On 8 July, RNZ broadcaster Kim Hill interviewed self-described atheist Jew, Anthony Loewenstein, about his latest book, ‘The Palestine Laboratory: How Israel exports the technology of occupation around the world’.
Kim Hill opened the interview with the question, ‘Are you preparing yourself for a diatribe from those who call you a self-hating Jew?’. As well she might, given Loewenstein’s cynical interpretation of Israel’s reasons for developing weapons and surveillance technology. He claims that Israel has become the foremost weapons and surveillance technology manufacturer because it’s had the Palestinians to practice on.
Indeed as the interview progressed, Loewenstein made clear that he believes Israel was born in sin and it would be better if it did not exist if, in his words, it “requires suppression of Palestinians”.
Maybe Loewenstein really is a self-hating Jew or perhaps just a delusional utopian. Either way, his one-sided polemic sorely lacks historical and political context and undermines his credibility.
Historical context – born in sin?
Loewenstein makes the bewildering claim that no country has a right to exist, they just exist. However, he asserts that Israel, along with other settler states, like New Zealand and Australia, were born in sin. Given that conflict is associated with the birth of most states, why is it that Loewenstein only directs his condemnation towards one nation and not the surrounding Arab nations or the country of his birth, Australia? Why such a monomaniacal obsession with Israel? Even if you don’t like how a nation was born, it doesn’t follow that you should work hard to undermine the security of the state, especially if it is a functioning democracy that holds many of your values. Would Loewenstein apply the same standard to the birth of a Palestinian state, given that with the current trajectory it would likely be accompanied by much bloodshed? Where does Loewenstein stand on Ukraine’s nationalist struggle? Does he agree with the Russian view that Ukraine is an imperialist invention and inherently Nazi? Does Lowenstein think Ukraine has a right to exist and defend itself from Russian incursions? Or is his condemnation reserved only for Israel?
Hill rightly pointed out that Jews certainly have more claim to the land of Israel than Europeans did to NZ or Australia.
Indeed, Jewish connection to the land of Israel reaches back more than 3,000 years. Jews are the only people who have had sovereignty over the land, at least twice during that period. They are indisputably the indigenous people of the land, meaning that their unique culture developed in close connection with the land of Judea and Samaria.
Roman colonizers renamed the region Syria-Palestina in an act of cultural erasure following the 132-135 CE Jewish revolt. Arab connection to the land began in the 7th century with the Muslim colonization of the region and thereafter control of the land changed hands several times. The land was under Ottoman control for 400 hundred years until the end of WW1.
Meanwhile, Jews in the Diaspora started returning to the land in earnest in the nineteenth century, largely as a result of persecution, re-joining the indigenous Jewish population that never left.
While a number of Arab families owned land in the regions of Judea and Samaria, the people who today call themselves Palestinians never had sovereignty over the land. Palestinian identity began with Yasser Arafat in the 1960s. Indeed, prior to the establishment of the state of Israel, Palestinian referred to all those who resided in Palestine, whether Jew or Arab.
At the end of WW1, the victors took it upon themselves to decide the fate of the Ottoman Empire. The mandate system was devised, a caretakership arrangement until the respective states could rule themselves.
During the period 1922-1947 Britain took over the mandate for Palestine. (Britain also had the mandates for Jordan and Iraq). Palestine was seen as a future home for the Jewish people, while Jordan was set aside for the Arabs. While the establishment of a Jewish home in their ancestral land was envisaged, the rights of all peoples in the land were to be upheld.
From the outset, many Arabs fought against this plan, while the Jews set about developing the land and the infrastructure of a future state. After World War 2 and the attempted annihilation of European Jewry, the world could no longer deny Jews a home of their own. Indeed, the reluctance of the world to accept more than a few Jewish refugees into their countries underlined the need for Jews to have a state.
After many attempts by Britain and other powers to arrive at a mutually agreed governing arrangement between Arabs and Jews, the UN proposed a two state solution. The Jews accepted the plan, even though it was much less than they hoped for; the Arabs rejected the plan and started a civil war. The Jewish leadership declared statehood in 1948 and five surrounding Arab nations immediately attacked with the intention of destroying the fledgling Jewish state. The 1948 defensive war was a fight for survival.
Whether it’s the long connection to the land, the international recognition of the rights of Jews to a homeland or the industriousness of the Jews in building the infrastructure of statehood, Lowenstein’s attack on the birth of Israel, and only Israel, is deeply problematic. Why is it that he is not interested in undermining the existentially necessary security of any other nation?
Lowenstein ignores Palestinian agency. He ignores the fact that Palestinians could have a state if they were willing to make peace with Jews. Numerous peace offers have been rejected, including in 1947, 2000, 2008, 2009 and 2020.
The Oslo Peace Process of 1993-1994 was followed by suicide bomb attacks on innocent Israeli citizens in restaurants and buses. The Palestinian response to the 2000 peace offer was the launching of further terror attacks that led to the death of approximately 1,184 Israelis. This spate of terrorism also led to the building of the security wall and checkpoints, which have proven successful in reducing terrorism, but have made life more difficult for Palestinians.
In 2005, Israel ordered the evacuation of all Israeli settlements within Gaza, handing over the land to the Palestinians in an unilateral attempt to establish peace. Instead of the establishment of a flourishing state, it opened the way for the terrorist organisation Hamas to gain control of the strip, with a stated goal of eliminating Israel. The Hamas Charter rejects all peace talks with the State of Israel and stresses the terrorist organization’s commitment to destroy Israel through a long-term holy war (jihad).
Palestinian leaders cultivate Jew hatred and glorify violence and martyrdom, from the school curricula (that New Zealand supports financially and politically), to the ‘pay for slay’ incentivisation of the families of martyrs, to the pronouncements of religious and political leaders inciting violence against Jews.
The Palestinian leadership has shown no willingness to live in peace with their Jewish neighbours. The weapons industry has developed from a simple need to defend the country from those intent on killing Jews and destroying Israel. Would that we could live in a world where defensive armaments were not necessary, but this is Israel’s reality.
Loewenstein’s view appears to be that all weapons are evil, even those that are designed to protect civilians. However, he has nothing to say about the weapons used by terrorists, who kill indiscriminately. The glaring hypocrisy and double standards seriously undermine the credibility of his argument.