The Denial of Genocidal Intent: The Dangerous New Rhetoric of Jewish Voice for Peace

 

While Jewish Voice for Peace, a left-wing organization focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was spiraling through one of the worst weeks in its history earlier this month with a bitter public feud over its use of LGBT Jews for politics, many neglected to write about a far more disturbing talking point the organization tried to push with modest success: Israel provoked the Six Day War and was never under threat of annihilation.

The assertion was born out of two articles published in the first week of June to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the war. The first was published by “The Intercept,” an online left-wing news source. The second was in “Mondoweiss,” an extreme far-left website, whose sole purpose is to reframe any Israel-related news as tied to oppressing Palestinians.

The two articles’ respective headlines?

A 50-Year Occupation: Israel’s Six-Day War Started With a Lie

Israel provoked the Six-Day War in 1967, and it was not fighting for survival

Both of these articles were shared by Jewish Voice for Peace via its national Facebook page, local Facebook pages, and its members’ Twitter handles. The sole purpose of sharing these articles, which rely on scant evidence and are quite obviously trying to revise history, is to eliminate Arab leaders’ statements of intent and the original intent behind Israel’s June offensive: Self-Defense.

JewishVirtualLibrary.org.

Armies Surrounding Israel, May, 1967, Graphic: Jewish Virtual Library.

Three weeks before the war, Egypt closed shipping lanes in the Red Sea and Suez Canal to Israeli commerce, itself an act of war. Egypt’s president at the time, Gamil Abdul Nassir, ordered UN peacekeeping forces to leave the Sinai Peninsula, where they had been stationed as a buffer between the Israeli and Egyptian armies after the 1956 Suez War.

What followed was three weeks of threats to destroy the world’s only Jewish country – not just from Nassir, but other leaders in the Arab world who pledged to supply troops to a war of annihilation against Israel.

On May 20, 1967, Syrian Defense Minister Hafez al-Assad, who would launch a bloody coup for power in 1970 responsible for nearly 50 years of Assad dynastic rule in Syria, said very clearly, “Our forces are now entirely ready not only to repulse any aggression, but to initiate the act ourselves, and to explode the Zionist presence in the Arab homeland of Palestine. The Syrian army, with its finger on the trigger, is united. I believe that the time has come to begin a battle of annihilation.”

On May 26, 1967, Nassir said an invasion of Israel using those Sinai-based troops would be for one central purpose: “The battle will be a general one and our basic objective will be to destroy Israel.”

On May 31, 1967, President Aref of Iraq minced no words about his army’s intent in a war by saying, “The existence of Israel is an error which must be rectified. This is our opportunity to wipe out the ignominy which has been with us since 1948. Our goal is clear: to wipe Israel off the map.”

Jewish Voice for Peace is erasing history. None of these facts are addressed in the two articles cited above.

The “Intercept” piece was written by journalist Mehdi Hasan. His entire thesis is based on a single out-of-context quote attributed to General Matityahu Peled who said Israel was not in danger of genocide and that the notion was “born and bred after the war.”

The quote completely ignores the statements of intent from Arab leaders, which started decades before the crisis of 1967. The question here is not one of capability, but one of intent. While scholars debate the skills and preparedness of the two sides of the war, they are not debating what Nassir’s side claimed it would do if it got the upper-hand.

Jewish Voice for Peace’s tweet of article “A 50-Year Occupation: Israel’s Six-Day War Started With a Lie.”

Tweets like this one, from JVP Media Program Manager Naomi Dann, have one clear goal in mind: Delete the legitimacy of Israel’s self-defense and eliminate the major reason why the Six Day War occurred from the conversation. This further desensitizes people to revising Israel’s history and casting it as an imperial power.

The second article on “Mondoweiss” focuses on the theories of Norman Finkelstein, a known anti-Israel advocate who is not regarded as an objective source on the conflict.

