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Peace In The Middle West

When you think about it, there's got to be a better place for Israel than the Middle East.

Photo courtesy of Stockxpert When you think about it, there’s got to be a better place for Israel than the Middle East. It’s one of the worst neighborhoods on earth. Crowded, violent, dusty, and hated by pretty much every-one on the block. Holy sites aside, wouldn’t it be better if it was situated somewhere miles removed from care, some-where with a decent coastline, unsullied by ruins, and with some seriously exotic birds? How about Uganda? Even worse neighbors. How about Argentina? Crawling with ex-Nazis. How about North Western Australia? How about that? Now that might not be so bad after all. In mid-1939 Dr Isaac Steinberg, who had for a few short months in 1917 been Minister for Justice in Lenin’s first Soviet government, arrived in Australia on a mission for the Jewish Freeland League. His task was to investigate the last fertile and more-or-less uninhabited place on earth, a tropical savannah known as the Kimberley, to see if it could be proposed as an alternative to Palestine as a home for Jewish refugees. What he saw left him not only convinced, but entirely obsessed that this was where the Holy Land should be located, and for the following decade he ran a full time campaign to establish another Israel. What you probably don’t know is that he damn near succeeded. Steinberg arrived in Perth with nothing more than a few letters of recommendation in his pocket, but they were good ones. One from an Anglican Archbishop, one from a British Labour MP, and another from a Tory MP called Victor Cazalet, who referred to him as “a very fine type of Jew” and encouraged all who met him to be helpful. He also had a contact in the Durack family, who happened to own a farm. The farm in question, a typical family property of the time, stretched from the Indian Ocean to the border of the next state, running between the ocean and the Great Sandy Desert. It was roughly ten times the size of Belgium, and fifteen times the size of the current state of Israel, and had been properly mapped only a generation before. Except for a few European cattle and some scattered tribes (a few hundred people), it was Terra Nullius, pristine and uninhabited. He immediately started roaming around taking soil samples, measuring rainfall, examining the rainfall, and writing up a report of his trip with the geologist George Melville. The plans were ambitious: sheep, cattle and goats could all be adapted to the countryside. Steinberg even toyed with the idea of a large pork industry. Then there was the soil, that looked like Russian chernozem, or black earth, the farmer’s friend (let alone the volume of gold and diamonds beneath it, about which he couldn’t have had a clue). Cereal crops, pasture, oil seeds. Anything would grow in it. The massive Ord River could provide hydroelectric power and more than adequate water. The Israeli settlers had to ruin the water table to ‘make the desert bloom’ in Palestine, but all farming in the Kimberleys required would be a couple of virgins to scatter seed in the moonlight before heading home for bible studies. Steinberg already had the financial connections to raise funding, and people were ready and willing to move. All he needed was permission. His first target was the Western Australian Premier Willcock, who was initially highly unsympathetic. He was concerned that a bunch of pasty Eastern Europeans wouldn’t survive in the tropics and would end up on welfare in Perth. Steinberg addressed Willcock’s objections, gave him right of veto over “undesirable settlers”, and he was in. Soon afterwards, the main Perth newspaper, The West Australian, came on board, and started aggressively promoting the scheme. The two biggest Australian dailies, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, followed suit. The Anglican and Catholic Archbishops declared their support for the scheme on humanitarian grounds, and the Australian Council of Trade Unions passed a resolution too. All of a sudden Steinberg looked unstoppable. In 1939, the new Israel in the North West was one of the most popular topics in the Australian press. The papers were full of encouragement, arguing that as no one else wanted to go there and the Jews were so oppressed at home, they might as well have it. Sir Walter Murdoch wrote: “It would be tragic if Australia were to miss this opportunity of a piece of really constructive statesmanship.” For Zionist Jews however, the project was a distraction from the main goal, Palestine. They also didn’t like the idea of a bunch of fresh-off-the-boat Jews ruining their standing in the local overwhelmingly anglo-saxon community. So while the Jewish Freeland League did everything they could to help Steinberg from New York and London (with the support of the Guggenheims and the Warburgs, no less), the Jewish Welfare Society did everything it could to stymie him in Sydney and Canberra. And in the meantime, World War II broke out. Curtin used this as an excuse to freeze the topic. In January 1941, he wrote to Steinberg that it was “not a suitable time to give favorable consideration to such a proposal”. Pretty soon it would be too late, and Steinberg would be forced to watch the Holocaust from a virtual exile in Australia. It was a golden opportunity. A state big enough for the entire Diaspora, far enough from Europe and the Middle East to have avoided almost every event of the whole miserable twentieth century. Imagine all those German Jewish physicists, musicians and psychotherapists sitting in open air cafes arguing about theology and penis envy from morning till night. How have we done without them? We’ve been bored stupid, and it’s our own fault. And the rest of the world? The holocaust might never have happened, Palestine would not consist of a ring of refugee camps, and the entire historical basis of Islamic fundamentalism would never have appeared. No holocaust, no Gaza-strip, no Arab-Israeli conflict, no September 11. So why not do it now, you might ask? The settlement of Kununurra, easily the largest town in the Kimberley today, has a population of slightly more than 5,000 people, and was planted very close to where Steinberg envisaged a New Tel Aviv. How hard would it be to buy out 5,000 bored Australian agricultural workers? A hell of a lot easier than buying out 5 million angry Palestinians. As the West Australian said in 1939: “In its present condition the Kimberley is worth next to nothing to WA or to Australia. If it is capable of successful development by an energetic race which has, what we lack, the incentive to cope with acknowledged difficulties in order to win a new home free from restrictions and persecution… they should be allowed to do so.”