The Real Arab Nakba

I am sitting in my office listening to the sound of my 6-year-old in Zoom school. The pleasant sounds of her class clash with the deep thrum that passes through my office with the overflight of fighter jets. I can even feel the occasional shockwave from bombs dropped in nearby Gaza.

At this point in the war, many have rallied to Israel’s side. At the same time, from the very beginning, others – including many Arabs and Muslims, the leader of Venezuela and some ‘intersectional’ academics in the United States – have celebrated the murders and decried Israel’s response.

Many have had their eyes opened by the actions of Hamas. But what about the rest?

Arab attempts to exterminate Jews in the entire region started with pogroms in Israel, Iraq and elsewhere. This led to 99.5% of Jews being driven from Arab lands. It was a campaign of near-complete ethnic cleansing. What followed was multiple wars of genocide against Israel itself (the phrase from the ‘River to the Sea’ isn’t suggesting that we establish a floating society in the Mediterranean). Genocide is the goal of Hamas. It is the goal of all of those who celebrate what happened.

Consider this tweet from Najma Sharif, a writer for Teen Vogue and InStyle: “What did y’all think decolonization meant? Vibes? Papers? Essays? Losers. “Not like this” Then like what. Show us LOL,”

Although she has since hidden her account, her tweet received 100,000 likes, including a like and repost from Washington Post Global Opinions columnist Karen Attiah.

What people who have celebrated this massacre want is to follow the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab countries with genocide of those Jews in the land of their forefathers.

As I see this predictably unfold, I can not help but ask: what has caused so many become so morally corrupt?

The Torah contains the famous story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Two angels are sent to determine whether or not these cities should be destroyed. They show up as human visitors and one man – Lot – welcomes them in. Then, every other man in the society – from the old to very young – surround Lot’s house and demand that the men be handed over for a mass rape. Every man – including children who would seem to have no interest in such behavior – join in that demand. Lot pleads with them to adopt another course. Nonetheless, not a single person hears his plea. They accuse him of setting himself up as a judge and they surge forward as a unified body – intent on overwhelming him.

What was the angel’s test? It was simple. The angels created a situation in which the forces of good could emerge. But the society was so unified in its evil that it could be rescued even by Lot’s voice of imperfect morality. There was no kernel of righteousness that could reform their evil.

The people of Sodom and Gomorrah, like those who built the tower of Bavel (Babel), formed a monoculture. Over the last century, the Arab world has been doing the same. They have brought together the like-minded and excluded others. Their ideological echoes have driven them into ever greater extremism. They use violence and rape and the murder of infants to reinforce their ideology. We saw it with ISIS and we saw it with 9/11. Of course, the Arab world is not unique. One of my best short stories, and books, centers on how the Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa created a self-reinforcing monoculture among conscript children.

Many are fond of arguing that all people are the same and want the same things. That simply isn’t true. In a monoculture, your human instincts are replaced by that of the collective. You dream of your children being martyrs and you celebrate the rape and murder of innocents.

To stand athwart that of reality is to step into Lot’s predicament. Except, you will have no angels at your sides.

The great hate-sustaining catastrophe of Palestinian society is often defined as the Nakba – the departure of 80% of Arabs from the newly formed State of Israel, through either voluntary or forceful means. But the expulsion of 1.2 million Greeks from Turkey – and 400,000 Turks from Greece – didn’t result in culture-defining hatred. Those countries certainly aren’t friendly, but they aren’t at war. Even the great catastrophe of the Holocaust has not sustained a Jewish hatred of Germans. We remember and we mourn, but we moved on.

