Bibi’s History Tutorial


I’m in agreement with the pundits who conclude that there was absolutely nothing new for consideration offered in Netanyahu’s speech. Perhaps he achieved a personal milestone by finally uttering the words “Palestinian state” but beyond this it was a tune we’ve all heard before. He offered “peace negotiations immediately without prior conditions” then proceeded to spell out the all too familiar prior conditions that everyone knows are non-starters for the Palestinians (i.e. Jerusalem remains the “united capital of Israel,” “natural growth” of the settlements will continue, there will be no right of return for the Palestinians.)

Same old, same old.   For me at least, the most interesting parts of his speech were not his tired policy pronouncements, but his extended forays into historical analysis – and in particular, his repeated justifications of the Jewish people’s right to the land:

The connection of the Jewish People to the Land has been in existence for more than 3,500 years. Judea and Samaria, the places where our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob walked, our forefathers David, Solomon, Isaiah and Jeremiah this is not a foreign land, this is the Land of our Forefathers.

It seemed clear that Netanyahu’s history lesson was a pointed rejoinder to Obama’s Cairo speech, in which Obama stated that the “Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.” You may have heard that following his speech, many in the Jewish community criticized Obama for connecting Israel’s right to exist to the Holocaust and failing to cite the Jewish people’s historical connection to the land.  Witness this livid Jerusalem Post editorial:

Mr. President, long before Christianity and Islam appeared on the world stage, the covenant between the people of Israel and the Land of Israel was entrenched and unwavering. Every day we prayed in our ancient tongue for our return to Zion. Every day, Mr. President. For 2,000 years.

Perhaps it’s because Palestine was never sovereign under the Arabs that even moderate Palestinians cannot find it in their hearts to acknowledge the depth of the Jews’ connection to Zion. Instead, they insist we are interlopers.

When Obama implies that Jewish rights are essentially predicated on the Holocaust—not once asserting they are far, far deeper and more ancient—he is dooming the prospects for peace.

For why should the Arabs reconcile themselves to the presence of a Jewish state, organic to the region, when the US president keeps insinuating that Israel was established to atone for Europe’s crimes?

Thus Netanyahu’s pointed words yesterday:

The right of the Jewish People to a state in the Land of Israel does not arise from the series of disasters that befell the Jewish People over 2,000 years – persecutions, expulsions, pogroms, blood libels, murders, which reached its climax in the Holocaust, an unprecedented tragedy in the history of nations…The right to establish our sovereign state here, in the Land of Israel, arises from one simple fact: Eretz Israel is the birthplace of the Jewish People.

It’s facinating to me that Netanyahu et al are so threatened by the suggestion that Israel’s establishment is ultimately bound to the Holocaust.   After all, didn’t Theodor Herzl himself found political Zionism as a reponse to world anti-Semitism?  And whatever historical claim the Jewish people might have to the land of Israel, it’s safe to say there would never have been international support for a Jewish state had it not been for the Holocaust.

Beyond this, I’m troubled by the need to continuously and defensively remind the world of the historical Jewish connection to this particular piece of land. I’m not at all sure that this is really a road we really need or want to go down.

What does it really mean for any people to have a “right” to a land?  I understand that the Jewish nation, like every nation, has its historic narrative, but let’s face it: nations don’t exist by right, they exist by fiat. Nations exist by virtue of military power and by their ability to maintain a system of governance  that will ensure their survival as a polity. Beyond this, it’s pointless to argue one’s historical or moral right to a land. It seems to me that if history has proven anything, it’s that might makes right – and all the rest is commentary.

The real question here is not who has a right to this land. The central issue is how its inhabitants will see fit to exist on the land. And on this point, I don’t see that Netanyahu gave us anything fresh to consider.

5 thoughts on “Bibi’s History Tutorial

  1. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author

    Just took a closer look at the apoplectic JPost article. Note that it actually refers in the first paragraph to “the covenant between the people of Israel and the Land of Israel .”


    Actually, the traditional view holds that the covenant is between the people of Israel and GOD. (Could the JPost be advocating a quasi-pagan re-reading of the covenant?)

    Further, according to traditional covenantal theology, the Children of Israel will only have a future in the land if they uphold their covenant with God. In other words, we can only dwell in the land if we prove ourselves worthy of it.

    Food for thought…

  2. Ross

    Thanks for giving me another opportunity to plug the excellent essay “The Bible in Israeli Life”, by Uriel Simon, which is in The Oxford Jewish Study Bible. Simon discusses the practice of replacing God with The Land in scriptural passages.

    I am no Mordecai Kaplan expert, but I believe that Kaplan was careful to use words and phrases for God that retained that idea that God has dominion over us, not the other way around.

  3. ethan

    If we should step back for Iran and let the country sort things out even when police beat protesters, something that isn’t done in Israel, then why do you feel differently about Israel. You don’t think we should be outraged when there was election fraud (by the way the Kahmeni decides who gets to run in the elections, so it isn’t much of an election) then why do you feel that Bibi Israel shouldn’t. even though we have a stronger connection to Israel then to Iran because we are jews, that should give you a strong incentive to speak out against an Iranian regime funding terror through Hamas, Hezbollah and other organizations.

    also, as G-d tells Abraham, Isacc, Moses and many, many other prophets in the Torah, The Jewish people have a right to a jewish state in Israel just as the the Muslims have a right to have Muslim states in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and many other countries.

  4. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author


    I believe we should always protest against injustice whenever and wherever it occurs, including in Iran. I never wrote anywhere that we should not speak out against the beating of protesters in Iran. I did however write that it would be wrong for our country to meddle in their politics, which is very different. (By the way, Israel does indeed use violence against protesters – read my earlier post on the weekly non-violent demonstration in Ni’ilin, for instance.)

    Your Iran-Israel comparison is unhelpful and misleading. Israel is the beneficiary of billions of dollars of military aid from the US, which means I am financially implicated in its actions. Israel is also a Jewish state, and it purports to act in the name of Jews everywhere. I would say that gives American Jews the right, if not the responsibility, to urge our country to pressure Israel politically when it acts unjustly.

    As for your Biblical justifications: I believe you are wrong. I challenge you to find a Biblical quote anywhere that says God gives the Israelites the “right” to the land of Israel. It says nothing of the kind. God tells Israel that they will have a future on the land if they are worthy of it: if they act justly, extend one law for all the inhabitants, if they do not oppress their neighbor. (If you are tempted here to cite the commandments to wipe the Canaanite inhabitants, I would only say that verses such as this represent the human voice of cruelty, not God.)

    From the point of view of the Torah, no one has a “right” to any piece of land. The Torah repeatedly makes it clear that the land belongs to God. The question is not who has the right to the land, but how can we extend equal rights to all who dwell on the land.


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