Modern Israel Exists as Response to Anti-Semitism
Modern-day anti-Semites complain about the existence of the nation of Israel, accusing it of “colonialism” or “apartheid.” They insist that nothing would satisfy them except the total destruction of the state of Israel. Their accusations are false, of course, and they have been refuted many times. But it’s worth making them answer the question, what then? If Israel’s existence infuriates them, what would they prefer instead? The history of Israel’s creation helps to underscore the significance of that question.
In the 1930s, Germany’s Nazi party did not begin by trying to exterminate its half a million Jewish inhabitants. At first, the Nazis sought to expel Jews, forcing them to emigrate to other countries. Nearly 40,000 Jews emigrated upon the Nazi takeover in 1933, but afterward emigration slowed, despite intensifying persecution. After the Kristallnacht pogrom in November 1938 and the seizure of Jewish-owned property, more than 100,000 Jews emigrated from Germany and Austria in 1938-1939 — but a larger number still remained.
The flaw in the emigration policy was that other countries didn’t want an influx of Jews. “It was becoming more and more evident that Jews should leave if anybody at all would have them, and not very many countries would have them,” said Kurt Klein, a Jew who left Germany as a child in 1937, but whose parents ended up in Auschwitz. In May 1939, nearly 1,000 Jewish refugees sailed on the German liner St. Louis to Cuba, where the government refused to allow them to disembark; American and Canadian governments also refused to take the refugees.
In 1938, delegates from 32 countries convened in France to discuss the situation of Jews in Germany, but they could arrive at no satisfactory solution. Too many nations viewed the Jewish refugees as someone else’s problem, or had anti-Semitic policies themselves.
In fact, many nations had either already expelled their Jewish populations or were working to make them feel unwelcome. Between 1880 and 1920, millions of Jews left behind persecution in the Russian Empire to seek new homes elsewhere, especially in America — the play “Fiddler on the Roof” is set in this context — and the atheistic Soviet Union wasn’t exactly inviting them to return. In the 1930s, Jews in Poland faced growing anti-Semitism and economic oppression. In the early 20th century, anti-Semitism erupted into pogroms — anti-Jewish riots — in Ireland, Ukraine (then part of Russia), England, Argentina, Turkey, Algeria, and even in Hebron, their homeland. Even if governments sympathized with the Jews, they didn’t have much leeway to accept an influx of refugees.
Even America’s immigration policy was anti-Semitic in the 1930s. A 1924 immigration act inspired by eugenics proponents preferred “desirable” immigrants, while setting restrictive quotas for less “racially desirable” immigrants, including Jews from southern and eastern Europe. Immigration of all people from Germany was capped at around 25,000 per year, and the cap was rarely met. After the Great Depression sent unemployment sky-high, FDR’s administration — and Americans generally — were in no mood to admit more foreigners. In a Gallup poll taken two weeks after Kristallnacht, 72% of respondents said America should not allow more Jewish exiles from Germany into the country.
The euphemism for this rampant, worldwide anti-Semitism was “the Jewish Question,” a topic on which many intellectuals held forth, arguing that Jewish minorities could not be assimilated and could not be tolerated forever. The Nazis infamously escalated the euphemism by coining “the Final Solution of the Jewish Question,” by which they meant the cold-blooded murder of millions of defenseless men, women, and children.
The phrase was so widespread that even Jews used it. In 1896, Theodor Herzl wrote in “The Jewish State,” “The Jewish question still exists. It would be foolish to deny it. It is a remnant of the Middle Ages, which civilized nations do not even yet seem able to shake off, try as they will. … The Jewish question exists wherever Jews live in perceptible numbers.”
In that tract, Herzl first argued that the only way to end the relentless persecution of Jews was to give them a homeland of their own. Soon afterward, Jews began immigrating to Palestine, and Jews and Arabs first clashed there in 1929. When Great Britain took control of Palestine in 1917, they issued a declaration of their intent to establish a Jewish homeland there, but they later restricted Jewish immigration to appease the Arabs.
“Zionism, at its core, is the idea that the Jewish people ought to have their own nation state,” said Regent University Professor Dr. A. J. Nolte on “Washington Watch.” “It is about what it is trying to answer the question of, what does it mean to be a Jew in the modern world? … Now that we have secularism, now that we have nationalism, what does it mean to be a Jew? Do we assimilate or do we seek for our own national identity? … Zionism is the answer that takes that second option.”
After the U.S. uncovered the Nazi atrocities committed during World War II, President Harry Truman believed that, “as a result of the Holocaust, Jewish people were oppressed and also in need of a homeland,” according to the National Archives. After a joint “Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry” caused backlash, the U.K. submitted the question to the U.N., which roughly partitioned the Holy Land into Jewish and Arab sections. The U.S. immediately recognized Israel on May 14, 1948, while all of its Arab neighbors immediately attacked it.
Thus, the modern nation state of Israel came into being in response to worldwide anti-Semitism. If Jews weren’t welcome in any other nation, then they needed a land of their own. Where better than their ancestral homeland?
Still, to this day, anti-Semites around the globe do their best to make the Jewish feel unwelcome in the international community. Although Israel no longer goes to war against Egypt or Jordan, and although the Abraham Accords won it unprecedented official recognition in the Arab world, its very existence is still threatened. A small cadre of radicalized Muslims, funded by the ecclesiastical state of Iran, vow to destroy the only Jewish state in the world. On October 7, they launched the largest attack against Israel in 50 years.
So, those who advocate an end to the nation of Israel must answer the question, where else are the Jews supposed to go? If their only safe haven is taken away, and Jews are once more thrust into nations who don’t want them and persecute them, these anti-Semites should be forced to tell us, what is their answer to the Jewish question?
Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.