Paradoxes of the Middle East: An FAQ

It has become a cliché to say America is torn apart on many issues, including the situation of Israel and the Middle East.  To some degree, this political fault line runs along the generational line: the older people tend to support Israel, whereas the younger people tend to view Israel negatively.

The two groups cannot agree on much, not even on the basic historical facts that have led to the current situation.  They seem to live in two parallel universes, and they obviously operate with two different sets of facts.  Indeed, even though we live in the age of information, misinformation is also ubiquitous.  There are many sources of misinformation, but one totally unexpected and ironic source emanates from college departments whose names usually include the word "studies": ethnic studies, social studies, American studies, etc.  Many professors in these departments are today's American Bolsheviks — they love all types of diversity except for ideological diversity.

The purpose of this piece is to list a few dry and well established facts with little or no commentary.  These facts are not new to the students of the Middle East, but they are largely unknown to younger people.  We present them in the form of succinct questions and answers in no particular order.  There is no way to cover all these important issues at any reasonable level of detail in a relatively short essay.  We shall focus only on those that are loudly promoted by the historical revisionists.

Q: Did Jews immigrate to what is now Israel as a result of WWII?

A: No.  Jews have always lived in the Middle East.  According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the gold standard of encyclopedias, more Jews than Muslims lived in Jerusalem by the third quarter of the 19th century (i.e., 1850–1875).

Q: Did Arabs and Jews live in harmony before the creation of Israel in 1948?

A: Hardly.  Times of relative tranquility were punctuated by violence against Jews living in the Arab world.  For example, a bloody Jewish massacre took place in 1929 in the city of Hebron, a city where Jews had lived for centuries.  Here is an excerpt from the report made by the British commission investigating the massacre:

About 9 o'clock on the morning of the 24th of August, Arabs in Hebron made a most ferocious attack on the Jewish ghetto and on isolated Jewish houses lying outside the crowded quarters of the town. More than 60 Jews — including many women and children — were murdered and more than 50 were wounded. This savage attack, of which no condemnation could be too severe, was accompanied by wanton destruction and looting.

Q: Yet isn't it true that a majority of the Jews living in Israel now are descendants of those who came there in the 1940s–1960s from Europe?

A: The temporal part of the question above (1940s–1960s) may be correct, but the spatial part (from Europe) is incorrect.  Indeed, most of the newcomers arriving in Israel at that time were Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews (two groups of Jews primarily from the Middle East and North Africa) rather than Ashkenazi Jews (the bulk of the European Jews).

According to a CIA intelligence assessment, "from 1948 to 1962, 55% of Jewish immigrants were Sephardim [like some other authors, the authors of this assessment use the word Sephardim, or Sephardi Jews, to denote both Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews]. By the late 1970s Sephardim constituted between 55 and 60 percent of the Jewish population" of Israel.

Q: But the Sephardi Jews left the Arab countries for Israel voluntarily, didn't they?

A: No, most of them had to flee for their lives.  Here are just two examples of anti-Jewish violence in the Arab world in the 1940s.  Libyan Jews became victims of a bloody pogrom that lasted from November 5 to November 7, 1945, in which 140 Jews, including 36 children, were killed and hundreds injured.  A Jewish pogrom in Baghdad, Iraq, lasted for two days: June 1 and 2, 1941.  Over 180 Jews were killed and 1,000 injured.

Q: Are the Sephardi Jews treated as second-class citizens in Israel?

A: Initially, the gap between the two groups — the Sephardi Jews and the Ashkenazi Jews — in Israel was very wide.  For one thing, the two groups of Jews did not even speak the same language, literally.  The CIA report quoted above estimates that "only about 60% of the Sephardi immigrants were literate, compared to a literacy rate of nearly 100% among Ashkenazi newcomers."  This difference between the two Jewish communities mirrored the cultural difference between the wider societies they came from.  Needless to say, the culture gap caused economic inequality.

To narrow down the gap between the two communities, the government passed a compulsory education law in 1950.  The new generation of Israelis speak the same language (Hebrew), which is a prerequisite for any melting pot.  Another indicator of the narrowing gap between the two communities is the rate of intermarriage that has steadily climbed.  Currently, among the Jewish population, over 35% of all newborns are of mixed ancestry.

Q: Does Israel's treatment of Palestinians amount to genocide?

A: You decide.  Here are relevant indicators:

  1. The growth rate of the Muslim population in Israel was 2.2% in 2013, while the growth rate of the Jewish population was 1.7%.
  2. The life expectancy of the Israeli Arabs is 79 years.  It is lower than the life expectancy of the Israeli Jews, which is 82.7 years.  However, it is still the highest in the Muslim-Arab world.  It is 75.8 years in Turkey, 74.5 in Saudi Arabia, 70.9 in Egypt.
  3. Israeli hospitals treat not just Israeli Arabs; they actually treat terrorists and their families, too.  According to the British Telegraph, a Hamas leader sought and received medical treatment for his daughter in an Israeli hospital.  The British Independent reported that Israeli doctors "quietly treated" 3,000 wounded Syrians.

