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Golda Meir was no J-Streeter

Former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. Credit: Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. Credit: Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons.

A deep and permanent rift between Democrats and Israel is inevitable because the Israeli government “has more in common with Dick Cheney than Golda Meir”—or so says J Street leader Jeremy Ben-Ami, in a front-page story in the New York Times of Aug. 29. J Street’s characterization both misrepresents current Israeli leaders and does a grave disservice to the memory of Israel’s first female prime minister.

Some on the American left harbor a kind of visceral hatred towards former vice president Cheney, and they seem to presume that everyone else does, too. Hence Ben-Ami’s seemingly odd reference to someone who has been out of office in America for more than seven years. He would like to suggest that Democrats (and especially Jewish Democrats) must choose between the hated Cheney and the beloved Golda.

Golda is indeed a revered figure in Jewish history. But she was no J Street-style dove.

Addressing Labor Zionist delegates to a Jewish Agency assembly in June 1971, Golda denounced the slogan “peace for territories” as “superficial and simplistic.” The slogan—and concept—of “peace for territories” has of course been the heart and soul of the Israeli, and American Jewish, left since the 1967 war. It is their slogan, their mantra, their very raison d’être. And Golda rejected it.

The J Street crowd claims that many of the Arabs who left Israel during the 1948 war were expelled. This is an important part of their entire perception of the roots of the Arab-Israeli conflict—the idea that Israel, too, is to blame. Here’s what Golda had to say about that in her autobiography: “Whenever I read or hear about the Arabs whom we allegedly deal with so brutally, my blood boils. In April 1948, I myself stood on the beach in Haifa for hours and literally beseeched the Arabs of that city not to leave.”

Jewish doves loudly protest whenever somebody compares an Arab or Muslim leader to the Nazis. They claim such comparisons are “extreme” and “distort the Holocaust.” Golda disagreed. As foreign minister in 1956, she explained in an address to the United Nations why Egypt’s threats to annihilate Israel had compelled the Jewish state to launch a preemptive strike: “The concept of annihilating Israel is a legacy of Hitler’s war against the Jewish people, and it is no coincidence that [Gamal Abdel] Nasser’s soldiers had an Arabic translation of ‘Mein Kampf’ in their knapsacks.”

J Street and its allies have devoted themselves to creating a Palestinian state. Golda, however, was an adamant opponent of Palestinian statehood. In her autobiography, she describes what she told president Richard Nixon in 1970: “Between the Mediterranean and the borders of Iraq, in what was once Palestine, there are now two countries, one Jewish and one Arab [Jordan], and there is no room for a third. The Palestinians must find the solution to their problem together with that Arab country, Jordan, because a ‘Palestinian state’ between us and Jordan can only become a base from which it will be even more convenient to attack and destroy Israel.”

Perhaps Golda’s most famous statement on these subjects was a remark she made as prime minister in late 1975, which she later explained in a January 1976 op-ed in the New York Times: “There is no Palestinian people.” When she moved from Milwaukee to British Mandatory Palestine in 1921, she recalled the Arabs living there did not even consider themselves “Palestinians.” On the contrary, “Arab nationalists stridently rejected the designation…[they said that it was] merely a fragment of Syria…The Arab historian Philip K. Hitti informed the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry [in 1946] that ‘there is no such thing as Palestine in history.’”

She even quoted Ahmed Shukeiri, who said before the United Nations Security Council in 1956 (at the time he was the Saudi ambassador to the U.N.; later he became the founding chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization): “It is common knowledge that Palestine is nothing but southern Syria.” Golda’s point was that Palestinian nationalism has no legitimate historical, legal, or religious roots; it is basically an anti-nationalism, i.e. anti-Zionism, conceived in the 1960s as a way of trying to delegitimize the right of the Jews to the Land of Israel. That’s not exactly what Jewish doves like to hear.

But perhaps the most striking aspect of J Street’s invocation of Golda Meir is that it ignores what Golda’s actual successors are saying about the most important issue of our time—the Iran nuclear deal.

The current head of Golda’s Labor Party, Isaac Herzog, has called the Iran agreement “a horrible deal, one that will go down as the tragedy of the ages.” Herzog says, “There are clear risks to Israel’s security in this deal…it will unleash a lion from the cage, it will have a direct influence over the balance of power in our region, it’s going to affect our borders, and it will affect the safety of my children.” Herzog has called Iran “an empire of evil and hate that spreads terror across the region.”

Herzog has warned that the deal will enable Iran “to become a nuclear-threshold state in a decade or so.” Moreover, Herzog has pointed out, Iran will take the funds it obtains after sanctions are lifted and use them to resupply Hezbollah and Hamas, and “generally increase the worst type of activities that they’ve been doing.” Herzog’s partner in the opposition leadership, former foreign minister and justice minister Tzipi Livni, has likewise condemned this “bad deal.”

In short, J Street got it all wrong. It’s not that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is aligned with Republicans rather than Golda. When it comes to the Iran agreement—which J Street so fervently supports—Netanyahu is in fact aligned with Golda’s own successors. If Democrats want to side with Golda, as Jeremy Ben-Ami proposes, then they should be opposing the Iran agreement, along with today’s Labor Party leaders who are opposed to it in no uncertain terms.

Mr. Korn, chairman of the Philadelphia Religious Zionists, is former executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent and the Miami Jewish Tribune. 

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