University of Exeter Gives Pappé a Pass on Invented Ben-Gurion Quote

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For one brief shining moment, it looked as if the University of Exeter was going to hold Ilan Pappé accountable for attributing a fake quote to David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister.

Those hopes were in vain. Not only did the university’s Ethics Committee fail to hold Pappé accountable for his fabrication, the committee accepted an explanation from the historian that is simply so byzantine and ludicrous that it raises questions about how seriously officials at the University of Exeter take the pursuit of truth and respect for the historical record.

In short, Pappé dug himself deeper into a hole when he responded to a challenge about the fake quote, and the Ethics Committee decided to shack up with the historian in the hole he dug.

Pappé’s shell-game began in 2006 when he reported that in a 1937 letter to his son, David Ben-Gurion declared: “The Arabs will have to go, but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen, such as war.”

He reported this quote in two venues – in an article (“The 1948 Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine“) published in The Journal of Palestine Studies and in his book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, published by Oneworld Publications.

There was some confusion about exactly where the quotation marks belonged however. In the original version of the book, the quotes appeared only around the first six words, (“The Arabs will have to go”) but in the journal article, the entire sentence was included in the quotes. In later versions of the book, however, the closing quotation mark migrated to the end of the sentence. (More about this later.)

In November 2006, the now-disgraced journalist Johan Hariused the quote in one of his commentaries at The Independent. This prompted a response from historian Benny Morris who declared in a letter to the editorthat the quote was “an invention, pure and simple, either by Hari or by whomever he is quoting (Ilan Pappe?)”

Morris was on solid ground. The quote did not appear in any of the sources that Pappé cited for it in his book, Ethnic Cleansing or the article appearing in The Journal of Palestine Studies.

In all, Pappé listed a total of three sources for the quote, none of which check out.

In Ethnic Cleansing, Pappé cites the July 12, 1937 entry in Ben-Gurion’s journal and page 220 of the August-September 1937 issue of New Judea, a newsletter published by the World Zionist Organization.

Nothing even resembling the quote appears anywhere in either of these texts, nor does it appear in Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, by Charles D. Smith (St. Martin’s 2004), the source he references in the article appearing in the JPS.

Morris’s statement that the quote attributed to Ben-Gurion was an “invention” should have prompted Pappé to either provide an accurate, verifiable source for the quote or to issue a retraction to prevent others from using it. Morris’s statement was too direct a challenge for any serious historian to ignore.

Despite Morris’s challenge, the quote lingered on in the fever swamp of anti-Zionist commentary. For example, Hari used the quote a second time in a 2008 commentary.

The quote eventually made its way into With God on Our Side, an anti-Israel documentaryproduced by Porter Speakman, Jr. in 2010.

To his credit, Speakman issued a correction regarding the quote after challenges from CAMERA. In his correction, Speakman acknowledged that the quote in question did not appear in the original sources that Pappé cited. He stated the quote would not appear in future editions of the movie. 

Speakman did the right thing, but Pappé stonewalled, ignoring queries submitted in early November about the source of the quote, prompting CAMERA to file a complaint with the both the College of Social Sciences and International Studies (Pappe’s department) at the University of Exeter and the school’s Ethics Committee.

CAMERA also contacted the peer-reviewed Journal of Palestine Studies, which contacted Pappé and asked for an explanation to be published in a future issue of the journal. In response to an inquiry from CAMERA, Oneworld Publications, which published Pappé’s book, stated it was looking into the matter, but has remained silent since.

In response to the CAMERA complaint, submitted in November 2011, Professor Nicholas Talbot, chair of the University of Exeter’s Ethics Committee, reported that the school takes such issues very seriously and that the committee had asked Pappé to explain himself.

At no point did Pappé respond directly to CAMERA’s inquiry.

His supporters did, however, come to his defense when information of the controversy appeared briefly on the Wikipedia page dedicated to the historian’s career. After a brief round of edits, the information was deleted altogether.

In late December, Pappé obliquely acknowledged the controversy in an article in Electronic Intifada, in which he portrayed himself as the victim of intimidation at the hands of “Zionist hooligans.” Pappé claimed that since he had started teaching at the University of Exeter, his work has been regularly challenged and that these challenges “have been brushed aside.” He wrote:

This year a similar appeal was taken, momentarily one should say, seriously. One hopes this was just a temporary lapse; but you never know with an academic institution (bravery is not one of their hallmarks).

