Francisco Gil-White is an historian at the Unviersity of Pennsylvania. He was once anti-Israel until he did what a true historian does–research. He now is a staunch defender of Israel. His articles are illuminating. Read on:
On the supposed ‘about face’ of some anti-Israeli historians
Perhaps it is not what it seems.
Historical and Investigative Research – 22 June 2006
by Francisco Gil-White
There is a group of people who have been dubbed the ‘New Historians.’ Exaggerating only slightly, these ‘New Historians’ have passionately dedicated themselves to blaming the Israeli Jews, totally, for any and all problems connected with the Arab-Israeli conflict.
What this means is that these ‘New Historians’ have simply heaved to one side the manner in which, in the first half of the 20th century, the British government in British Mandate ‘Palestine’ promoted to positions of political authority precisely those Arab leaders who had the fanatical desire to exterminate any and all Jews, at the expense of Arab leaders who welcomed the Zionist project and the economic benefits it brought to the Middle East. These ‘New Historians’ also heave to one side how the same British government energetically assisted the anti-Jewish terrorist violence of their fanatically antisemitic Arab puppets.
Contrary to what the ‘New Historians’ would have you believe, the Arab-Israeli conflict is a consequence of this British policy, carried out in the fertile antisemitic soil of the Muslim world, where for many centuries the Jews have been traditionally considered slaves who deserve to be slaughtered the minute they complain about their status as slaves or dhimmis. The Zionist attempt to create a Jewish state — the ultimate act of insubordination — triggered jihad, which is to say the attempt to exterminate uppity infidels.
Why have the ‘New Historians’ ignored all this? Are they really historians?
Perhaps the most famous and influential of the ‘New Historians,’ Benny Morris, has blamed the Israeli Jews for supposed atrocities against the Arabs during the war of 1948, constructing a tale that, to the innocent, appears to legitimize the claims of Arab opponents of Israel. But Benny Morris is a liar, and once historian Efraim Karsh produced a detailed demonstration of this, Benny Morris publicly admitted to the fact!
Writes Efraim Karsh:
[Quote from Efraim Karsh begins here]
“Among the new historians, none has been more visible or more influential than Benny Morris, a professor at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, whose 1987 book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem 1947-1949, became the New Historian’s definitive work.
Prominent Palestinian politicians such as Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) [who inherited the leadership of the PLO/Fatah from Yasser Arafat] and Hanan Ashrawi cited the ‘findings’ of the New Historians to support extreme Palestinian territorial and political claims. Academics lauded Morris for using newly available documents to expose the allegedly immoral circumstances of Israel’s creation. With frequent media exposure, the New Historians had an impact on mainstream Israeli opinion, which became increasingly receptive to the notion that both the fault and the solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict lay disproportionately with Israel’s own actions.
Such plaudits, however, were undeserved. Far from unearthing new facts or offering a novel interpretation of the Palestinian exodus, The Birth recycled the standard Arab narrative of the conflict. Morris portrayed the Palestinians as the hapless victims of unprovoked Jewish aggression. Israel’s very creation became the ‘original sin’ underlying the perpetuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Had there been an academic foundation to Morris’s revisionism, such acclaim may have been warranted. But rather than incorporate new Israeli source material, Morris did little more than rehash old historiography. While laying blame for the Palestinian refugee crisis on the actions of the Israeli Defense Forces and its pre-state precursor, the Haganah, Morris failed to consult the millions of declassified documents in their archives, even as other historians used them in painstaking research.
Once this fact was publicly exposed, Morris conceded that he had ‘no access to the materials in the IDFA [Israel Defense Forces Archive] or Haganah archive and precious little to firsthand military materials deposited elsewhere.’”
[Quote from Efraim Karsh ends here]
That’s quite an admission for Benny Morris to make.
The most serious and famous accusation of supposed atrocities against the Arabs during the war of 1948 is the allegation of a massacre of Arab civilians in the town of Deir Yassin. Historians who, unlike Benny Morris, have looked at the documents that have recently become available, have now decisively refuted such accusations — for example, historian Uri Milstein, who has written the most exhaustively documented history of the War of 1948. As it turns out, the fraudulent Deir Yassin accusation was put out by agents of Hajj Amin al Hussieni, who before the war had been Britain’s instrument of anti-Jewish terrorist violence in British Mandate ‘Palestine.’
