Turning the Jews of the Land of Israel into Hebrew Speakers

April 21 2017

Two recent books—An Unpromising Land by Gur Alroey and Babel in Zion by Liora Halperin—explore the experiences of rank-and-file Jewish immigrants to Ottoman and British Palestine as opposed to the passionate pioneers and ideologues who have dominated most historians’ attention. In his review, Allan Arkush deems the first book poorly argued but finds much of interest in the second, which documents how Hebrew succeeded in taking hold among the East European-born masses:

When Yiddish movies first hit the market, . . . the Zionist educator Yosef Luria tried to discourage theater managers from showing them. . . . On September 27, 1920, members of the Battalion of the Defenders of the Hebrew Language protested the screening of Mayne Yiddishe Mame at the Mograbi Theater in Tel Aviv. When they failed to prevent it, they infiltrated the theater, then booed and hurled foul-smelling objects at the screen when the talking began. [But] it was easier to keep Yiddish off the screens than off the streets, which were often crowded with peddlers hawking alte zakhn [used goods] and street food in their native tongue. . . .

More threatening to Hebrew than the languages of the countries from which the Jewish immigrants had come was the language of the colonial power governing Palestine: English. It was an uphill struggle to get the British administration to live up to its promise to treat Hebrew as one of the official languages of Palestine. . . .

Halperin does not suggest that people’s recourse for one reason or another to languages other than Hebrew was a defection from Zionism. It would be wrong, she says, to imagine a “rhetorical divide between pro-Hebrew Zionist Jews and apathetic, foreign-language-using non-Zionist Jews.”

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Hebrew, Israel & Zionism, Israeli history, Mandate Palestine

The Middle East’s Leadership Crisis, and What It Means for the Prospect of Palestinian Statehood

Aug. 16 2017

In an interview with Eldad Beck, Douglas Feith explains why Palestinian statehood is currently impossible, and the political ailments Palestinians share with the rest of the Middle East:

With the present Palestinian leadership, the two-state solution is not realistic. Many Israelis are interested in reaching an agreement with their neighbors, since they don’t want to control areas with a large Arab population in the West Bank. The road to an agreement is via arrangements with the neighboring states—Jordan and Egypt. . . . It may [even] be that the Saudis, if they decide that they’re finished with the Palestinian Authority, will want to work with the Jordanians on a solution for the West Bank not based on the two-state paradigm. . . .

The central problem [for the whole Middle East] is the lack of political leadership. There are problems of society and religion, but I think it will be easy to deal with them if there are political systems ensuring that the broad interests of the people will be of supreme importance, and that the leaders have to give an account of themselves to the citizens. . . . But you cannot develop a democratic political system without erecting the pillars that will strengthen such a structure. It cannot be based merely on organizing elections in countries with no basis for a liberal democracy. As we saw in Algeria and Egypt, without separation of powers, a free press, an independent judicial system, private property—all pillars of a real democracy—free elections can end in anti-democratic results. . . .

[Palestinian leaders] are largely selfish and corrupt, and they have led their people into a conflict that has been going on for decades. They should have made the Jews partners, not enemies. It’s not too late to change things, but it will require an entirely new type of leadership that will take personal risks, as opponents from within the Palestinian community will use violence against them. It won’t be easy. But if countries around the world really want to help the Palestinians, they can encourage, by using aid money and other tools, the building of a Palestinian leadership that will understand that the conflict is a serious problem for Israel but an even more serious problem for the Palestinians.

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Former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith: The Two-State Solution Is Not Realistic Given the Present Palestinian Leadership

Eldad Beck

This piece was first published on the Hebrew-language website Mida on August 13, 2017, rendered into English by Avi Woolf, and republished here with permission. The original article can be found by clicking on the link at the bottom of this page.

Douglas Feith, Undersecretary of Defense under George Bush, in an interview for Mida: “The Palestinian leaders are selfish and corrupt, and are leading their people to a disaster.”

