Israel was not created because of the Holocaust

By Rupen Savoulian

Historic poster of the Irgun, made for distribution in central Europe, ca. 1931-38. It depicts “Erez Yisrael” in the borders proposed by the Balfour Declaration.

Zionism, the Jewish Ulster and the Israel-Palestine Conflict

The subject of the Holocaust should be kept separate from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sadly, this is not always the case. Why? There is a widespread and false assumption that Israel was formed because of the Holocaust, or at least as a human response to the horrors of the Nazi genocide of Jewish people being exposed.

No, Israel was not created because of the Holocaust and nor is the Israel-Palestine conflict based on ancient and atavistic religious hatred between Jews and Muslims.

Let’s untangle this subject.

Dov Waxman, professor of political science at Northeastern University in Boston, addressed this very question. He wrote that while the Holocaust and Israel’s founding occurred within a few years of each other, they are not causally linked:

“The chronological proximity of the Holocaust and Israel’s establishment has led many people to assume that the two events are causally connected and that Israel was created because of the Holocaust. Contrary to this popular belief, however, a Jewish state would probably have emerged in Palestine, sooner or later, with or without the Holocaust.”

So why was Israel formed? It was formed for the purpose of creating a pro-imperialist Jewish Ulster in the Middle East. This is not my own formulation. The first British military governor of Jerusalem, Sir Ronald Storrs, elaborated Britain’s approach to the Palestine issue in the aftermath of the Ottoman Turkish empire’s defeat; to establish a little loyal Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism.

Just as Britain created a loyal Protestant Ascendancy statelet – commonly known as Ulster, in the north of Ireland – Zionism would form the equivalent Orange Order of the Jewish people in Palestine.

There are, of course, religious differences between Jews and Muslims. These theological differences have existed for centuries. However, the Israel-Palestine conflict is not motivated by religious divisions. Reducing the conflict to atavism and ancient religious hatred is a fundamentalist misreading of the Israel-Palestine issue.

So when did the conflict start? It started in 1917, towards the end of World War One and the issuance of the Balfour Declaration.

Britain, emerging alongside France as the preeminent imperialist power in the Middle East, promised to create a Jewish national home in Palestine. Simultaneously, the leaders of political Zionism, such as Theodore Herzl, were manoeuvring to acquire the backing of major powers for their project of constructing a Jewish state.

Theodor Herzl at the first Zionist Congress in Basel, August 1897

Herzl had already approached the Ottoman Turkish sultan, Tsarist Russia (an antisemitic government in its own right), and others, to obtain support for the Zionist cause. It was Britain, with its own interests in the Middle East, which provided the crucial backing needed.

Therein, the creation of a Jewish Ulster begun. The Palestinians were pushed out of their ancestral homeland, as Zionist settlements began to be constructed. From the 1930s, in British-mandate Palestine, the Palestinians resisted as best they could and the conflict evolved its own dynamic.

None of this is to ignore religious differences. However, let’s not speak of ‘centuries of mistrust’ between Jews and Muslims, because such comments are cynically deceptive and designed to distract from the settler-colonial nature of the Zionist project.

The ideology of Zionism corresponded to the intention of European elites – Christian and traditionally antisemitic – to expel Europe’s Jews and corral them into a statelet. Palestine was a convenient target, given European Christendom’s familiarity with Biblical history. British antisemites, such as Churchill and Balfour, were strong supporters of Zionism.

So, what has all this got to do with the Holocaust?

Palestinian opposition to Zionism has routinely been smeared and dismissed as antisemitic by Israel’s leaders and supporters. In fact, there is a deliberate manipulation of the Holocaust, on Tel Aviv’s part, to channel sympathy for Jewish suffering into support for the colonial project of Zionism.

Joseph Massad, professor of Arab Politics at Columbia University in New York, has elaborated how Israel’s political leaders co-opt the memory of the Holocaust to gain support for their own policies of occupation and dispossession directed against the Palestinians.

In 2020, on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, then-US Vice President Mike Pence accused Iran of planning a ‘holocaust’ against the Jewish people. This was at an event organised by Tel Aviv in opposition to the internationally recognised commemorative activities.

Deliberately invoking a slanderously false continuity between Nazis and Arabs/Muslims, Pence purposefully maligned the Palestinians (and the wider Muslim-majority nations) as motivated by homicidal antisemitism.

Holocaust denial – the pseudoscientific endeavour to cancel or minimise the genocidal crimes of the Nazi regime – has unfortunately made a comeback with the rise of ultra-rightist parties and groups in Europe. We must all remember the Holocaust and say, ‘never again’. We must also understand that opposition to the settler-colonial state of Israel is the repudiation of a political ideology, and not a platform for antisemitism.

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