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Israel must relinquish its claim over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in order to maintain a Jewish majority within the country, a prominent rabbi told nearly 100 listeners at Harvard Hillel last night.
Arthur Hertzberg, a renowned Jewish historian and a vocal critic of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s policies, warned that if demographic trends persist, the Arab population will grow to constitute a majority within the current borders of the State of Israel in the next 20 years.
The only solution is for Israel “to walk out of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, not because it is right or because it is just, but because our very survival depends on it,” Hertzberg said, thumping his fist against the podium and screaming into the microphone as audience members covered their ears.
“The smart-asses who come here on occasion say that we will run the Arabs into cantons,” Hertzberg said, referring to Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky and Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz, who also addressed Hillel audiences this fall.
“The notion that Jews can become the new South Africa—and that not only the Jewish conscience but the American conscience will live with it—is a pipe dream,” Hertzberg said.
Hertzberg saved his harshest criticism for certain Orthodox Jews who justify Israeli settlement activity on religious grounds.
“If Israel is going to be destroyed, it is not going to be destroyed by the Palestinians. It will be destroyed by the right-wing Jews,” Hertzberg said.
“If the messiah were coming in the 20th century, he would have shown up at Auschwitz. He is not going to show up at [the West Bank town of] Efrat to save a parking lot,” Hertzberg said.
Hertzberg’s speech drew mixed reactions from the Hillel crowd, with some audience members rising to challenge the rabbi’s arguments.
“I think your entire speech was fundamentalist liberal nonsense,” Harel Arnon, a doctoral student at the Law School, told Hertzberg.
According to Arnon, peace is not a viable option for Israel.
“If we don’t fight for our life, we will go back to Auschwitz,” he said.
“If for the next 20 years we continue to shoot the bastards and hold on to every ell of the West Bank, we’re going to lose the majority...we’ll be a minority in an Arab state” Hertzberg responded.
Eliyahu Shoot, a doctoral student in music, said that Israel could choose other alternatives, such as the transfer of Palestinians to Jordan.
But Hertzberg disagreed sharply with Shoot.
“Do you want the international press to be present when we drive a million Palestinians on flatbed trucks across the Jordan River?” he asked.
Hertzberg, who was president of the American Jewish Congress from 1972 to 1978, emerged as an eminent force in Jewish thought with the 1959 publication of his textbook, The Zionist Idea.
“I have been pondering these ideas longer than anyone else,” said the 82-year-old Hertzberg. “I yield to no one on this continent or in Israel on the issue of Zionism.”
Hertzberg was a friend of David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, but drew the ire of later Israeli leaders as a result of his longtime support for Palestinian statehood.
The United States must “shove peace down Israel’s throat,” but the Bush administration is “too busy fishing for money from rich Jewish Republicans, Hertzberg said.
He emerged on the American political scene first as a civil rights activist in the 1950s and 1960s and subsequently as a staunch opponent of the Vietnam War.
Hertzberg “is one of the last surviving authorities on Zionism and therefore commands respect,” said Josh Suskewicz ’05, president of Harvard Students for Israel, who worked for Hertzberg as research assistant last summer.
“It was a privilege to have him here,” Suskewicz said.
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