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Israel and the Holocaust II


Many readers were very enthusiastic about Sever Plocker's debunking of the idea that Israel was created because of the Holocaust, while others were sceptical.

I confess that I welcomed Plocker's article because it expressed what I have believed for a long time, ever since Tom Segev voiced approximately the same sentiments a few years ago:

"... After three decades of Zionism in Palestine, there was still no clear timetable for the Jewish state, but no doubts remained that Jewish independence was on the horizon. The social, political, economic and military foundations of the state to-be were firm, and a profound sense of national unity prevailed. The Zionist dream was about to become a reality.

There is therefore no basis for the frequent assertion that the state was established as a result of the Holocaust...." (Tom Segev in "One Palestine Complete" pp 490-491)

Usually, if someone makes a historical "what if" statement, it is not taken as literal fact. Such statements as "The Catholic Church would still be ruling Europe if Henry VIII had had a son by Catherine of Aragon" or "The KKK would not have come into being if Lincoln had not gone to see 'Our American Cuisine' in Ford's theater in April of 1865 where he was assassinated" are treated as interesting grounds for speculation. They imply a causal link between events that is speculative. Certainly they are not the basis for determining policy.

However, the statement "Israel was created only because of the Holocaust" is an exception among all "If" statements. It is treated as dogma. It appears as the predicate of arguments that "explain" why Israel must be extra-respectful of international law, or conversely, why the world should indulge Israel.

The game of "historical what if" is always inconclusive, but there is no other way to examine the merits of the "Holocaust created Israel" story, because it too is playing the game of "what if."

Here are the major reasons why it is at least plausible that Israel would have been created had there not been a Holocaust:

International commitment - The League of Nations Mandate represented an international commitment to a Jewish national home in Palestine. Is it likely that the League would have abandoned that commitment if the League had survived, in a scenario where there was no Hitler and no war?

Fascism was part of the problem - There is no doubt that Germany and Italy encouraged unrest in Palestine and aided the growth of Palestinian extremism. In an alternative history, the Arabs and Jews of Palestine might have been able to work out an accomodation. Had Britain not been concerned with the possibility of war, it might not have been so responsive to Arab demands in the 1930s and might not have stopped Jewish immigration.

Anti-Semitism was motivating immigration before Hitler - Anti-semitism was endemic to European culture. It had helped motivate the Zionist movement originally and by the early 30s, the rise of repressive regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, combined with economic depression, was motivating increased immigration. In 1931, there were about 4,000 immigrants, in 1932, 12,500 (mostly
before Hitler) in 1933 37,000 - not necessarily from Germany. Immigration was growing every year. In 1935 there were 66,500 immigrants. They weren't coming because of the Holocaust that would happen in 7 or 8 years, but because conditions were already bad. It is very difficult to imagine Europe without anti-semitism, especially if there had not been a reaction to the Holocaust.

Opportunism of Zionism - Zionist leaders, like any astute leaders, were creative opportunists. They seized every opportunity presented by history and made the most of it. After the fact, it might appear that there could never have been a Balfour declaration without World War I, or there never would've been a second Aliya (the immigration at the end of the 19th century) without pogroms in Russia, or there could never have been a Jewish state without the Holocaust, or that Jerusalem would never have been united had it not been been for the 6-day war. However, history does not lack for catastrophes, especially not catastrophes for the Jewish people. There has been anti-Semitism and there have been wars in Europe and rivalries between the powers for hundreds of years. Zionist and Israeli leaders were able to make use of each event, however, tragic, to advance the cause of a Jewish national home, especially since almost every such event tended to vindicate the Zionist view of history. Herzl and others had been petitioning the Kaiser and other leaders for a Jewish national home for 30 years before the Balfour declaration. Haim Weizmann succeeded because he had found the correct moment in history. When the British mandate reneged on their mandate commitments, the Zionist leadership began to look for other ways to guarantee a Jewish national home. After World War II, they found it. World War II was a disaster for the Jewish people, more than any other people in the world. It vindicated the Zionist view of the place of Jews in Europe in an emphatic and horrible way. But the Zionist leadership were able to make a political issue of the refugees in the DP camps. Had there not been a Holocaust, there would have been a better and less tragic opportunity.

