Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Exposing How Post-Zionists Manipulate History Part III

by Avi Beker


3rd part of 3



In his most recent book, One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine Conflict, Benny Morris casts a dark cloud over the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace. He asserts that the primary reason there is no peace is "the stifling darkness, intolerance, authoritarianism, and insularity of the Muslim world," a reality that makes any solution a dim prospect.[45]

The problem with Morris is that these factors, as well as those numerous statements on jihad and exterminating the Jews, were in the public domain everywhere in the Middle East, the United Nations, and the Western press and academic publications since 1947-1948. The opening of archives that historians so solemnly flaunt as "new sources" can sometimes add to the knowledge but not necessarily to the historical context and awareness. New documents may provide some previously unavailable details, but in most cases they cannot change the direction of historical research. Worst of all, a selective use of archives that ignores the historical context, ends up in distortions and misleading accounts. It can only serve those like Ilan Pappé, who does not attempt to disguise his anti-Zionist agenda and defines the "new history" as a revolutionary movement whose goal is to "reconsider the validity of the quest for a Jewish nation-state in what used to be geographic Palestine."[46]

In reply to readers in the Irish Times, Morris was unequivocal on the refugee problem:

The displacement of the 700,000 Arabs who became "refugees" - and I put the term in inverted commas, as two-thirds of them were displaced from one part of Palestine to another and not from their country (which is the usual definition of a refugee) - was not a "racist crime"...but the result of a national conflict and a war, with religious overtones, from the Muslim perspective, launched by the Arabs themselves. There was no Zionist "plan" or blanket policy of evicting the Arab population, or of "ethnic cleansing."

Morris went on to say that, given the deadly threats "and the anticipated Arab armies' invasion routes...I for one cannot fault [the Jews'] fears or logic."[47]

The new Morris blames the Arabs for their misfortunes, denies the existence of a Jewish strategy of expulsion or transfer, and, in effect, defends the right of David Ben-Gurion to expel even more, in light of the threats of jihad. Suddenly, in the concluding chapters in both books, Morris brings the case of the Jews who were expelled from Arab lands, showing that there was an exchange of refugees, with approximately the same figures, as a result of the war. The Arabs who declared the war, says Morris, are also responsible for perpetuating the tragedy of the Palestinians in refugee camps, unlike those Jewish refugees who were absorbed in Israel.

As noted, Morris speaks openly about his failed expectations regarding the Palestinians' aims in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Probably, in addition to his learning process on the roots of the conflict, he could not ignore the fact that there are virtually no "new historians" on the Arab or the Palestinian side who could inquire into how the religious factor was so detrimental in perpetuating the conflict and how radical Islam was instrumental in inciting against the acceptance of a Jewish state. Hence, he ends his study on 1948 with a clear "J'accuse" against those historians who fail to understand the Arab rejection of the Jewish state and disregard clear facts and statements of religious hatred.

In his more recent books and articles, Morris has become the leading and most effective voice in exposing how the remaining New Historians cling to their unfounded and false messages. Morris's journey and his radical retreat from his earlier publications constitute an unusual testament to the thin line separating history from propaganda or even falsehood. When the recording of events is motivated by a determination to create a postmodern political narrative, it may end up escaping from history altogether.


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[1] Benny Morris, 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 392. 

[2] United Nations Security Council Official Records, S/Agenda/58, 16 April 1948, 19.

[3] "Palestine Frees #3 in Exodus Crew," New York Times, 9 September 1947, 2; also Clifton Daniel, "Arabs Threaten Force if Holy Land Is Split," New York Times, 7 September 1974, E4.

[4] Morris, 1948, 232.

[5] Ethan Bronner, "The New Historians," New York Times, 9 November 2003.

[6] It is easy to discern the New Historians' impact on academia by checking syllabuses in North American and European universities and seeing how prominent were the writings of Morris and the others. On their impact, see Daniel Polisar, "Making History," Azure, Spring 5760/2000; on the political implications in the universities, see Manfred Gerstenfeld, Academics against Israel and the Jews (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Center for Political Affairs, 2007).

[7] Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987). This book makes some references to the Arab rejection of a Jewish state but without analysis or an attempt to incorporate it into the historical context. There are also some references to the Arab intention to exploit the Palestinian refugees' tragedy as a political weapon against Israel but they are hinted only in a footnote. The first footnote in chapter 3 mentions Haj Amin al-Husseini's refusal in March 1949 of the refugees returning to their homes. Moreover,  Morris's early books lack a discussion or even reference to what is central in his 2008 book on the 1948 war: Arab hatred, Islamic anti-Semitism, the "jihad impulse," and so on. 

