Moral Low Ground


Pro-Palestinian Ads on NY Train Platforms Called “Anti-Semitic” by Jewish Leaders

Pro-Palestinian advertisements placed on suburban New York train platforms have raised eyebrows and ire among the Jewish community, one of whose leading newspapers is calling the ads “anti-Semitic.”

The ads, which were placed on Metro-North Railroad platforms in Westchester County by a retired Wall Street financier, feature historically accurate maps showing how the establishment of the state of Israel and subsequent occupations have reduced Palestinian territory by more than 90 percent since 1946. They also point out the fact that 4.7 million Palestinians are recognized as refugees by the United Nations.

The Journal News reports that Jewish leaders are alarmed by the ads, which they say distort history and could lead to anti-Semitic hate crimes.

“This is anti-Semitic because when people think of Jews they think of the Jewish state,” Dovid Efune, editor of the Manhattan-based Jewish newspaper The Algemeiner, told the Journal News. “Jews have seen this happen so many times. It always starts with messaging that says Jews are committing a crime.”

But Henry Clifford, the 84-year-old ex-Wall Street financier who paid $25,000 to run the ads at up to 10 Metro-North stations for a month, dismissed those concerns.

“If the facts are inflammatory, then they are inflammatory,” he told the Journal News. “All of the Middle East is infected with the virus of the Arab-Israeli conflict. People need to know the truth of the matter.”

Dr. Richard Klein, one of a mass of evening rush hour commuters at the Chappaqua station, mentioned some of the truth when he told a Journal News reporter that the ads were “a deception.”

“It’s a deception, because what was marked as Palestine was inhabited by Jews for the past thousands of years,” the internist told the paper.

That statement is true, but it is far more deceptive than the controversial train ads. Three millennia ago, two ancient Jewish kingdoms, Judah and Israel, thrived on the land where modern-day Israel and Palestine sit. But Judah, the last of these kingdoms, fell in the year 586 BC, and for more than 2,500 years there was no Jewish state in what is today Israel. The land was called Palestine from ancient Greek times, and throughout the centuries Jews were alternately tolerated, persecuted and expelled by the numerous conquerers who ruled the land.

But at no time since antiquity did Jews make up more than a small fraction of the population. Around the turn of the 20th century, they comprised less than 10 percent of the population of what is today Israel. Zionists— European colonizers wanting to reestablish what they believed was their divinely-promised Jewish homeland in the ancient lands of Judah and Israel– began immigrating in earnest beginning in the late 19th century. But these early Zionists realized that they were usurpers. “The bride is beautiful,” a rabbinical delegation traveling to Palestine to investigate the possibility of establishing a Jewish state telegrammed back to Europe, “but she is married to another man.” The other man was, of course, the indigenous Arab population of Palestine.

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, which had ruled Palestine (as part of Syria) for 400 years, the British occupiers famously promised the Jews a homeland in Palestine. But what is seldom mentioned by Israel supporters is that the document that promised that homeland, the Balfour Declaration, also states that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine,” those non-Jews numbering more than 90 percent of the population there.

Tensions between Arabs and the Jewish newcomers escalated into outright violence– initiated, at first, by the Arabs– as more and more Zionists flooded into Palestine, many of them fleeing ethnic cleansing in Eastern Europe. The rise of Hitler and Nazism saw a further increase in immigration, and by the late 1930s, Jewish militias formed to counter terror attacks by incensed Arabs alarmed at the Zionist influx. Those militias in turn carried out terror attacks against not only Arabs, but also against the British occupiers who in 1939 declared that the Balfour Declaration’s mandate of a “national home for the Jewish people” had been fulfilled and that Jewish immigration was to be halted for the protection of Palestine’s Arabs, who the British government said were “being made subjects of a Jewish State against their will.”

Jewish terrorism wreaked havoc on the British; Minister of State Lord Moyne was assassinated in Cairo and the King David Hotel in Jerusalem was bombed in 1946, killing 91 people. By the following summer, the British quit Palestine in disgust, turning the problem over to the fledgling United Nations. Without consulting the Arab population, the UN voted to partition Palestine. Jews, who only owned about 6 percent of the land and made up just over a third of the population at the time, would get 55 percent of the land for their new state of Israel. This enraged the Arabs, who stepped up attacks against Jews.

In order to make way for the new democratic Jewish state, some 700,000 Arabs were expelled from their ancestral homeland in one of the most underreported ethnic cleansing campaigns of the last century. “There is no room for both people in this country,” declared Joseph Weitz, director of the Jewish National Land Fund. “And there is no way besides transferring the Arabs from here to neighboring countries, to transfer them all… we must not leave a single village, a single tribe.”

This was often accomplished by terror and force. In April 1948 men, women and children alike were mercilessly slaughtered at the village of Deir Yassin. Schoolgirls and old women were raped by Jewish forces before being executed. Thirty-five pregnant women were among those massacred at Deir Yassin. “We created terror among the Arabs,” Jewish military leader Menachem Begin boasted. Recordings of shrieking Arab villagers were broadcast from truck-mounted loudspeakers in order to coerce Palestinians to peacefully leave other villages; all told, more than 400 Arab towns and villages were abandoned or destroyed in the years 1947-1949, a period called the Nakba, or catastrophe, by Israel’s victims.

As Israel declared its independence in May 1948, surrounding countries joined together in the first of multiple concerted yet ultimately unsuccessful efforts to defeat– some say destroy– the Jewish state. It is against this backdrop of enmity, and the more or less continuous efforts of Palestinian resistance groups who use terrorism in an attempt to achieve an end to Israeli occupation and colonization of their ever-shrinking homeland, that Israel justifies actions that have been condemned by the United Nations on literally hundreds of occasions.

Among early Zionist leaders, perhaps none was more honest than David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, who frankly acknowledged the truth about the Palestinians: “A people which fights against the usurpation of its land will not tire so easily,” he said, and, “…we are the aggressors and they defend themselves. The country is theirs because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down.”

Returning to the Westchester train ads, Scott Richman, director of the American Jewish Committee Westchester, told the Journal News that “to show a map saying that Palestinian land goes from this situation in 1948 to that situation in 1967 without mentioning the fact that Israel faced existential extinction is such a gross distortion that we wouldn’t even stoop to that level to discuss it.” But the reason for that threat– the establishment of the Jewish state on Palestinian land and the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Arab population– must also be mentioned and nearly never is by Israel supporters. In fact, Israeli lawmakers even moved to ban commemoration of the Nakba in 2009.

As for allegations of anti-Semitism against critics of Israeli policies and actions, former Israeli government minister Aloni Shulamit admitted, “it’s a trick, we always use it.” Even Jewish Holocaust survivors have been labeled anti-Semites for voicing their opposition to the ongoing Israeli crimes against the occupied Palestinians.

In the past, pro-Palestinian ads similar to the ones being displayed on Westchester County train platforms have been removed after authorities bowed to pressure from pro-Israel groups. But that will not happen this time. “We do not decide to accept or reject a proposed ad based on the viewpoint that is expresses or because the ad might be controversial,” Metropolitan Authority spokesman Aaron Donovan told the Journal News.

While the ads may indeed be controversial, even provocative, it is very telling indeed that people are more upset by them than they are by Israeli ethnic cleansing, occupation and apartheid.

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