On that day the United Nations voted to re-establish Jewish sovereignty in a truncated and emasculated territory far removed from the original intentions of the Balfour Declaration and the legal obligations of the San Remo Agreement and the League of Nations Mandate. Thirty three nations voted in favour, thirteen voted against, ten abstained and one nation was absent. The Soviet Union and the United States although rivals in a developing cold war both miraculously voted in favour. Every Arab and Moslem representative voted against thus setting the stage for their future self-inflicted disasters.
Seventy years ago the UN had not yet morphed into the morally bankrupt body it is today. Even so the result of the UN vote in 1947 was far from a done deal. It took the energetic and dedicated efforts of Jewish Agency representatives and others to persuade some countries to vote in favour. Nobody knew how the Soviet Union and its satellite nations would vote given Stalin’s paranoid record on Zionism and Jews. South American nations were susceptible to pressure from various sources. The US State Department was renowned for its inbuilt hostility to the idea and fearful of upsetting the Arabs. The UK was not expected to vote in favour and the only question was whether it would vote against the resolution or abstain. The question remained as to how the ex colonies of the British Empire would vote and if they would be influenced by Ernest Bevin, the UK Labour Party’s rabidly anti-Zionist Foreign Minister.
All these imponderables contributed to an almost unbearable sense of dread and uncertainty amongst the destitute remnant of the Shoah still incarcerated in DP refugee camps in Europe and in Cyprus where the British authorities had exiled them after slamming shut the gates of Palestine. Jews in the USA a mere two years after the end of World War 2 were for the most part sympathetic to and supportive of the Zionist cause. Generally Jewish communities worldwide rallied around and there can hardly have been any who did not cluster around their radios that fateful day in November 1947.
History was made that day and nothing, not even the combined efforts of Arab nations to snuff out the reborn Jewish State proved able to thwart the fulfillment of a dream of millennia. Out of the ashes of two thousand years of exile, pogroms, crusades and genocide, an independent Jewish nation arose.
Looking back seventy years one has to marvel at how things have changed for the better and also for worse. Israel today is a country that those who voted at Lake Success for its recreation in 1947 would not recognise. What has been achieved in this space of time can only be described as miraculous especially when one takes into account the hostility encountered. We have outlived the Soviet Empire as we have all other empires who tried to destroy us. The Iron Curtain collapsed and over a million Russian Jews moved to the Jewish State.
Certain nations who originally voted in support of the 1947 resolution are now firmly in the anti-Israel camp and others overtly or covertly support boycotts and sanctions. Europe has in many cases reverted to its historical antipathy towards the Jewish nation and of course the UN and its associated bodies once the bastion of international morality has become cesspits of hypocrisy and double standards as far as Israel is concerned.
The other major change is the worrying phenomenon of self loathing groups both in Israel and elsewhere who now feel it necessary to do everything to denigrate, pillory and defame Israel in every forum, academic institution and the media.
Opposition, especially by certain sectors of the American Jewish establishment, to the centrality of Israel and the consequential “spin offs” which this has had on Diaspora Jewry were evident already since the early 1950’s. As noted by a prominent historian, Jerold Auerbach, quoted recently in a piece written by Daniel Gordis:
The idea of a Jewish state, to say nothing of the reality of Israel, seldom inspired feelings of passionate attachment in the majority of American Jews.” In 1950, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s assertion that Israel was now the de-facto center of the Jewish world provoked an irate Jacob Blaustein, president of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and at the time perhaps the most important lay leader of American Judaism, to counter forcefully that “there can be no single spokesman for world Jewry no matter who that spokesman might try to be.” Ten years later, when prominent American Jews expressed repugnance at Israel’s kidnapping of the Nazi mass murderer Adolf Eichmann in order to bring him to trial in Jerusalem—by what right, these Jews demanded, did a state that had not even existed when Eichmann committed his crimes claim jurisdiction as if it were the acknowledged international address of the Jewish people?—Ben-Gurion reacted with rage: “[The] Judaism of Jews of the United States,” he declared, “is losing all meaning and only a blind man can fail to see the day of its extinction.”
Since then the situation has seriously deteriorated. According to the 2013 Pew study:
Some 80 percent of US Jews sixty-five or older say that “Israel’s destruction would be a personal tragedy,” the number drops to 50 percent for those thirty-five and under.
40% of millenials are unafilliated; 57% of US Jews have never visited Israel; 44% have non-Jewish partners.
These statistics help to explain why recently an op-ed entitled “I am a Jew with zero attachment to Israel” could be published in a prominent American Jewish publication. The writer proudly states:
“When I hear news related to the country, I feel no added resonance or relevance to my own life. I have never visited the country — even when I was presented with ample opportunity to do so, free of cost. I have no plans to ever explore this part of the world. You could not pay me enough to consider it. This viewpoint hardly qualifies as unique amongst Reform liberal Jews living in America today. And it is my belief that that’s a good thing. This is because my sense of Judaism is based on a collection of beliefs and values that have precisely nothing to do with geography.”
Obviously not all are similarly detached from the real sources of their faith but enough are to cause disquiet. When Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister stated that American Jews have no idea of reality on the ground here she caused a storm. Although perhaps some of her observations could have been more elegantly phrased there is no doubt that unless one lives in Israel and experiences reality here it is impossible to appreciate real facts on the ground. Blaming Israelis and shooting the messengers who articulate uncomfortable facts is easy but will not solve current disagreements. This however is what we face.
A prominent American Rabbi told an Executive member of the Jewish Agency at the recent meeting of the US Jewish Federations:
“You’re (i.e. Israel) going to have to earn the allegiance of the next (US) generation. They don’t know from the Holocaust. They have no experience of anti-Semitism. They didn’t feel the elation of the 6 Day War.”
While I agree that Israel has a major role to play in rescuing the next generation from Jewish oblivion it is the failure of present day lay and religious leadership which has contributed to this lamentable state of affairs.
We here in Israel certainly must strive to seriously engage Diaspora youth but our task is not made easier by the dilution and distortion of Judaism and its roots in the Land of Israel which seem to be so popular in certain quarters these days.
Seventy years ago there was a euphoric wave of solidarity at the prospect of renewed Jewish sovereignty. We need to recapture that feeling now that we are proudly sovereign in our own land.
Michael Kuttner is a Jewish New Zealander who for many years was actively involved with various communal organisations connected to Judaism and Israel. He now lives in Israel and is J-Wire’s correspondent in the region.