So, we have that a leading ‘New Historian,’ accuser of the Israeli Jews, apparently cared not one whit for the documentary evidence — he had not even looked at it. And we have that those who have looked at the documentary evidence have shown the most important accusations against the Israeli Jews to have been frauds concocted by violent antisemites. Should we be surprised? I don’t think so. The War of 1948 was a war of aggression launched by the Arabs, who proudly announced to the world that their objective was the total extermination of the Israeli Jews. Under such circumstances, one should expect the Arabs, not the Jews, to have been guilty of war crimes. And indeed, war crimes were the Arab policy, to such an extent that Israeli soldiers quickly learned that if trapped behind enemy lines without hope of rescue, the thing to do was to commit suicide by exploding a grenade, because the alternative was death by torture. This is without mentioning that the Arab armies routinely targeted civilians.
Now, recently there was much noise in the press because Benny Morris had supposedly made an ‘about face’: according to many sources, Benny Morris had retracted his claims. This led many patriotic Jews — under siege in an antisemitic world, and desperate for another defender — to embrace the supposedly new Benny Morris. But Jared Israel of Emperor’s Clothes pointed out in a piece published in Israel National News that Benny Morris had not really changed his mind.
Wrote Jared Israel:
[Quote from Jared Israel begins here]
“I have seen several defenders of Israel react with pleasure to the supposed transformation of Benny Morris. I cannot read the mind of Benny Morris, but I can read his statements. Looking at them, and especially his recent and much-discussed interview with Haaretz, I see that Morris still claims that what he wrote about the Israeli War of Independence is true. The only difference is that now he claims to have ‘realized’ that Israel was justified in doing bad things because the Palestinian leaders were never sincere about peace.
Israel, and indeed the Jewish people worldwide, are under assault from an organized propaganda campaign aimed at justifying anti-Semitism and genocide. The crucial battlefield is the minds of millions of Gentiles. The weapons used against the Jews are lies about Israel. In that battle, the new Benny Morris is even more harmful than the old.
For years, Benny Morris fabricated ‘facts’ — mistranslated passages so that, for example, Ben-Gurion seemed to be saying Arabs should be expelled when in fact he was saying they should not be expelled. Morris took statements out of context or left out parts of quotations so that Israeli leaders seemed to be calling for the harshest conduct, when they were in fact calling for the most humane conduct possible under the circumstances. He even fabricated evidence wholesale — manufactured documents — to make Israel look bad. This is proved in devastating detail by Efraim Karsh. One of Prof. Karsh’s best exposés is on the Internet. It is worth reading.
In order for Morris’ supposed transformation to be positive he would have to repudiate his own writings. He would have to admit that he lied wholesale. By exposing his own lies, he would, to some extent, undo the damage he has done.
Morris has made no such admission. Instead, Morris still claims his writings were based on facts; only his moral conclusions were wrong. However, it wasn’t Morris’ moral conclusions that hurt Israel. When he wrote that Israel was formed through rape, murder and ethnic cleansing, and justified by deceit, he did not have to add, ‘And I disapprove.’ It was his lies, his manufactured ‘scholarship,’ which was picked up and spread worldwide by an eager media, and which poisoned the thinking of millions of people against Israel. Here was a Jewish scholar, supposedly driven by a passion for truth wherever it might lead, who accused Israel of terrible crimes.
I was one of the people affected by Morris. In large measure it was because of him that — and I am ashamed to have to say this — I once supported the PLO.
When I read Karsh and realized Morris had lied — not made mistakes, but fabricated evidence — I was sickened. Morris’ lies were criminal, just as much as if he had attacked Israel with bombs. He helped undercut worldwide disgust for Palestinian terror; he helped create the political basis for a Palestinian terror state next door to Israel. Morris is responsible, like Yasser Arafat, for the murder of thousands of Israelis. But Arafat is not an Israeli Jew. Morally, Morris is worse than Arafat.
Over the past few years, Morris has found himself in danger of losing credibility due to the exposés written by Karsh and others. Moreover, many Israelis have learned through terrible experience that the PLO wants genocide. So, adapting to the new climate, Morris does a supposed about-face, claiming that while what he said about Israel was true, he was wrong about the Palestinian leaders. And because of this, says Morris, he was wrong to condemn Israeli actions.
What is the effect of this ‘change’?
