A speech by Jonathan Hoffman, Co-Vice Chair of the UK's Zionist Federation at a debate by the Durham University Union, 14 May 2009
Thank you Mr President and thank you very much for inviting me. When I first saw the title of the motion I was reminded of the couple who took their six year old daughter to London Zoo. Unfortunately when they went to the lion's cage she got a bit too enthusiastic and stuck her hand through the bars and the lion grabbed her and started pulling her towards his jaws. As luck would have it, a motorcyclist was driving on the Inner Circle next to the Zoo. He heard the screams coming from the lion's cage, jumped off his bike, ran to the cage and reaching through the bars, he punched the lion on the nose. The lion was so startled, he let go of the girl. The motorcyclist grabbed her and returned her to her distraught parents - who of course could not thank him enough.
Another man then came up to the motorcyclist. "My dear Sir" he said "that was the bravest thing I ever saw, it was absolutely magnificent. I am the Editor of The Guardian and I am going to make sure this story is the front page lead in tomorrow's paper. But do you mind if I ask you some questions? That badge on your jacket, what does it mean?" "Well" said the motorcyclist "I am Israeli and I ride with a motorbike club back in Tel Aviv and that is the badge of the Club."
So the next day our hero made sure he bought The Guardian.
Sure enough, there was his photo on the front page. And the headline?
- "Israeli Gang Member Assaults African Immigrant and Steals his Lunch"
Well here at the third oldest University in the UK you seem know the difference between 'good' and 'bad' history. You have a History Department which regularly ranks in the top two in the UK and so I believe many of you do appreciate the difference. I want to try to show you the true history of Israel ... as opposed to the false historical narratives put out by Israel's opponents. I believe that if you know the truth then you cannot possibly vote against this motion.
Good history is based on the evidence of primary sources. Bad history is based on the prejudices of those who narrate it.
Sometimes it is easy for bad history to drive out good history. It's a historical version of what those of you who are economists know as 'Gresham's Law' ... "Bad Money Drives Out Good Money". Winston Churchill put it very well when he said "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on."
To see how easy it is, look at the finding of the BBC Trust which was published on 15 April. The BBC Trust is the independent regulator of the BBC. People had been complaining to the BBC for years that its Middle East Editor, Jeremy Bowen, was biased and inaccurate. The BBC had always rejected those complaints. So the case went to the highest Appeal body, the BBC Trust. The BBC Trust overruled the BBC. Not only did it find that Jeremy Bowen was biased, it also found that in three specific respects he was inaccurate. (I recommend you read the finding, it is on the BBC Trust website). More people get their information about the Middle East from the BBC than anywhere else, so if the BBC is biased and inaccurate, that is rather important.
If we don't understand where we have been, we cannot understand where we are, let alone where we are going. And that is at the heart of tonight's Motion. So let's start by a history lesson.
The fact is that antisemitism ... the word that denotes hatred of Jews ... has a very long history. It is in fact the world's oldest hatred. Let's go back nearly two thousand years to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD. Here is the description of the slaughter of Jews by the Jewish historian Josephus. It is the only witness account we have:
Fast forward to the Crusades which began in 1096, the Toledo Massacre of 1354, the Spanish Inquisition which began in 1478, the restoration by Pope Pius IX of the Rome Ghetto, the pogroms in Russia that began in the 1880s, and the Dreyfus Affair in France in 1894. Captain Alfred Dreyfus - a Jewish French artillery officer ... was punished for an offence he did not commit and even when the evidence against another man was incontrovertible, the army officers STILL blamed the Jew. It was only due to the protest by Emile Zola - "J'accuse" he wrote ... that Dreyfus was eventually acquitted Zola.
Or let's look at the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion' which was a forgery which appeared in Russia towards the end of the 19th Century. The antisemites said it was a plan written by Jews about how they were going to take over the world.
So not surprisingly after 1800 years of being kicked around, in the 19th Century some Jews decided that the only place Jews would be safe was in their own country. There were a lot of nationalist movements around at the time and that particular one was called "Zionism". The most prominent Zionist was Theodor Herzl. Not long before he died the Kishinev pogrom massacres occurred, in 1903 in Russia. Jewish men hid and watched their wives being raped and killed by Cossacks and were so frightened that they did nothing to defend them. If anything convinced the Zionists, that did. They wanted a state in what was then called Palestine. That desire was based on 5000 unbroken years of Jewish life there together with the promise in the Bible by G-d of the land to the Patriarch Abraham.
Forward to after the First World War. The British were given the countries of Palestine, Iraq and Transjordan to look after. It was called the 'British Mandate'. They had already given hope to the Zionists by the Balfour Declaration in 1917:
His Majesty's Government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
This was endorsed by the League of Nations in 1922.