“When Arab leaders in general and Palestinians in particular speak unceasingly about justice, in a manner which makes it clear that any compromise over what they think they deserve is injustice, harm to honor and an attack on their conscience, they lead their people to a disaster. And that’s what they’ve been doing for generations.” So said Douglas Feith, who served as undersecretary of defense during the presidency of George W. Bush. Feith was responsible for, among other things: the war on terror, blocking the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and the expansion of NATO. Today he is a leading scholar in Middle Eastern affairs at the Washington-based Hudson Institute, a right-leaning think tank.

As opposed to many American and European experts on the Middle East, who refuse to adjust their beliefs to fit the realities of the region, or change their ideas in light of actual changes on the ground, Feith is unafraid to challenge the stagnation of thought surrounding many Middle Eastern issues, including approaches he himself promoted under Bush.

Feith does not believe that attempts to promote a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict from without have had a positive effect. “Jimmy Carter does not at all deserve credit for the Israel-Egypt peace treaty. The sides would have reached an agreement faster and maybe better without him” he says, convinced that the present Palestinian leadership cannot lead to the end of the conflict. “With the present Palestinian leadership, the two-state solution is not realistic. Many Israelis are interested in reaching an agreement with their neighbors, since they don’t want to control areas with a large Arab population in the West Bank. The road to an agreement is via arrangements with the neighboring states—Jordan and Egypt. Egypt has a great deal of interest in what goes on in the Gaza Strip. It may be that the Saudis, if they decide that they’re finished with the Palestinian Authority, will want to work with the Jordanians on a solution for the West Bank not based on the two-state solution.”

What are, in your opinion, the main problems of the Middle East today?

“The central problem [for the whole Middle East] is the lack of political leadership. There are problems of society and religion, but I think it will be easy to deal with them if there are political systems ensuring that the broad interests of the people will be of supreme importance, and that the leaders have to give an account of themselves to the citizens. The Middle East had traditional leaders, revolutionary leaders, and radical leaders. None of them did anything beneficial for their people. What has yet to be tried is a democratic leadership that can be tested by its deeds. But you cannot develop a democratic political system without erecting the pillars that will strengthen such a structure. It cannot be based merely on organizing elections in countries with no basis for a liberal democracy. As we saw in Algeria and Egypt, without separation of powers, a free press, an independent judicial system, private property—all pillars of a real democracy—free elections can end in anti-democratic results.”

Can we now add Turkey to the list of countries where elections brought undemocratic parties to power?

“Yes. Turkey is a particularly sad case, because it is an example of a country that made a serious attempt to establish the foundations for liberal democratic politics. Erdogan dismantled these foundations and is now weakening democratic institutions that Turkey developed over decades.”

What can the west do, if anything, to encourage liberal-democratic development of the Middle East?

“I would focus on building institutions instead of organizing elections. The Anglo-Saxon experience is one of the most successful experiments in democracy in the world. It is hundreds of years old. Still, general universal elections were not held in Britain or in the United States until the 20th century. Women, for instance, did not have the right to vote in these two countries until then. These countries needed hundreds of years to lay the foundation for a real democracy, to create a number of centers of power, and secure human rights, among other things by separating religion and state and creating an independent judiciary. People who wish to create such systems in Arab countries have a long way to go. I would not repeat the mistake that a number of American administrations made in recent years: getting involved in countries without any foundation for democracy and immediately pushing for elections. In such a situation people are elected who are hostile to democracy, and who claim they have legitimacy to rule in the name of democracy.”

Every time the west tries to strengthen the necessary institutions for developing democracy in the Middle East, the accusation immediately emerges of intervening in internal affairs. How does one solve that dilemma?

“It’s a problem, and it is quite likely that those countries will not start to develop the necessary institutions so long as the citizens of those countries do not start getting involved in doing so themselves. At this stage, outside parties can contribute by strengthening the locals who understand that such development will be for their benefit.”