Q: Arab propaganda often compares modern Israel with Nazi Germany.  How accurate is this comparison?

A: This trope and, in general, the subject of Nazism in anti-Israel propaganda comes in several, mutually exclusive "flavors":

  1. The term "Nazism" is used as a symbol of absolute evil.
  2. Yet many prominent Arabs actively worked for the Nazis during WWII.  Thus, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who was the chairman of the Supreme Muslim Council and the grand mufti of Jerusalem, lived in Berlin during WWII and broadcast Nazi propaganda to the Arab world.  His other job was helping the Nazis recruit Bosnian Muslims for the Waffen-SS.
  3. Muslim leaders deny or minimize the Holocaust.  For example, Mahmoud Abbas, who is the leader of the "moderate" Palestinians and who was a graduate student in the Soviet Union, argues in his dissertation that the Holocaust "myth" was greatly exaggerated by Zionists, who created a "fantastic lie."
  4. According to the Telegraph, an "Arabic translation of Hitler's Mein Kampf which has become a bestseller in the Palestinian territories is now on sale in Britain."

Q: Do Jewish religious fanatics dominate many aspects of public life in Israel, just as their Muslim counterparts do in Saudi Arabia and Iran?

A: Pete Buttigieg, a Democrat running for president of the United States in 2020 and who is gay, gave a good answer.  Responding to a comment made by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who compared Israel's violations of human rights with those of Iran, Buttigieg objected strongly by saying, "People like me get strung up in Iran, so the idea that what's going on is equivalent is just wrong."

Q: Has Israel imposed a blockade of Gaza?

A: The blockade of Gaza has been imposed by Israel and Egypt, although the media rarely mention the Egypt part.

Q: Isn't this a brutal blockade, as it has led to shortages of food and medicines in Gaza?

A: The blockade has so many holes that it does not prevent Gazans from smuggling rockets in.  Even though some rockets are produced locally, they still require parts bigger than bottles of medicine.

Q: How many rockets are we talking about?

A: Thousands.  As their stockpiles are depleted, meaning fired at Israel, the supplies are replenished in a matter of months.

Q: Will Jews and Arabs ever live in peace in the Middle East?

A: Here is a quote attributed to Golda Meir, the fourth prime minister of Israel: "Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us."

It has become a cliché to say America is torn apart on many issues, including the situation of Israel and the Middle East.  To some degree, this political fault line runs along the generational line: the older people tend to support Israel, whereas the younger people tend to view Israel negatively.

The two groups cannot agree on much, not even on the basic historical facts that have led to the current situation.  They seem to live in two parallel universes, and they obviously operate with two different sets of facts.  Indeed, even though we live in the age of information, misinformation is also ubiquitous.  There are many sources of misinformation, but one totally unexpected and ironic source emanates from college departments whose names usually include the word "studies": ethnic studies, social studies, American studies, etc.  Many professors in these departments are today's American Bolsheviks — they love all types of diversity except for ideological diversity.

The purpose of this piece is to list a few dry and well established facts with little or no commentary.  These facts are not new to the students of the Middle East, but they are largely unknown to younger people.  We present them in the form of succinct questions and answers in no particular order.  There is no way to cover all these important issues at any reasonable level of detail in a relatively short essay.  We shall focus only on those that are loudly promoted by the historical revisionists.

Q: Did Jews immigrate to what is now Israel as a result of WWII?

A: No.  Jews have always lived in the Middle East.  According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the gold standard of encyclopedias, more Jews than Muslims lived in Jerusalem by the third quarter of the 19th century (i.e., 1850–1875).

Q: Did Arabs and Jews live in harmony before the creation of Israel in 1948?

A: Hardly.  Times of relative tranquility were punctuated by violence against Jews living in the Arab world.  For example, a bloody Jewish massacre took place in 1929 in the city of Hebron, a city where Jews had lived for centuries.  Here is an excerpt from the report made by the British commission investigating the massacre:

About 9 o'clock on the morning of the 24th of August, Arabs in Hebron made a most ferocious attack on the Jewish ghetto and on isolated Jewish houses lying outside the crowded quarters of the town. More than 60 Jews — including many women and children — were murdered and more than 50 were wounded. This savage attack, of which no condemnation could be too severe, was accompanied by wanton destruction and looting.

Q: Yet isn't it true that a majority of the Jews living in Israel now are descendants of those who came there in the 1940s–1960s from Europe?

A: The temporal part of the question above (1940s–1960s) may be correct, but the spatial part (from Europe) is incorrect.  Indeed, most of the newcomers arriving in Israel at that time were Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews (two groups of Jews primarily from the Middle East and North Africa) rather than Ashkenazi Jews (the bulk of the European Jews).

