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‘Cameron is much closer to Netanyahu’s thinking than people realise’

British Prime Minister David Cameron has long professed himself a ‘passionate friend of Israel’. He is also a passionate supporter of the Conservative Friends of Israel, whose meetings he has repeatedly addressed and whose long-time director, Stuart Polak, he awarded with a peerage. Cameron is reputed to be an intimate friend and ally of Israel’s right-wing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu—or, as Cameron prefers to call him, ‘Bibi’. Even on those rare occasions where they disagree, Netanyahu refers to the British prime minister warmly as ‘[m]y friend’. When Netanyahu was re-elected in March 2015, Cameron congratulated him by telephone, and ‘looked forward to working with’ his government. When Cameron himself won re-election in May 2015, the Netanyahu government was overjoyed. One senior Israeli diplomat gushed, ‘Cameron is much closer to Netanyahu’s thinking than people realise’. How does this ‘passionate friend[ship]’ manifest in practice?

In 2006, when senior Conservative official William Hague dared to criticise Israel’s attacks on Lebanon as ‘disproportionate’, the Conservative Friends of Israel reportedly ‘complained in person to David Cameron’ and thereby ‘obtained a promise that the word would never be used again’. In 2011, Cameron’s government amended UK law on universal jurisdiction to shield from legal accountability visiting Israeli officials, such as Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who had been credibly charged with war crimes. He now assures Israeli officials: ‘[my] country is open to you and you are welcome to visit any time’. His stated rationale for shielding Israeli criminals from prosecution echoed Jeremy Corbyn’s explanation for meeting with representatives of Hamas and Hezbollah: ‘we want to get the Peace Process moving’. During Israel’s summer 2014 assault on Gaza, Cameron repeatedly affirmed ‘the UK’s staunch support for Israel’ and ‘underlined Israel’s right to defend itself’.

In today’s Prime Minister’s Questions, Cameron savaged Corbyn for having referred to Hamas and Hezbollah as his ‘friends’, and repeatedly demanded that Corbyn withdraw the remark. Norman Finkelstein—leading authority on the Israel-Palestine conflict—what are your thoughts on Cameron’s demands?

Does Cameron keep better company than Corbyn? Let’s look at the record. In 2006, armed hostilities broke out between Israel and Lebanon. In the course of those hostilities, Israel killed 1,200 Lebanese, of whom 1,000 (80 percent) were civilians. Hezbollah killed 160 Israelis, of whom 40 (25 percent) were civilians. If you look at the numbers, whether absolutely or relatively, who, prima facie, was the bigger war criminal? In the final 72 hours of the conflict, when the war was effectively over as the Security Council had already passed a ceasefire resolution, Israel dropped as many as four million cluster sub-munitions on South Lebanon. It was the densest use of cluster sub-munitions in the history of warfare. Entire civilian villages were saturated. It was a war crime on a mind-boggling scale.

If Corbyn shouldn’t have referred to Hezbollah as his ‘friend’; and if one attaches equal value to each human life; and if war crimes are war crimes regardless of the address from which they originate—in other words, if facts rather than demagoguery serve as the basis of one’s moral calculus, wasn’t the Tory embrace of Israel incalculably worse?
Consider now Gaza. Parts of Gaza are among the most densely populated areas on the planet. 80 percent of Gaza’s population consists of refugees and descendants of refugees, while more than half the population consists of children under the age of 18. Gaza has been under military occupation for a full half-century, and it’s suffocated under an illegal and immoral blockade for the past decade. Even David Cameron has described Gaza as a ‘prison’. In the past 12 years, Israel has launched not less than eight murderous operations against the overwhelmingly refugee and mostly child population herded in this prison. In 2008, after it broke a ceasefire that Hamas was ‘careful to maintain’ (Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center), Israel launched Operation Cast Lead or, what Amnesty International called, ‘22 days of death and destruction’. In the course of this assault, Israel dropped white phosphorous, a substance that reaches 800 degrees Celsius, on a humanitarian warehouse, a school and two hospitals (al-Quds hospital and al-Wafa hospital). It destroyed 6,000 homes, and it left 1,400 Gazans dead. Up to 1,200 of these were civilians, 350 of them children. After the attack, Israeli soldiers described what happened as akin to ‘a child playing around with a magnifying glass, burning up ants’, and a ‘PlayStation [computer] game’. One of the principal architects of this massacre was then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni. The day after Cast Lead was over, Livni boasted on Israeli television, ‘Israel demonstrated real hooliganism during the course of the recent operation, which I demanded’. Later, she declared that she was ‘proud’ of her decisions during the invasion, and would ‘repeat’ every one of them.

Human rights organisations such as Amnesty called on governments to utilize the provision for universal jurisdiction in international law to prosecute war criminals like Livni. The U.K. was the principal venue in which this provision of international law was tested. What did Cameron’s government do? It revised domestic U.K. law so as to shield Livni and her cronies from criminal prosecution.

In July-August 2014, Israel launched another murderous assault on Gaza. This time it destroyed, not 6,000 homes, but 19,000 homes. This time it killed, not 350 children, but 550 children. How many Israeli children were killed? One. A ratio of 550:1. How many Israeli homes were destroyed? One. A ratio of 19,000:1. While Hamas fired ‘bottle rockets’—as Foreign Affairs journal described them—at Israel, Israel dropped as many as twenty thousand tonnes of explosives on Gaza. Israeli soldiers who did combat duty subsequently described the ‘insane’ and ‘crazy’ amounts of firepower used in Gaza, and testified that the formal and informal rules of engagement were to ‘shoot to kill’ at ‘anything that moves’.
Notwithstanding these serial atrocities, Cameron feels no shame, and displays no embarrassment, in warmly embracing Israel and its criminal leaders. But, when Corbyn designates Hezbollah and Hamas as ‘friends’, so as to facilitate a process—blocked at every turn by the lunatic Netanyahu government—for resolving the conflict, he’s crucified and browbeaten into issuing an apology. If Corbyn owes the British public an apology for the company he keeps, and if, as Cameron seems to believe, one is guilty by virtue of the company one keeps, then Cameron clearly needs to put in a stint behind bars—or, better still, in Gaza.

(Reprinted from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: David Cameron, Israel Lobby 

We interviewed Norman Finkelstein, the noted scholar of the Israel/Palestine conflict, in Brooklyn on April 8 and followed up with email exchanges. The following text contains both oral and written responses to our questions.


Q. You’ve been canvassing for Bernie Sanders. Tell us why you’re so excited.

I’ve witnessed three great social movements in my lifetime, the Civil Rights Movement, the Antiwar Movement and this is the third. Bernie’s campaign took the Occupy movement, which was localized, and he elevated it to the national level. I don’t know what will come next. I doubt anyone knows. But it’s exhilarating to be part of it.

If you asked me one year ago whether young people would come out in these numbers, I would have laughed. My impression was that they were hooked on internet chatter and antidepressants. But the young folks in the campaign are so serious, so intelligent; they remind me of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) folks from the early 1960s. I went on a bus ride to Massachusetts to campaign for Bernie. I was one of five in the alte kaker brigade. The rest were young people. It struck me that on the way home, there were no drugs, no one smoking marijuana, no alcohol. We got home at midnight or 1 am. It was a kind of moral austerity. Like, this is serious stuff, we’re not going to diminish it.

I have to say, it made me feel proud, for once, to be an American. On the other hand, these young people have good reason to be serious. They’re struggling for their future. If nothing comes of this, it’s really a black hole for them, a futureless future. They’re attending colleges with astronomical tuitions, coming out strapped with astronomical debt, then they have to pay astronomical interest rates, and—the worst is—there are no jobs out there. So they have a real (as we used to say) material interest in the Bernie Sanders campaign.

Q. If Bernie loses, something could still come of this?

Hopefully, the young folks will figure out the next step. It’s telling how easily and intelligently they made the transition from the Occupy movement. Occupy had a lot of cultist elements. That open mic thing—I felt as if I was at a Moonie wedding. And the consensus politics, it just didn’t work. When Bernie keeps being asked, reasonably, how do you expect to push a radical program through Congress, he keeps saying the same thing, I can’t do anything on my own, there’s got to be millions of people in the streets. He never says, organize within the Democratic Party. He just says, organize, organize, organize. How can anyone calling themselves radical disagree with this message?

