A central component of Israeli diplomacy and Jewish thinking has long been the assumption, asserted as necessary, that the Holocaust confers permanent, unassailable virtue on Israel and Jews. In light of the Holocaust, whatever Israel does is justified, especially if declared to be security related. Whatever and however Jews argue in support of Israel is correct. The obverse is also assumed and frequently asserted: in light of the Holocaust, no one has the right to criticize Israel, especially Europeans, and anyone who does may be suspected of anti-Semitism. Yesterday’s U.N. vote marked a sea change in this mindset.
Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Hungary, Poland, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania all either voted to upgrade Palestine’s status or abstained. In this circumstance, an abstention was unfavorable to Israel. All of these countries either played central roles in the Holocaust or figure in well-known, particularly heinous or (on the other hand) touching episodes in Holocaust history. They would normally be inhibited from taking an "anti-Israel" stance in the international arena. Their U.N. vote indicates, as with Germany's impatience over Israeli settlement expansion, that they no longer feel history constraining them from adopting and acting upon a critical view of particular Israeli behaviors. From now on, Israel's cause will have to stand strictly on its merits—or, relative to particular policies and behaviors, the lack of merit.
Several other votes were noteworthy in other, though related, respects. Japan voted yes while Great Britain abstained. Japan, though not a direct Holocaust perpetrator, was the fourth member of the Axis, along with Germany, Austria, and Italy. Also, after Pearl Harbor and Bataan, it usually shyly follows America's lead in international affairs. Despite its dependence on Arab oil, it has become friendly with Israel. But yesterday, Japan’s vote reflected the persuasiveness of the Palestinian cause.
Great Britain, of course, bears grave, gigantic historical responsibility for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict due to its contradictory and misleading policies, from 1917 to 1947, towards both parties. The partition resolution of November 29, 1947 stemmed from the collapse of Great Britain’s inherently unsustainable policy in Palestine. Having harmed both parties—Jews and Palestinians—so badly, its abstention yesterday was probably the most fitting vote for Great Britain, which barely acknowledges its culpability for the conflict.
The foregoing analysis indicates some of the important implications of the U.N. vote and, simultaneously, the inaccuracy and self-deception of arguing, as do the Israeli and U.S. governments, that the vote was basically meaningless. It was important and should propel caring people to embark on rejuvenated efforts to bring justice, security, peace and well-being to both peoples, Jews and Palestinians, tied to the land that Israel Zangwill so fatefully mischaracterized as “a land without a people for a people without a land.”
Matthew Kalman broke the story of physicist Stephen Hawking’s boycott of Israel. Then Cambridge University tried to falsely deny it.