Where honest scholars were once inspired to expose Morris’ lies, now they will hold back. After all, Israel has so few friends and one does not want to abuse an important person who has seen the light. This is very understandable, but politically harmful, because Morris has not seen the light. He has seen his way out of a hole. By claiming what he wrote is true, but that he supports Israel anyway, he continues to attack Israel while undermining the exposure of his lies. He is far deadlier ‘defending’ Israel than he was when he openly condemned her.
Now the enemies of Israel can say, ‘See? The friends of Israel are immoral scum — look at Morris. He has no trouble defending the ‘Zionist entity’ even though he, better than anyone, knows it was founded on what even he admits were crimes!’ Notice that by supposedly switching sides, Morris’ lying accusations are transformed into ‘admissions’!
Defenders of Israel seem slow to realize that we are facing a twenty-year propaganda blitz aimed at using the demonization of Israel to build a worldwide anti-Semitic movement with genocidal goals, including the physical destruction of Israel. The simplest explanation for Benny Morris’ twenty-year campaign of lies against Israel — I have found his anti-Israel lies in the New York Times as far back as 1983! — is that he is a high-placed kapo, a propagandist assigned to stir up hatred against his own people.
But whether Morris is a professional liar, or just a lying amateur, he continues to uphold his lies. And he makes matters worse by claiming to be a friend.
With friends like Benny Morris, the Jewish people don’t need enemies.”
[Quote from Jared Israel ends here]
Was Jared Israel’s analysis correct? Well consider what Ilan Pappe now says about Benny Morris:
“Morris [argues]… that ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by Jews was justified in the past and would be acceptable in the future.”
This is precisely what Jared Israel predicted would happen. But what is most interesting here is that Ilan Pappe is also a ‘New Historian.’ Is this a staged fight? In any staged fight, the public is the dupe: no matter who wins, the truth loses. In this case, so does the Jewish state. To convince yourself of this, it will be enough to take a look at the “different point” that Ilan Pappe defends, which he explains in the same piece:
“I had a different point to make: I condemned the uprooting of the Palestinians and the violence inflicted on them, as well as the de-Arabization of Jews who came from Arab countries to Israel, the imposition of military rule on Palestinians in Israel before 1967 and the defacto Apartheid policies put in place after 1967.”
So, Ilan Pappe attacks Benny Morris for applauding what Ilan Pappe condemns, but they are not making different claims. Who’s side will you take? It doesn’t matter: they both say that the Israeli Jews are supposedly the genocidal guilty party in the War of 1948. Heads the Jews lose, tails the Jews lose. Jared Israel was right: “With friends like Benny Morris, the Jewish people don’t need enemies.” The new Benny Morris is indeed worse than the old, because some defenders of Israel have committed the absurdity of embracing him.
The lesson I draw from the above is that when a historian who has attacked Israel, and who has been shown to be dishonest rather than misinformed, claims to have made an ‘about face,’ we should approach this claim with extreme caution before embracing this person.
And this brings me to Nathan Weinstock. In 1979 Nathan Weinstock published the following book:
Weinstock, N. 1979. Zionism: False Messiah. London: Ink Links Ltd.
As I have shown in my four-part series on the so-called ‘Palestinian movement,’ in the above book Nathan Weinstock absurdly blamed the Zionist Jews for having supposedly allied with the British colonialists to oppress the Arabs when the very data that Nathan Weinstock presented in the same book, on his own admission, showed that the British had been helping the Arabs kill Jews. Not content with that, Nathan Weinstock stuck his neck out and called the genocidal anti-Jewish violence of the Arabs in British Mandate ‘Palestine’ “understandable” because, he said, it was an expression of what he called Arab “national consciousness” reacting to colonialism, and the Zionist Jews, he said, were “clearly” allied with the British against the Arabs (why then were the British helping the Arabs kill Jews…?). So he called the racist anti-Jewish movement of these Arabs, in fact supported and directed by the British colonialists, the “Palestinian anti-colonialist movement,” thereby leaving no doubt for his fellow Marxists and other leftists that the ‘right’ thing to do was to support the ‘Palestinian’ Arabs against their supposed colonialist oppressors, the Jews (quite despite the fact that Nathan Weinstock himself documented that the ones oppressing the ordinary Arabs were the Arab feudal lords, with the help of their British friends).
It appears that ‘about faces’ for anti-Israeli historians are in vogue, because Nathan Weinstock, like Benny Morris, now claims to have seen the light and changed his mind. This he supposedly does in the following book:
Weinstock, N. 2004. Histoire de chiens: La dhimmitude dans le conflit israélo-palestinian. Paris: Éditions Mille et Une Nuits (Groupe Fayard).