Israeli historians such as Anita Shapira and Shabtai Teveth attacked Morris, but the most detailed and consistent critique was by Efraim Karsh who very seriously charged Morris with five counts of distortion: "misrepresents documents, resorts to partial quotes, withholds evidence, makes false assertions, and rewrites original documents." See Efraim Karsh, "Benny Morris and the Reign of Error," Middle East Quarterly March 1999, For his attack on the New Historians in general, see Efraim Karsh, Fabricating Israeli History: The "New Historians" (London: Frank Cass, 1997).

[8] Avi Shlaim speaks of three founders, Morris, Pappé, and himself, but some add others to the group.  See Avi Shlaim, "When Historians Matter," Prospect, 29 June 2008.

Morris, unlike Pappé who is a self-proclaimed post-Zionist and even anti-Zionist, forcefully resisted any attachment of "post-" to his name or work. He insisted that he was a Zionist and that his work had no political purpose whatsoever.

[9] Simha Flapan, The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities (New York: Pantheon Books, 1987); Ilan Pappé, The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1947-1951 (London: Tauris, 1992), and his anti-Zionist manifesto, Britain and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1947-51 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1988); Avi Shlaim, Collusion across the Jordan: King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement, and the Partition of Palestine (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), and later his Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (London: Allen Lane/Penguin Press, 2000).

These Israeli historians were joined by numerous other historians who helped consolidate, on the same fictitious claims, the revisionist, anti-Israeli case and went as far as denying Israel's moral right to exist. For a typical publication, see Michael Prior, Zionism and the State of Israel: A Moral Inquiry (London and New York: Routledge, 1999). The book is described as "exposing the inherent racist and apartheid nature of Zionism" or as "the best demolition job on the moral legitimation of Israel that I have seen." See David McDowall, Middle East International, cited in Living Stones Magazine, Spring 2000, 3.

[10] Tom Segev, One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs under the British Mandate (New York: Henry Holt, 2001). British support for the Jews, according to Segev, stemmed from their mistaken, anti-Semitic belief in the Jews' inordinate global power.

[11] Alan Dowty, Israel/Palestine, 2nd ed. (Malden, MA: Polity, 2008), ix.

[12] Robert I. Rotberg, ed., Israeli and Palestinian Narratives of Conflict (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006), introduction. The book assembles different perspectives by Zionists and anti-Zionists and the bias becomes clear, as can be seen in this quotation from a review on the cover: "[The book's] main contribution is to see the tension as historically produced and contingent, revealing the dynamic interplay between narratives of hegemony and resistance," Human Rights and Human Welfare. Here narratives are interchangeable with history and the use of the term hegemony has only one meaning in this postmodern vocabulary: the Israeli occupation. See also how veteran scholars of the conflict regard this presentation of narratives as the best way to study the history of the Middle East and the Palestinian struggle; Gordon Fellman, review of Robert I. Rotberg, ed., Israeli and Palestinian Narratives of Conflict, in Society 45 (2008): 204-207. 

[13] The most radical of these texts was A World of Changes: History for Ninth Grade, edited by Danny Ya'akobi and published by the ministry's own Curriculum Division.

For more on the New Historians and post-Zionism, see Meyrav Wurmser, "Can Israel Survive Post-Zionism?" Middle East Quarterly, March 1999,

[14] It was called The Struggle for Israel's Security, and the daily Yediot Aharonot described it as "shattering a number of the most splendid myths on which we were raised," 4 August 1999.

[15] This list is based, with this author's additions and clarifications, on two accounts: Benny Morris, 1948 and After: Israel and the Palestinians (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 9;

Miron Rapaport, interview with Avi Shlaim, "No Peaceful Solution," Haaretz, 11 August 2005,

[16] Yezid Sayigh, Armed Struggle and the Search for State: The Palestinian National Movement 1949-1993 (Oxford and Washington, DC: Clarendon Press/Institute for Palestinian Studies, 1998), 3.

[17] This allegation is unfounded. First, there is no such a thing as an official Israeli history of the war. Second, many Israeli officials and historians draw attention to instances of expulsion as part and parcel of an eighteen-month war that was fought within cities and villages and in areas controlling the roads to Jewish cities and settlements under siege.