This is the opportunity of a lifetime. Bernie has a national platform. Day in and day out, he’s hammering away at Wall Street, he’s naming Goldman Sachs, he’s indicting the Walton family—one family—for hoarding more wealth than 40 percent of our society. He says it over and over again. To the point that even his supporters are complaining. But Bernie grasps that he must keep repeating the message if it’s going to get traction. His devout supporters might have heard his stump speech a thousand times already, but most people hear it just once. For them, it’s not tedious, it’s a revelation. Still, you’d never know what he’s saying from the mainstream media. You wouldn’t know that he’s saying that one tenth of one percent owns more wealth than 90 percent. That’s a simple statement, he keeps repeating it. But the New York Times never reports it. However, it also never disputes it. It’s just whited out. Instead, when Sanders started campaigning in New York, the Times ran a puff piece on Goldman Sachs, saying how cool and hip the place was because its chief information officer was a gay Latino. For all anyone knows, so was Dracula; but he’s still a vampire.

Hillary keeps saying, “We have to build on Obama.” But what did Obama actually do that we are supposed to build on? Did he reduce college tuition or student debt? Did he create real 9 to 5, 40-hour-per-week jobs at a decent wage? Did he reduce income inequality? If his term of office was such a resounding success—which power-hungry grovelers like Paul Krugman now proclaim—can you tell me why so many people are rallying behind Trump and Sanders? Have you ever in your lifetime seen such mass disaffection from the political establishment and the system it represents?

Q. Do you see real economic reform flowing from the campaign?

Not in the short term. The one percent is tenacious; a lot is at stake for them. Former NYC mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg might be reduced to owning only ten homes. Even if Bernie did win the nomination, the political establishment, and the billionaires who control it, will try to destroy him. The “deep state” (as Egyptians call it) will do everything they can to wreck him, so as to teach the people a lesson, Don’t mess with the system. The Republican establishment would prefer Hillary to win if Trump is nominated and the Democratic establishment would prefer Trump to win if Sanders is nominated. The apparatchiks in both parties are trembling because power is slipping from them. “How did this happen?” To them, the party has been hijacked. Their vehicle to power has been hijacked. The serfs are stealing their fiefdom from under their feet. The whole top is united because the whole bottom is shaking the rafters. Each party would rather lose one election than lose control of their respective apparatus.

Q. Isn’t it possible the Democratic Party will blow up just like the Republicans?

A lot depends on Sanders. A pivotal moment in my own generation’s political memory is the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. Hubert Humphrey was the nominee, he was Lyndon Johnson’s vice-president. A lot of people blamed the antiwar protests and so-called riots outside the convention, and the ensuing disaffection from the Democratic Party, for causing Humphrey’s defeat and ushering Richard Nixon into power. Now, there’s a real question: if Sanders were to say, we want one million people outside the Democratic convention making their feelings felt, that could be quite dramatic. But he’s going to be under a lot of pressure not to repeat the ‘68 convention.

Q. Can you imagine Bernie campaigning for Hillary Clinton?

Yeah, it’s hard to conceive. Noam Chomsky has said that of course he’ll vote for Clinton if she’s the Democratic nominee. Because, although the policy differences between the candidates might be tiny, when you wield so much power, even a tiny difference translates into life and death for many people. That’s a compelling argument. Trump has also released ugly latent impulses that, even as they exist in many if not all of us, should be kept bottled up, and he’s legitimized street violence and hooliganism. Will these arguments persuade me? I can’t yet say. But I doubt they’ll persuade most young people. They don’t feel a stake in a Clinton victory; it just represents more of the same.

Q. You mention Occupy. What about Black Lives Matter as a factor?

The African-American vote has been the bulwark of reaction in this election. It’s sinking Bernie and buoying Hillary. However inspiring their courage and conviction, and however successful they’ve been in raising public consciousness, I can’t agree with Black Lives Matter activists who say that they’re above or beyond electoral politics. It’s radical posturing, posing and preening. They say that Sanders doesn’t speak to—the new buzzword is intersectionality. Tell me, which is the group of people in America today that stand to benefit most from a jobs program, universal health care and free college education? The buzzword obscures the basic fact that African-Americans are suffering most from our economic system and would benefit most if the Sanders platform were implemented. I was a radical in my youth, and I emphatically remain one. But I have come to see that I was wrong about many things. It’s a regrettable aspect not only of mainstream but also radical history that it focuses on the glamorous, chic, photogenic personalities who are often not the ones who effected real, concrete change. You take the case of the different phases of the Civil Rights Movement. The phase that really changed the face of America wasn’t the Black Power movement. It was the early phase of SNCC, the freedom rides, sit-ins, and voter registration drives, the period from the beginning of the Montgomery bus boycott to the passage of the 1964 and 1965 Civil Rights Acts. If you look at who were the grassroots heroes, people who were just breathtaking in their courage, intelligence, maturity and earnestness—Bob Moses, Diane Nash, James Forman, James Bevel, Fanny Lou Hamer—most of them nobody has heard of. But everyone knows Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale, Huey Newton and Angela Davis. (Though I don’t want to be hard on Angela, she’s a uniquely impressive figure.) Everyone knows the Panthers, but who knows SNCC? The Civil Rights Movement was perhaps the most inspirational chapter in American history. But today’s activists are focusing on the wrong phase of it. Like myself, they’ve been seduced by style at the expense of substance.

Q. What about the courage you’ve seen in Palestine?

I personally witnessed a lot of courage during the first intifada. It was a kind of cognitive dissonance. These were nondescript, ordinary people, and yet at the same time each of them in his or her own way was displaying a kind of heroism that I was totally incapable of. I remember sitting in the kitchen of the house where I lived. It had a picture window. Every time a shot was fired outside, I wanted to dive for cover. But everyone else just went about their business as if nothing was happening. Everyone was involved, everyone showed awe-inspiring bravery. A grandmother—if a soldier started abusing a kid—she confronted the soldier, she was not afraid. She would go right up to the soldier and say, God is stronger than you.

The first intifada was not unlike the Civil Rights Movement. The most obvious question when you’re using nonviolence is, Who are you trying to reach with this tactic? That’s actually a complex question. Are you trying to convert the white Southerners, are you trying to reach white Northerners, are you trying to get the Federal government to act? It was quite clear from early on, the Movement realized, white Southerners? Forget it, they’re not going to be shaken by pictures of black (or white) people getting beaten. That’s not going to touch them. They were like the overwhelming majority of Israelis today, who are dug in, morally brutalized. They won’t be moved by pity. There’s no possibility that you’re going to reach Israelis by scenes of Palestinian suffering; on the contrary, they seem to relish it. So, if you choose as your audience, so to speak, the wrong target, you could be wasting your time. But the Civil Rights Movement understood early on, Our target is not white Southerners, our target is Northern whites, liberals and the Federal government. They carry on pretending to be a democracy, so we’re going to embarrass them into doing something about voter disenfranchisement and segregation.

These sorts of questions were not clearly sorted out when it came to the first intifada. It was too short-lived. It’s usually dated from December 1987 to Oslo in September 1993, but the first intifada was already over by 1990. Which was why the Palestinians cheered Saddam Hussein and the Scud missiles he fired at Israel. They were back trying to be liberated by someone from above or outside them. The whole idea of the first intifada was, We’re going to emancipate ourselves. But it was already over by the time of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, when they were looking to him as a savior.

Q. What about Sanders’s stance on Israel/Palestine?

Initially I avoided reading his statements. I knew they would make me cringe. I don’t think even he believed a lot of what he was saying. His brother Larry is in the Green Party in the UK, he supports BDS. Bernie must know what’s going on is egregiously wrong. And actually, his recent statements have not been terrible. The formal policy statement he issued at the time of the AIPAC convention (which he didn’t attend) wasn’t bad. He explicitly called for lifting the blockade of Gaza. If Gazans organized a mass, nonviolent demonstration to breach the blockade, they could have Bernie on their side. The UN Human Rights Council report on Operation Protective Edge (2014) was horrible, it was a disgrace, but there was one redeeming paragraph. It did call for lifting the blockade immediately and unconditionally. That’s now been joined by Bernie’s unequivocal endorsement. It signals that the possibility exists of winning over him and his mass constituency, as well as large swaths of international public opinion, to end the illegal and inhuman blockade. His call during the New York debate with Hillary for an evenhanded US policy that recognized Palestinian humanity was unprecedented in a Democratic primary. Despite all the local pressures, and everything that was riding on the New York primary, he didn’t back down. Incidentally, the 74-year-old Jew from Brooklyn lost the Jewish vote in the primary, but everywhere he’s been sweeping the Muslim vote. Who could have predicted that?! It has to touch you—I am Jewish—when Bernie keeps winning the Muslim vote. Ask yourself, Would American Jews in their majority vote for a Muslim? Never. Impossible. But Muslim Americans are rallying behind Sanders, even as he supports recognition of Israel and its right to live in peace. Why? Because he comes across as a fair and decent guy. That’s so moving, so wonderful, so inspiring. It gives hope that a better world is possible.