A few days later, the Ethics Committee reported its findings to CAMERA in a letter signed by chair Professor Nicholas Talbot. The upshot of this letter, detailed below, is that Pappé was given a pass.

Pappé’s Explanation, Transmitted by Talbot

In the letter, Talbot noted the original quote that appeared in the original hardcover edition of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine differs from what appeared in subsequent versions of the book.

In the hardcover edition of Ethnic Cleansing, (which Talbot writes “must be considered the original text”) only the first six words of the sentence attributed to Ben-Gurion (“The Arabs will have to go…”) are included in quotation marks.

Talbot reports “there may have been a different version in some of the many reprints” of Pappé’s book.

“If this is the case,” Talbot writes, “the Professor Pappé has assured us that it will be corrected in the next edition.”

Talbot then states that the second half of the quote attributed to Ben-Gurion (“but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen, such as a war”) was a “fair and accurate paraphrase” of the sources he provided in Ethnic Cleansing – Ben Gurion’s diary entry and the article in New Judea – the latter of which recounts a speech Ben-Gurion gave. 

Interestingly enough, the letter does not say which passages in these sources Pappé was paraphrasing. Given the ongoing questions surrounding the quote in question, it would seem reasonable for him to show his work and provide these passages to his readers. (Maybe he will, in a yet-to-be published article in the Journal of Palestine Studies.)

The questions do not stop here, however.

Source for “Arabs Must Go”

We are still left without a source for the first half of the quote (“The Arabs must go”). Talbot doesn’t come out and say it, but his explanation indicates that Pappé admits that first half of the quote (“The Arabs must go…”) is not in any of the three sources he originally provided. He does this when he provides another source – his fourth – for this part of the quote.

Here is what Talbot writes:

The source for the first part of the sentence, is based on a letter from David Ben Gurion to his son from the 5th of October 1937. Shabtai Teveth[,] Ben Gurion’s biographer, Benny Morris and the historian Nur Maslaha have all quoted this letter. In fact their translation was stronger than the quotation from Professor Pappé ‘We must expel the Arabs and take their place.’ Professor Pappé has documentary evidence of these quotations and the source will ensure that this is correctly cited in any future editions of the publication or related studies.

Based on these investigations, the University is completely satisfied with the standard of scholarship and academic practice of Professor Pappé within the framework of the University’s Agreement of Academic Freedom.

The University therefore considers the matter closed. (Emphasis added.)

Take a look at the first sentence again, because it is revealing. The phrase is “based on” a Ben-Gurion letter is a tacit admission that Pappé paraphrased the first part of the quote as well. In other words, Pappé’s use of quotation marks around any part of the quote he attributed to Ben-Gurion is simply untenable.

Simply put, Pappé misused quotation marks by putting them around words that the person being quoted did not say.

How did the Ethics Committee miss this?

Do quotation marks mean one thing to students, researchers and professors at the University of Exeter and something else to the rest of the world?

Apparently so.

That’s Not All, Folks

But it gets worse. Even if Pappé’s readers are willing to accept that the phrase “The Arabs must go” is a reasonable approximation of “We must expel the Arabs and take their place,” there’s another problem.

Ben-Gurion didn’t write or say “We must expel the Arabs” either. In fact, he wrote the opposite.

Ben-Guion’s diary entry for Oct. 5, 1937 actually reads, “We do not want and do not need to expel Arabs and take their places.” Ben-Gurion subsequently writes: “All our aspiration is built on the assumption – proven throughout all our activity – that there is enough room in the country for ourselves and the Arabs.”

Morris used the correct translation in the Hebrew version of his 1987 book The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, but used the incorrect translation in the English version this text. (For a comparison of the two texts, please go to this article by historian Efraim Karsh and scroll down.) Morris subsequently corrected himself in a later text, Righteous Victims, published in English in 2001. In this book, Morris reported that Ben-Gurion wrote he did not want and did not need to expel Arabs and take their places.

Another historian invoked by Pappé to defend himself, Shabtai Teveth, also used a mistranslation of the passage in question in the English version of his book Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs published in English by Oxford University Press in 1985.

But the Hebrew version of this book, also published in 1985, has Ben Gurion writing, “We do not want to and we do not need to expel Arabs and take their place.”

