“GUILTY BEFORE PROVEN INNOCENT”

In 1948 the country of Israel was founded on an unusual idea, that a certain ethnic and religious group could maintain a majority to preserve their political system. From the outset it had the support of key world powers, including the United States and the United Kingdom, who had seen the Nazi attempt to eradicate the Jews from the world and reacted with a strong mandate to do something to help protect the Jewish people. In the days prior to the second war and during the war many Jews died because not enough had been done by the Western powers, at times the doors had been shut for Jewish refugees, resulting in more deaths under Hitler’s oppressive “Final Solution.” The days following the fall of the Third Reich and its axis brought no small upheaval for mass populations when the political landscape rapidly changed. Stalin took advantaage of the tumultuous situation by extended the influence and control of the Soviet Union deep into the heart of central Europe, threatening the Germans with a split republic and setting the stage for the cold war that would endure until early 1990s. The mass movement of populations across the world would include a re-gathering of the Jewish Diaspora to the ancient homelands of Palestine. With the support of the United Nations, the Jewish state of Israel came into being, only to be attacked immediately by several Arab neighbors who rejected its legitimacy.
Unlike the United States, for example, whose ethnically, racially and religiously diverse population developed over the years through repeated waves of immigration is governed within an umbrella of constitutional law set down over two hundred years ago, the state of Israel seeks to maintain a distinct identity as a Jewish state. Although it is difficult at times to define with precision what makes a Jew, since there are very devout Jews who seek to integrate the law of the Torah into their lives and at the other extreme staunch atheistic Jews who dismiss all religion as a myth and a fantasy, there is still a basic understanding that Israel is a state for Jews, people who can show Jewish ancestry.
Many, perhaps most, modern nation-states have demographics that reflect a historical reality of a single ethnic group coming to dominate a certain geographic region. Thus, white Germans still hold the vast majority of Germany, white Russians in Russia, ethnic Japanese in Japan, and Black Africans in Uganda to name just a few. But these states have developed not over a few years or decades, but centuries, if not millennia. The Arabs have occupied the Arab peninsula and the Persians Iran since the days of the Old Testament patriarchs. But in Israel we see a much different situation. Israel has rapidly increased its Jewish majority population just since WWII creating a cultural and political development quite unlike anything else. Furthermore the re-population of Israel happened in the midst of massive numbers of ethnically and linguistically related but nonetheless different Arabs, creating an interethnic tension. So whereas in a country like Japan for instance, with its geographic isolation and its long-term continuous presence in the Japanese islands, the local Japanese will face very little risk for ever becoming out-numbered by a different kind of people, Israel, outnumbered 300 million to 7 million by Arabs in the immediate neighborhood, could easily lose control of their country from sheer demographics in just a couple of generations. In the same way, the native Tibetans are losing their homeland to Han Chinese immigrants and the Cherokee, Navajo, and many other North American tribes lost their land. One could almost say “he with the most babies wins.” But for the present, while the Japanese do not seem particularly concerned some other race or culture will take over their country, the Israelis consider each day with Shakespeare’s famous words, “To be or not to be.”
Underlying the Jewish concern for maintaining its own secure nation state is the relentless pattern of anti-Semitism in history. Hitler’s “Final Solution” wasn’t the first attempt to “solve” the problem of the Jewish Diaspora. 1492 should be remembered for Columbus’ voyage to the New World, but it should also remind people of Spain driving all Jews out of its kingdom. The Ottoman Empire who had recently acquired Istanbul (Constantinople) in 1453, eagerly welcomed the Jews to settle in Istanbul and help make it a great city once again, which they did. The Sultan’s invitation probably had something to do with his appreciation for the ingenuity of the Jewish people and with an Islamic prophecy which seemed to indicate that after the Christians lost Istanbul to the Muslims, the Jews living there would convert to Islam. The latter event never happened, but the Jews did find refuge in the Ottoman empire, while members of the Diaspora in Europe often fared worse. A viewing of The Fiddler on the Roof testifies to the inhumane way millions of Jews have had their homes stolen, their children debased, and their futures destroyed. So the founding of a Jewish state has offered hope to the Jews of living together again secure against the whims of antagonistic kings and bishops.
The latest round of conflict involving Israel and a flotilla a ships claiming to carry humanitarian aid has forced into the public eye the basic question of Israel’s right to defend itself, which basically means its right to exist. Does a country where the government seeks actively to recruit, protect, and sustain a certain ethnic and religious makeup have a right to exist? Until this foundational question is resolved, little progress can be made in peacemaking, because even if the state of Israel seeks to behave as justly as possible in securing its borders, it will not be enough. In the minds of its enemies, Israel is guilty before proven innocent.

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Ron Coody

In April 2002 his family moved from Waynedale to Istanbul, Turkey on a work assignment. This is not the first time he has lived outside the United States. His overseas perspective of events in the U.S. lends a different outlook to readers of his column. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer