Not yet free: The Guardian’s “Illegal” Jews

There was one line in particular from a Guardian archives post this past Tuesday – a reprint of a story in the Manchester Guardian as it appeared on April 26, 1948 – about battles which raged in the weeks leading to Israel’s declaration of Independence, which really caught my eye.

While the article (From the archive, 26 April, 1948: Irgun fails to seize Jaffa) itself was classic Guardian, focusing on Irgun attacks on Arabs and largely void of any relevant context about Arab violence which commenced upon the passage of UN Resolution 181 in November of 1947 (which partitioned the land to create a Jewish and Arab state), and the immediate declaration by neighboring Arab states that they would greet any attempt to create a Jewish state with war, the following passage especially stands out.

“An illegal immigrant ship carrying some 700 Jews without visas, which was intercepted off the Palestine coast, was expected to reach Haifa some time yesterday.” [emphasis mine]

While the information itself is not surprising, as the British government was continuing a pre-war policy that limited Jewish immigration to historic “Palestine” to several hundred persons a month, with the ultimate objective of barring it entirely even as Holocaust refugees were trying desperately to reach her shores, the use of the phrase “illegal immigrant ship” and “Jews without visas” struck a familiar chord.

The Guardian consistently adjudicates the complex legal status of Judea and Samaria by simply referring to Israeli  Yishuvim as “illegal“, often using pejorative and even demonizing terms – such as “zealots”, “hard-liners”, or “extremists” – to characterize even Jewish victims of Palestinian terrorism who live on the other side of the 1949 Armistice Lines.  Indeed, as recently as Sunday, the Guardian reported on the Israeli civilians who were shot by Palestinian Policemen in Nablus after visiting Joseph’s Tomb by noting, in the subheading, that they were there “without Palestinian permission” – as if the malice of open firing on unarmed Jewish civilians was somehow mitigated by the fact they weren’t “authorized” to pray there.  

I’m reminded of a political shirt worn by an old friend in the States which – expressing his sympathy towards immigrants in the US who didn’t arrive via the required legal procedures – contained the declaration: “No Human Being is Illegal”.

Without getting into a discussion on the actual meaning of UN Resolution 242, and how its mandate has been grossly misinterpreted as requiring an Israeli withdrawal to pre- June 1967 borders, there’s something chillingly callous about making moral distinctions between Jewish victims of terrorism based merely on which side of the green they live.    

As I’ve noted previously, reasonable people can of course disagree on the contentious issue of what Israeli policy should be regarding settlement within such communities but, whether in 1948 or 2011, the hubris of those in the international community who create this paradigm of “legal” vs. “illegal” Jews seems indicative of the broader moral litmus test Jews in the diaspora are increasingly asked to pass – “good Jews” who are critical of Israel vs. “bad Jews” who passionately defend her.   

Just as no Israeli men, women, or children are “illegal”, Jews – whether they reside in Jerusalem, Itamar, New York, or London – no longer need to submit to the soft colonialism of moral sanction the world continually seeks to impose upon us.

Leon Pinsker wrote the following in 1882, in his pamphlet, Auto Emancipation:

“When an idle spectator on the road calls out to us: “You poor Jewish devils are certainly to be pitied,” we are most deeply touched; and when a Jew is said to be an honor to his people, we are foolish enough to be proud of it. We have sunk so low that we become almost jubilant when…our people is put on equal footing with non-Jews. But he who must be put on a footing stands but weak.”

Nearly 130 years after Pinsker wrote those words we are still not yet fully free, way too often seek pity we have no use for, are enthralled with the shallow affirmation which we don’t require; and still grant others the power to put us on “equal footing”.

While we can’t control the mental habits of those who possess animosity towards Jews (as individuals or as a nation), we certainly do have the power to emancipate ourselves from the moral vanity which continually provides succor to their imperious judgments. 

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