“Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
– Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)
The famous Welsh poet Dylan Thomas penned a poem called “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night.” In it, he urged people to not accept their deaths meekly, without a fight.
Written for his dying father, the poem struck a chord among the broad public. While the sentiments were intimate, they could be read on a grander scale, as it was published after the end of World War II and the Genocide of the Jews. The British withstood a pounding by the German Nazi forces, but they fought on and prevailed. The Jews of Europe were unarmed, and managed only a few resistance movements. Two-thirds of the Jewish population perished.
Gentleness is normally pursued and praised. But Thomas – and his fans – declared that one should not acquiesce to death. At such times, gentleness is to be shunned.
NY Times Rage Against “Displacement”
On February 7, 2016, New York Times reporter Steven Erlander wrote an article called “Who Are the True Heirs of Zionism?” It’s an interesting question for someone who fails to understand Zionism.
The article launched with Erlander’s negative bias:
“Zionism was never the gentlest of ideologies. The return of the Jewish people to their biblical homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty there have always carried within them the displacement of those already living in the land.”
Quite an opening paragraph to direct readers that Zionism – whatever its future – is evil at its core. Erlander claimed that Zionism lacks a gentleness since it seeks to displace indigenous people. It did so at its founding when the secular founders of Zionism created the State of Israel, and the religious settlers do so now, as they seek to annex the “West Bank,” east of the Green Line (EGL). Such claim is completely false and repeats an anti-Israel narrative of Jews as “colonial occupiers” (as acting-President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas claimed).
In reality, Zionism is about fighting against and fleeing from anti-Semitism. It was the case when Theodore Herzl wrote “The Jewish State” in 1896, and it is the case today. The essence was not about “displacing” people, but creating a safe place for Jews by reestablishing them in their homeland.
- Jews always lived in the Holy Land. While the mass expulsion of Jews happened in 135 CE by the Romans, Jews always maintained a presence in Israel. As evidence, Jews have been a majority in Jerusalem since the 1860s, thirty years before the first Zionist Congress. In other words, Jews were not newcomers – they were part of “those already living in the land.”
- Jews were the only people that moved to the Holy Land during the last century of Ottoman Rule. From 1800 until the end of the Ottoman Empire, the annual growth rate of Muslims in the Holy Land was just 1.0% – the rate of growth of births minus deaths. That means that no Muslims migrated there. However, the Jewish rate of growth was 2.1% over that time period.
- Muslims only began to come to the Holy Land after the British Mandate. After a century of zero Muslim migration, Arab Muslims started to move to the Holy Land after the British Mandate of Palestine took effect. More Muslims moved to Palestine under the British Mandate than Jews.
- Jews did not intend to “displace” non-Jews. The Jews did not intend to remove the non-Jews – neither those that lived in Palestine for generations, nor the incredible number of Arab newcomers. The intent of Zionism was to bring in Jews from around the world, not to displace others as Erlander claimed. As evidence, Israel gave citizenship to every non-Jew when it declared statehood in 1948.
When Zionism was first broadly advanced in the 1890s after the Dreyfus Affair in France, there were roughly 540,000 people living in Palestine, and millions of Jews living in Europe and Russia. The dream of Zionism’s founders was to move millions of Jews from Europe and Russia to the sparsely populated, unpopular land of Palestine. As history would have it, two-thirds of the Jews in Europe would be massacred, and the Arabs would expel the Jews from their countries, many of whom were to then move to Israel and become the largest segment of the Israeli population.
Today, there are 8.1 million people in Israel, in just a fraction of the original Mandate of Palestine. Roughly 25% of the people – about 2 million – are non-Jews. That is over four times the number of non-Jews in the entirety of Palestine in 1890. Clearly, Zionism created a place for non-Jews, counter to Erlander’s slander.
Zionism’s Next Phase According to the NY Times:
Secular Israelis versus Religious Jews
Erlander continued to paint a story of the “new Zionists – religious Zionists” who also seek to displace Arabs:
“In that gap between idealism and pragmatism is the fierce battle now going on in Israel, some 65 years after the founding of the state, about the true inheritors of Zionism. Are they those who hold to a secular and internationalist vision of the nation’s founders, or are they the nationalist religious settlers who create communities beyond the 1967 boundaries and seek to annex more of the biblical land of Israel?”
The article painted a picture of secular Israelis today seeking a pragmatic vision of Zionism within 1949 boundaries (as the Times and left-wing group J Street demand) on one side, and irrational religious Israelis, “settlers [that] are the epitome of a particularism, of localism, and they give a bad name to Zionism,” on the other.
Yet the article continued to ignore basic facts:
- Zionism continues to be principally about a haven from Anti-Semitism. The vast majority of people moving to Israel, making Aliyah, are people escaping persecution. The countries that dominate moving to Israel every year are Russia and Ukraine. When things get bad in France, French Aliyah spikes. Almost all of these Jews are not religious and are not moving for religious reasons, similar to Zionism of a century ago.
- Jews are moving to Judea and Samaria according to International Law, not the Bible. The “religious settlers” are not seeking to resettle all of the biblical kingdoms of Israel. They are not moving into southern Lebanon, southern Syria or western Jordan which were all part of the Jewish kingdoms. They are moving into those areas that were established in international law in the San Remo Conference of 1920 that outlined that Jews could live throughout the land of Palestine. That land included Judea and Samaria. Just because the Jordanians attacked Israel in 1948, illegally annexed the land in 1950, and evicted all of the Jews counter to the Fourth Geneva Convention, does not mean that these lands are somehow not an integral part of the lands set for a Jewish homeland by international law.
- Non-Jews have not been expelled from the West Bank/EGL or Gaza. The contention that the “religious settlers” are continuing this rage of Zionism by displacing yet more non-Jews is absurd. The only people that the Israeli government expelled from their homes were Jews, as happened in Sinai (1982) and Gaza (2005).
- “Religious Settlers” are not primitive. Erlander seemed to draw a contrast against the cosmopolitan, pluralistic, secular Israelis involved in art and technology living in Tel Aviv to “religious nationalists.” Erlander would do well to visit Maale Adumim, Efrat and many other “settlements” to see that these “settlers” are more cosmopolitan than many of the people living in Bat Yam, just south of Tel Aviv.
The founders of Zionism in the 19th century knew the sentiment of Dylan Thomas’s poem before he was even born: “do not go gentle into the good night.” They fought against hatred and persecution and set up a liberal democracy in the heart of the illiberal Middle East. Had Zionism flourished earlier, and the Arabs and British not delayed the creation of the State of Israel, perhaps a million Jews would have been saved from the Holocaust.
Today, Jews continue to come to Israel, fleeing persecution. They live throughout Israel and Area C in the West Bank/EGL. They believe in the international law that gave them the right to settle and reconstitute their homeland. Just as they would not tolerate the anti-Semitism from where they left, they do no support the anti-Semitic wishes of a Palestinian Authority that demands land free of any Jews.
Erlander is right that “Zionism was never the gentlest of ideologies,” but he misses the crucial point. Zionism’s rage is against anti-Semitism and persecution; it has never been about displacement.
The gentleness of Zionism, in which “every high tech start-up, every new Thai restaurant and every successful film” flourishes, is found when and where anti-Semitism and persecution are absent. As the world embraces the anti-Semitic credo of Palestinians demanding Jews be barred from living or working in the West Bank/EGL, Israelis will continue to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
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