Jewish State – Pariah Nation: Israel and the Dilemmas of Legitimacy by Jerold S. Auerbach Reviewed by Ruth King

Jerold Auerbach is the author of ten books and numerous articles, many of them on Israel. His academic credentials are also impressive: Guggenheim Fellow, Visiting Scholar at Harvard Law School, Fulbright Lecturer at Tel Aviv University and Professor Emeritus of History at Wellesley College.

One could easily be forgiven for thinking that he has already written all there is to write on the subject of Israel for he has covered its history, law, religion, political divisions, fraternal conflicts, settlements and anti-Semitism.

Alas, however, Israel is the gift that keeps on giving in that its antagonists constantly find new lines and venues of attack.
Israel, one of many nations which achieved independence from British colonial rule after World War II, is the only one whose uphill struggle for legitimacy has persisted since its founding in 1948, including challenges from its own citizens.

As the author points out, there is ample historical precedence for discord among Jews. Rebellions go back to the Exodus. They continued from the time of Josephus to the Zionist awakening in the nineteenth century. In recent times that discord produced the tragedy of the Altalena, which is revisited in the first chapter of this book.(For more on this seminal event read Auerbach’s Brothers at War-Israel and the Tragedy of the Altalena).
Auerbach details the issues which simmered between secular and religious, left-leaning and right-wing Jews. But it was the liberation of Judea and Samaria in 1967 that would eventually escalate the ideological divisions within Israel which found their way beyond its borders to become an international assault.

When exultation over the swift victory abated, the secular-religious chasm opened with the debate pitting opponents of the “settlers”–seen as fanatics whose “occupation” of Arab lands was illegal–against those who defended Israel’s historic, religious, legal and strategic claims to its ancient patrimony.
Even the unification and restoration of a united Jerusalem, praised for its unique sensitivity to the rights of all faiths, became an issue of contention. As Arabs created a historically spurious “Palestinian” national identity, their plundering and desecration of holy shrines in Jerusalem was increasingly air-brushed away. The Arabs practiced their own brand of identity theft, using the Jewish metaphor to create their own “holocaust,” “dispersion” and “right of return.”

And most regrettably, a chorus of Israeli leftists in the academies and media trumpeted their cause, thus whitewashing the stain of anti-Semitism from Israel’s enemies. After all, if the Jews do it, libeling and delegitimizing Israel can’t be called anti-Semitic.

And so, as the author cogently describes, the flood gates opened, and accusations of every racist and fascist form of bigotry and oppression were leveled against the only democracy in the Middle East by academics, media, and cultural “elite” circles. Thus Auerbach’s last chapter is named “Pariah Nation.”

In his conclusion, Auerbach states that statehood for the Arabs of Palestine exists in two thirds of the original mandate, now named Jordan. How and why Israel and its supporters failed in making that claim leaves one with a glum view of the future.

However, it is in the introduction to this excellent and beautifully written book that one may find solace and hope. Writing about “a people that dwells alone in an enduringly hostile world, “ Jerold Auerbach reminds us:

“Yet Israel remains a historical anomaly. No other people has reconstituted national sovereignty after nearly two thousand years of dispersion, persecution and attempted annihilation. The establishment and preservation of a democratic Jewish state, in a region where authoritarian Muslim nations and autonomous terrorist organizations vow to destroy it is no less remarkable.”

What can one add but Amen?

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