The Senate’s Recent Grilling of a Catholic Nominee Raises Painful Jewish Memories

Jan. 18 2019

During the confirmation hearings for Brian Buescher, a nominee for a federal judgeship, Senators Kamala Harris and Mazie Hirono questioned his membership in the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal and philanthropic organization. Hirono went so far as to propose that, if confirmed, Buescher should resign from the group “to avoid any appearance of bias” and “recuse [himself] from all cases [on] which the Knights of Columbus has taken a position.” Mitchell Rocklin explains why such notions should raise Jewish hackles:

Article VI of the Constitution guarantees that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” This set America apart from Britain, which banned Jews from serving in Parliament until well into the 19th century, [and Catholics for nearly as long]. In the new country, Jews were able to hold government offices in ways that had been impossible in the Old World. This tradition should not be sacrificed simply because a few senators want to score political points. . . .

Indeed, the very first public Supreme Court nomination process, held in 1916, was an anti-Semitic spectacle in which various figures attempted to smear the high court’s first Jewish nominee, Louis Brandeis. A Boston politician called Brandeis “a slimy fellow” capable of using “his smoothness and intrigue, together with his Jewish instinct,” to attain power. The former president and future chief justice William Howard Taft called Brandeis “utterly unscrupulous” and “a man of infinite cunning,” warning that he “has adopted Zionism, favors the new Jerusalem, and has metaphorically been re-circumcised.”. . .

Senators Hirono and Harris ought to consider the words of Haym Solomon, the Jewish immigrant and Revolutionary War hero: “I am a Jew; it is my own nation; I do not despair that we shall obtain every other privilege that we aspire to enjoy along with our fellow citizens.”

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Catholicism, Congress, Louis Brandeis, Politics & Current Affairs, Religion and politics, U.S. Politics

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

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More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat