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No, Maestro, the Holocaust Did Not Create Israel

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Daniel Barenboim plays on his new piano at the Royal Festival Hall in London on May 26, 2015. Credit: AFP

Daniel Barenboim is a Zionism denier. Zionism denial is the claim he raised in his opinion piece (“Germany is repaying its post-Holocaust debts to Israel – but not to the Palestinians,” June 8) saying that Israel exists because of the Holocaust.

Zionism denial is the story of how the State of Israel “was given” to the Jewish people by the guilt-ridden world after the Holocaust. Zionism denial is also the claim that the Palestinians are also the victims of Germany and Europe, for without the Holocaust, their catastrophe would have been avoided.

The upshot of Zionism denial is ignoring the history of the Zionist movement before World War II. The denier completely ignores the fact that save for the decisive aspect of independence, the State of Israel in the making would have existed in fact on the eve of World War II. Zionism denial means ignoring that the State of Israel arose on the force of the vision, desire and uncommon deeds of far-sighted Jews, who laid the foundations of its independence.

Israel was not “given” to the Jews, because, among other things, the last thing on the agenda of the European nations at the end of the world war was guilty feelings toward the Jews. In certain European countries, these feelings began to crop up after a generation, and there have been no reports of guilty feelings in other countries until today. Just as India and Pakistan and other nations did not need the murder of a third of their people to receive a country at that time, the Jewish people would have obtained its own state at the end of World War II, not because of the Holocaust but rather because of another result of the war, the dismantling of the British empire.

Zionism denial is not only ignoring the pre-war history of Zionism but also a theft of the Zionist consciousness from the Jewish people – the recognition that Jews can, by force of vision, desire and work return to history as an active agent and shape a future in which they are not the victims of others. Zionism denial means that the State of Israel becomes a “gift” that was given to the Jews because of what was done to the Jews by others – not for what the Jews did by and for themselves.

Worse than that, Zionism denial seeks to return the Jews to their “rightful” place in European history, as tolerated people whose fate is set by those who give and take as they please. Zionism denial turns Israel – alone among all countries in the world – into a conditional state, which is permitted to exist as long as those who received it, by grace and not by right, will find favor in the eyes who “gave” them the country.

Zionism denial also robs the Arabs, and the Palestinians among them, of their status as people of an ancient and independent culture, who take positions that have consequences. From the Arabs’ perspective, the meaning of accepting the principle of partition was to rise above centuries of cultural construction by which the Jews were followers of an inferior religion, which is permitted to exist by the grace of the majority, and by a long custom during which it was only possible to live with the Jews as long as they knew their place as people who are not and cannot be equal to Muslims and Arabs.

It is true that given that there were more Arabs than Jews in the Land of Israel, the Arabs did not have an incentive to compromise and to split this land with the Zionist movement. But the fact that from this perspective they had reasons to reject the partition plan does not absolve them of responsibility for the outcome. Had they succeeded in rising above their history and not relying on their numerical superiority, they would have accepted the partition plan and not objected to it with force. The establishment of Israel would not have become their disaster.

There is a claim by which the partition map, in which there was a significant Arab minority within the Jewish state, proves that the Zionist leadership planned on “cleansing” the territory of Arabs regardless of their assent to partition. This claim ignores that at the same time hundreds of thousands of Jews sat in DP camps in Europe and Cyprus, awaiting the establishment of the Jewish state and the opening of the gates of immigration. There was no need for cleansing, based on the partition map. What was needed was opening the door to Jews – a door that if not for the Arab struggle against Zionism before World War II, would not have closed in the first place.

The right of the Jewish people to have a country in its own homeland is a universal right, which is reserved for every people – the right to stand on its own authority and to control its fate. As long as the world is divided into some 200 countries, on the basis of the principle of self-determination for peoples and nations, the Jewish people have a right to this. The Palestinian Arabs also have a right to self-determination in part of the country between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. However, their right does not supersede the Jews’ right, just as the Jews’ right in the country does not supersede that of the Arabs.

When the Arabs recognize that the Jewish people have an equal right to self-determination in part of its homeland in the Land of Israel, they will certainly understand that they have to give up their demand for return to all parts of the State of Israel. Then they will be able to establish their country in part of Palestine, and legislate the Palestinian right of return just as the Jews did, thanks to their vision, labor and determination.

Einat Wilf is a former Labor MK.

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