I believe the Nakba remains the great hate-sustaining catastrophe of Palestinian society not because of the expulsion of Arabs, but because of the expulsion of Jews. The Jews of Jerusalem’s Jewish quarter, Hebron and Efrat were driven completely out of Palestinian territory. This followed the building of a violent anti-Jewish monoculture that spanned decades and resulted in numerous murderous pogroms, long before Israel existed or cross the 1967 lines. The rest of the Arab-Muslim world joined in, expelling of 400,000 Jews from their countries. In the 1930s, Baghdad was 30% Jewish. Not a single Jew remains. René Qattawi, leader of the Cairo Sephardi community, endorsed the creation in 1935 of the Association of Egyptian Jewish Youth, with its slogan: ‘Egypt is our homeland, Arabic is our language.’ A Jewish resident of Cairo at the turn of the 20th century said, ‘true satisfaction that a great spirit of tolerance sustains the majority of our fellow Jews in Egypt, and it would be difficult to find a more liberal population or one more respectful of all religious beliefs.’

There are 6 Jews remaining in Cairo.

The expulsion of the Jews was the true Nakba for Palestinian and Arab society because it created a monoculture. A monoculture fixated on hatred for the Jewish people. Prior to the expulsion, Jews were a part of the cultural core of these societies, and these societies were thus multicultural and dynamic. They were not perfect – but they have declined precipitously from their prior imperfection.

The Arab world is not the first to face cultural decline in the aftermath of expulsions. Due to the conquest of the New World, Spain was very wealthy after the expulsion of the Jews. But it was never the cultural center is had been prior to that expulsion. Vienna was a world capital, until they expelled and slaughtered their Jews. In France, which expelled Jews time and again, the minority Huguenots served as a key to the nation’s cultural development.

The idea of a monoculture is not really about ethnic or religious or racial identities. It is, more fundamentally, about ideology. Thus, while it embraces people from many backgrounds, the ‘intersectional’ academic world is forming a monoculture (only forming because it is rarely actually violent). My mother became a Tea Party activist the day she retired from the academic world. But she never spoke of her views before then. Even 25 years ago, the monoculture was strong enough that her career would have been destroyed – like Lot in Sodom.

In the case of Hamas’ actions, many have let their resistance to the ‘intersectional’ monoculture be known. But many others have been silent. Perhaps they are waiting until they can full-throatedly condemn Israel for the response. However, on issues other than Hamas, in this moment, those that do not toe the line are broadly shunned. They are often shouted down when they attempt to speak. Their words cannot be allowed to be heard. A monoculture is taking root on the right as well. Monocultures on both sides have been core to the emergence of extremism and monocultures on both sides have embraced antisemitism. Monocultures on both sides are becoming increasingly violent.

These emerging monocultures are the main reason we moved to Israel. 80% of Israel’s population may be Jewish, but the society is alive with the crosscurrents of culture – from Haredi to secular, from European to Eastern, and from Islamic ideology to the communitarianism of the old Kibbutz movement.

Compared to the United States, Israel has a rich, dynamic, and flourishing society. Despite this, I still believe Israel’s cultural dynamo is stunted by the structure of our political system. This is why I wrote a Constitution specifically intended to inspire greater cultural interaction and expression.

In contrast, the Arab world has a powerful, anti-Jewish, monoculture. The penalty for selling property to a Jew in the Palestinian Territories is death. This includes not only the territory of Hamas, but that of the ‘peaceful’ Palestinian Authority. Not a single Jew lives under Palestinian rule. In Syria and Iraq, ISIS emerged among the closed minds of Sunni extremists. The Alawites of Syria, in their effort to remain rulers of their society, have long embraced Jew-hatred. All these nations have violently enforced Jew hatred. The coalition of Iraqi Kurdish leaders who suggested they’d formally recognize Israel were threatened with imprisonment and worse.

These societies have lost their dynamism and replaced it with ever-growing extremism focused on a single issue: the Jews.

In this environment, the beheading of infants – like the mass rape of angels – is something that must be celebrated. To do otherwise would be to face banishment – or even death.

Even thousands of years later, I believe the test of Sodom remains a valid one. If a moral argument can be made, without a crushingly violent response, then redemption remains possible.