The problem with this mistranslation of Ben-Gurion’s diary has, thanks to historian Efraim Karsh’s book Fabricating Israeli History (first published in 1997), been well known for over a decade and yet, Pappé relies on this mistranslation to defend part of his scholarship.

For a discussion of the details of this well-known controversy, see this article regarding the 2003 book, Whose Land Whose Promise by Gary Burge of Wheaton College which also uses the mistranslation of this quote.

What Can We Conclude?

Pappé plays a pretty mean shell game, but following the story closely, two conclusions become evident.

First, Ben-Gurion simply did not say or write any part of the quote attributed to him by historian Ilan Pappé. This is the only logical conclusion one can draw from the letter sent from the Ethics Committee that exonerated Pappé. This letter says one part of the quote is a paraphrase, and that another part of the quote is “based on” something Ben-Gurion wrote. In sum, Pappé’s use of quotation marks around the words he attributes to Ben-Gurion, whether around the entire sentence, or just the first few words, is deceptive.

Secondly, the primary source that Pappé invokes for the first half of the quote (“The Arabs must go”) does not say what he says it does. It says the opposite. In other words, it is not even a fair and accurate paraphrase of what Ben-Gurion said.

Upon examining the evidence, most reasonable people would conclude that the quote Morris attributed to Ben-Gurion is “an invention, pure and simple.”

In other words, Benny Morris was right.


Morris has challenged Pappé on yet another quote, this one appearing in The Rise & Fall of a Palestinian Dynasty: The Husaynis, 1700-1948 (University of California Press, 2010). Here, Pappé discusses the British-created Shaw Commission charged with investigating 1929 riots. Pappé reports that Sir Walter Shaw, chair of the commission, blamed the riots on Britain’s support for Zionism: “‘The principal cause’, Shaw wrote after leaving the country, ‘was twelve years of pro-Zionist policy’.”

In a scathing review of Pappé’s work, titled “The Liar as Hero,” that originally appeared in The New Republic in March 2011, Morris writes:

It is unclear what Pappe is quoting from. I did not find this sentence in the commission’s report. Pappe’s bibliography refers, under “Primary Sources,” simply to “The Shaw Commission.” The report? The deliberations? Memoranda by or about? Who can tell? The footnote attached to the quote, presumably to give its source, says, simply, “Ibid.” The one before it says, “Ibid., p. 103.” The one before that says, “The Shaw Commission, session 46, p. 92.” But the quoted passage does not appear on page 103 of the report. In the text of Palestinian Dynasty, Pappe states that “Shaw wrote [this] after leaving the country [Palestine].” But if it is not in the report, where did Shaw “write” it?

Here a little more background is useful. The reference that Pappé provides is to the deliberations of the Shaw Commission itself. “Session 46,” refers to a meeting of the Shaw Commission that heard testimony from leaders in Palestine. This document is an unlikely source for a statement written by Shaw, “after leaving the country.” If Shaw were to have written such a statement, it would not logically be included in the commission’s proceedings, but in the report itself, or some other correspondence.

Maybe it’s a niggling concern, maybe it’s an innocent error, but in light of how Pappé dealt with the Ben-Gurion quote, giving him the benefit of the doubt at this point seems pretty unreasonable.

So we are left with some obvious questions. Does the Shaw quote appear in the source Pappé cites? Or is it somewhere else? Does it appear anywhere? Is it a paraphrase or a direct quote? Did Shaw really write what Pappé said he did? 

Morris offered his challenge in March, 2011. Almost a year has passed and to the best of CAMERA’s knowledge, Pappé has not responded. Hopefully, we will not have to wait six years for this issue to be resolved.

Morris’s challenge becomes much more poignant in light the Royal Historical Society Statement on Ethics which calls on historians to eschew “fabrication” and “falsification.” The Royal Historical Society also invokes the “Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct” of the American Historical Association, which is quite forceful in its statement regarding fabrication. It reads in part, as follows:

All historians believe in honoring the integrity of the historical record. They do not fabricate evidence. Forgery and fraud violate the most basic foundations on which historians construct their interpretations of the past. An undetected counterfeit undermines not just the historical arguments of the forger, but all subsequent scholarship that relies on the forger’s work. Those who invent, alter, remove, or destroy evidence make it difficult for any serious historian ever wholly to trust their work again.

Apparently, the University of Exeter thinks otherwise.

University of Exeter Gives Pappé a Pass on Invented Ben-Gurion Quote

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