[18] Naomi Alon, interview with Benny Morris, 17 October 2008, [Hebrew]

[19] Gershon Baskin and Zakaria al Qaq, Creating a Culture of Peace (Jerusalem: Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information, 1999),

[20] Shlaim, "When Historians Matter."

[21] Michal Ben-Josef Hirsch, "From Taboo to the Negotiable: The Israeli New Historians and the Changing Representation of the Palestinian Refugee Problem," Perspectives on Politics, June 2007.

[22] Shlaim, "When Historians Matter." In another instance, a review of Ben-Ami's book in The Guardian says that the book  

incorporates "revisionist" assumptions that until recently most Israelis flatly rejected: that contrary to the old David versus Goliath image, the balance of forces and of motivation in the 1948 war favored them; that the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza since 1967 was anything but liberal; that Israeli attitudes have always been as important a part of this sorry story as Arab intransigence.

See Ian Black, "Not David but Samson," review of Shomo Ben-Ami,  Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy, in The Guardian, 11 February 2006.

[23] Benny Morris, "BeChazara LeTashach" (Returning to 1948), Haaretz literary magazine, 16 September 2009. [Hebrew]

[24] Howard M. Sachar, A History of Israel (New York: Knopf, 1979), 333.

[25] Ahron Bregman and Jihan El-Tahri, Israel and the Arabs (New York: TV Books, 1998), 28. 

[26] Sachar, History of Israel, 333.

[27] Benny Morris, "Peace? No Chance," The Guardian, 21 February 2002.

[28] Ari Shavit, interview with Benny Morris, "Survival of the Fittest?" Haaretz, 16 January 2004.

[29] Rashid Khalidi, The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood (Boston: Beacon Press, 2006). See the references in the index to anti-Semitism and to al-Husseini, where Khalidi explains why he failed as a leader and was discredited because of his alliance with the Nazis (62, 114, 127). See also Khalidi's criticism of Arafat (158-164).

[30] Ibid., xxxvii.

[31] Morris, 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War, 16, 21. The omissions by the New Historians on the mufti's role in fomenting hatred against the Jews are part of their endeavor of rewriting history. There are endless records on the mufti from the early stages of the conflict under the British Mandate. There was no need for new archives to be opened to write accurately about him. Much has long been written on him as the symbol of Arab anti-Semitic obstruction of peace.  Two more recent books substantiate the previous knowledge with the use of new documents: David G. Dalin and John F. Rothmann, Icon of Evil: Hitler's Mufti and the Rise of Radical Islam (New York: Random House, 2008); Jeffrey Herf, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009).

[32] Morris, 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War, 34.

[33] Ibid., 395.

[34] Ibid., 65.

[35] Ibid., 70.

[36] Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, O Jerusalem! (New York: Pan Books, 1972), 315. This source, a leading bestseller, is just one illustration among many others that Morris did not have to wait for the twenty-first century's opening of archives to grasp the seriousness of the jihad threats and to understand the context of the deterioration of the military balance against the Jews.

[37] Morris, 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War , 399.

[38] Ibid., 398.

[39] Ibid., 401.

[40] Ibid., 397.

[41] Ibid., 403. Again, all these facts of history were well recorded in numerous sources right after 1948.  See the sources on the British and American anti-Israeli diplomacy at the United Nations in Avi Beker, The United Nations and Israel: From Recognition to Reprehension Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1988), ch. 3. A more recent book highlights the consistent efforts by the British and the U.S. State Department to obstruct and retract the partition resolution at the United Nations in early 1948; Allis Radosh and Roland Radosh, A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel (New York: HarperCollins, 2009), ch. 10.

[42] Morris, 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War , 81.

[43] Ibid., 112.

[44] Ibid., 187.

[45] Benny Morris, One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine Conflict (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009).

[46] Ilan Pappé, "Post-Zionist Critique on Israel and the Palestinians, Part II: The Media," Journal of Palestine Studies 26, 3 (1997): 37-43.

[47] Benny Morris, letter to the Irish Times, 21 February 2008,

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Dr. Avi Beker teaches in the MA program on diplomacy at Tel Aviv University, returning from two years as a visiting professor at Georgetown University. He is the former secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress and has published books and articles on international politics and security and world Jewry.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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