2017-03-01 / Voice at the Shore

Weis speaks on Israel and the current political climate

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore editor

A United Nations that is increasingly hostile towards Israel…the threat of terrorism on multiple fronts…President Trump. What does all of this mean for Israel—and for American Jews?

This was the subject of a talk given by Rabbi David Weis to about 40 community members (mostly age 50+) at Congregation Beth Israel’s “JPlace” adult education brunch on February 12. The talk, titled “Israel, America and the United Nations: A Look at Today and Tomorrow,” offered an in-depth look at the basis for Palestinians’ claim on the land of Israel, how the UN’s attitude towards Israel has evolved, and why younger and older Jews have different attitudes toward Israel. Weis also talked about the current political climate in the U.S. and Middle East and how it will likely affect prospects for peace in the Middle East.

“Palestine is not a country; it never was a country,” said Rabbi Weis, who offered attendees a lengthy history lesson on the area. The name “Palestine” (or “Philistia” in Roman) was actually coined by the Roman Empire, which named the region thusly because it was inhabited by the Philistines prior to their defeat by King David.

Likewise, there was no nationality known as “the Palestinians” in 1948, when Israel declared itself a nation and fought the Arab world for independence. At that point, said Weis, the Middle East and Africa were inhabited largely by tribes ruled by chieftains that often warred against one another. Many of those ancient tribal conflicts continue to create tension in the Arab world today.

According to Weis, Europeans, who carved those areas into colonies that ultimately turned into Western-styled, self-ruled nation-states, imported the concept of the nation-state to the Middle East and Africa. These relatively new African and Middle Eastern nations, which are now part of the UN, are largely responsible for the UN’s increasing negativity with respect to Israel, said Weis.

That negativity was not a factor when the UN’s predecessor, the League of Nations, created the British Mandate following World War I, said Weis. The Mandate gave Britain rule over a large chunk of the Middle East that was previously part of the Ottoman Empire. This land included the regions known as “Palestine” and “Jordan.” Notably, those regions had never, ever, been sovereign nations, stressed Weis.

Following World War II, the newly created UN also zeroed in on this region as it grappled with the problem of what to do with the 1.5 million Jewish refugees created by the Holocaust who were largely unwanted by the Western world. In response to both the refugee crisis and the growing Zionist movement, the UN came up with the Partition Plan, which essentially carved the British Mandate into Jewish and Arab territories. “At that point, none of the Arabs living in the area called themselves ‘Palestinians,’” noted Weis.

Although the Arabs objected to this plan, the Arab world as a whole did not have strong feelings for the land now referred to as “Palestine” at that time, said Weis. He believed this was why the Arabs, who vastly outnumbered the Israelis, lacked the will and determination to win their war against the new nation of Israel in 1948.

Indeed, it was not until after the 6-Day War in 1967 that Arabs began commonly using the term “Palestinians” to describe those displaced from the land “occupied” by Israel, said Weis. It was at this point that the Arab world began expressing outrage that Israel had taken land rightfully belonging to “Palestinians.” The Arab world vocally made their case against Israel both in the court of public opinion and at the UN—a UN that now included a multitude of new African and Middle Eastern nations that were hostile to Israel. Those nations in turn prevailed upon the European nations, which were dependent on Middle Eastern oil, to follow suit with this hostility towards Israel.

As a result, said Weis, “the UN has passed more resolutions against Israel than against all other nations combined,” while giving comparatively little attention to genocides and horrific acts perpetrated by nations such as Syria, Sudan, North Korea and Serbia.

Following the UN’s lead, the world has come to accept the narrative that Israel is “occupying” land that actually belongs to Palestinians—a nationality that never really existed, said Weis.

“Belief has very little to do with facts,” he stressed.

This propensity for people to find facts supporting their beliefs is dramatically apparent in Americans’ polarized views of Donald Trump, noted Weis.

Yet it is also present, though perhaps less apparent, in differing attitudes towards Israel— even among American Jews. While older Jews embrace the narrative that they must support Israel because Jews need a homeland where they can go to escape the inevitability of anti- Semitism, younger Jews are less likely to buy into this narrative.

There are good reasons for this, Weis noted. For older Jews, he explained, “Our world view is colored by the Holocaust and pogroms. We have trained ourselves to see the world through a negative lens.”

The same is not true for the younger generation of American Jews, he said. While older Jews see themselves as Jews living in America, younger Jews simply see themselves as Americans.

Radically differing beliefs regarding who is the victim in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict also block the way to peace in the Middle East, said Weis.

“Right now, we find ourselves in a terrible place. Everyone is a victim,” he said of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinians see themselves as the victims of occupation and harsh and unfair treatment, while Israelis feel victimized by politically motivated stabbings, car attacks, bombings and constant threats to their personal safety.

“Victims don’t want peace, they want justice—they want the victimizer to be punished. As long as everyone sees themselves as victims, there can be no peace. No one wants to make accommodation to the other side,” said Weis.

He also doesn’t believe that Trump’s presidency increases the possibility for peace in the Middle East. “Obama made the situation more dangerous,” said Weis, “But nothing will change under Trump.” 

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