The following lines were written on the eve and the day after Yom Yerushalayim, in the midst of the wave of Muslim violence of Ramadan in Jerusalem, on the Gaza border and elsewhere, and before the start of the new military confrontation that is currently unfolding. I dedicate these lines to my friend Bezalel Smotrich, the only Member of Knesset with integrity. He was so right, and the only one, to prevent Netanyahu from forming a coalition that relied on an Arab party that supports terrorism. Smotrich did so at the expense of him being relegated to the opposition, and demonstrated true leadership. This, I believe, is the most precious lesson learned for the sake of unity and hope for the future.
“There is nothing new under the sun,” said King Solomon, “the wisest of all men.” In 1921, the day after the terrible violence that killed dozens of people in Tel Aviv, including the writer Yosef Haim Brenner, many voices within the Yishuv mourned the terrible reality of the pogroms, which they thought they had escaped by coming to settle in Palestine to “build the country and to be built themselves,” according to the Zionist slogan. Even more than over the dead in Tel Aviv (and those in Hebron in 1929), it was over their own illusions that these Zionist pioneers shed bitter tears.
The terrifying images of the anti-Jewish pogroms in Lod, Acco, and elsewhere took Israel back a century to the time of the Yishuv, the pre-state Jewish collectivity in Eretz-Israel. In 1921, then in 1929, and again in 1936, the same scenes of anti-Jewish attacks carried out under the passive gaze of the British police took place and left a lasting mark on the inhabitants of the Yishuv, and which Zionist historiography refers to by the euphemism, “the events.” This flashback, this terrible political regression for the Jewish people, questions the foundations of the project imagined by the founding fathers of modern Zionism, namely a Jewish state, in which could coexist a Jewish majority and non-Jewish minorities.
The pogroms perpetrated by Arab-Israeli citizens against Jewish citizens in Lod and elsewhere have in fact not only shattered, to use the journalistic shorthand, the “Judeo-Arab coexistence” within the State of Israel. What was destroyed in the fires of synagogues and Jewish homes, reminding Jews and Israelis – of all origins – of grim memories of pogroms in Eastern Europe, North Africa, and elsewhere, is above all the very idea of the possibility of making an Arab minority exist in a state with a Jewish majority. Were the founding fathers of political Zionism wrong? In reality, it was not the model of the Jewish state of the founding fathers that crumbled before our eyes, but its antithesis, namely the post-Zionist state of a country “of all its citizens.”
Nothing will be the same again in relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel. But that is not necessarily a bad thing, because ending a lie will hopefully usher in a new way of looking at reality and at the future.
I found the same disillusionment, in a different form, in the account I recently read from a young man who came to Jerusalem after living in France for a long time. Through his lucid account, a truth emerges that many long-time Israelis tend to forget, or ignore. Here is his testimony: “At the Ulpan (school for new immigrants to learn the Hebrew language) in Jerusalem, I saw that the Arab students, who were overcrowded in the class, enjoyed a privileged position. The teacher gave them the floor more often, and they did not hesitate to “stand apart,” behaving with arrogance and contempt, with his tacit approval, while we were encouraged to keep a low profile.” Furthermore, this new immigrant recounts, “I found the same attitude during my studies, and even later, in the institution where I am doing my internship. During staff meetings, every intervention by an Arab employee is greeted with admiration and with an excess of respect, as if everything he said was a sacred word... I do not understand this attitude of self-effacement of Jewish Israelis in front of their Arab colleagues…”
To answer the question of this new immigrant, I tried to understand the reasons for this phenomenon, which are multiple, among which we can quote: the policy of “positive discrimination” carried out by Israel to encourage the “integration” of Israeli Arabs. This is Jewish pacifist ideology, from Brit Shalom to Shalom Ach’shav and all the way to J-Street and the New Israel Fund. It exhibits ignorance of Arab culture – especially among Israelis of secular American and European origin – and in particular of the attitude of Islam towards Jewish minorities and Christians (dhimmis); and finally, and most importantly, fear of Islam and Muslims.
This crucial subject affects not only everyday life, in the many places where Jews and Arabs live in Israel, such as those mentioned in the testimony above, but also the reality of the confrontation between Israel and its enemies, within and at the borders of the country. When Israel claims to “restore calm” to Jerusalem, through the banning of Jewish demonstrations, the banning of all prayer on the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest place, and when it refrains from responding to relentless rocket fire emanating from Gaza for years, it is this same attitude of psychological timidness, mixed with ignorance and fear, that is at work.
