Between Golus and Joluth
I explained (in my post from last Passover, Out of the Galut) how the Jewish concept of galut comprised the state of spiritual exile from HaShem, a state which may be accompanied by the physical state of being in the golah, i.e. outside the Land of Israel. Golus is the Ashkenazi way of pronouncing it, while joluth is the Yemenite way. But whichever way one pronounces it, the reality behind it is the same, whether the Jew lives in Poland or in Yemen—or even in the Land of Israel, for that matter. The denial of the sameness of this reality everywhere is one of the staples of the anti-Zionists today.
The argument, in concise form: “Throughout history, Muslims have treated Jews far better than Christians did; the present enmity between Jews and Muslims started with Zionism, and is wholly a reaction for stealing the Palestinians’ lands”. A powerful argument, killing two birds with one stone: it both urges Jews to make a negotiated peace with the Muslims in the Land of Israel, and exhorts them to turn their backs on their Christian Zionist supporters. Appealing to historical experience, those who make the argument say the Jews are much better off trusting in a peace treaty with the Muslims, who are (they say) free or nearly free of any anti-Semitic history, while the historically Jew-hating Christians are not a good horse at all to bet on.
An appeal to history is normally a good move; but in order for it to be sound, first the historical facts need to be straight, and then the comparison has to be on target. The latter is the problem with the Leftists’ comparison of today’s conflict (the War Against Islam) with 1972 (the Vietnam era). The former is the problem with the argument here: the difference between golus and joluth that the anti-Zionists are presenting is not true to reality.
The view of Jewish history between Orient and Occident is slanted from the outset: many have heard of the Golden Age of the Jews of Muslim Spain, but few have heard of the Golden Age of the Jews of Christian Poland; conversely, many know of the disruption of the Jewish communities of Poland by the Cossack invasion of 1648–9, but few know of the disruption of the Jewish communities of Spain by the Almohad invasion of the 12th century, from which one of the most famous refugees was Maimonides, in 1148. Sheer ignorance enables the painting of a false picture in which an Occidental Jewry in constant misery is contrasted with an Oriental Jewry in constant comfort.
When the Almohads, fanatical (today one would call them, “radical”) Muslim invaders from Morocco, persecuted Maimonides’ family, they fled to Egypt, where they found a better life. Now the Almohad kings and Saladin of Egypt were both Muslims; it can be pointed out rightly, then, that the experience of Jews in Muslim lands was not uniform. But the same is true of the experience of Jews in Christian lands as well! Jews dispersed throughout Europe for the same reason that Maimonides got from Spain from Egypt: fleeing the land of a Jew-hating ruler for the land of a tolerant one. Thus it was that Jews from Western Europe, during years of persecution and pogroms, from the end of the 11th century to the 15th, moved to Eastern Europe, to Poland, to the invitation of the kings Boleslav III and Boleslav V, who granted them edicts of tolerance in exchange for developing the economy of their kingdom. Jewish autonomy in Christian Poland, epitomized by the Council of Four Lands, was the counterpart of the famed Jewish autonomy in Muslim Spain. All that was while the Jews of Western Europe were being hounded out of the states (England in 1290; France in 1306 and 1394; Christian Spain in 1492). Examples of Jew-hatred and tolerance can be found for the Occidental Diaspora just as for the Oriental one; the dichotomous view of a tranquil Jewry in Islamic states versus a troubled one in Christian states has nothing to stand on.
