Picture: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN
Picture: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN

Crawford-Browne’s tendentious historical cherry-picking  should be ignored (“No evidence to support myths around Israel”, June 1). But, for the record, some of the errant nonsense he presents ought to be corrected.

First, while an argument could be made that Abraham and Moses are “an allegorical myth”, there is abundant evidence to support the historicity of King David. Take only the inscription in the ancient Israelite city of Dan, discovered by the archaeologist Avraham Biran, that is dated to the 9th century BCE and refers to the “House of David”.

It is also simply not true that “Palestinian Jews converted first to Christianity and then to Islam”. Seemingly, Crawford-Browne wants to erase Jews from the Holy Land, but the fact is that many Jews continued to live in “the land of Israel” and resisted the Roman legions long after the birth of Christianity.

A voluminous Rabbinic literature — critical of Roman rule — also attests to an ongoing Jewish presence in Palestine despite the rise of Christianity. Of course, some Jews followed Christian teachings, but many spent their time engaged in Jewish-Christian polemics.

As for the Muslim conquests ushering in Jewish conversion to Islam, how does one explain the Pact of Umar, which spells out in great detail relations between the Muslim conquerors and the Jewish conquered? If all Jews had converted this would hardly have been necessary, at least in the Holy Land.

The reality is that Jews lived as dhimmis or second-class citizens under Islam. Was the later Crusader conquest of (Jewish) Jerusalem a figment of the imagination? As for Jordan, has Crawford-Browne forgotten the 1921 Cairo Conference? Where did that territory in which Zionists were precluded from settling come from?

In 1947 Jews did indeed own a small proportion of the land — a mere 7% of Palestine’s private land. But by then the British (followed by the UN Special Committee On Palestine) saw partition as the only solution to a complex problem. The UN supported this. 500,000 Jews got 55% of the land, with an Arab minority of 400,000 included within the nascent Jewish state. Greater Jerusalem was to be under international rule. Jews accepted. Arabs did not. Six Arab armies invaded the fledgling Jewish state. They were defeated. The rest is history.

Like so many other Israel-haters, Crawford-Browne even turns to the Khazars and their conversion in the 8th century to make a Verwoerdian-like argument against Israel. Afrikaner-nationalist triumphalism rooted in racial categories is resurrected. As it happens, scholars today generally agree that few Khazars converted to Judaism beyond the group’s leadership. And who cares? Clearly, Crawford-Browne.

Perhaps he can devise a pencil test for the Middle East and adjudicate a long conflict in that way. Just as Jews cannot wish away Palestinian self-identity, Crawford-Browne and his followers cannot wish away Israeli identity.

Milton Shain
Emeritus professor of historical studies, UCT

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