palestine of today , the land we know as Palestine, was peopled by the Jews from the dawn of history until the Roman era. It is the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people. They were driven from it by force by the relentless Roman military machine and for centuries prevented from returning. At different periods various alien people succeeded them but the Jewish race had left an indelible impress upon the land.
Today it is a Jewish country. Every name, every landmark, every monument and every trace of whatever civilization remaining there is still Jewish. And it has ever since remained a hope, a longing, as expressed in their prayers for these nearly 2,000 years. No other people has ever claimed Palestine as their national home. No other people has ever shown an aptitude or indicated a genuine desire to make it their homeland.
Historian James Parkes explained why it is so important to remind the world that the Jews never left Israel: “The omission [of the fact of continual Jewish presence in the land] allowed the anti-Zionist, whether Jewish, Arab or European, to paint an entirely false picture of the wickedness of Jewry in trying to re-establish a two-thousand-year-old claim the country, indifferent to everything that had happened in the intervening period.”
But is it true that the Jews never left Israel? Yes, it is:
Talmudic Age: The Romans did not exile the Jews. Post-revolt synagogues dotted the land. The misnah and Palestinian Talmud were written. The Romans recognized the Patriarch as the community’s head until the fifth century.
The Muslim Dynasties: The Jews were still there.
Crusader rule: The Jews fought at Jerusalem, and held the Crusaders off — alone at Haifa — for a month.
The Mamluks: the Jews were still there — in their four holy cities and elsewhere.
The 400 years of Ottoman Turk rule: The Jews were still there, becoming Jerusalem’s majority during this time.
Parkes is indeed right that we grievously err in not making it clear that Israel, far from being “founded” in 1948, has been the Jewish people’s uninterrupted homeland during and since biblical times. (Instead we self-deprecatingly talk about “Jewish settlements” in “East” Jerusalem and “the West Bank.”)
And that is what fighting “anti-Israel media bias” is all about: countering the media’s effect on Western public opinion about Jewish and Arab homeland equities in Israel.