MK Yoav Kisch is one of the Likud’s more eloquent new backbenchers. Kisch is a retired IDF lieutenant-colonel and a former El Al pilot who presents himself as a social Jabotinskiite (Ze’ev Jabotinsky believed that the state is responsible for ensuring its citizens have sufficient food, housing, clothing, education and health services). Given the fact that many of the Likud’s new MKs have little if any knowledge about who Jabotinsky was, let alone what he believed in, the grandson of Brigadier Frederick Kisch, the highest-ranking Jew ever to serve in the British Army, undoubtedly deserves a tip of our hat.
However, last Wednesday Kisch managed to make a total fool of himself in the Knesset plenum, in the course of a debate on motions for the agenda on the subject of “The need to present Israel’s case regarding our right over [Eretz Yisrael] in the world.” The only participant in the debate who did not present the position that the Bible is the Jews’ kushan (title deed) over Eretz Yisrael, and that therefore talking about an Israeli conquest of territories during the Six Day War has no legal basis, was an anonymous Arab MK. No one from the Center-Left participated in this debate, which could have been considered good entertainment if it weren’t so hallucinatory.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with people believing that the Bible is our kushan; deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely, who participated in the debate, is trying to turn this argument into the core of Israel’s hasbara (public diplomacy) abroad. But Kisch, who was the first speaker in this debate, decided to take the Israeli case for ownership of Eretz Yisrael one step further, by arguing that the international community has also recognized this claim. It was here that he went completely off course.
He described a gathering in which he recently participated abroad in which he met parliamentarians from all over the world, and reported on a conversation he had with someone who asked him whether he has a kushan over the country (according to Kisch this person used the term kushan, but he said nothing about his identity). According to Kisch he not only answered that the Bible is our kushan, but that Israel also has the Balfour Declaration. At this point MK Meir Cohen from Yesh Atid, who was about to take over chairing the sitting, commented that the Balfour Declaration didn’t say anything of the sort. Kisch chose to ignore Cohen’s interjection.
In fact, what the Balfour Declaration – included in a letter, dated November 2, 1917, from British foreign secretary Lord Arthur James Balfour to the leader of the British Jewish community Lord Lionel Walter Rothschild – says is the following: “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
The document, which is one of many contradictory documents issued in Britain on the future of the Middle East by various personalities in the course of the First World War, says nothing about Eretz Yisrael belonging to the Jewish people. All it says is that the British government favored the establishment of a national home (not a state) in Palestine (not in the whole of Palestine) for the Jewish people, adding various reservations.
The Balfour Declaration was included in the text of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, which Great Britain assumed in 1922. At no time did Britain or the League of Nations recognize Jewish ownership over the whole of Eretz Yisrael (Palestine), while on November 29, 1947, the United Nations – which succeeded the League of Nations – actually resolved that Palestine, West of the River Jordan, should be divided into Jewish and Arab states, and that Jerusalem should remain under an international regime.
But Kisch didn’t just make do with the Balfour Declaration.
Directing his words to Meir Cohen he stated that “there is a [US] congressional resolution on this issue.” As someone who for many years engaged in hasbara on the issue of conflicting Jewish and Arab territorial claims, I can say categorically that there is no congressional resolution recognizing Jewish ownership over the whole of this land.
All there is a unanimous resolution by both Houses of Congress, dated June 30, 1922, endorsing the Mandate for Palestine, which includes the text of the Balfour Declaration. The resolution was signed on September 21, 1922, by president Warren G. Harding. Furthermore, since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 the US administration hasn’t even recognized West Jerusalem as being part of the sovereign territory of Israel, which is why the US embassy is, and always was, in Tel-Aviv.
So as I said at the outset: everyone has the right to believe that the Bible is the Jewish kushan over Eretz Yisrael, even though except for the Jews themselves (though not necessarily all the Jews) and some Evangelical leaders, no one shares this belief, and no amount of manipulation of historical facts, or ignorance of historical facts can change this reality.
Incidentally, the debate ended with a long speech by deputy minister Hotovely, in which she presented the hasbara strategy of the Foreign Ministry. What was most worrying in this speech was her description of what today’s future generation of Foreign Ministry diplomats is being taught, that includes a politically tilted presentation of both history and international law, which I doubt whether anyone who does not belong to the secular and religious Right would be willing to accept, let alone advocate. Well, since in the more distant past right-wingers didn’t really feel at home in the ministry, now the pendulum has shifted to the other side. Some might view this as poetic justice.
Incidentally, nobody but MK Meir Cohen paid attention to Kisch’s demonstration of historical ignorance, simply because all attention was focused on the “Pa Pa Pa” performance of Likud MK Anat Berko, who on the previous Wednesday, during a debate on the issue “Two states for two peoples” suggested that the question of a Palestinian identity should be reviewed against the background of the fact that in Arabic there is no letter “P.” Berko is another of the new Likud backbenchers, who at least until two weeks ago was taken seriously. It should be noted that both she and Kisch represent the Knesset in various international parliamentary forums.
A footnote: Netanyahu’s speech toward the end of the debate on “Two states for two peoples” was a coherent presentation of his position, without any mention of our alleged kushan over Eretz Yisrael, cockeyed notions on effective hasbara, or the intricacies of the Arabic alphabet. At least on this occasion Netanyahu spoke in clear terms of current geopolitical realities as he sees them, and one can agree with his analysis or reject it on its merits.
I don’t suppose that as our acting foreign minister Netanyahu will share with us what he thinks of the pearls of wisdom issued over the past two weeks by Berko/Kisch/Hotovely. However, the fact that all three are involved one way or another in Israel’s hasbara efforts abroad isn’t very reassuring.
Who knows, maybe a casino in Eilat (Um Rash Rash) will help.
The writer is a political scientist and a retired Knesset employee.