WASHINGTON, March 10 (UPI) -- Israelis are entitled to Israel not because of the ancient Jewish commonwealth, and not because of Jewish suffering in Europe, but for the same reasons Americans are entitled to America -- because they built it, and what you create is yours, a Yale professor said Monday.
In recent millennia, there have been no "immaculate conceptions" among new nations, said David Gelernter, the computer scientist who was almost killed by the Unabomber in 1993. All habitable regions of the globe were laid claim to at some point, even if many have been claimed for a very long time.
Efforts to advocate for Israel in terms of Jewish history rather than by stressing what it has in common with other modern states are self-defeating, Gelernter said. And the modern state with which it has the most in common is America.
The U.S. commitment to Israel needs to be supported and explained and should not be taken for granted, Gelernter said in an address at the American Enterprise Institute. But though the Zionist ideal motivated extraordinary -- almost incredible -- accomplishments, the reasons or emotions that give people the need or the strength to do exceptional things aren't necessarily the right ones to offer in explaining one's actions to the world. They may not even be comprehensible to the world at large.
It was never reasonable for Jews to assume that the world would understand Israel's story the way they do, Gelernter said. Talking to the world about Jewish history was an effective rhetorical strategy for a few years after the Holocaust, but it has been a failure for decades and has made it easy for the world to hold Israel to a uniquely self-sacrificing standard of behavior.
Rather than stressing its distinctive Jewishness, a better strategy is to explain Israel in its global context, he said. The failure to do so has muffled Israel's message. Arguably, it also has distorted thinking among Diaspora Jews and even in Israel itself. This is not just a rhetorical loss for Israel, he said, but also an intellectual loss.
Gelernter compared Israel after the 1967 Six-Day War to France after World War I and World War II. On both occasions, he said, "France didn't care whether Germany loved her, or liked her, or accepted her. France was quite prepared for Germany to hate her and menace her forever." This was simply in the cards -- a given.
Germany had attacked France, and France had inflicted defeat upon Germany. Therefore, "it was perfectly reasonable for France to count on eternal menace and to reject as absurd that she make security concessions (such as relinquishing Alsace-Lorraine) in order to get Germany to accept her."
Gelernter said natural analogies could have been drawn between the Arab inhabitants of the West Bank of the Jordan River, which came under Israeli control in 1967, and other peoples of the modern world. But these comparisons were not made, and still are almost never heard.
The most natural analogy to draw, he said, was that of the massive population transfers after World War II. For example, 3 million Sudeten Germans were expelled from their homes in Czechoslovakia, where they had lived for centuries in what had been -- until 1918 -- parts of Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Gelernter cited Winston Churchill's wartime determination to "move Poland westward" at the expense of a defeated Germany, which resulted in the removal of ethnic Germans from East Prussia and historical Pomerania. "You might easily have thought of moving Palestine eastward, by a related process for a related security reason," he said, "but on the whole these things rarely came up."
In June 1967, if Israel were thought of as a garden-variety nation, people everywhere might have assumed that Israel would have formally annexed the West Bank within a month, Gelernter said. He stressed that he was not arguing that Israel should have done so. "There were and are compelling reasons against it."
But Gelernter argued that the whole discussion took place in the wrong context with the wrong points of comparison. "Why annex the West Bank?" he asked rhetorically. "There are Jewish reasons. ... It was the heart of ancient Israel and, perhaps more important, was diligently settled by Zionist pioneers in the first half of the 20th century, who lived in ancient Jewish cities such as Hebron, or built new towns like the Etzion settlements.
"But it would have been wiser to forget Jewish history and concentrate on recent world history that people remembered."
Jordan was still a hostile power, and the 1949 armistice lines that had constituted Israel's pre-1967 eastern border were "laughably indefensible." The natural border was the Jordan River.
"If Czechoslovakia needed the Sudetenland as her border with Germany, why didn't Israel need the West Bank as her border with Jordan?"