Q. What wouldn’t you have predicted about where we’re at today in the conflict, ten years ago?

There are multiple dimensions to this question, each of which has witnessed significant shifts: the Palestinians, the region, the international community, and the Jewish diaspora. Some of these changes could have been anticipated, others came as a complete surprise.

On the Palestinian front, the salient development has been the successful conversion of the West Bank into a mini-Jordan. The Israelis made a calculation in 1993. Why can’t we create a little Jordan in the occupied Palestinian territories? We’ll just pay off enough VIPs in the PLO, and the US or Jordan will train the security services. The PLO will then do all the torture, they’ll do all the dirty work, and we’ll be relieved of the two biggest headaches inflicted on us by the first intifada: the public relations catastrophe, caused by media images of soldiers with Uzis beating children with stones, and the burden of having to mobilise the reserves to suppress a mass uprising.

The Oslo accord was designed to rid Israel of these two headaches. Number one, we’ll let Palestinians do all the dirty work. These liberals and human rights groups won’t be on our backs anymore because we won’t be doing the torture. It worked. I can’t think of a single report in the past decade by a major human rights organization, such as Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch (HRW), on the West Bank. Occasionally, local Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations issue reports. But, however valuable, they’re not high-profile; they don’t garner media attention. It’s Arabs torturing Arabs, so who cares? And now, when there’s an Israeli massacre in Gaza, the PA represses demonstrations in the West Bank, so far fewer Israeli soldiers are required, and they don’t need to call up the reservists. The PA protects Israel’s rear. It’s the same right now with the so-called third intifada. It’s the PA that’s repressing the rebellion at Israel’s bidding.

Here’s another telling detail. The magnitude of the devastation Israel wreaked in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge beggars the imagination. In Operation Cast Lead (2008-9), 6,300 homes were destroyed. But, do you know how many homes were destroyed in Protective Edge? 19,000. 350 kids were killed in Cast Lead, 550 in Protective Edge. But here’s the thing. As many as 300 human rights reports were issued after Cast Lead, documenting Israel’s carnage. But after Protective Edge, there was dead silence. The only major human rights organization that published reports on Protective Edge was Amnesty, and Amnesty’s reports were horrible. The silence was partly because nothing came of the human rights reports after Cast Lead. The US, acting in cahoots with the PA, impeded any action. The reports just collected dust, so the organizations ceased caring. It was also because the international community has grown inured to Israeli atrocities and Israel’s lunatic prime minister. But the biggest reason was the cowardice—or, if you prefer, prudence—of the human rights community after Richard Goldstone’s crucifixion. I can’t prove it, I want to emphasize that, but in my opinion, based on a lot of circumstantial evidence, Israel dug up dirt on Goldstone and forced him to capitulate. So, first it was Goldstone. The next victim was Christian Tomuschat, a German jurist. He got kicked off one of the Human Rights Council follow-up committees on Cast Lead by the Israel lobby. Then it was William Schabas, a prominent fixture in the human rights community. He got ousted from the UN Human Rights Council investigation into Protective Edge by the Israel lobby. It was obvious that you’d better not have any skeletons in your closet if you go after Israel. Human Rights Watch published five substantial reports after Cast Lead, some of them quite good—such as Rain of Fire, on the white phosphorus. But it said practically nothing on Protective Edge, even as that operation was by far the most destructive. The human rights organizations, they just sat it out or, in the case of Amnesty, regressed to churning out apologetics. The UN Human Rights Council was an even bigger disaster. Mary McGowan Davis, this New York state judge who replaced Schabas, was a veritable horror story.

The only chink in Israel’s armor after Protective Edge was Breaking the Silence. Otherwise, Israel had intimidated everyone into passivity. There was nothing you could quote against the official Israeli—I know it’s called narrative, I call it propaganda. I couldn’t cite anything. Human rights organizations are still scrupulously correct in the collection of facts. Where all the distortion sets in is the legal interpretation of the facts. That’s where you see the hand of people like HRW’s Ken Roth. He used to—I don’t know if it’s true anymore—personally edit the HRW reports on Israel/Palestine—they were the only ones he personally edited—because that’s when you get into the law. You are allowed to describe ghastly things, but then in the legal section, maybe you can say that it was indiscriminate, maybe you can say that it was disproportionate, but the one thing you stay away from, is saying that an attack was deliberate, as in the deliberate targeting of civilians. So, in the Human Rights Council report, they’re describing over and over and over again deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, but you’ll never see that in the legal conclusion. That’s where Mary McGowan Davis entered the picture. She shamelessly whitewashed Israeli atrocities, just as HRW’s legal expert did back in 2006, in its reports on Israel’s use of cluster submunitions in south Lebanon.

Except for pointing up the discrepancy between the factual findings and the legal interpretations in the Human Rights Council and Amnesty reports, there wasn’t much I could say about Israeli atrocities during Protective Edge. There was no documentation from “neutral” human rights organizations that I could cite. I could quote Palestinian human rights organizations, which are, of course, reputable and reliable but, unfortunately and unfairly, they lack credibility among the broad public. The only thing I had left and what I constantly resorted to in a new book I’m writing on Gaza, was Breaking the Silence. It’s an unimpeachable source and its eyewitness testimonies demolished the official propaganda. If Israel can silence Breaking the Silence, if Israel can break Breaking the Silence, then the next time it’s just going to be Israel’s word against the Palestinians. That’s a disaster waiting to happen. I notice some “radical” Palestinians in the West have been given to disparaging Breaking the Silence. That’s unfathomable idiocy.

So, Israel’s calculation in 1993 turned out to be more successful than anyone could have conceived. The PA security services started out as a rinky-dink operation. Now, they’re a very professional organization, trained by the CIA and by Jordan. Maybe, if a mass Palestinian uprising erupted, the PA security services would collapse. But, for now, they have proven very effective. This level of collaboration and cooperation between the PA and Israel—would I have predicted it? No. The PA sabotaged the Goldstone report, it prayed for Israel’s victory in Protective Edge, it has acted as a conveyor belt for Israel’s torture regime.

The next dimension is the regional one. I would not have predicted that, while Israel was massacring Gazans during Protective Edge, Egypt would openly support Israel, Saudi Arabia would openly support Israel, the Arab League would openly support Israel. The Arab League met once during Protective Edge, and it supported el-Sisi’s cynical cease-fire proposal. If Israel was able to carry out an unprecedented massacre in Gaza, it was partly because it had not just the tacit but the vocal backing of so many Arab states. As for Western public opinion, the Holocaust blackmail still works at the state level but not among ordinary people. Fully seven decades have elapsed since the end of World War 2, while the Holocaust has been used like a shmatte—a multipurpose rag. It’s been drained of its emotional resonance; it no longer has the capacity to silence Europeans, at any rate, the younger generation.

On the other hand, I was perhaps the first one to take notice of the shifting currents among American Jewry. I used to lecture at about 40 colleges a year. It became clear from speaking to these audiences that Israel was losing the battle for public opinion. In 2007, I gave a public lecture on this topic at the Judson Memorial Church near NYU. I said that young American Jews are not going to defend Israel’s criminal conduct. Israel dropped as many as four million cluster submunitions on south Lebanon in 2006 in the last 72 hours of the war, when it was already over. It dropped white phosphorus, which reaches a temperature of 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit, on hospitals and a school during Cast Lead. If you’re a young American Jew, you’re probably liberal and idealistic, you’re not going to defend that sort of stuff. You may not come out swinging against Israel, but you’re going to lower your head in embarrassment and shame. I was slowly registering this metamorphosis. Something’s happening here. Younger Jews are changing. Some older Jews too—but not the majority.

Q. What about the intifada of knives?

It’s a misnomer to call it an intifada. When the first intifada was expiring, there were all these stabbings, in Jerusalem and elsewhere. They were not a sign of hope, but a manifestation of despair. This so-called third intifada, it began with stabbings; it began on a note of hopelessness, which is what an impulsive, random stabbing is. The first intifada began spontaneously, but within days all the mass organizations got involved, they formed the Unified National Command of all the political parties (except Hamas at the beginning). They were distributing leaflets every week. It was professionally done. There were bulletins telling you what to do. This day’s a strike day, this day we should be doing this, this day we should be doing that. It may have begun spontaneously. But there was a network of mass organizations ready to jump in. There is no organization now.

That points to one of the myths propagated by the BDS leadership. It claims to represent nearly 200 Palestinian civil-society organizations. If there were 20—forget about 200, just 20—such organizations with a real constituency in Palestine, would the third intifada eight months later still have no organizational form? If the organizations BDS claims to represent actually exist, they would have jumped into the void, just as the mass organizations did in the first intifada. And in the first intifada, everyone deferred to them, because they belonged to them. That’s civil society. In fact, the salient feature of this so-called third intifada is that it is organization-less. Have you ever heard of a genuine people’s uprising that consisted entirely of random knifings and running down people in the street? The truth is,“Palestinian civil society” is an illusion. It’s just foreign-financed NGOs—one or two-person outfits—dotting Ramallah’s privileged landscape.

In general, there’s a lot of romanticizing of “oppressed people.” We see it here in the US. Who would have predicted that African-Americans would sink the most radical presidential candidate in living memory? In my youth, black people were said to be the “Vanguard of The Revolution,” but in this election cycle they turned out to be the vanguard of reaction. Look at John Lewis. He was a genuine hero of the Civil Rights Movement, no question about it. But now he’s a pathetic flunkey for the racist Clinton machine. He grotesquely maligned Bernie’s record in the Civil Rights Movement and delivered up a clean bill of health for the Clintons. Likewise, because the Palestinians have been romanticized, it hasn’t sunk in that at this moment—I’m not going to predict tomorrow, I learned that from the Sanders campaign—Palestinians are a defeated people. The causes and symptoms of this include a cynicism about politics after so much sacrifice and hope yielded the bitter fruits of continued occupation and more settlements; a collaborationist leadership; the daily struggle for survival; the rejection of collective struggle in favor of every man for himself; the absence of popular organizations. I don’t know who in the West dreamt it up, but one clever tactic was to take any Palestinian who had talent, any Palestinian who was articulate, any Palestinian who might be radicalized, and give them an NGO in Ramallah, give them a computer terminal and give them an office, double or triple their salary, and then make it plain that if you get too far out of line, you’ll be out in the cold. It worked like a charm. The types of folks who once staffed the mass, popular organizations now sit in a Ramallah office writing quarterly reports on the Palestinian economy, even as the Palestinian economy is non-existent. This critical sector of future leaders has been pacified.

Q. But maybe, if Palestinians in the occupied territories are a defeated people, BDS is something that’s happening in the diaspora, which is undefeated.

Defeated people, for the moment. I don’t know what will come next. Look how wrong I was about young people in the US! The ruling elite in the West is very smart. It makes errors, obviously, but one shouldn’t underestimate its cleverness. One reason white South Africa abolished Apartheid was because it looked at the United States in the post-Civil Rights era and it dawned on them that you can get rid of the formal, legal discrimination and still control the economy. That was what happened here in the US. There was no redistribution of wealth between blacks and whites, except the creation of a new, post-Civil Rights era black bourgeoisie. Palestine is a tiny place. It was overwhelmed by the big powers that calculated and conspired how to neutralize it. The Europeans supply the largesse to keep the PA afloat while the CIA torturers train the security services. It would have taken superhuman fortitude to resist the temptation and the torture. I can’t say I’m shocked at the defeat that was inflicted. But we should be honest that the situation is hopeless, for now. It doesn’t mean we should give up. I’m not giving up. But we also shouldn’t nurture illusions. When the bubble bursts, it just breeds yet more despondency and despair.


Q. You said that Breaking the Silence is effective, and sure enough, all the Israeli leaders at the New Israel Fund conference last December were attacking Breaking the Silence. But the same is happening with BDS. You cannot go to a speech by a leader on this issue without them attacking BDS. They’re not wasting their words. And so people of conscience hear that and say, Go BDS.

In fact, BDS has proven to be a bonanza for Israel. First, if you look at the genesis of Israel’s current BDS hysteria, it’s illuminating to pinpoint exactly when it began. It started right after Netanyahu was defeated on the Iran issue. Netanyahu and his cronies thrive on conjuring up enemies who allegedly want to destroy Israel. So they manufactured this hysteria about Iran, but it didn’t work because the West wanted to cut a deal. I wasn’t surprised it didn’t work. I’ve said many times, when it comes to critical US foreign policy interests, the Israel lobby is impotent. On Iran, the lobby couldn’t even count on the African-American senator from New Jersey, Cory Booker, who was a darling of the lobby and one of the founders of Yale’s Jewish society. When Iran was off the agenda, Netanyahu needed a new Great Satan that was bent on Israel’s destruction. So he grasped at BDS. It became the new pretext for Israel to play victim.

Second, Israel was getting nervous as international public opinion turned against it. What did it do? It claimed that all criticism of Israel was at heart BDS, and that BDS was about destroying Israel. By inflating the threat posed by BDS; and by redefining BDS to encompass all opposition to it, including European Union and church initiatives wholly divorced from BDS; and by subsuming under the rubric of BDS the campaigns in the West that only targeted the settlements and the occupation—by exaggerating the reach and potency of BDS, Israel could delegitimize even its most tepid but also most ominous critics. It could now allege that even they were really, whatever they might avow, seeking Israel’s destruction. The irony is, while Netanyahu wails that BDS wants to delegitimize Israel, in fact, he is manipulating BDS to delegitimize principled criticism of the occupation and settlements.

Third, once Israel began to lose Western public opinion, it had one strategy: change the subject. If it talked about human rights, it couldn’t win. It’s not going to win on human rights, it’s not going to win on the occupation. So, whenever you talk about human rights, Israel wants to talk about anti-Semitism. Whenever you talk about the occupation, it wants to talk about double standards—What about Darfur, What about Syria? Keep changing the subject. That’s its strategy. Now with BDS, it’s been really brilliant. You have to give credit where credit is due. Nobody talks about the blockade of Gaza anymore, it’s all about BDS: Is BDS anti-Semitic? Does BDS want to destroy Israel? It gets to play the victim card again. It has succeeded in changing the subject. But it must also be said that BDS made it very easy for Israel, by refusing to recognize its legality as a state within the pre-June 1967 borders. BDS enabled Israel to wrap itself in the cloak of victimhood. When the New York Times opens its columns to debates on Zionism, Mondoweiss says it’s a historic breakthrough. But the Israelis actually relish it. Let’s talk about Zionism. Let’s talk about BDS. Let’s talk about everything, everything—except what Israel is doing to the Palestinians.

Q. Wait. In October 2012, you asserted we can’t discuss Zionism because for Americans it might as well be a hairspray. But that’s exactly what we’re discussing now.

You’re confusing an intra-Jewish debate with broad public opinion. If there’s a new recipe for knishes in Sao Paulo, it’s a front-page story in the New York Times.

Q. But you were the one who said American Jews are a critical constituency. So this is a conversation inside the Jewish community about Zionism, and about time.

If you want to reach a broad public, you have to focus on things like Israel’s human rights record, the occupation, the settlements and the blockade, which a lot of liberal Jewish opinion also opposes. But if you switch the conversation to Zionism and anti-Zionism, a lot of Jews get queasy. What exactly does anti-Zionism mean? If it denotes the dissolution of Israel, it’s a nonstarter for the vast majority of Jews, and public opinion generally. Such a conversation also doesn’t go anywhere. The difference between Zionism and Apartheid—which clearly became a term of opprobrium—is that there was never a quarrel about what Apartheid signified. Everyone understood it meant separate and effectively unequal development. It had a clear, unambiguous meaning. So the debate was not subtle. It was actually pretty straightforward, and in the West no one tried to defend Apartheid on ideological grounds, because it was so antithetical to the dominant ethos of the post-Civil Rights era, which had just repudiated the separate-and-unequal doctrine. But Zionism doesn’t have a clear-cut definition, that’s why both Chomsky and Netanyahu can call themselves Zionists. It’s a much more elastic term. Historically, it contained within it many competing currents, some of which were not awful, although the dominant tendency, which won out, was obviously noxious. So, once you get into a conversation about Zionism, you’re talking about an elusive phenomenon, which might be useful to parse in a graduate school seminar, but I don’t think it has much to do with politics. It’s just a distraction, which is why Israel loves to talk about it.