In fact, when Jews are stoned or attacked in Jerusalem or elsewhere by Arab crowds, in circumstances reminiscent of the darkest periods in our history, it is an attempted pogrom and not a petty crime news item. The media debates who is stronger: the Jew who tries to escape his attackers and save his or her life, or the attacker? It is the same at the border of Gaza: We are convinced to be the strongest, sheltered behind the technological barrier of the Iron Dome, which destroys (not always) the rockets launched by the enemy and allows us to live in an illusory tranquility – except for the inhabitants of the border communities, whose life is transformed into hell, in general indifference by the government and those living a few miles further north. This illusory force or technology fails to hide a moral and psychological weakness, and which came to light when Hamas fired missiles at Jerusalem in the middle of Yom Yerushalayim.
It is indeed in Jerusalem and especially on the Temple Mount that this weakness is most evident. In this regard, Israel’s attitude on the Temple Mount constitutes a double error: psychological and political.
Psychologically, it strengthens Muslims in their superiority complex, by consolidating them to the idea that Islam is destined to dominate other religions and that the latter can only exercise their worship with the permission and under the control of Muslims. In other words, the State of Israel reinforces the notion of its own citizens being “dhimmis” (the word literally means “protected person,” referring to the state’s obligation under sharia to protect the individual’s life and property, as well as freedom of religion, in exchange for loyalty or submission).
Politically, it confirms the paranoid feeling of existential threat, which Islam, Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, and Jordan detect in Israel’s continued manifestation of treating its own citizens and the dogma of “freedom of worship” as dhimmis.
Paradoxically, Jewish sovereignty in parts of Jerusalem is perceived as a threat to Islam, precisely because of its incomplete and partial nature. The State of Israel’s policy on the Temple Mount and in East Jerusalem fosters the view that Jews should be viewed as intruders. Firstly, the Jews are not there – not permanently present. Secondly, when they do come, they always come under escort, like strangers and potential invaders. Israel should understand that there is no such thing as “half sovereignty.”
On the surface, Israel is not afraid of terrorism, which it fights effectively, and over which it has largely triumphed on almost every front – except on one essential point: psychological warfare. Israel (and the West as a whole) has lost the psychological war against Hamas, and against Islam in general, because it has built into its own psyche the fear of the enemy. This fear is the most formidable psychological weapon of all forms of terrorism, and of which Islam has made its specialty, by constantly playing on the dual mental and military device of fear and submission, pity, and terror.
The best proof of this paradoxical reality is the attitude of those responsible for the Israeli security services in Jerusalem (Shin Bet, police, etc.). They constantly warn the Israeli public against the risk of “exploding” the Temple Mount. This “powder keg,” which, according to them, could start a “world war” if a handful of Jews were allowed to freely come and exercise their worship there, as proclaimed, however, under the Declaration of Independence of Israel and all universal declarations of human rights, is cynically used to intimidate peaceful worshippers. These so-called “gatekeepers,” supposed to hold supreme responsibility for Israel’s security, have long since become the purveyors of a defeatist ideology. President Trump’s relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has proven all these “gatekeepers” that their way of thinking is fundamentally wrong.
Ultimately, let us not forget that it was the withdrawal from Gaza orchestrated by Ariel Sharon, and encouraged by the left “fake news” media, that brought to power Hamas, under the yoke of which millions of Muslims suffer despite the pouring of hundreds of millions of dollars sent in by the international community for humanitarian aid. Prior to that, it was the treacherous Oslo Accords that brought Arafat and his strongmen to power to achieve peace. Fear and corruption have always been bad counselors. The day we stop being afraid of who we are, we can finally become that “New Jew” Ze’ev Jabotinsky called for, and earn the respect of our enemies, and ours.
Jacques R. Rothschild was born in Belgium and served in the IDF paratroopers. He graduated in Mathematics, Statistics, and International Affairs from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and lives currently with his family in New York City where he works as an advisor to the Sovereign Wealth Fund of Kuwait. He also writes and speaks publicly about current affairs and causes for which he cares deeply.