Note two things. One, the Jewish nationalist movement and its acceptance in principle by the British who controlled Palestine predated the Holocaust by many years. Two, there is no sign of Jews as aggressors ... only as victims. In 1921 the first anti-Jewish riots in Palestine coincided with the eviction of Prince Faisal by the French from Syria. But it was pure antisemitism. The land that Jews occupied had been bought or had been desert, not owned by anyone. But as antisemitism grew in Europe, more and more Jews went to Palestine. Aggression against the Jews got worse. Britain had appointed Sir Herbert Samuel, a Jew, as High Commissioner in Palestine in 1920. He was weak. He appeased the extremist, nationalist Arab minority led by a violent, fanatical zealot named Haj Amin al-Husseini. Due to influence by anti-Zionist British officials on his staff, Sir Herbert released Husseini from prison and in 1921 unbelievably appointed him as the new leader of the Arabs, the Mufti, after the former Mufti died. That politicised the Arabs in Palestine. Husseini later went to Berlin to urge Hitler to kills Jews faster. He also killed or intimidated Arabs who disagreed with him.
By 1935/6 it was clear what was happening in Europe and a further 135,000 Jews went to Palestine. Still, there was no land stolen from Arabs. No aggression. It was either bought or it was vacant. The Mufti led anti-Jewish riots. Then came the Holocaust when six million Jews died. Hard to imagine that this was happening just 70 years ago. Jewish life in Europe was decimated. For example, 93% of the Chassidic community of Europe was wiped out.
After World War Two ended in 1945, the problem of Palestine and the resettlement of those Jews who had survived the camps became simply too big for Britain, so the problem was handed over to the UN. For example 200,000 Polish Jews had survived the War. It was inconceivable that they could be sent back to Poland.
On 29 November 1947 the UN General Assembly voted by 33-13 (with ten abstentions) to divide up the British Mandate of Palestine into an Arab State and a Jewish State. The Jews accepted the vote. The Arabs did not and attacked the Jews. In January 1948 a force of 1000 Arabs attacked Jewish communities in Northern Palestine. In May 1948 the State of Israel was declared hours before the British Mandate came to an end. Five Arab armies (Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Lebanon and Iraq) immediately invaded Israel. Their intentions were declared by Azzam Pasha, Secretary-General of the Arab League:
This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades.
Israel lost about 1% of its population in the 1948 War of Independence. I put it to you ... who was the aggressor here - and who was the victim? Do victims invade or are victims invaded?
And which other country has as much legitimacy as Israel, which was voted into existence by the UN? Was the UK voted into existence? The US?
What about the 700,000 Palestinian refugees, the opponents of the Motion will ask? Were they not victims of Israeli aggression?
The answer is that a few of them were victims of the irregular Jewish force called the Irgun - but the vast majority were not. The recent declassification of documents from the period of the British Mandate and Israel's early days enables 'good' history ...that is, the truth - to be written. As Professor Efraim Karsh has written (in Commentary Magazine) "By the time of Israel's Declaration of Independence on May 14 1948, the numbers of Arab refugees had more than trebled. Even then, none of the 170,000-180,000 Arabs fleeing urban centers, and only a handful of the 130,000-160,000 villagers who left their homes, had been forced out by the Jews". Most of them left their homes because they were told to go by their leaders. In the largest and best-known example, tens of thousands of Arabs were ordered or bullied into leaving the city of Haifa on the Arab Higher Committee's instructions, despite strenuous Jewish efforts to persuade them to stay. Meanwhile in what has been called the 'Jewish Naqba' some 700,000 Jews were forced to leave Arab countries where they had lived for centuries.
And so it goes on. Israel survived the War of Independence but was a tiny country surrounded on one side by implacable enemies and on the other by sea. Fast forward to 1967. Egypt amassed 1,000 tanks and nearly 100,000 soldiers on the Israeli border and closed the Straits of Tiran to all ships flying Israeli flags or carrying strategic materials. In this aggressive action Egypt received strong support from other Arab countries.
If Israel had waited to be attacked, she surely would have been wiped out. So on June 5, 1967, Israel launched a pre-emptive attack against Egypt's airforce. Defending youself against annihilation is hardly 'aggression' - is it? Jordan then attacked Israel as well. Israel won and gained control of the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. Still no sign that Israel was the aggressor - and every sign that it was the victim. Israel immediately wanted to make peace, to swap land for peace. But the Arabs did not want peace. At the Khartoum Conference held from August 29 to September 1, 1967, eight heads of Arab countries responded to Israel's offer to give back the lands with the famous Three No's: No Peace, No Recognition of Israel, No Negotiations.
Fast forward to 1973, the Yom Kippur War. In Egypt Sadat had succeeded Nasser and needed a military victory to strengthen his position. In Syria Assad thought that if he could get back the Golan Heights it would give him leadership in the Arab world. This time Israel did not strike pre-emptively. Again it resisted the invasion, but it had clearly been the victim.