Iran had a population that wanted to change things from the inside, but in 2009, the west did nothing to help her.

“True, I’m not sure that Mir-Hossein Mousavi [the “reformist” candidate who ran against then-Iranian President Ahmadinejad—EB] was so liberal. But the events then were an example of an internal desire for change. It’s a long-term project. No one thinks that we can quickly change the political cultures of these societies. But for instance, if many countries around the world who give aid to the Palestinians really want to improve Palestinians’ quality of life and promote Palestinian-Israeli peace, they must focus on changing the circumstances of Palestinian politics and try to promote a Palestinian leadership with a more democratic outlook. Not a leadership which serves its own interests, but a leadership which serves the interests of the population.”

The governments of the world don’t understand this need or don’t want to understand this need?

“Both. I think many do not understand it, and many think that it’s offensive to speak of the need to influence the leadership of another nation. What I am saying is not at all offensive towards all Palestinians. It may be offensive towards their leaders, of whom I have a very negative opinion. I think that they are largely selfish and corrupt, and have led their people into a conflict that has been going on for decades. They should have made the Jews partners, not enemies. It’s not too late to change things, but it will require an entirely new type of leadership that will take a personal risk, as opponents from within the Palestinian community will use violence against them. It won’t be easy. But if countries around the world really want to help the Palestinians, they can encourage, by using aid money and other tools, the building of a Palestinian leadership that will understand that the conflict is a serious problem for Israel but an even more serious problem for the Palestinians. It’s a disaster for them. The Israelis succeeded in building a country and a society which is very successful and prosperous, despite the Arab and Palestinian war against them. But the Palestinians have not succeeded in building a prosperous and happy society for themselves because of the conflict, which causes them great harm. They need a leadership that will end this situation.”

In the present reality, is there a need to the change borders in the Middle East?

“The Israelis changed borders again and again. They conquered the Sinai in 1956, returned it to Egypt in 1957, conquered it again in 1967, returned it again in 1979. The Israelis change borders unceasingly. No one should be surprised if in ten, twenty, or 50 years the borders in the Middle East change again. But, in my opinion, people who want to achieve progress for peace and solve the conflict need to focus on finding ways to develop a Palestinian leadership interested in the Palestinians’ quality of life, instead of promoting an abstract concept of justice. If you examine the rhetoric of Zionist leaders before and after the establishment of Israel, they almost never spoke of justice. If you define justice as getting everything you think you deserve, then no one in the world gets justice. You aim to get the best possible deal. That’s life. Adults understand that they can’t get everything they deserve, and they focus on getting the most they can. That was the Zionist approach from the outset.”

If we’re talking deals, there is the nuclear deal with Iran. Do you think it can be ended?

“I don’t think it can be ended, because President Obama gave the Iranians everything they wanted from the beginning. He built the agreement in such a way that it couldn’t be abandoned. In fact, it is not an agreement, but an arrangement. What did the Iranians want? An end to UN sanctions, which denied them access to assets around the world worth $150 billion. They couldn’t get to them without the support of the permanent members of the Security Council, meaning America. Before Obama brought the agreement before Congress for its approval, he passed it in the Security Council. Now we can’t reimpose the sanctions without Russia and China, and we will not get them to agree to that again. In exchange, we didn’t get an Iranian surrender of the nuclear program, only an agreement to delay it. If the arrangement is ended now, the Iranians will get everything they want: they have the assets, and they can move forward with the nuclear program.

“The only thing that can be done in the framework of the agreement is to force the Iranians to meet their commitments, and slow the progress of their nuclear program by ten to fifteen years. To release the Iranians from their obligations now will achieve nothing good for the West. I think that the Iranians’ commitments were too small, and their gains, which were given to them too quickly, were very significant. But they’ve already been given, and now we have no leverage over the Iranians. The agreement was formed in a manner which left the West without any tools. It was a terrible agreement.”

Read more at Mida

More about: Arab democracy, Israel & Zionism, Middle East, Palestinian statehood