The role of the UN and the USA - It is a fallacy to assume that UN resolution 181 is what created Israel. The British announced that they were leaving Palestine. They would eventually have left in any case, because Britain was closing out all of its colonial holdings, and had been doing so since World War I. One of the problems of the Mandate had been opposition from those who wanted to divest themselves of colonies and oversees commitments. The UN was supposed to make a decision about the disposition of Palestine, but in fact, the partition resolution was a fig-leaf to cover the British abrogation of their
undertaking under the League Mandate. Nobody did anything to enforce partition or internationalization of Jerusalem. The USA pressed for a Jewish state and partition and it recognized the new state, but it did not directly aid Israel in the war.

Scenarios - We can envision various likely scenarios had there not been a Holocaust. None of them indicate that the Holocaust was absolutely necessary for creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, though it might have happened at a different time and in a different way.

Europe with antisemitism, but no Hitler - Probably the Arab revolt would not have been exacerbated by Fascist support, and British would not be anxious about Arab support in a possible war. Eventually there would be an Israel, with more Jews than at present.

Hitler comes to power and persecutes the Jews, but there is no Holocaust. Millions would flee the Nazis, and those who survived under the Nazis would be desperate to rebuild their lives as well. After the war, there might have been millions of Jewish displaced persons in Europe instead of a few hundred thousand survivors, creating a large pressure group. It is hard to imagine that the public outcry in the US would have been less than it was after the Holocaust, or that they urgency of the refugee problem would not have forced the creation of a state.

There was a Holocaust, but no UN resolution. The Palestine issue would have ultimately have to have been resolved when Britain left. Given the attitude of the Arab countries, there would be a Jewish state, or there would be a second mini-Holocaust. Given the balance of military power as proven in the war, it is most likely that the Jews would have won and created a state.

Of course, if there was no history of European anti-Semitism at all, history might have been very different. There might be no Zionism and perhaps no Jewish people. However, a Europe without anti-Semitism would require revision of the last two millenia of history.

Nobody could prove of course, that there would have been a Jewish state without the Holocaust, but it is very hard to make a real case that there would definitely not have been a state without the Holocaust either. The burden of proof is on those who insist there is a causal link. The null hypothesis is always the default hypothesis. Regarding the question "Did the Holocaust create Israel?" we must return the Scotch verdict: "Not Proven."

Ami Isseroff
(Updated April 8, 2005)

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Replies: 3 comments

One important aspect of this discussion has to be looked at.
The HOLOCAUST and U.N. resolution 181 gave us no divisions to win our war of independence.
Plus, they’re already existed in Israel prior to 1939, a vibrant Hebrew based culture known as the YESHUV, the core of the future state of Israel.
If WW2 gave us anything, it’s a cadre of battle harden soldiers, veterans of all the major forces that fought the Nazis.
These soldiers and commanders, where a part of the reason for the quality edge we have, over the Arab armies, but not the only source of it.
If there was no WW2, (and hence no HOLOCAUST), we would not have that cadre experience. But we would have available to us the vast resources of European Jewry, finance and manpower, to support us in case of a collision with the Arabs. And any experience will be learned as the war goes on.

Posted by Dvar Dea @ 05/12/2005 12:53 PM CST

There where no positives things to the holocaust Richard.
Think of a man who lost his home, his wife, kids, parents, everyone he knew in a hurricane, even his work place, but got 500$ in the only set of close he got left, the ones he was wearing.

You’ll find it amazing how very little 500$ can be.

Posted by Dvar Dea @ 05/24/2005 11:55 AM CST

I think that people should'nt treat other people that way!

Posted by Samantha Klee @ 05/25/2005 03:54 PM CST

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