Finkelstein applies the final result of the war as if it were Israel’s intent all along: Conquer territory and never relinquish it. That assumption relies on an impossible-to-plan chain of events to manifest Israel’s supposed and risky goal.

First, Egypt would have to block Israeli shipping and order UN peacekeepers out of the peninsula. Then Arab leaders from all countries, including a reluctant Jordan, would have to agree to a multinational alliance to invade Israel. Then those forces would have to NOT attack.

Jewish Voice for Peace’s Facebook post of article “Israel provoked the Six-Day War in 1967, and it was not fighting for survival.”

Finkelstein, precariously, claims Nassir had no intention of going to war with Israel. But the blockade of Israeli shipping was itself an act of war.

He then claims Israel’s masterful generals pulled the wool over the eyes of their own citizens. He then ignores Egypt’s deployment in the Sinai to say, “The leaders were culpable twice over; they provoked the crisis and then launched an unprovoked attack.”

This rehash of history intends to recast all the characters in the events leading up to Israel’s preemptive strike: Israel was the aggressor, not the threatened. Israel provoked the war, not Arab armies threatening destruction. Nassir was never serious about war, and pointing to Nassir’s literal acts of war is not relevant.

This is a clear denial of genocidal intent.

It is a rare thing in 20th century history to look at the crime of attempted genocide. The case more often, humanity had to look back and wonder why no one acted to save the Jews in World War II, the Armenians in World War I or the Tutsis in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. With 20/20 hindsight, we realize the murderous rhetoric of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s, the Young Turks in the 1910s, and the Hutu government in 1994.

But we have a case, in 1967, when Israel heard these threats, built on decades of rhetoric, to destroy its existence. Israel, through a combination of preparedness and fear, struck first and averted what many thought would be a second Holocaust.

Denying the intent of Arab leaders to wage genocide against Israelis is akin to denying genocides after they have happened. Trafficking in this level of historical revisionism is no different than white supremacist denials of the Holocaust and Turkish denials of the Armenian Genocide.

Jewish Voice of Peace should be ashamed of itself.

 

 

 

 

The Miracle of the Six Day War

Mr. Steve Feldman, Executive Director of the Greater Philadelphia ZOA, will speak about the amazing Six Day War as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Reunification of Jerusalem.

Bagels and Coffee at 9:30 am
Speaker at 10:00 am

Free and Open to the Public

Sponsored by Ellitott Tessler

Lessons Learned 50 Years After the Six-Day War

Join JCPA’s CRCast series, in which we tackle the issues of the day. In each webcast, JCPA’s David Bernstein will interview a special guest expert or practitioner about the most pressing topics that are affecting the Jewish community and the Community Relations field.

JCPA is sponsoring a CRCCast,  Lessons Learned 50 Years After the Anniversary of the Six-Day War. The webcast will feature Dr. Michael Oren, Deputy Minister for Diplomacy and Special Envoy in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office and Israel’s Ambassador to the United States from 2009-2013. For more information and to register, go to http://jewishpublicaffairs.org/jcpa-crcast/

The CRCast airs every other Wednesday. You can watch it live or on our YouTube page at your convenience. Hope you find it useful and share it far and wide.

Jerusalem Reunification From the Eyes of a Child

Western Wall, Jerusalem, June, 1967

Western Wall

-Written by Eli Yaron

I witnessed the reunification of Jerusalem firsthand. I was a nine-year-old boy when this modern-day miracle unfolded during the Six-Day War in 1967.

Three weeks before the war, I was enjoying the Yom Hatzmaut (Independence Day) celebrations, which included the IDF parade during the day, and the yearly Israeli song festival in the evening. The parade took place in Jerusalem that year. However, because the occupying Jordanians had restricted the access of Jews within the walls of the ancient part of the city, the parade had to be held in the newer part. Due to the cease-fire agreements with Jordan, the parade was limited to marching troops and jeeps. Although the air force flyby and the columns of tanks were not allowed, the parade was still a show of force.

Singer Shuly Nathan with her guitar on stage

Singer Shuly Nathan

The song festival included 12 songs that competed for first prize. I recall my family sitting around the radio listening to the songs. Then, it was announced that the mayor, Teddy Koleck, had asked for a special song, that was not part of the contest, to be written about Jerusalem. A young singer whom none of us had ever heard before, Shuli Nathan, started singing “Avir Harim Tzalul K’Yaytin” (Mountain Air That Is Pure as Wine), written by Naomi Shemer. We were mesmerized. My mother came in from the kitchen, and when the refrain of “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” (Jerusalem of Gold) was sung for the first time, I saw her wiping a tear. On the radio, we could hear the crowd singing the refrain, followed by a brief silence and then applause that seemed to last forever. My father simply said, “Hayinu Kecholmim (as if we are dreaming).”

Most Israelis do not recall which song won the 1967 song festival contest. But all those who listened to the broadcast recall vividly that at the end of the evening, Shuli Nathan came on stage again to sing “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav,” with the audience joining her and choking back tears.

The next morning, the 7 a.m. news started with Nasser, the president of Egypt, demanding the removal of the UN peace-keeping forces between Israel and Egypt. The UN forces vacated their position on the border, and the Egyptian army took their place. In response, Israel mobilized those in military reserve units. Within a few days, our neighborhood changed — only children, young women, and the elderly were left. School continued as usual, and the only difference in my life was that my parents were working long hours. My father was working around the clock at ZIM, the Israeli shipping line. He came home every third or fourth day for a quick shower and meal, before going right back. My mother was working full-time at a friend’s hardware store, as he was called to reserve duty as well.

A few days later, two major events took place. On the foreign affairs front, Nasser announced he was closing the Tiran Straits to Israeli ships. And on the home front, our cleaning lady, a widow who lived in downtown Haifa in a mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhood, came crying to my mother. Our cleaning lady said that her Arab neighbor told her, “Wait until we win. We are going to kill your children first, and then we will kill you!” My mother told her not to worry about a thing, because that would never happen. Tuning in to the Arab radio stations that broadcasted in Hebrew, we repeatedly heard the same message: “We will slaughter you and throw your bodies into the Mediterranean Sea, as none of you will remain alive at the end of the war.” [Read more…]

Film Screening & Discussion: Wrestling Jerusalem

The 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War is an occasion to both celebrate and to reflect on how we move forward. As a result of this victory, Jews were once again — after 2,000 years — able to pray at the Western Wall, their most holy site. However, the Six-Day war also left Israel in control over millions of Palestinians, while stalled efforts at peace have caused trauma and suffering on both sides.

In light of this anniversary and the complex issues that surround it, we invite you to join us for a screening of the critically acclaimed film, “Wrestling Jerusalem,” starring writer-actor Aaron Davidian. The movie takes viewers on a multi-dimensional journey into the heart of the Middle East, and the intersection of politics, identity and spiritual yearning. Davidman, the sole actor, gives voice to 17 different characters on all sides of the existential divide — moving between male and female, Jewish and Muslim, Israeli and Arab — modeling what it takes to bear witness through the eyes of the other. Following the film, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, president of The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (CLAL), will moderate a discussion with the actor.

Ticket Prices
$36 (adult)
$18 (student with ID)

Get your tickets here.

Book Chat: Like Dreamers

— by Hannah Lee

The miracle of Israel’s Six-Day War in 1967 united a nation, and Jews all over the world celebrated its victory. That members of the 55th Brigade of paratroopers who reunited Jerusalem then led lives that split its small nation politically as well as religiously is the heartbreaking saga on how we have not merited the Messianic age of global peace, Olam HaBa.

After 11 years of interviews and research on seven of these paratroopers, Yossi Klein Halevi has brought forth his newest book, Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation, to justified acclaim. Born in Brooklyn, he first visited Israel that June of 1967 with his Holocaust-survivor father (who finally forgave God and re-gained his faith with Israel’s success) and he has lived in Israel for over 30 years. The book’s title comes from Psalm 126: “When the Lord returned the exiles of Zion, we were like dreamers.”