Indeed, most of the well-known ways and methods of persecution of Jews in Christian countries can be found historically in Islamic countries as well. Dress-codes for Jews in Christian lands, such as pointed hats and the yellow star, are famous; less remembered is that the Jews of Islamic lands, by virtue of the dhimmi laws (which applied to Christians there as well), were subject to similar rules. Unless a tolerant or pragmatic Muslim ruler defended the Jews by personal decree, Islamic law left Jews under a constant protection racket, which, even when adhered to (that is, the poll-tax paid), did not provide any guarantee of protection. (An aside: those who laud the status of dhimmitude as “protected” should know that, in our day, we usually refer to such a status with the word, “apartheid”.) They did not stand a chance in court against a Muslim, because their pleas would not be taken over those of the Muslims; therefore, the danger of false accusation hung over them like the Sword of Damocles. If a synagogue fell into disrepair or was destroyed, they could not rebuild it except with a special dispensation from the ruler. The ghetto, walling off Jews from the Christians in Europe, had its counterpart in the malah in the Islamic world; in both diasporas, its purpose was the physical protection of the Jews from pogroms by the non-Jewish population.
The word, “pogrom” itself is a symbol of the bias: it is a Russian word, therefore cementing the idea that pogroms on Jews were a feature of the Christian world only, from which the Jews of the Islamic world were free. Nothing could be further from the truth: there were pogroms on Jews by Muslims long before the first inkling of the “Palestinian” question, and as in Christian Europe, many were state-sanctioned. In both the 12th and 17th century, fanatical kings of Yemen ordered pogroms, expulsions and obstruction of Jewish religious life in order to force the Jews of Yemen to convert to Islam. In the latter case, king Ahmed Ibn Hassan Al-Mahdi commanded the destruction of all the synagogues in Yemen, and expelled all the Jews of Yemen to the lowlands of Mawza for two years, where many of them died.
Another episode of European Jewry is that of the anusim, crypto-Jews, Jews who observed the Jewish religion in secret for fear of persecution. In Christian Spain until 1492, Jews were forced to convert to Christianity and renounce all Jewish practices under the threat of the Inquisition, so they either had to leave to a more tolerant country, whether Christian or Islamic, or to attempt to keep their Jewish observance secret. This too is well-known, in contrast to the similar episode of the anusim of the Jews of Persia, Shi’a Muslim Persia, from the 16th to 19th centuries. The Jews of Meshed accepted conversion to Islam under duress and continued observing Judaism in secret. Around the same time, the Jews of Tabriz chose a different route, much as did some Jews in Christian Spain: they refused to convert. This was followed by the massacre of the entire Jewry of Tabriz. Here is an answer to those who cite lack of precedence when they argue Muslims would never do a repeat of the Holocaust.
In summary, the state of Jewish exile is the same whether pronounced golus or joluth; whether in Poland or in Yemen; whether within a Christian population or within a Muslim one. Jews of the Diaspora, everywhere, have had an existence between the ups of tolerance and moderation and the downs of persecution and fanaticism. The fickle existence that led Herzl and Pinsker of blessed memory to desire to get out of it all by going back to Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel was by no means strange to Jews of Islamic countries. Therefore, the anti-Zionist charge that Zionism is at its heart a “European, Ashkenazi, white colonial settler movement” is nothing but a libel, an outright falsehood concocted for the purpose of recasting Jewish nationalism in the mold of post-colonial discourse, for denying the Jews’ right to have sovereignty over their land and inhabit it without restriction.
In the light of all this, this historical parity between Jewish Diaspora existence everywhere, the concessionist arguments need to be repudiated. The yardstick of friendship toward us should be, instead: the belief in our right to the Land of Israel, meaning also Gaza, Judea and Samaria and not just the territories within the 1949 Armistice Line. He who believes so is our friend; he who makes a distinction between the 1949 and 1967 territories, saying the former is legal while the latter is illegal, is most probably just naïve; and he who believes that all of Israel, including the 1949 territories, is illegitimate, that the “Palestinian Right of Return” is a prerequisite to peace, that Zionism is a colonial enterprise and that Israel as a Jewish state is as unacceptable as Apartheid South Africa—that is our enemy and should be treated as such. For Zionist Jews, that, and not historical misconceptions such as an idyllic Jewish–Muslim relationship until the advent of Zionism, should be the measure of friend and foe.