The Holocaust and the Creation of the State of Israel (Adapted from an address I gave on Yom ha-Shoah)

Part I: Introduction

At sundown on 1 May 2019, Jews joined together to begin the observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom ha-Shoah) when we pay our respects to both the victims and the heroes of the Holocaust. The day offers a time to reflect, to recognize the actions we do and must take to prevent a repetition. I suggest, it also offers an opportunity to correct myths about the Holocaust and the way in which that tragic event influenced history. One of the most important myths is that the international community supported the creation of Israel because of the guilt and shame felt about the Holocaust.

Let us pause a minute – a few minutes. On May 2, I opened my Israeli paper to a picture of cars pulled over to the side of a very busy highway in, I believe, Tel Aviv, with many drivers having stepped out of their cars to stand at attention for a moment as the siren went off to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is to Israel just before it came into being that I want to travel with this series of four blogs.

If Israel at its creation was a darling of the non-Islamic international community because it was viewed as a product of a phoenix arising out of the ashes of the Holocaust, how did the country go from being such a matter of care and concern in 1947 to being described in such outcast terms as an apartheid state guilty of ethnic cleansing and even genocide in just over seventy years? The charge of genocide is particularly heinous since the term was first coined to depict the effort at mass extermination of the Jews by the Nazis and their sympathizers.  

I am not going to answer that question. I am going to let it linger as a ghost in the background. Instead, I want to deconstruct the premise that Israel was ever a darling of the international community, an international community that supported the creation of Israel because of its guilt. That guilt purportedly made Israel a beneficiary of the blessings of the international community.

There is another negative narrative of Israel created by the Islamic and the Third World. Israel has always been the last gasp of an outdated and delegitimated colonial order. In January 2018, Abbas insisted that, “Israel is a colonial project with no relationship to Judaism.” The issue was not the two-millennial long desire, expressed in prayers and rituals, of Jews as Jews to return to Israel and re-establish their own polity there. Was Israel planted in the Middle East as an extension of colonialism rather than a by-product of guilt over the Holocaust? Or could both accounts be complementary and equally invalid?

A few months after Abbas made that statement depicting Israel as a colonial project, he attributed the Holocaust to Jewish behaviour, not to antisemitism. Jews were responsible for their own self-destruction and did not deserve the sympathy of the world and its support for Israel. The Jewish issue and hatred towards the Jews spread across Europe, “not because of their religion, [but] …because of usury and banks.”

Abbas had a third thesis. In addition to Israel being a colonial project, in addition to Jews bringing down the Holocaust on their own heads because of their financial dealings, Europe in hating the Jews for the latter situation, while behaving as bleeding hearts towards Israel for the Holocaust (which was actually a direct product of Jewish behaviour), married unwarranted guilt with dislike of the Jews to get rid of them by settling Jews as a colony in Palestine. The Jews were the criminals and Europeans were their abettors.

There is a third narrative – one of the most predominant Jewish ones. The Jewish people trace their roots to the land that was then called Canaan via their Jewish patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The central focus, Jerusalem, has been in the hearts and minds of Jews throughout the history of the Jewish nation. Psalm 137 reads, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.” Jews physically face Jerusalem in prayer. Jews have always maintained their ties to the Promised Land. They are the only people that declared the land to be their homeland. Even after the expulsion in 70AD, Jews have continually lived in the land named Palestine by the Romans. During that whole period, no other nation exercised self-determination in that land.

When modern Zionism at the end of the nineteenth century instigated a systematic program of return to what Jews and most others considered a very unpopulated land, much of it a wasteland, the return was not to displace anyone. However, when that return was resisted, culminating in the pogrom of 1929, Jews began the process of distancing themselves from co-existence and insisting on a Jewish self-governing homeland. Unfortunately, the perfidy of the British married to the resistance of the local Arabs were compounded by the Holocaust which cut drastically into the number of Jews alive who could move to Israel. Nevertheless, Israel was created, not because of the Holocaust, but in spite of the Holocaust.

In this series of blogs, I want to explore the conditions under which Israel was actually created, from the side of the non-Islamic and Third World, from the side of the Zionist world and in terms of the support received from what was called the First World. What were the influences behind those who supported the creation of Israel in 1947 and 1948 and those who opposed the creation of Israel as an independent state in 1947-8? Most particularly, what role did the Holocaust play in either of the narratives, including the narrative that Jews told themselves and expressed to the rest of the world at that time?

This is an enormous topic covering archives and writings from around the world over about three decades at least. I will concentrate on only one small but very critical forum, the United Nations Special Committee of Palestine, UNSCOP, that was set up on 15 May 1947, precisely one year before Israel came into being with its Declaration of Independence. The United Kingdom asked the General Assembly of the UN to “make recommendations under article 10 of the Charter, concerning the future government of Palestine based on a report to be prepared by a special committee.” The UNGA adopted the recommendation to set up UNSCOP to investigate the cause of the conflict in Palestine, and, if possible, devise a solution.

It is often written that UNSCOP was made up of representatives of 11 nations, but, in fact, the delegates and their alternatives on the committee were specifically charged with not representing the nation from which each came. The nations selected were based on a “fair” representation of the less than sixty members of the UN at the time. The individuals named to the committee were purportedly chosen because of their backgrounds, integrity, the independence of their thinking, their achievements and, most important of all, their dispassionate approach to the problem. Delegates from the major powers were specifically excluded from membership on the committee, more specifically the five permanent members of the Security Council. Membership was supposedly restricted to “neutral” countries.

The eleven countries from which the members of the committee were chosen were, in alphabetic order: Australia, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Guatemala, India, Iran, Netherlands, Peru, Sweden, Uruguay and Yugoslavia.  The List of Members and alternates follow. Some countries also sent back up alternates as well, but I have not included them in my list.

Country Member Alternate
Australia John Hood S.L. Atyeo
Canada Justice Ivan Rand Leon Mayrand
Czecho-
slovakia
Karel Lisicky Richard Pech
Guatemala Dr. Jorge García Granados Lic. Emilio Zea González
India Sir Abdur Rahman Venkata Viswanathan
Iran Nasrollah Entezam Dr. Ali Ardalan
Netherlands Dr. N. S. Blom I. Spits
Peru Dr. Alberto Ulloa Dr. Arturo García Salazar
Sweden Justice Emile Sandström Dr. Paul Mohn
Uruguay Professor Enrique
Rodríguez Fabregat
Professor Óscar Secco Ellauri
Yugoslavia Vladimir Simic Dr. Jože Brilej

In the next three blogs, I will review each of the three narratives. In the third of these, I will try to get a glimpse into the various perspectives of the “neutral” international community by exploring the original dispositions of each of the members when they joined the committee, how each shifted views over the course of the proceedings and why each of the members voted the way they did in the end so that the committee ended recommending partition of Palestine by a vote of 7-3 with one abstention.

With the help of Alex Zisman

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