Another Times columnist needs a history lesson


New York Times op-ed columnist Michelle Goldberg has stirred quite a hornet’s nest with her recent article declaring that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitic. Others will wrestle with the anti-Zionism/anti-Semitism debate. I prefer to focus on one particular sentence that goes to the heart of the issue — and which reveals Goldberg’s ignorance of the history of the issue she is addressing.

According to Goldberg, Palestinian demands are reasonable, and it’s Israel that is being unfair because “the de facto policy of the Israeli government is that there should be only one state in historic Palestine.”

Ms. Goldberg is a journalist, and I don’t expect journalists to be historians. She has written books with titles such as The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World, so I don’t expect her to be an expert on the Middle East either.

On the other hand, according to her New York Times bio, Goldberg has “reported from countries including Iraq [and] Egypt,” so she has a basic responsibility to be acquainted with major developments in the history of that part of the world.

But anybody who can write “the de facto policy of the Israeli government is that there should be only one state in historic Palestine” clearly has not fulfilled that responsibility.

So, I offer Ms. Goldstein a brief history lesson.

During the years when the Ottoman Turks ruled what Goldberg calls “historic Palestine,” it included the area that today comprises Israel and the region now known as Jordan. When the British took over the area during World War I, Palestine was a single entity covering the regions on both sides of the Jordan River.

When the League of Nations awarded the Palestine Mandate to Great Britain in 1920, it again consisted of one territory on both sides of the Jordan. But colonialist politics soon upset the apple cart. In 1922, King Faisal of Syria, an ally of the British, lost control of his country, so the British installed him as the leader of Iraq. Faisal’s brother, Abdullah, had aspired to the throne of Iraq. To appease him, the British decided to create a new country so that Abdullah would have something to rule over.

Where did that new country come from? It came from that part of the Middle East where there had only been a Jewish state: “historic Palestine.” The British sliced off the eastern part of Palestine — 78 percent of the land — and declared Abdullah its king.

It would have made sense for the British to call the new country “East Palestine,” since that’s what it was. Certainly the inhabitants of that region were just as “Palestinian” as those in the west.

The funny thing is that the Arabs living in that area didn’t consider themselves “Palestinian.” They had the same history, culture, religion and language of the Arabs in neighboring Syria. They considered themselves “Southern Syrians.” After all, they were not the ones who came up with the name “Palestine” (the Romans had done that to erase the Jew’s connection to the land) and their identity was in no way “Palestinian.” It was Muslim, Arab and Syrian.

Precisely because the locals didn’t consider themselves “Palestinian,” they didn’t mind when the Brits named the new country “Jordan” in 1922. The local Arabs didn’t suddenly become “Jordanian” any more than they had suddenly become “Palestinian” when the name was applied to the area by earlier colonialists.

That rhetorical sleight-of-hand didn’t change the reality: An Arab state had been established in 78 percent of historic Palestine. Twenty-six years later, a Jewish state was established in a small part of the remaining 22 percent, while the rest of that 22 percent was occupied by Jordan (aka East Palestine) in 1948. That land was retaken by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. The West calls that area the “West Bank;” the Israelis call it Judea and Samaria.

The Michelle Goldbergs of this world would have us believe that today’s conflict consists of Israel having a state in historic Palestine and preventing the Arabs from having one if their own. It’s unfair, she says. It’s asymmetrical. Why should only one side get a state? Both sides should have one! Two states for two peoples!

The truth, of course, is that there already are two states for two peoples in “historic Palestine.” There’s a small Jewish one, and a much larger Palestinian Arab one under the name “Jordan.”

Now the question is whether or not to carve out a chunk of the Jewish state and create a second Palestinian Arab state.

Goldberg would have the Times’ readers believe that it’s only fair to give each side a state. But that’s irrelevant. The only immediate question that needs to be answered is this: Can Israel survive if a second Palestinian Arab state is created in Judea and Samaria, leaving Israel nine miles wide at its midsection — narrower than the Bronx in one small part of New York City?