When veteran journalist Helen Thomas was asked recently if she had any comments on Israel, she shot back, “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.” She apologized for the remark, but, as the campaign against her escalated, she chose to retire from her position as White House correspondent.
Putting aside the edginess in her words, does Helen Thomas’s remark deserve serious consideration?
Over the years, it has been receiving just that from many tens of thousands of Israelis, who have been emigrating from Israel, applying for emigration, or staying in Israel but holding or applying for dual citizenship. According to Arnaud de Borchgrave, half a million Israelis hold dual citizenship.
Although the Israel lobby expressed particular outrage at Helen Thomas’ suggestion that Israelis go back to Germany and Poland, many Israelis have done precisely that. In his book, The Seventh Million, Tom Segev writes that many thousands of Israelis have “requested and received German passports.” According to the Jewish Virtual Library, there were 118,000 Jews living in Germany in 2006. Another 49,700 lived in Hungary and 3,200 in Poland.
Disconcerting as some Zionists may find this, Jews have not stayed away from countries where they faced near extermination under the Nazis. Does this mean that these countries are now safer for Jews than Israel?
At least, that is what the record indicates. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, 22,682 Israelis died in Israeli wars or as a result of terrorist attacks.
Over the same period – that is, since 1948 – how many Jews in Europe have died as a result of anti–Semitic violence?
I am not suggesting Jewish emigration from Israel as my preferred solution to the Israeli-Palestinian question. Yet, now that Israel has tapped into nearly every Jewish population in the diaspora with an economic interest in emigrating to Israel, that is what we are likely to observe in the future.
Is that how the Zionist project might end?
That is a possibility. If Israel persists in its present policies of imposing apartheid in the West Bank, of strangulating Gaza, of carrying out carpet bombing of undefended Arab populations, Israel will continue to lose the liberal segments of its population to emigration.
Should this happen, Israel would face a shrinking Jewish population, drained of much of its talent, consisting of mostly right-wing Jewish zealots, angry, nervous, and with their fingers on triggers that could launch some 200 nuclear weapons at targets in the Middle East and perhaps beyond.
Starting in 1897, an increasing number of Jews mobilized to create what appeared to be an impossible Jewish settler-state in Palestine.
Now that this project, by virtue of its successes, has become a threat to itself, to the Jewish diaspora, to the Middle East and the world, can we hope that growing numbers of Jews will mobilize their gifts to work with the Palestinians and the world community to help unwind the Zionist project, and replace it with a society that will make full amends to all its victims.
For more than sixty years, the Jewish establishment has worked strenuously to demand that the world do justice to Jewish victims of the Nazis. Justice and honesty demand that the Jews of conscience do the same for their own victims.
M. SHAHID ALAM is professor of economics at Northeastern University. This is an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism (Macmillan, November 2009). Contact me at email@example.com.