Harbin: a Russian-Jewish Outpost in Manchuria

March 30 2016

Reviewing Michael Meyer’s recent book on the history of Manchuria, Susan Blumberg-Kason notes the attention paid to the city of Harbin and its once-thriving Jewish community:

Harbin is probably the best known city in Manchuria and was once home to 30,000 Jews who either moved to China from Russia for economic reasons or [came to escape persecution]. Most were stateless, no longer citizens of Russia but also not of China. According to Meyer, in the heyday of Jewish Harbin, the city boasted two synagogues and twenty Jewish periodicals, including something called the Siberia-Palestine Weekly.

It was this community where the grandfather of the former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert lived. Olmert’s grandfather is buried in the Jewish cemetery there. A century later, the Chinese government has restored one of the two former synagogues in Harbin and has turned it into a Jewish-history research center. Meyer writes that the last Jew left Harbin as late as 1985, a solid decade after the end of the Cultural Revolution. Just a few years ago the Chinese government announced that it would restore the other synagogue, which had been used as a hostel.

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Read more at Asian Jewish Life

More about: China, Ehud Olmert, Harbin, History & Ideas, Russia, Russian Jewry

The Impossibility of Unilateral Withdrawal from the West Bank

Feb. 19 2019

Since throwing his hat into the ring for the Israeli premiership, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been reticent about his policy plans. Nonetheless, he has made clear his openness to unilateral disengagement from the West Bank along the lines of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, stating the necessity of finding “a way in which we’re not controlling other people.” Gershon Hacohen argues that any such plan would be ill-advised:

The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total lack of interest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. . . . Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups Hizballah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C, [the only part still under direct Israeli control], would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.

Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA). . . .

This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of eastern Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all the Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible—and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the Jewish ancestral homeland

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More about: Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Two-State Solution, West Bank