Philip Green
6 min readDec 25, 2023

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Israel: The End of Innocence

On May 14, 1948, President Harry Truman, on behalf of the United States, recognized the State of Israel. This was not due to any affection for a Jewish State, or for Zionism. The entire U.S. foreign policy elite was a nest of anti-Semites (though Truman probably was not); the Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal, a rabid anti-Soviet (and anti-Semite) for whom all foreign and defense policy was about building an anti-Soviet power structure in the mid-East, wanted to do nothing to alienate the Arab powers in the region. But when word got out that the Soviet Union was about to recognize Israel, there was no choice — the U.S. responded–and it did, beating the Soviets by three days. The informal alliance of Benjamin Netanyahu and Vladimir Putin would come much, much later.

I gave my first public speech ever, with perfect timing, a few weeks before Truman acted; trying I suppose I could claim, to influence his forthcoming decision–but to no avail, as Midwood High School in Flatbush, Brooklyn, was not on his schedule of appearances. He got about 90% of the vote there, including mine–I spoke for him as part of an election round-table in the auditorium a few months later.

But in that May oration — which would have been shown by an applause meter to represent about 10% of the student body (who also voted for Truman, as did just about every resident of Flatbush))–I opposed recognition of the Jewish State, to overwhelming silence. This was not due on my part to any philosophy that might have been called “anti-Zionism”–and would been so-called today.

On the contrary. along with the two teachers at Midwood whose version of American history reached from Patrick Henry to Franklin Delano Roosevelt by way of Abraham Lincoln, I was a voluble left-liberal; and unlike the high-school students to my Marxist left but like most liberals of the time, more or less bought into the mind-set that “ideology” meant being pro- or anti-Communist, depending on who was talking, whereas we liberals were just…thoughtful, rational, untouched by dogma.

In that perspective, then, Zionism was a dogmatic belief just asking for trouble. There were people living in Palestine, and it was wrong to treat them as cannon fodder–sort of like the Soviet invasion of Finland (for criticism of which I’d been thrown out of a class-room at Little Red Schoolhouse).

In a way this was a very strange position: toward the end of the War and a short while thereafter both my parents had been working as volunteers for the two leading American agencies of Jewish resettlement–the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), and the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which “distributed” Jewish refugees who’d made it across the Atlantic Ocean.

Resettlement, however, did not mean anywhere but in the US, which was the dreamland of Resettlement for Jewish refugees fleeing Europe–no one’s idea of a dream-land. Moreover, my parents’ best friend was Ruth Gruber, the great heroine of resettlement in America (actually extremely hard to come by for most), a journalist who after the War became the reporter of the perilous and often deadly passage to Palestine, as on the “Exodus,” which she did much to immortalize in popular discourse. Yet I never heard of a harsh word between them: only in time did the two positions harden into the inescapable knot they comprise today.

Over time, though, it became impossible for someone like myself and many (thought not all!) friends to avoid the unavoidable: first the Suez Crisis of 1956–precipitated by Israel — and later the Six-Day War of 1967, which upended the whole vision of Israel as an innocent among the states.

To get to the point, then, the crux of the matter is this: A national State is a State. It becomes such by expelling or smashing those who try to prevent it from the necessary actions of becoming. There is no such thing as a State of innocence–perhaps Switzerland. Texas is a monstrosity among American states because of its historically founded pretensions of being a State among states. It’s only worst of such: if states were children I wouldn’t let Texas within miles of the nearest gun.

As for Israel, right now it is to Arabia like Russia in Asia, combines with India in South Asia. It is doing what States do best: killing people. It is refusing to do what a great State never wants to be caught doing: refraining from killing people. When States go to War they are like duelists: whoever stops first loses — at least that is the myth by which destructive states live.

That is the meaning of the word “eradicate” that we’ve heard first from an Israeli general and latest from the grander murderer Benjamin Netanyahu. “Eradicate?”

Here are two notes from the field:

“Key Hamas Plotters of Oct. 7 Elude Israel’s Grip on Gaza
Israel has battered Gaza in its quest to destroy Hamas, without finding the commanders it has named as its most important targets.”

“…the remaining hostages, or at least a substantial number of them, are the sole remaining strategic asset Hamas has. Hamas’ leadership rightly see itself as in a war to the death with Israel. So they’re not going to give those hostages up.”

And finally, for those of us who have been watching MSNBC–before it became unbearable, at least once an hour a Zionist organization whose name eludes me is running a full-screen ad, the gist of which is to brand Hamas as a “terrorist” organization that therefore has no right to fight to the death.

As of course it doesn’t, because its sponsor, the State of Israel, has given up the notion of “right.” Over and over an anonymous announcer tell us that Israel is killing civilians including children, because Hamas is using them as shields, as terrorists always do. 20,000 carefully placed “shields?” And since they’re “terrorists” it’s open season on them anyhow,. Rightfully so we might think, given the events of October 7. Except that open season stands outside, puts oneself outside of, all the so-called rules of war. It is as though Hamas has extended an invitation to a Dance of Death that Israel in the blindness of its own lawlessness accepted, and thereby entered its last battle, the battle it cannot win: the battle in which only hatred compels what should be reason of thought but becomes the death of reason.

I’ve always wondered if anti-Zionism, as honesty compels its labeling, could ever really be justified. Too many really good people I knew, and know, stood by it, and had only to point to the homeless wandering Jews of post-War Europe, liberated from the death camps but now with no place to go — except the path of battle. For whom there was–how could that be denied–no alternative? As most serious thinkers have argued, History is about what had to happen.

But if violence is what “had to” happen, then it’s going to happen, and the path of at least relative peace is foreclosed. And if you kick someone in the gut, you must understand that he’s always going to kick back. You have not earned a free pass.

“Tragedy,” in Aristotle’s understanding of it, is the result of a clash between Right and Right. That’s still the most obvious way to understand the situation of the Jews in 1948. But if those who force the issue do not stop and think–as Shakespeare might have put it, “Think what you are doing, Sir,” than some day it may be too late.

Unless there is a drastic change in where we are now–a change which can only result from an absolute halt in the war of “eradication,”–than not tragedy but horror–Wrong against Wrong–awaits us.

I speak as one of Us. October 7 was yes, a moment of unforgettable and unforgivable terror. But by now around the globe, what Thomas Friedman calls “the street,” everywhere sees that the rain of terror is from Israel itself. And this is not simply due to anti-Semitism, though ultimately the ubiquity of anti-Semitism paves the way.

Rather, one way or another, the only way to end the horror is for Israel to understand, and commit, to the truth that Palestinians as well as Jews deserve, and have always deserved, the protections, benefits, and obligations that in the modern world come only with statehood.

Enough!

Enough!

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Philip Green

Emeritus Professor of Gov’t, Smith College, 40 years Editorial Board, The Nation, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Green_(author)