While Egypt is still overwhelmed by anti-Jewish sentiment, the government of Al-Sisi is trying to make things better. They have restored Jewish sites in Cairo and promised to rebuild synagogues if Jews return. Despite the government’s efforts, it is not a safe place for Jews. But Al-Sisi is still firmly in control despite his alliance with Israel and his welcoming of Jews. In 2017, he even removed long-standing restrictions on the construction of Coptic Churches.

Dubai has made serious efforts to integrate multiple cultures, including Jews, under their authoritarian dictatorship. They are building the Abrahamic Family House – with a Mosque, Church and Synagogue. Turkey still has subtle voices supporting the accommodation of minority cultures. Even as the government broadly supports Hamas, and the suppression of the Kurdish minority, Erdogan has at least a cold relationship with Israel. And the Kurds, of course, have long worked with Israel.

In these places, the sickness of monoculturalism faces meaningful headwinds.

The same is not true in Gaza. It is not true among the intersectional left. It is not true among those who celebrated or mocked what happened in Southern Israel over the holiday weekend.

So, somehow, these cultures must somehow be dismantled or destroyed.

In the case of ‘intersectional’ academia, the emerging monoculture can be undermined by simply removing the subsidies for higher education in the United States. Without the financial wherewithal to be promulgating ideas that offer no economic benefit, the ‘intersectional’ monoculture will cease to exist. There will be victims, but not many. Because technical educations can pay for themselves, private lenders will step in. The funding of ‘liberal arts’ will suffer – but the ‘liberal arts’ are already dead. If they were still providing the tools for critical thought, then a ‘intersectional’ monoculture would never have emerged within the ranks of the Professoriate.

In the case of Gaza, or ISIS, or the far-right, or the ‘Greater Chinese’, the threat of a monoculture is much much more difficult to counter. A concerted effort must be made to protect the dynamic and free world from them. That effort must start by undermining the power of these cultures. In the case of Iran (whose government lives in one culture while many of the people live in a more dynamic reality), this means enabling the people to overthrow their leaders. In the case of Gaza, this means reconquest of the territory by Israel. In the case of China, it means the containment of the Communist Party until their society collapses under the weight of their debt, pollution, corruption and demographic decline.

None of these are peaceful or pleasant outcomes.

And, of course, undermining the power of these monocultures is not the end of the story.

Arab supporters of Hamas were singing “Gas the Jews” in Sydney, Australia. The Opera House they were singing in front of was lit up by the colors of Israel. They are not ruled by those who share their ideology. Nonetheless, they are vibrant. The Taliban were overthrown, but they regained their power.

The next step is exposure. My goal is not modern multiculturalism – I see no reason for cultures to view each other as equivalent or to automatically see minorities as superior. My goal is simply exposure in order to limit the effects of monoculturalism. I once had Shabbat dinner with some very conservative Pakistani Muslims. It was the first time the family had eaten out in years (the local Halal establishments weren’t Halal enough). I was dressed in a black hat and suit. Their kids were terrified of me. I played foosball with the kids and they left at least confused about what they thought they knew about Jews.

If there are opportunities for cultures to mix, then there are opportunities for monocultures to be short-circuited. This sort of cultural overlap can even be a matter of policy. For example, religious schools may be eligible for vouchers, but only if they have exchange programs with other schools. My proposed Constitution for the State of Israel builds this sort of overlap into the political system.

This exposure is most important when dealing with ideologies that want to seize control of a society. The Amish or Ahmadi are hardly a threat.

Exposure is not enough, of course. Ayman Al-Zawahiri – one of the leaders of Al Qaeda – was a highly educated man from a wealthy family who went to medical school and was a practicing surgeon. His exposure to science did not soften him in the least. He formed an underground cell to overthrow the government at the age of 15 and he never gave up his dream. Hitler was surrounded by Jews in Vienna – but it only reinforced his hatred of them. My wife encountered doctors in London who espoused (not knowing she was Jewish) the erasure of Israel.

