Why Israel Needs Affirmative Action
††††††††††† When Constance and Otto Frohnknecht, my maternal grandparents, died, they left a library of about 4,000 books in a storage room in the basement of their Fifth Avenue, New York apartment. My mother, their only surviving child, had a severe reading disability and intended to throw them out sight unseen. Five of their six grandchildren were also too busy with their own lives, so the opportunity fell to me and my partner to go through the intellectual inheritance of my family life.
††††††††††† In one of the books, I found letters that my father wrote from Israel to his mother-in-law in May 1953. He had been in Israel to conduct 13 concerts with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra that spanned the fifth anniversary of the founding of the state. Mail took 12 days to travel from Tel Aviv to New York. Tellingly, the cable address for the orchestra was PALPHILORC for Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra. As my brother obsessively repeats during discussions of the Middle East, the orchestra performed in Tel Aviv and Cairo without incident before the creation of Israel.
††††††††††† On May 6, my father, an Austrian refugee who was not a native English speaker, wrote, "I am enjoying my stay here very much. Anyone, however, who should think that antique and biblical times summon you is totally mistaken. It seems that practically all the places where the visitor would like to go are in the Arab part of the country, which is, from Israel, inaccessible since the frontiers are all closed.
††††††††††† My father continued, "Israel is all new building and places where destruction from the war with the Arabs can be seen. Life for the Israeli citizen seems to be quite tough and austere. But there is among the people a great deal of confidence, and there certainly have been near miracles of accomplishment (even if it was done with American money, which is true). In fact, if you see a photograph of some 50 years ago when Tel Aviv was existing only as a set of sand dunes and today there is a modern city of ľ million inhabitants, that is an accomplishment on anybody's pocketbook."
††††††††††† The biblical antiquities weren't the only thing on the Arab side, there was water, too. The aquifers and access to the Jordan and Litani rivers are the economic reason why Israel lays claim to the West Bank. The religious excuses are eyewash.
††††††††††† As the United States failed to understand in its miscalculation planning the first Iraq war, borders and land without water are meaningless in the Middle East. The United States figured that once its forces had breached the border with Iraq in the first Gulf War to liberate Kuwait, Saddam Hussein would be humiliated and be overthrown by his own people. That didn't happen because a line in the desert is irrelevant to people living on the banks of the Tigris, Euphrates, or Nile Rivers. It is this reality of water being necessary for life in the desert that is the source of the Muslim cultural tradition of always welcoming strangers, no matter what crimes they may have committed, because not giving hospitality (water) to strangers is a death sentence. Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator who expelled all Indians and murdered between 100,000 and half a million of his nation's 11 million people during his eight-year rule, was given asylum in Libya, and Iraq and finally died a natural death at the age of 77 in Saudi Arabia. Hence, the American demand for Afghanistan, a Muslim nation, to turn over Osama bin Laden after 9/11 was guaranteed to be rejected.
††††††††††† Even more serious than antiquities and water from the Arab point of view was the continuing influx of Jewish settlers. On May 12, my father wrote: "Yesterday, I visited a children's village, Ben Shemen, which is the first of that kind and later on imitated many times. There one can see the real strategy of Israel ‒ to fully concentrate on the new generation and take good care that the old prejudices are not perpetuated. Such a village is inhabited mainly, though not exclusively, by children whose parents are still awaiting (sic) to immigrate. In the case of Moroccan, Yemenites, and other Oriental Jews, the agency is making a point to bring the children into Israel prior to the parents. The chief aim is to forestall the growing up of youth in self-styled ghettos so that within one generation, one will not say: 'Look at this Moroccan or this Yemenite or at this Persian. Naturally, this is a humanistic experiment which is much farther reaching than the State of Israel. It is a determined attempt to erase prima facie prejudice and to build one instead of several societies.
††††††††††† He continued, "What I did not know when I came here is that there are some 70-odd nationalities from where Jews have come to Israel. And, needless to say, the Germans have contempt for the Moroccans, and the Polish joke about the Persians, and all the occidentals feel vastly superior to the Orientals.
††††††††††† "With this generation, it would be a waste to even attempt re-education, but with the new blood, it must be done, and it is being done in the most remarkable manner.
††††††††††† "When I get back, I will show to Otto some literature on Ben Shemen, and I would like for him to put that particular village on his list ‒ through a 'deductible' agency, of course," he concluded.
††††††††††† Although Israeli apologists refer to Jews from Muslim countries as having been rescued, from another perspective, it might be called abduction or child trafficking. Imagine how traumatic it would be to arrive in a new country, unable to speak the language, and separated from one's parents. When children were separated from their parents at the southern border of the United States during the Trump administration, there were howls of protest. When Russia abducted Ukrainian children, it was called a war crime. Removing children from their parents for political purposes was most evident in the case of EliŠn GonzŠlez whose mother drowned as she fled with her son to the United States from Cuba. His virulent anti-Castro relatives in Miami refused to return him to his father in Cuba, setting off a major confrontation with the Clinton Administration which became an important issue in the 2000 American presidential election.
††††††††††† Even overlooking the facts of resettlement, the policy has been a catastrophe for Israel. Firstly, acting as if the indigenous Jewish population was endangered was a grave insult to the neighboring Muslim countries that had co-existed for centuries with a minority Jewish population. Instead of extending its hand in friendship, Israel's behavior started to make the indigenous Jewish population look like fifth columnists.
††††††††††† Worse is the damage this ethnocidal policy has done to the security of the state. It was the immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Morocco, Egypt, Yemen, and elsewhere whose culture taught them how to live in peace as a religious minority among Muslims. The arrogance of the Ashkenazi Europeans who have held a monopoly on the post of Prime Minister of Israel for the entire 75 years since its founding, plus the obvious truth that the overwhelming majority of material support has come from the West (Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister, went to high school in Pennsylvania, Golda Meier was a school teacher in Milwaukee), means that in Muslim eyes, Israel is a western colony masquerading as an independent nation.
††††††††††† It is important to remember that in the beginning, Israel was a socialist state. It was possible to imagine two nations living on the land held in common. There were no borders in the Ottoman Empire until after World War I and the Treaty of SŤvres, which assigned zones of influence to the French and British who promptly created vassal states: Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Trans-Jordan, the Hejaz, etc.
††††††††††† The dream of the pan-Arabists, from Nasser to the Islamic State, is to unify the Arab world as it was under the Ottoman Empire and erase all European imposed boundaries. How Jews can live in peace as a minority in a Muslim-majority world is the issue facing Israel both internally and externally. Ending discrimination against Israeli Arabs and Jews from Muslim-majority nations, not to mention the Palestinians, would be a good place to start.