Q. You spoke about a world consensus supporting the two-state solution, back in 2012. Well, there’s been a shift in that consensus. Tom Friedman even says, get ready for the era of one state.

The global consensus has not weakened a jot. Look at the critical venues, the UN General Assembly, the International Court of Justice, human rights organizations—what might be called the political horizon of progressive public opinion. If you look at all these venues, there’s no indication of a crack in the consensus. The only venue where one state is taken seriously is the humanities faculty of academia, among tenured radicals. When they’re not convening conferences on “The Black Body” and “Transgressing Transgenders” (or is it “Transgendered Transgressions”?), they circulate petitions supporting one state in Palestine. (God forbid any of them should get involved in the Bernie Sanders campaign; he’s so passé.) I also can’t attach significance to what Tom Friedman says. His pronouncements are politically inconsequential. He just says it and moves on. That’s not serious politics. We are involved in a protracted, uphill battle, we don’t tweet or write a disposable column and then it’s on to something else. That’s not serious, it’s not serious. We have to think through what we’re saying, what are the consequences, implications, repercussions, ramifications. Thomas Friedman just gets up in the morning, he sits in front of the computer screen, and the first question that pops into his head is, How do I get the buzz going about me? He’s hooked on “like” and “share.” That’s his raison d’etre.

Q. Secretary of State John Kerry and US ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, also said we want to avoid the one-state reality.

Tzipi Livni also says it: If we don’t solve the conflict, we’ll have to deal with BDS/one state. They use BDS/one state as scare tactics to get Netanyahu to withdraw to the Wall. If you don’t withdraw now, we’ll have to deal with BDS/one state later. Incidentally, I was clearly wrong about the Kerry peace process. I thought the US was going to exert enough pressure on Israel to get a deal. No, the Israelis are very dug in, I was mistaken. The self-styled radical intellectual, Perry Anderson—he’s the leading Bolshevik in UCLA’s faculty cafeteria—speaks highly of BDS. He says it’s “the one campaign against the status quo with a real edge.” But Anderson also concedes, “after a decade of actions, its practical impact has been close to zero.” Facts are stubborn things, as Lenin used to say. “Close to zero.” When I read a posting on Mondoweiss by a BDS leader that said Israel is facing “imminent collapse” due to BDS, I had to wonder about his grip on reality. Israel is exploiting BDS. It’s doing with BDS exactly what it does with Hamas “missiles.” There are no Hamas missiles. It’s a complete fabrication. They’re enhanced fireworks. According to UN figures, Hamas fired 5000 missiles and 2000 mortar shells during Protective Edge. Israel’s official number is that Iron Dome deflected 740 of the Hamas missiles. That still leaves 4200 missiles that weren’t disabled. But, according to Israeli reports, only one Israeli house was destroyed during Protective Edge. You can perhaps argue that so few Israeli civilians were killed because Israel has a sophisticated early warning/shelter system. But houses don’t take cover in shelters. How can it be that only one house was destroyed? Because they weren’t missiles, they’re enhanced fireworks or, as one expert put it, “bottle rockets.” And Israel is not the only party that perpetuates this fiction. Hamas also perpetuates it. It said, You see, armed resistance does work, look at how afraid they are of our missiles. Now, both Israeli leaders and BDS leaders pretend that Israel is facing an imminent catastrophe because of BDS. It’s a mutually convenient fiction.

I’m right now writing a history of Israel’s massacres in Gaza. The biggest personal revelation while doing the research has been, everything we’re told about the conflict is a fantasy. There are no Hamas missiles. Iron Dome is also a fantasy; it probably saved zero lives. MIT missile specialist Theodore Postol put its effectiveness at five percent. That means it successfully intercepted all of 40 Hamas rockets. “Terror tunnels” is also a fantasy. The UN Human Rights Council report pointed out that, although Hamas militants did cross into Israel via the tunnels, they never once targeted Israeli civilians, only IDF combatants. In fact, Israelis themselves have conceded this. It finally sunk in on Hamas: Israel only cares if you kill or capture combatants. Israel’s a Sparta-like society, which mourns first and foremost the death of its fallen soldiers. I know BDS activists won’t like me for saying it, but in my opinion BDS is just one more of those hasbara contrivances, like the Iranian “existential” threat, Hamas missiles, terror tunnels and Iron Dome.

Q. What are the eventualities in your view?

Next year, 2017, marks a double anniversary. It’s the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration and it’s the 50th anniversary of the 1967 war and ensuing occupation. Which anniversary activists hone in on will be indicative of their politics. If you hone in on Balfour, then you want to undo Israel. The Balfour Declaration culminated in Israel’s creation. If you hone in on the 50th anniversary, then you want to undo the occupation, and find some kind of—as the current terminology has it—“just” solution of the refugee question. You have to choose: which anniversary are you going to focus on?

I’m focusing on the 50th anniversary. Why? Well, in 50 years, Palestinians haven’t been able to force an Israeli withdrawal from one square inch of the occupied territories, even as the whole international community considers the occupation illegal. That’s a mantra: The settlements are illegal, or in the US terminology, “unhelpful.” (Where they dreamt up that locution, only God knows. Someone in the State Department must have taught kindergarten. “That’s very unhelpful, Johnny.”) So they haven’t been able to “liberate” a square inch of Palestine even though all of international opinion formally stands behind them. How, then, can Palestinians hope to undo a reality that’s been entrenched not for a half-century but a full century, and commands complete international legitimacy? It doesn’t make logical sense. How can you hope to turn back the clock a full century and undo Israel, if you can’t undo a reality that’s endured for half as long and enjoys zero legitimacy?

Or, to put it in current terms, I earlier used the expression, the political horizon of progressive public opinion. At this moment in time in the US, this horizon is represented by the Sanders campaign. It represents the political limit, beyond which you fall off the cliff and into a cult. If you read Bernie’s statements, he always begins by insisting on Israel’s recognition. He then goes on to say that the Gaza blockade must be lifted, the occupation is illegal, the settlements must go. Do you want to win Bernie Sanders and the constituency he represents to our campaign? I do. I want him to be part of our movement, I think it would be a huge boon to have someone of his current stature as part of our movement. But if you’re going to equivocate on the question of Israel, then you’re going to lose him. Then we’re back in the ghetto. We have a chance to reach broad public opinion. I don’t want to go back to where I was 40 years ago. But I see that happening all the time now. In the 1970s, we used to chant, From the river to the sea,/Palestine will be free. That mindlessness and idiocy has now resurfaced. We’re starting all over again. Some people call it progress. But it’s regress. You think the idea of a secular democratic state came out of nowhere? It was the PLO platform in the 1970s. From the river to the sea,/Palestine will be free. We’re going backwards—and most definitely not into the future.

Q. So you’re being pragmatic?

I’m a political person. I can’t breathe on ideas alone. I want to make the world a better place. That’s what radical politics is about. I want to achieve something before I pass into the non-next world. One of the oddest questions I’ve ever heard is, Are you for one state or two states?, as if it’s a personal preference, like I’ll take one from Column A and one from Column B on a Chinese menu. What, pray tell, does that have to do with politics? I remain a communist: the free development of each is the precondition for the free development of all; from each according to their ability, to each according to their need. Obviously, these ideals are not now on the historical agenda. So you proceed on the basis not of what you desire, but on the basis of what’s possible, while not contradicting your ultimate ideal. You have to soberly assess and weigh up the current balance of political forces, seek out realistic possibilities, and then effectively and creatively exploit them. Of course, you don’t only look at the surface. You also assess the subterranean, incipient forces at play. But I don’t see a consequential subterranean, incipient force calling for Israel’s elimination. I scrutinize what Sanders says. He keeps saying that recognition of Israel is a prerequisite. There was some regression in his New York Daily News interview. He was asked whether Israel had to be recognized as a Jewish state? He replied a little evasively—“of course…that’s the status quo”—as if to say, Yes, although it’s not necessarily my conviction. That was regrettable. But if you pressed Sanders, it’s doubtful he’d sanction a state in which Arabs were discriminated against. How do you reconcile that with a Jewish state? Well, that’s a conundrum for him—and everyone else who supports a “Jewish, democratic” state. By the way, we’re in fact heading towards a third anniversary. 2017 will also mark the 10th anniversary of the Gaza siege. On that, Bernie’s already on board. Ending the blockade is a winnable goal, if we get our act together. Ending the occupation is a winnable goal in the medium term. Ending Israel as a state with a Jewish majority is not. The advocacy of such a goal just makes an already arduous struggle harder. It’s as if, in the middle of a struggle to organize a trade union in a reactionary company town, you put out leaflets calling for Communist Revolution. That’s what provocateurs do, to wreck the struggle. Do I want to lose Bernie? Do I want to get into an argument with him about Zionism? I’m not going there. It’s self-defeating, pointless and stupid.