The title and subtitle of the book, translated, read as follows: History of Dogs:Dhimmitude in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. The title is an obvious reference to what the Arab terrorists chanted during one especially bloody anti-Jewish rampage in Jerusalem, in 1929: “the Jews are our dogs.” This chant was reproduced in Nathan Weinstock’s discussion of the 1929 riots, but it did not have much of an effect on him then, because he defended such violence as “understandable.” The new book is supposed to correct this, and to give us Weinstock’s new comprehension of the conflict in Israel as stemming from the traditional anti-Jewish racism of Muslims, who for many centuries have considered the Jews to be their slaves (their “dogs,” their dhimmis), and in consequence cannot tolerate them to have their own state.
Now the question is the following: Has Nathan Weinstock really made an about face? Or is his supposed ‘about face,’ like Benny Morris’s, just Nathan Weinstock’s way “out of a hole,” as Jared Israel would put it? In other words, is this just a new way for Nathan Weinstock to continue attacking the Jewish state? Nathan Weinstock himself, in no uncertain terms, provides the answer: he accepts Benny Morris’s fraudulent interpretation of the War of 1948! Here is Nathan Weinstock:
“As we know, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians lost their homes during the course of the War of 1948, so this year is inscribed in their collective memory and designated by the term nakba (catastrophe).”
To this, Weinstock affixes a footnote that reads:
“Though the main reference here is obviously the now classic work of Benny Morris (Morris, B. 1987. The birth of the Palestinian refugee problem. New York: Cambridge University Press), one must not neglect the pioneering work of Ronny E. Gabbay who was able to consult the parliamentary study (distributed confidentially) of the Iraqi parliamentary commission charged with investigating the causes of the Arab defeat: A political history of the Arab-Jewish Conflict, Geneva, 1959. Benny Morris will soon publish a revised edition of his classic study, based on numerous new elements that will show, on the one hand, that the policy of expulsion practiced by the Israeli army was harsher, and imposed more quickly, than he previously thought, and, on the other hand, that there were indeed appeals from the Arab Higher Committee and other Palestinian leaders exhorting the Arab population to flee, which had been assumed up to now was just Israeli propaganda (cf. Avi Shavit’s interview of Benny Morris in Haaretz, English edition, 9 January 2004).”
Nathan Weinstock’s interpretation of the War of 1948 is supplied by Benny Morris. (And it is also supplied, notice, by the Iraqis, who in the decade before the ‘study’ mentioned by Weinstock, carried out a devastating pogrom against the Iraqi Jews — the Farhud — with the help of Hajj Amin al Husseini, who before this had been the British tool fomenting anti-Jewish terrorist violence in the Holy Land, organizing one pogrom after another. )
What is Nathan Weinstock’s excuse for this? I cannot see that he has one. Efraim Karsh’s demonstration that Benny Morris is a liar was published in 1999, and Nathan Weinstock’s Histoire de Chiens came out in 2004. That’s plenty of time for Nathan Weinstock to notice.
So, though Nathan Weinstock’s new book recognizes that the ‘Palestinian movement’ is at root racist, how has he made an about face? This recognition of Arab racism was already included in his earlier book Zionism: False Messiah, and it did not affect his analysis then.[17a] Neither does it affect his analysis now: Nathan Weinstock defends Benny Morris’s fraudulent thesis that the Israelis supposedly had a genocidal policy against the Arabs in the War of 1948. It is this fraudulent thesis that underlies the supposed justice of the so-called ‘Palestinian movement.’
Consistent with all this, Nathan Weinstock opens his book with what he believes is the only proper description of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
“What terms shall we use to describe the drama that at this very moment bloodies the Holy Land? Let us use a neutral, factual, and dispassionate formula. Let us say, therefore, that this is a conflict that opposes the Israeli Jews to the Palestinian Arabs. How else to express it?”
The question is rhetorical: Weinstock means to say that there is no other way to describe the violence taking place in Israel. But is his formula really “neutral, factual, and dispassionate”? Is this really the proper way to describe the conflict, let alone the only way? I beg to differ. In my view, the proper description of the Arab-Israeli conflict is that the Israeli Jews are fighting a defensive war against the Nazis.
