Fabricating Israeli History: the New Historians

Posted on: December 9th, 2011 by
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by Efraim Karsh

For the last 15 years or so, Post-Zionism has tried to delegitimize Israel’s identity as a Jewish state. The politics of Post-Zionism is closely allied with Labor’s left-wing and Peace Now. Prior to the current Intifada, they believed that the New Middle East was imminent, and that the Palestinians constitute no strategic threat to Israel’s security. Even now, largely marginalized and politically sidelined, the post-Zionists continue to refine their ideology.

The academic wing of post-Zionism has been the so-called “new historians.” Led by Benny Morris and Avi Shlaim, they seek to undermine Israel’s moral standing vis-à-vis the Palestinians. They see Israel as tainted by the original sin of Zionism and the 1947-49 war. Israel deliberately created refugees to dispossess the Arabs; they colluded with Jordan to thwart the national ambitions of the Palestinians; and it was all unnecessary, since they enjoyed the nurturing hand of Ernest Bevin, and the British Foreign Office. Their historical narrative has Israel as the villain.

If all this were true, it would certainly alter the nature of the dispute. Even if it were a legitimate interpretation of extant documents, it might fuel an honest debate about the nature of Israel and its role in the region. Mr. Karsh conclusively shows, however, that these conclusions rest on fabricated documentation. The New Historians repeatedly misread documents, sometimes literally changing “don’t” to “do” in their English translations. They omit key passages, sometimes turning the speaker’s meaning on its head, other times depriving the reader of key context. They fail to look at entire archives. This naked intellectual dishonesty poisons the well of civilized and informed debate, and is the real target of Mr. Karsh’s wrath.

Morris quotes Ben-Gurion as proposing the forcible removal of Arabs to solidify the Jewish majority. In fact, the passage quoted opposes use of force, talks of treating the Arabs inside the Israeli borders as equals, and proposes increasing the Jewish majority through immigration. Morris claims that in a single, secret meeting, Golda Meir committed Israel to an agreement with King Abdullah of Transjordan, whereby Israel agreed to let Abdullah invade the proposed Arab Palestinian state in order to forestall the creation of that state. Neither Meir’s report nor those of her aides bear this out, but specifically repudiate it. And Morris’s assertion betrays a deep misunderstanding of how international agreements are reached.

As for the British, they could not have blessed such a deal, since it didn’t exist. And Mr. Bevin was just about the furthest thing from a guardian angel the Israelis could have had. He limited immigration, and supported its limitation even after Israel’s independence. He supported an arms embargo which disproportionately hurt Israel. He proposed that the Israelis make Haifa an open port, with Arab access through a Galilean corridor He fully anticipated and encouraged the Egyptians and the Jordanians to divvy up the Negev. He supported the cease-fire one month into the war, to “save the Arabs from themselves.” With friends like these…

Karsh’s criticism is academic, not political. He himself supports the creation of some sort of Palestinian state. His attacks are strictly professional, based on his opponents’ writings, and never sink to the level of personal invective. His contempt for the New Historians is based on their academic sloppiness and dishonesty, and their need to demonize Israel in order to achieve their political ends. Unlike his opposition, his footnotes are reliable, and his sources not retouched.

As Americans, we are blessed by a short history and short memories. But Israel is a place with long memories. To be valuable, memory must be informed by accurate history. Two people may interpret the same historical documents very differently. But two people looking at different documents have no hope of agreeing. Mr. Karsh is doing yeoman work, trying to move the historical discussion back to common ground.


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