Q. If I [Scott Roth] were to distil my disagreement, it’s, How do you know what reality is today? Isn’t it always in flux now?

That’s wishful thinking. The consensus is actually now stronger than ever before. Where do you see flux on Israel’s existence as a state, except among self-styled radical academics? In fact, as a political matter, it hardly makes a difference what BDS says, because there’s no leadership in Palestine and in the absence of a movement there, we’re in a holding pattern. The notion that BDS can liberate Palestine from the outside, it’s also a fantasy. Could the anti-Apartheid sanctions movement have ended Apartheid in the absence of a mass movement inside South Africa? It has to begin there, and right now, there’s nothing. If and when a movement emerges there, it’s going to call for two states. How do I know? Look at the history. The PLO called for one state, that’s the Palestine National Charter. However, the precondition for Arafat speaking at the UN in 1974—the “gun and olive branch” speech—was, he had to support two states. Hamas also wanted to liberate all of Palestine. But when it won the elections in 2006, it was no longer accountable only to its constituency in Palestine. It was now operating on the world stage. So, Hamas started issuing statements effectively calling for two states. The moment Palestinian leaders start acting in the arena of international politics, the exigencies of that reality make themselves felt. If and when a new leadership emerges in Palestine, it will call for two states. The BDS platform will become a historical artifact. I was in the West Bank when Arafat called for two states in 1988 in Algiers. It was a heart-wrenching moment for Palestinians, to relinquish their claim to the whole of Palestine. But they understood, this is what’s on the table. The question was not what they as Palestinians desired, but what was politically feasible.

If I had my way, I would abolish all states. At this point in time, states are totally irrational. The world is a grain of sand spinning on its axis in an infinite universe. All the major challenges currently confronting humanity—climate change, economic inequality and dysfunction—can only be solved on a global level. But how many people support the abolition of states? The fact that it’s a rational solution doesn’t necessarily make it a politically feasible one. But would I support a Palestinian state where Israel keeps the major settlement blocs and everything else (including the crucial water resources) behind the Wall? No. A better settlement can still be won. A consensus has not yet hardened according to which Israel gets to keep everything it wants in the West Bank, leaving Palestinians the junk.

Q. But those in Israeli society who oppose two states don’t care about the international consensus, and their dreams have become real.

But they still face the obstacle, which thus far remains insuperable, of lacking international legitimacy. The international community still does not accept the settlements or the occupation. Have they done much about it? Of course not. I am perfectly aware of that. But it’s a potential weapon. It’s like the US Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling. By 1960, only about 5 percent of schools were desegregated; it had barely any impact on the ground. But it was a weapon. The Civil Rights Movement latched onto that decision and the 14th “equal protection” amendment to the Constitution. The Movement said, All we want is that the Federal and state governments implement the law of the land. They exploited the latent power of the law as a political weapon. The fact that the occupation still lacks legitimacy signals that a Palestinian-led mass, nonviolent movement can use international law as a weapon. Israel has always been very smart about this. Why does anyone remember the Balfour Declaration or the Partition Resolution? Because the Zionists and then Israel made sure they weren’t forgotten. As Abba Eban said, the Partition Resolution was Israel’s birth certificate, its certificate of legitimacy. It certified that Israel was not a bastard child of the international system, but a legitimate offspring. The Zionists understood the power of public opinion and how important the Balfour Declaration, then the Partition Resolution, could be in mobilizing public opinion.

Q. Balfour was the product of colonial edifices.

Yes. So was the partition of Africa into states. Does that mean all the African states can or should be dismantled?

Q. Would you agree that if the partition plan was voted on in the modern UN—

It would never have passed in today’s United Nations. But I don’t see any evidence of a concerted, even nascent, commitment to undoing partition. You can say, justifiably, that the Israelis cynically exploited the Nazi holocaust in order to justify Israel’s existence as a refuge or safe haven for Jews. But, still, the exploitation succeeded. It has entrenched the legitimacy of a post-Holocaust Jewish state.

Q. Forget the positive action of eliminating or undoing, what about something different, if Israel implodes?

Yes, and if grandma had wheels, she’d be a baby carriage. I don’t see any evidence for your if. To quote Perry Anderson, Israel “has posted growth rates consistently higher than comparators in the OECD. After the longest sustained expansion in the country’s history, from 2003 to 2007, Israel has weathered the financial crisis of 2008 better than any of the economies of Western Europe and North America, and has continued to outperform them since.” Does that sound like a country on the verge of implosion?

Q. There’s a lot of internal contradictions in that society, I [Roth] don’t think it’s a recipe for success.

Every society is riven by internal conflicts. True, Israel has huge inequalities in the distribution of wealth, but the inequality is more acute in the US, and the US isn’t about to implode. Of course, Israel also fabricates Great Satans to mute its internal conflicts.

Q. It could take 30 years.

It’s not possible to predict what will happen 30 years from now. If you said in 1988 that the Soviet empire was going to disintegrate in a year’s time, you’d have been written off as a madman. Syria was for a long time the most robust state in the Middle East. It appeared to be a rock under Hafez el-Assad. If you had said even five years ago, Syria would soon implode, people would have laughed. It’s pointless to predict what will happen three decades from now.

I can’t counsel Palestinians, Hang in there, things might look up in 30 years’ time. I just got this email from the son of an old Palestinian friend: “I am now in the process of searching for a short-term opportunity to travel. I would like to try the feeling of riding a plane and see the sea up close. I became 24 years old and did not see the sea yet because I am forbidden from visiting the Palestinian cities of the coast.” What should I tell him—that he might get to see the ocean when he’s 55? Isn’t it more sensible, isn’t it more humane, to try to end the occupation, so that he can experience a little of life’s offerings before he’s an old man, if even then?

Q. I’m speaking hypothetically.

I have no stake in being dogmatic. What do I gain from it? You, of course, know that I’ve taken political positions in recent years that, on a personal level, have been somewhat costly. I used to live for my teaching. I loved to be in a classroom. Since being denied tenure a decade ago, I’ve been unemployed, except for a nine-month teaching stint in Turkey. Ten years of unemployment, out of a classroom, without a paycheck—it’s not been terrific. But that’s honestly not the part that bothers me the most. If you put a polygraph to my wrist it wouldn’t skip a beat. What bothers me is, I’ve invested about 35 years, my entire adult life, to this cause. It’s pretty much all I read about, it’s a very boring life. I know a lot—I’d better after so many years. But because of political differences, I’m locked out. I’m no longer asked to speak. Even Democracy Now! no longer has me on. A month ago, Mehdi Hasan’s program Up Front contacted me. They wanted me to join a debate on BDS. But the BDS leaders refused to appear on the program. It’s happened more times than I care to remember. One BDS leader told Democracy Now!, “Why debate Finkelstein? He’s not important. We should debate important people.” I used to give 40 talks a year. Now I give maybe four. I know the number because of those 1099 slips I have to submit to my accountant. Three years ago, before the BDS thing exploded, I gave him 40 slips. Last year I gave him four. He said to me, I think there’s a mistake here, how can it be only four? Now I’m debating in my head, Am I going to explain BDS to this accountant? No, forget it. So, I told him, well, you know, I’m getting old and people like fresh faces on the lecture circuit.