More after the jump.
While writing this labor of love, Halevi was troubled by the singular lack of voice; he thought it meant the book wasn’t speaking to him. Then in an epiphany, he realized that the cacophony of voices from his interview subjects was what defined himself as an Israeli Jew, one with conflicting views. He then constructed his book with alternating voices, allowing each central character to express his thoughts and views as they evolved over time. He spoke on Sunday before a standing-room audience at Main Point Books in Bryn Mawr.

His cast of characters include the kibbutznik paratroopers and the religious Zionist paratroopers. They served together and they exhibited a tremendous level of tolerance and cooperation. One protagonist, the secular commander Arik Achmon, noted how the religious reservists, whom he’d ridiculed as dosim (religious nerds), were keen on proving their worth and how they rose a half hour earlier each day to pray. Once when his soldiers were sent on leave but it was close to sundown that Friday, they chose to stay in camp rather than risk traveling on Shabbat. He noticed approvingly that they didn’t ask to be let out early. He then showed his respect by enforcing the kosher laws in the army kitchens (despite the paratroopers’ sense of being a law unto themselves), so that any soldier under his command would not feel uncomfortable.

The love was reciprocated: when a friend spoke about “religious paratroopers,” another central character, Yoel Bin-Nun, who taught Bible as a way to understand contemporary Israel, rebuked him, saying, “There are no religious paratroopers or secular paratroopers. Only Israeli paratroopers.” In another incident, when he was challenged by a kibbutznik, that if Bin-Nun could convince him that God exists and that there is a divine hand guiding the world, he was ready to become religious. But if he succeeded in convincing the rabbi that it’s all nonsense, the rabbi would become secular. “You’re asking me to give up my deepest beliefs,” Bin-Nun replied, with a smile. “Let each person observe and interpret in his way, but the Torah belongs to every Jew.  Shabbat belongs as much to you as it does to me.”

The disastrous Yom Kippur War of 1973, when Israel was caught ill-prepared and lost over 2,500 men and over 7,000 were wounded, sobered the nation. Some realized that Israel’s survival required moral renewal. Two divergent paths emerged, formed by those for whom annexing the territories of Judea and Samaria (captured from Jordan in 1967) was a part of the redemption process and those for whom withdrawing from the territories, termed by them the West Bank, was the hope for peace. The liberators of Jerusalem were among the founders of the settler movement and the Peace Now movement. Another of them, Udi Adiv, became so disenchanted with Zionism that he traveled to Damascus in 1972 to create an anti-Zionist terrorist underground. He served 12 years in an Israeli prison. Their narratives will in time coalesce into hardened political positions.

Halevi spoke of the two promises of Zionism: normalcy to end anti-Antisemitism and transcendence to serve as a light unto the world. He sees the most interesting divide as the one from normalcy to utopia. Thus, both the kibbutzniks and the settlers (who wish to populate the whole of Judea and Samaria) are in the same camp as Utopians.

He then addressed the three failed dreams of Israel: the kibbutz movement, the settler movement, and the Oslo peace accords. Now Israel is bereft of a Utopian dream. Can it sustain itself without one? My rabbi recently spoke about the Torah portion of parshat Vayeshev, in which Joseph is asked to interpret the dreams of his fellow prisoners, the baker and the wine steward. The wine steward whose crime was a fly in the wine being served to the pharaoh was reinstated to his post, while the baker whose bread had a small stone was executed. While a fly might be disgusting, it is not life-threatening, but a pebble would prove a choking hazard. The lesson was that a threat from within could be greater than without. A great challenge for Israelis now is to build unity from among their brethren. When they respected each other and were united in their goals in 1967, they achieved miraculous results. May Am Israel re-gain its sense of purpose and harmony and see peace in our times.

Chag Urim sameach.