It was clear that Israel was not going to be defeated. So Sadat ... who had saved face by winning back some of Sinai in 1973 - decided to make Peace. The Peace Treaty was signed in 1979 and Israel withdrew from Sinai. 15 years later Israel signed a Peace Treaty with Jordan too. I put it to you: Do aggressors sign peace treaties and withdraw?
Still Israel was not allowed to live in peace. By June 1982, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation made life in northern Israel intolerable, by its repeated shelling of Israeli towns. So in June 1982 Israel ... the victim, not the aggressor - invaded Lebanon. The construction of the Security Fence began in 2002, to stop Israelis being the victims of suicide bombers coming across from the West Bank. Again Israel was a victim not an aggressor. There were stories about a massacre in Jenin, a refugee camp in the West Bank. But they were disproved.
In July 2006 the second Lebanon War began. Hezbollah terrorists opened fire with rockets on mortars on Israeli border towns. This was a mere diversion for an anti-tank missile attack on two armored Israeli Humvees patrolling the Israeli side of the border fence. Israel went into Lebanon to deal with the terrorists. It went in as a victim, not an aggressor.
On July 16, 2008, Hezbollah transferred coffins containing the remains of captured Israeli soldiers Goldwasser and Regev, in exchange for Samir Kuntar and four Hezbollah members taken prisoner during the 2006 Lebanon War. Samir Kuntar was the monster who in 1979 aged 16, led a group of four terrorists who entered Israel from Lebanon by boat. The goal of the operation was to attack Nahariya, 10 kilometers away from the Lebanese border. Around midnight they arrived. The four first killed a policeman who discovered them. The group then entered a building on Jabotinsky Street where they broke into the apartment of the Haran family. They took 31 year-old Danny Haran hostage along with his four year-old daughter, Einat. The mother, Smadar Haran, was able to hide in a crawl space above the bedroom with her two year-old daughter Yael, and a neighbour.
Kuntar and his assistant took Danny and Einat down to the beach, where a shootout with Israeli policemen and soldiers erupted. When Kuntar found that the rubber boat he had arrived in was disabled by gunfire, he shot Danny at close range in the back, in front of his daughter, and drowned him in the sea to ensure he was dead. Next, he smashed the head of 4 year-old Einat on rocks on the beach and crushed her skull with the butt of his rifle. Smadar Haran accidentally suffocated her daughter Yael to death while attempting to stifle her crying, which would have revealed their hiding place, from where she saw Danny and Einat being led away at gunpoint by Kuntar. A policeman and two of Kuntar's comrades were killed in the shootout on the beach. Kuntar returned to Lebanon in July 2008 to a hero's welcome. So tell me my friends ... were 4 year old Einat Haran - who had her head smashed in by Kuntar - and two year old Yael Haran ... who was accidentally smothered by her mother ... were they AGGRESSORS ........ or were they VICTIMS?
I have covered 2000 years of history. Inevitably I have left things out. I have left out the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza (in 2005). I have left out the peace negotiations. At Taba in 2001 Yassir Arafat was offered all of Gaza and 97% of the West Bank. Moreover the West Bank area offered was contiguous, not "cantons". Yet he turned it down. I believe the Palestinian people were victims of that decision.
I have left out the Hamas Charter .... It could have been written by Adolf Hitler ...
Although the continuity of jihad was interrupted by obstacles placed in the path of the jihad fighters by those who circle in the orbit of Zionism, the Islamic Resistance Movement aspires to realise the promise of Allah, no matter how long it takes. The Prophet, Allah's prayer and peace be upon him, says: "The hour of judgment shall not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them, so that the Jews hide behind trees and stones, and each tree and stone will say: "Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him," except for the Gharqad tree, for it is the tree of the Jews." .... The day the enemies conquer some part of the Muslim land, jihad becomes a personal duty of every Muslim. In the face of the Jewish occupation of Palestine, it is necessary to raise the banner of jihad.
Think about who is the victim and who the aggressor there. By the way in an interview in the New York Times on 12 April, Khalid Mishal, the leader of Hamas, was asked about rewriting the Charter. "Not a chance" he said.
I have left out the daily diet of hate pumped out by Hamas TV and Iranian TV. In children's programmes. There's Assud the rabbit who kills Jews. There's Tom and Jerry as a Zionist plot to rehabilitate the mouse.
I will leave my seconder Eric Lee to speak about the most recent events. But I put it to you that there is no justification whatever in the facts I have given you to call Israel the "aggressor" in the Middle East. To do so is to invert history. But there is abundant evidence that Israel has been a victim. Just like the Israeli motorcyclist where I began, Israel's story is twisted in parts of the media, where victim becomes aggressor and black becomes white. That was true in 1948 when Israel was attacked just one day after it became a country and it is still true today. But I urge you to think for yourself ... don't believe the BBC, The Guardian or The Independent - and support this motion ........ how can you NOT support it?
Thank you Mr President.
A Zionism on the Web special, with thanks to Mr Hoffman.
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