Sixty is pretty old for a country. Consider that, by the time the United States was 60 (counting from the conclusion of the War of Independence), we’d already had 10 presidents, had nearly quadrupled the size of the nation, and were on our way to becoming a world power.
As with the histories of all nations, our birth was not without sins and crimes. Native Americans paid a dear price for our expansion, as did enslaved Africans. But this does not (keening college professors notwithstanding) deligitimize the entire enterprise called the United States of America. In fact, our capacity to acknowledge our faults is one aspect of our national honor.
Israel is about to celebrate its 60th birthday, but alone among the nations of the world, its legitimacy and right to exist continue to be considered matters of debate. Israel, like the U.S., is willing to be self-critical (sometimes to extremes) but this fair-mindedness seems to float on a different plane from the vituperation and defamation that is hurled at Israel from so many directions.
In 2001, most of the world’s nations convened a conference on racism in South Africa. The U.S. withdrew after it became obvious that the conference on racism was itself racist. Condemnations of Israel dominated the proceedings, and the handouts available in the lobby featured caricatures worthy of Der Sturmer: hook-nosed Jews with Palestinian blood on their hands surrounded by bags of money.
So even now, even after triumphing over so much adversity in its all-too-eventful first 60 years, Israel is not considered a normal country. The campaign of deligitimization launched by its enemies has succeeded to a tremendous degree in persuading ordinary people that Israel was conceived in sin. That sin was the dispossession of the Palestinians, the rightful inhabitants of the land now called Israel. Second only to the claim that Iran seeks nuclear power for peaceful purposes, this is the most sinister lie in circulation.
There has been a continuous Jewish population in Israel since Biblical times. There have been difficulties maintaining a large Jewish presence in Jerusalem through the millennia — there was, for example, a bit of unpleasantness with the Romans around the year 70. But Jerusalem has been a majority Jewish city since the 1860s. In 1914, the British estimated that the city contained 45,000 Jews out of a total population of 65,000.
When the U.N. partitioned the British Mandate territories into a Jewish and an Arab state in 1947, the Jewish section held 538,000 Jews and 397,000 Arabs. Jerusalem, with its 100,000 Jews did not count, as the U.N. proposed to make it an international city separate from the Jewish state. As Alan Dershowitz has pointed out, those who claim that Israel was created out of a majority Arab region are counting the Arabs who lived in what was then called Transjordan as well as the West Bank and Gaza.