Gelernter said the analogy, though imperfect, is nonetheless revealing. Yet it never came up.
Another analogy -- with the United States -- addresses the more general question of what Israel is and why it was founded.
People who leave their homes and strike out for new places have powerful reasons for doing so, Gelernter said. All tend to be relatively powerless at first in their new lands and must expect hostility from the older population. There must be room for them to fit in. This can take the form of an economic niche, a labor market, or physical space.
Gelernter, citing British historian Gilbert Martin, said that after World War I less than 1 percent of Palestine was under cultivation. "No Arab cultivator needed to be dispossessed for the Zionists to make substantial land purchases," he said. "The potential of the land on which fewer than a million people were living on both sides of the Jordan was regarded as enormous."
Jews arriving in Palestine wanted a Jewish community and a homeland but not necessarily a Jewish state, he said. Only during World War II did the leadership and public opinion turn decisively in favor of a Jewish state. The community had to have political power because otherwise it couldn't admit immigrants. The British were excluding refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe, and people were dying.
"And so this community was very much like dozens of other new settlements in recent centuries," Gelernter said, "including many within America, until it reached the decision that (and here he quoted a ballad of colonial Virginia) 'We hope to plant a nation, where none before hath stood.'"
The strongest analogy, the professor said, is between the Zionist settlers in Ottoman-ruled Palestine and the Puritan settlers of New England. Both communities believed in the redemptive sanctity of labor on the land -- the Jews, if anything, more than the New Englanders, though the New Englanders were probably greater believers in Israel's God.
Both communities relied on universal military training for self-defense. Both were dedicated to education and determined to found universities. And both were saturated with Bible learning, as evidenced by the startling correspondence of Hebrew place names.
Both communities started out with roughly the same peaceful intentions toward the indigenous inhabitants. "Of course," Gelernter said, "in Palestine some of the indigenous inhabitants were Jews."
As the New England settlers saw themselves in terms of ancient Israel, he said, so should modern Israel explain itself in terms of the way the American nation was built.
Israel's only real crisis is demographic, Gelernter said, and the emigration of American Jews is not the answer. Either Israeli Jews will have more babies, or Judaism again will become a proselytizing religion, as it was during several centuries at the height of the Roman Empire, or the Jewish state will change character fundamentally, or fail.
Gelernter also argued that in Europe a "collapsed Christianity" -- one without God, sanctity, or salvation -- has become a secular religion of appeasement and aggressive pacifism. The key elements of this "deviant" creed -- which he called a "parody" of Christianity -- are a loathing of war, the idea of Western man's blood guilt, the doctrine of the West's moral unfitness to preach or teach or spread its ideas, a hatred of colonialism, and an "arrogant humility."
This outlook, which emerged after World War I and reasserted itself strongly after the Cold War, made it possible in 1920 for Britain and the world to see Jewish self-determination as a legitimate sign of the times. But it also bore the seeds of trouble for the future Israeli state when it used its army to defend itself against implacable enemies.
Europe turned its back on Christianity, Gelernter said, but a fallen, "defrocked" Christianity has returned to haunt the continent. "You could argue that certain forces in Europe have always wanted to see the Jew as the embodiment of peace and as the enemy of peace -- as the Prince of Peace and the murderer of the Prince of Peace."
Although World War I cemeteries are full of Jewish graves, it still was hard to think of Diaspora Jews as a warlike people. The rise of Israel changed all that, and today's "collapsed Christianity" makes a tragic connection to the actual Christian Europe of previous eras.
"The sickening eagerness with which the European press mocks and slanders (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon as a killer of Palestinians betrays, I think, a quasi-religious satisfaction at the cosmic picture's finally coming into focus," Gelernter said. "Now Europe can at last fully savor the idea of the Jew as murderer of peace.
"It's ironic that at a time when Christianity proper is making unprecedented efforts to be reconciled with Judaism, this collapsed Christianity should re-invigorate all the old hatreds."