It’s frustrating. I no longer have an audience. I basically write for History. So my accumulated knowledge is, politically, going to waste. Gazans themselves don’t need me. They know the truth from real life. They call Hamas rockets “belly dancers,” because they swivel in their trajectory when they go up in the air. Everyone there knows they are a joke. The notion of armed resistance is just a fantasy. Hamas has had three major armed confrontations with Israel during the past eight years: Cast Lead, Pillar of Defense, Protective Edge. Each time Hamas fought with one goal in mind: to lift the blockade. Each operation ended with an Israeli promise to end the siege. But the blockade continues. Armed resistance is just not working. It’s not a question of whether or not Hamas has the right to use violent force. Of course, it has that right. But there’s a difference between whether you have the right—which they do—and whether it’s a politically prudent tactic. If it’s not producing results, then, shouldn’t you reconsider your strategy? But they’re so obstinate. The fixation on armed resistance is a regrettable feature of their political culture. Hamas can’t conceive the idea of nonviolent resistance, even though their own intifada was so successful. It’s strange. That whole glorious period has been effaced from memory. Everyone reckons it a failure, because it culminated in Oslo. It wasn’t a failure, it was a remarkable success.

It’s a tragedy, really, how the most extraordinary chapter in the history of the Palestinian struggle has been forgotten, or dismissed as a failure.

(Reprinted from MondoWeiss by permission of author or representative)
Benny Morris: History by Subtraction (Part 5)

When Benny Morris was a historian (the “old” Morris), he documented that, if Palestinians opposed Zionism, it was because the Zionist movement intended to dispossess the indigenous population. But when he transmogrified into a Court Historian (the “new” Morris), Morris reversed cause and effect: he depicted the indigenous Palestinian population as jihadi anti-Semites and the Zionist movement as harboring benign motives.

It is instructive to recall the old Morris’s treatment of the first intifada. He reported that “in the Gaza Strip, Islamic Jihad and other fundamentalists immediately took a leading role,” “Hamas was a major component of the rebellion in the Strip and, to a lesser extent, the West Bank,” and “from the start the Hamas and Islamic Jihad dominated the rebellion in the Gaza Strip”; that these Muslim fundamentalist organizations espoused “Koran based hatred and contempt for Jews,” intended “to wage a holy war against the Zionist enemy,” and “made the destruction of Israel” their “official goal”; and that the intifada commenced as “thousands poured out of the alleys of Jibalya and other Gaza camps for the funerals, shouting ‘Jihad, Jihad!,’”and “fundamentalists . . . had been in the forefront of the demonstrations in December 1987.”[1]Benny Morris, Righteous Victims: A history of the Zionist-Arab conflict, 1881-2001 (New York: 2001), pp. 570, 573, 574, 577-79. Still, Morris was emphatic that “the main energizing force of the intifada was the frustration of the national aspirations” of the Palestinians, “who wanted to live in a Palestinian state and not as stateless inhabitants under a brutal, foreign military occupation.”[2]Ibid., p. 562.And again, after expatiating on jihadi influences, he cautioned: “But the factors that made individual Palestinians take to the streets and endure beating, imprisonment, and economic privation were predominantly socioeconomic and psychological”—such as the“continuous trampling of the[ir] basic rights and dignity,” and their fear that “Israel’s settlement policy and its discriminatory economic policies” prefigured“the government’s ultimate intent to dispossess them and drive them out and to replace them with Jews.”[3]Ibid., pp. 564, 567-68.The old Morris—the pre-Court-Historian Morris—was able to discern that although Islamic zealots figured prominently in the first intifada and Islamic symbols and texts, even hateful anti-Semitic ones, might have been pervasive, its “main energizing force” was not hoary “Islamic Judeophobia” but the mundane denial of basic Palestinian rights. Even in his account of the second intifada, when the salience of the Islamic component was yet greater and he himself was already given to tirades against jihadis, Morris emphasized that “at base” the revolt resulted from “the state of the Palestinian sand the peace process . . . the frustrations and slights endured since the signing in 1993 of the Oslo agreement, and more generally since the start ofthe occupation.”[4]Ibid., p. 662.

The new Morris alleges that “many observers defined the [1936-39] Arab Revolt as a jihad.” He cites the concerns of some Christians that are jotted down in a random “note” of an “unknown” member of the mid-1930′s British Peel Commission.[5]Benny Morris, One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict (New Haven: 2009), p. 52. However, Morris omits mention of what the Peel Commission itself found.“The overriding desire of the Arab leaders . . . was . . . national independence,”the landmark Peel Report stated, and “It was only to be expected that Palestinian Arabs should . . . envy and seek to emulate their successful fellow-nationalists in those countries just across their northern and southern borders.” There was “no doubt,” the Report concluded, that the “underlying causes” of Arab-Jewish hostilities were “first the desire of the Arabs for national independence; secondly their antagonism to the establishment of the Jewish National Home in Palestine, quickened by their fear of Jewish domination.”

However much the new Morris might like to conscript the Peel Commission for his own ideological jihad, its Report in fact explicitly repudiated the notion that Arab opposition to Zionism was born of primordial hatred:

“Nor is the conflict in its essence an interracial conflict, arising from any old instinctive antipathy of Arabs towards Jews. There was little or no friction . . . between Arab and Jew in the rest of the Arab world until the strife in Palestine engendered it. And there has been precisely the same political trouble in Iraq, Syria and Egypt—agitation, rebellion and bloodshed—where there are no ‘National Homes.’ Quite obviously, then, the problem of Palestine is political. It is, as elsewhere, the problem of insurgent nationalism. The only difference is that in Palestine Arab nationalism is inextricably interwoven with antagonism to the Jews. And the reasons for that, it is worth repeating, are equally obvious. In the first place, the establishment of the National Home [for Jews] involved at the outset a blank negation of the rights implied in the principle of national self-government. Secondly, it soon proved to be not merely an obstacle to the development of national self-government, but apparently the only serious obstacle. Thirdly, as the Home has grown, the fear has grown with it that, if and when self government is conceded, it may not be national in the Arab sense, but government by a Jewish majority. That is why it is difficult to be an Arab patriot and not to hate the Jews.”[6]Palestine Royal Commission Report (London: 1937), pp. 76, 94, 110, 131, 136, 363

Although the indigenous Arab population did oppose Zionism, this rejection did not trace back to the sacredness of “Islamic soil,” “Islamic Judeophobia,” an “Islamic, exclusivist being,” or a “jihadi impulse.” It did not spring from any of these crude fantasies of Benny the Court Historian. Rather, it traced back to Zionism’s “negation” of the indigenous Arab population’s right to self-determination and the attendant Arab fear of Jewish domination—a domination that, according to the old Morris, would perforce result in “transferring the Arabs out.” These were “no doubt” and “quite obviously” the roots of Arab resistance to Zionism, according to the Peel Commission, a resistance that was “only to be expected.” In fact, according to the old Morris, Zionism “automatically produced” this resistance.


[1] Benny Morris, Righteous Victims: A history of the Zionist-Arab conflict, 1881-2001 (New York: 2001), pp. 570, 573, 574, 577-79.

[2] Ibid., p. 562.

[3] Ibid., pp. 564, 567-68.

[4] Ibid., p. 662.

[5] Benny Morris, One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict (New Haven: 2009), p. 52.

[6] Palestine Royal Commission Report (London: 1937), pp. 76, 94, 110, 131, 136, 363

(Reprinted from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: History • Tags: Israel/Palestine 
Benny Morris: History by Subtraction (Part 4)

When Benny Morris was still an historian (the “old” Morris), he documented how the Zionist objective of creating a Jewish state in Palestine by ethnically cleansing it engendered Palestinian resistance. But after he metamorphosed into a State propagandist (the “new” Morris), Morris reversed cause and effect: he purported that Palestinian jihad-ism engendered Zionist intolerance. Coming to the modern period, he alleges that “since the fin-de-siècle, Palestine Arabs had been murdering Jews on a regular basis for ethnic or quasi nationalist reasons. . . . Arab mobs had assaulted Jewish settlements and neighborhoods in a succession of ever-larger pogroms.”[1]Benny Morris, One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict, p. 19. But the old Morris found that it was the very real prospect of Zionist transfer that “automatically produced resistance among the Arabs.” Morris appears also to have forgotten what he earlier wrote about Zionist resort to self-serving epithets: “anti-Zionist outbreaks were designated ‘pogroms,’ a term that belittled the phenomenon, demonized the Arabs, and, in a peculiar way, comforted the Jews—it obviated the need to admit that what they faced was a rival national movement, rather than Arabic-speaking Cossacks and street ruffians.”[2]Benny Morris, Righteous Victims: A history of the Zionist-Arab conflict, 1881-1999 (New York: 1999), p. 136. Is this perhaps why Morris now designates Arab resistance “pogroms”?