The next step, beyond exposure, may seem counterintuitive. It is to enable aspects of monoculturalism to flourish. It is to grant freedoms to monoculturalists – freedoms that undermine the idea that they must have total control in order to begin to live their lives the way they see fit.

Weimar Germany had strict laws against antisemitic speech. They enforced them. As a result, that speech went underground. Instead of being drowned out in the sea of ideas, these laws contributed to the formation of an extremist monoculture. The same thing happened with the restriction of speech during Covid – it reinforced and massively expanded monocultural communities. Hitler was empowered by the laws against what he was saying – as was Ayman al-Zawahiri. Yes, there should be limits on speech – but only when that speech is meant to cross over into action. Calling for murder, genocide or assassination should be illegal. Honoring those who murder or assassinate should be illegal. But calling for Palestinian freedom or criticizing Jewish or Israeli actions, should be legal.

By enabling those who desire monocultures to speak, you rob them of the power to claim that their vision is being suppressed. My proposed Constitution goes further, enabling limited self-government in the areas of education, welfare and civil law. It provides freedoms that can serve as a pressure relief valve for extremism.

Twitter/X’s Community Notes are a very interesting approach towards enabling extremist speech while also limiting its impact. For a Community Note to be attached to a Tweet, people from a broad span of the ideological spectrum must agree that it is factually problematic. They aren’t elites or professionals – just fellow users of the system. It is an effective way of enabling speech while also limiting the negative impact of monocultural speech. Unfortunately, at the moment, there aren’t enough Community Notes contributors to keep a check on the wave of Gaza-related false and misleading speech.

In summary, this is the broad approach that I hope will be effective in countering the dangers of monoculturalism:

  • Limit monoculturalist power over others – sometimes by force of arms
  • Expose monoculturalists to other cultures – sometimes through policy
  • Free monoculturalists, so that they can more fully live the lives they value without feeling the need for power over others

These policies are not just for governments. As individuals, we should:

  • Vote against monoculturalists – power.
  • Talk to monoculturalists – exposure.
  • And, within limits, defend monoculturalists’ rights to live their lives as the see fit – freedom.

The last step is vigilance. When dealing with potentially violent or totalitarian monocultures, don’t be afraid to actively curtail and resist their totalitarian impulses. This includes limiting their power: such as the power to impose their standards – such as the effective outlawing of ‘blasphemy’ – to society as a whole. It includes forcing exposure, such as by creating school exchange programs or shutting down extremist academies. It includes protecting their rights, where those rights they do not significantly impose on the lives of others.

Remember: just because the culture is that of a minority (even a weak minority) does not make it good.

How does this all apply to Gaza? Right now, Israel is flattening the power of Palestinian monoculturalists. Yes, many Gazans hate Hamas – but in the large, they don’t want peace. Instead, want to replace Hamas with other Jew haters who they believe will be more effective in waging war. These forces must all be quashed.

As odd as it may seem, the next step is greater exposure of Palestinians to Jews and Jewish culture followed by opportunities for Palestinians to define their own society within the bounds of Israeli society as a whole. And, of course, there must be constant vigilance. The standards of Palestinian society – from laws on land ownership to speech to residence to freedom of religion – must be actively and continually resisted.

With the Abraham Accords, and the ongoing Saudi Arabian thaw, generations of Arab monoculturalism are beginning to be reversed. This will be a boon for Arab society. With the war in Gaza, it is my hope that those gains can be extended to the Palestinians themselves.

To read my theological take on the conflict in Gaza, click here

To read a version stripped of theological conflict, click here

To read about my approach to the broader conflict, click here.

Picture by By – CC BY-SA 4.0,

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  2. Jill Schachter says:

    I’ll read the constitution next.
    The Huguenots(!) – explains a lot about France, a country I studied in and still visit extensively.
    Thank you for writing. May your thoughts prevail.

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