In the Arab-Israeli conflict, the leader, where the claims of the so-called ‘Palestinians’ are concerned, has been Al Fatah, the controlling core of the PLO. It was Hajj Amin al Husseini’s organization that created Al Fatah after the World War, and Hajj Amin al Husseini himself who created Yasser Arafat, the founder and leader until his death of Al Fatah. This Hajj Amin, mentioned earlier, had been the British tool of anti-Jewish Arab terrorism in British Mandate ‘Palestine.’ When World War II exploded, he traveled to Berlin and met up with Hitler in 1941, subsequently becoming so important as a leader of Adolf Hitler’s extermination program against the European Jews that he may be considered Adolf Eichmann’s equal. So Al Fatah, which Hajj Amin created, and which swallowed the PLO by 1970, is an outgrowth of the German Nazi Final Solution, and this explains why the PLO Charter calls for the extermination of the Israeli Jews. The supposedly ‘rival’ organization, Hamas, was created by the Muslim Brotherhood, which was closely allied with the Nazis during World War II. Hamas is always saying in public that it means to destroy Israel, and the Hamas Charter states very clearly that “Leaving the circle of struggle with Zionism is high treason” (so one may not negotiate with Zionists). Moreover, despite appearances, the PLO and Hamas have always been allied.
The Israeli Jews are fighting a defensive war against the Nazis.
This way of putting it makes a whole lot more sense than what Weinstock writes, which is that we have a “conflict that opposes the Israeli Jews to the Palestinian Arabs.” First, because the Israeli Jews are not opposed to anybody. It is not the Israeli Jews who have repeatedly launched wars of extermination — it is their Arab enemies who have done that; and it is not the Israeli Jews who call for the destruction of their Arab neighbors — it is the Arabs who call for the destruction of the Israeli Jews. Second, because there is no such thing as the ‘Palestinian Arabs,’ and the demonstration can actually be found in Nathan Weinstock’s earlier book, Zionism: False Messiah, where he explained that there was no such thing as ‘Palestine’ and yet with bravado defended the reality of the “Palestinian identity.” Weinstock repeats the maneuver in his new book, where he explains, again, in a section entitled “A Palestine that cannot be found,” that:
“Though it may seem paradoxical to affirm it, this is nevertheless true: Palestine did not exist in the 19th century. …Definitely, the territory of the Palestine Mandate corresponded to Mediterranean Syria and its inhabitants considered themselves as being part of Syria in the larger sense (bilad al-Sham)….[but] this affirmation does not mean to invalidate Palestinian nationalism.”
Weinstock’s reasoning is amazing, particularly when you consider that the immediately following section, on the same page, has for title: “No Palestinian identity in the 19th century.” What, in Nathan Weinstock’s view, might invalidate so-called “Palestinian nationalism”? Obviously not the fact that ‘Palestine’ never existed, nor the fact that a people with a Palestinian identity cannot be found. Neither, apparently, will the traditional Muslim racism against the Jews, which has made the extermination of the Israeli Jews the central goal of “Palestinian nationalism,” invalidate this movement in Weinstock’s eyes.
So, although it is true that in his new book Nathan Weinstock now
1) takes loud exception to the representation of Zionism as a fanatical right-wing movement;
2) retracts his earlier accusations that the Jews despoiled ordinary Arabs of their lands, admitting now that they did no such thing ;
3) retracts his earlier accusation that the Zionist Jews were colonialists ; and
4) urges us to recognize the role that traditional Muslim racism has played in animating the Arab side,
the embarrassing facts covered above remain. Is it unreasonable, then, to propose that Nathan Weinstock has merely found a clever way to continue his attack against Israel?
Nathan Weinstock ends his book by applauding Ariel Sharon’s cleansing of the Jews who lived in Gaza. At the time of Weinstock’s writing, this was to happen in the near future. The passage in question expresses the hope that this cleansing of the Gaza Jews by their own government will lead the ‘Palestinians’ to negotiate. In other words, Weinstock is hoping for a ‘Palestinian state’ in the West Bank and Gaza. And yet Weinstock has just finished explaining that the entire PLO/Hamas leadership is irremediably racist, and it is obvious that this leadership will govern any ‘Palestinian state’!
Nathan Weinstock’s new book is consistent with the old one: he defends interpretations that are absurd in the face of his own data, when this data is any good. And he defends the justice of the so-called ‘Palestinian movement,’ resorting to Benny Morris’s lies whenever necessary. The material effect is, once again, that he attacks Israel. Is this an about face, then? Or is Weinstock’s new tune, like the Pied Piper’s, merely a strategy to seduce and lure his victim?
I believe it is the latter.