According to a CIA intelligence assessment, "from 1948 to 1962, 55% of Jewish immigrants were Sephardim [like some other authors, the authors of this assessment use the word Sephardim, or Sephardi Jews, to denote both Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews]. By the late 1970s Sephardim constituted between 55 and 60 percent of the Jewish population" of Israel.

Q: But the Sephardi Jews left the Arab countries for Israel voluntarily, didn't they?

A: No, most of them had to flee for their lives.  Here are just two examples of anti-Jewish violence in the Arab world in the 1940s.  Libyan Jews became victims of a bloody pogrom that lasted from November 5 to November 7, 1945, in which 140 Jews, including 36 children, were killed and hundreds injured.  A Jewish pogrom in Baghdad, Iraq, lasted for two days: June 1 and 2, 1941.  Over 180 Jews were killed and 1,000 injured.

Q: Are the Sephardi Jews treated as second-class citizens in Israel?

A: Initially, the gap between the two groups — the Sephardi Jews and the Ashkenazi Jews — in Israel was very wide.  For one thing, the two groups of Jews did not even speak the same language, literally.  The CIA report quoted above estimates that "only about 60% of the Sephardi immigrants were literate, compared to a literacy rate of nearly 100% among Ashkenazi newcomers."  This difference between the two Jewish communities mirrored the cultural difference between the wider societies they came from.  Needless to say, the culture gap caused economic inequality.

To narrow down the gap between the two communities, the government passed a compulsory education law in 1950.  The new generation of Israelis speak the same language (Hebrew), which is a prerequisite for any melting pot.  Another indicator of the narrowing gap between the two communities is the rate of intermarriage that has steadily climbed.  Currently, among the Jewish population, over 35% of all newborns are of mixed ancestry.

Q: Does Israel's treatment of Palestinians amount to genocide?

A: You decide.  Here are relevant indicators:

  1. The growth rate of the Muslim population in Israel was 2.2% in 2013, while the growth rate of the Jewish population was 1.7%.
  2. The life expectancy of the Israeli Arabs is 79 years.  It is lower than the life expectancy of the Israeli Jews, which is 82.7 years.  However, it is still the highest in the Muslim-Arab world.  It is 75.8 years in Turkey, 74.5 in Saudi Arabia, 70.9 in Egypt.
  3. Israeli hospitals treat not just Israeli Arabs; they actually treat terrorists and their families, too.  According to the British Telegraph, a Hamas leader sought and received medical treatment for his daughter in an Israeli hospital.  The British Independent reported that Israeli doctors "quietly treated" 3,000 wounded Syrians.

Q: Arab propaganda often compares modern Israel with Nazi Germany.  How accurate is this comparison?

A: This trope and, in general, the subject of Nazism in anti-Israel propaganda comes in several, mutually exclusive "flavors":

  1. The term "Nazism" is used as a symbol of absolute evil.
  2. Yet many prominent Arabs actively worked for the Nazis during WWII.  Thus, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who was the chairman of the Supreme Muslim Council and the grand mufti of Jerusalem, lived in Berlin during WWII and broadcast Nazi propaganda to the Arab world.  His other job was helping the Nazis recruit Bosnian Muslims for the Waffen-SS.
  3. Muslim leaders deny or minimize the Holocaust.  For example, Mahmoud Abbas, who is the leader of the "moderate" Palestinians and who was a graduate student in the Soviet Union, argues in his dissertation that the Holocaust "myth" was greatly exaggerated by Zionists, who created a "fantastic lie."
  4. According to the Telegraph, an "Arabic translation of Hitler's Mein Kampf which has become a bestseller in the Palestinian territories is now on sale in Britain."

Q: Do Jewish religious fanatics dominate many aspects of public life in Israel, just as their Muslim counterparts do in Saudi Arabia and Iran?

A: Pete Buttigieg, a Democrat running for president of the United States in 2020 and who is gay, gave a good answer.  Responding to a comment made by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who compared Israel's violations of human rights with those of Iran, Buttigieg objected strongly by saying, "People like me get strung up in Iran, so the idea that what's going on is equivalent is just wrong."

Q: Has Israel imposed a blockade of Gaza?

A: The blockade of Gaza has been imposed by Israel and Egypt, although the media rarely mention the Egypt part.

Q: Isn't this a brutal blockade, as it has led to shortages of food and medicines in Gaza?

A: The blockade has so many holes that it does not prevent Gazans from smuggling rockets in.  Even though some rockets are produced locally, they still require parts bigger than bottles of medicine.

Q: How many rockets are we talking about?

A: Thousands.  As their stockpiles are depleted, meaning fired at Israel, the supplies are replenished in a matter of months.

Q: Will Jews and Arabs ever live in peace in the Middle East?

A: Here is a quote attributed to Golda Meir, the fourth prime minister of Israel: "Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us."