Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld


Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Implausible Counterfactual of the Day: Creating a Jewish State in the United States instead of Israel. Really?


Strictly speaking, the following example is not a historical counterfactual, but rather, a future history scenario.  Nevertheless, it has many implications for counterfactual history.  As reported in a recent Jewish Telegraphic Agency article, former Dutch minister of economic affairs Herman Heinsbroek, declared in the financial monthly Quote:


“It was an historical error to give the Jews their own country in the middle of Islam….You’ve had nothing but war ever since and you’ve had anti-Semitism resurging, too. My idea: Give the Jews their own state somewhere in the United States and 25 years to move their state over there.”

Heinsbroek is also quoted as saying that if implemented, his solution “will finally create, perhaps, peace in the world.”

The claim is patently ludicrous and nakedly political.  I won’t bother to affix a label to the claim (anyone up for parsing the differences between antizionism and antisemitism?), but it’s been disproved by a variety of other counterfactual assertions.

For example, Josef Joffe’s essay, “A World Without Israel,” (2009) and Amir Tahiri’s essay, “Is Israel the Problem?”, (2007) clearly show that if Israel did not exist, there would hardly be peace in the Middle East, let alone the world.   Friction between different sects and ethnic groups (mostly Arab and Muslim, but not only) would merely intensify without Israel to focus internal and external grievances upon. 

Moreover, counterfactual works of literature – dystopian future histories, mostly – have also identified the irrationality of expecting a mass exodus of Jews to solve anything.  Take, for example, Hugo Bettauer’s chillingly prophetic Die Stadt ohne Juden (The City without Jews), written in 1922, which portrays ordinary life in Vienna coming to a grinding halt without its Jewish population. 

Furthermore, non-Jews typically end up regretting the departure of Jews from their lands and wish they would return.   See Bernt Engelmann’s Germany Without Jews (1984), which is a mournful survey of everything German life lost in the Holocaust. 

As for the United States as an ideal destination? Michael Chabon dramatically pointed out that shipping Europe’s Jews to the U. S. – specifically Alaska, in The Yiddish Policemen’s Union – would hardly be a panacea.  This is further shown by the failure of attempts to create a Jewish state in the United States – specifically the experimental community of Ararat in upper New York State – which essentially went nowhere in the early 19th century.  (For more on Ararat, click HERE).

None of this is to deny that Israel’s presence in the Middle East has been a source of conflict.  But Heinsbroek’s remarks express an entirely unrealistic and naïve (not to mention discriminatory) fantasy.

Counterfactually speaking, I contend that Mr. Heinsbroek’s misguided recommendation could have easily been avoided had he been more of a student of counterfactual history, which helps us grasp the possibilities (and impossibilities) of how historical events come to pass.

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