The new Morris laments that “historians have tended to ignore or dismiss, as so much hot air, the jihadi rhetoric” of the Arabs, and he counters that “the evidence is abundant and clear” that the struggle against Zionism was conceived by Arabs “essentially as a holy war.”[3]Morris, 1948: The first Arab-Israeli war (New York: 2008), pp. 394-95. But the old Morris—i.e., when he was still a historian—himself barely mentioned the “jihadi” factor and it was Morris himself who declared that the “chief motor” of Arab opposition to Zionism was not “jihad” but, on the contrary, the “fear of territorial displacement and dispossession.” To prove that Palestinian resistance was driven by a jihadi “impulse,”[4]Ibid., p. 395. the new Morris—i.e., the State propagandist—cites these statements: a “penitent land seller” swore, “I call on Allah, may He be exalted, to bear witness and swear . . . that I will be a loyal soldier in the service of the homeland”; the mufti of Egypt declared that the Jews intended “to take over . . . all the lands of Islam”; the ulema of Al-Azhar denoted it a “sacred religious duty” for “the Arab Kings, Presidents of Arab Republics, . . . and leaders of public opinion to liberate Palestine from the Zionist bands . . . and to return the inhabitants driven from their homes.”[5]Morris, One State, pp. 53-54; Morris, 1948, pp. 395-96. It would not, however, be the first or last time that God and religion were invoked in a patriotic struggle: Stalin rehabilitated the Greek Orthodox Church in the battle against Nazism, Gandhi utilized the Hindu religion at every turn in resistance to British occupation, Bush conscripted a Christian god for homeland security and the War on Terror.In fact, although the old Morris noted that “the Arab radicalization often took on a religious aspect,” and that “increasingly the points of friction with the Zionists were, or became identified with, religious symbols and values,”[6]Morris, Righteous Victims, p. 123. he nonetheless recognized that the “chief motor” of Arab resistance was fear of displacement and dispossession. The new Morris reports that “even Christian Arabs appear to have adopted the jihadi discourse”of “holy war.”[7]Morris, 1948, p. 395 But doesn’t this suggest that opposition to Zionism, although utilizing the “jihadi discourse” of “holy war,” was not “anchored in centuries of Islamic Judeophobia”?

Morris purports that, in light of their “expulsionist and, in great measure, anti-Semitic” mindset, “it is unsurprising that the Arab mobs that periodically ran amok in Palestine’s streets during the Mandate . . . screamed ‘idhbah al yahud’ (slaughter the Jews).”[8]Morris, One State, p. 106. Yet, as Yehoshua Porath observed in his magisterial study of Palestinian nationalism, although Arabs initially differentiated between Jews and Zionists, it was“inevitable” that opposition to Zionism would turn into a loathing of all Jews: “As immigration increased, so did the Jewish community’s identification with the Zionist movement. . . . The non-Zionist and anti-Zionist factors became an insignificant minority, and a large measure of sophistication was required to make the older distinction. It was unreasonable to hope that the wider Arab population, and the riotous mob which was part of it, would maintain this distinction.”[9]Yehoshua Porath, The Palestinian National Movement: From riots to rebellion (London: 1970), pp. 91-92, 165-66, 297. If the Arabs shouted “idhbah al yahud,” it was because nearly every Jew they encountered was a Zionist, who, according to the old Morris, was bent on expelling them.


[1] Benny Morris, One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict, p. 19.

[2] Benny Morris, Righteous Victims: A history of the Zionist-Arab conflict, 1881-1999 (New York: 1999), p. 136.

[3] Morris, 1948: The first Arab-Israeli war (New York: 2008), pp. 394-95.

[4] Ibid., p. 395.

[5] Morris, One State, pp. 53-54; Morris, 1948, pp. 395-96.

[6] Morris, Righteous Victims, p. 123.

[7] Morris, 1948, p. 395

[8] Morris, One State, p. 106.

[9] Yehoshua Porath, The Palestinian National Movement: From riots to rebellion (London: 1970), pp. 91-92, 165-66, 297.

(Reprinted from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy, History • Tags: Israel/Palestine 
Benny Morris: History by Subtration (Part 3)

When Benny Morris was still a historian (the “old” Morris), he anchored the resistance of Palestine’s indigenous population in its rational fear that Zionist settlers intended to “transfer”—i.e., ethnically cleanse—it (see Part 2). The “new” Morris, however, has a very different story to tell. He drastically reduces the salience of transfer in Zionism; locates the genesis of the conflict in “Islamic Judeophobia”; and reckons transfer as a Zionist reaction to this Islamic Judeophobia and the “expulsionist” tendency inherent in it. Cause and effect have magically been reversed: expulsionist Judeophobia—which is inevitable and inbuilt into Islam—is the cause, Zionist transfer—which automatically springs from Islamic Judeophobia—the effect. The onus for engendering the conflict is now placed by Morris squarely on the shoulders of the Arabs, while Zionists are depicted as the innocent victims of a lethal Muslim intolerance towards Jews.

According to this new Morris, transfer initially figured as but a “minor and secondary element” in Zionism; “it had not been part of the original Zionist ideology”; key Zionist leaders only “occasionally” supported transfer “between 1881 and the mid-1940s”; and “its thrust was never adopted by the Zionist movement . . . as ideology or policy” until the late 1940s.[1]Benny Morris, 1948: The first Arab-Israeli war (New York: 2008), p. 407; Benny Morris, “Fallible Memory,” New Republic (3 February 2011). Whereas the old Morris asserted that “the logic of a transfer solution to the ‘Arab problem’ remained ineluctable” for the Zionist movement, and “without some sort of massive displacement of Arabs from the area of the Jewish state-to-be, there could be no viable ‘Jewish’ state,”[2]Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (Cambridge: 2004), p. 43. the new Morris alleges that “the Zionist leaders generally said, and believed, that a Jewish majority would be achieved in Palestine, or in whatever part of it became a Jewish state, by means of massive Jewish immigration, and that this immigration would also materially benefit the Arab population.”[3]Benny Morris, “And Now for Some Facts,” New Republic (28 April 2006).

If Zionists eventually came to embrace transfer, according to the new Morris, it was only in reaction to “expulsionist or terroristic violence by the Arabs,”[4]Morris, 1948, p. 407. “expulsionist Arab thinking and murderous Arab behavior,”[5]Morris, “Fallible Memory.” which were “indirectly contributing to the murder of their [the Zionists’] European kinfolk by helping to deny them a safe haven in Palestine and by threatening the lives of the Jews who already lived in the country.”[6]Benny Morris, One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine conflict (New Haven: 2009),p. 68. Transfer has inexplicably metamorphosed from an “inevitable and inbuilt” component of Zionism—which is what Morris had written when he was still a historian—into a response “triggered”[7]Ibid., p. 67. by expulsionist Arab threats and assaults, not to mention Arab complicity in the Nazi holocaust. Indeed, in the narrative frame crafted by the new Morris, the indigenous population of a country has metamorphosed into expulsionists. Many cruel and unforgivable things have been said by American historians about our native population, but it took a peculiarly fecund Israeli mind to pin the label “starkly expulsionist”[8]Ibid., p. 105. on an indigenous population resisting expulsion. To document this “expulsionist mindset,”[9]Morris, 1948, p. 409. Morris cites the testimony of a Palestinian delegation before a foreign commission of inquiry: “We will push the Zionists into the sea—or they will send us back into the desert.”[10]Ibid., p. 408. Insofar as the Zionists were intent on “transferring the Arabs out,” it is unclear how this statement manifests malevolence. Doesn’t an indigenous population have the right to resist expulsion?

The new Morris alleges that “Arab expressions in the early years of the twentieth century of fear of eventual displacement and expulsion by the Zionists were largely propagandistic.”[11]Morris, One State, p. 179. He seems to have forgotten that he himself pointed up this fear as the “chief motor of Arab antagonism to Zionism” and that he rationally grounded this fear in Zionist transfer policy. Morris now purports that the Arabs’ resistance to Zionism sprang from their thralldom to the notion of “sacred Islamic soil”; was “anchored in centuries of Islamic Judeophobia”; and reached into “every fiber of their Islamic, exclusivist being.”[12]Morris, 1948, pp. 393, 394; Morris, One State, p. 90. In one place he does grant albeit grudgingly that Arab opposition to Zionist settlers resulted not only from the “threat to the ‘Arab-ness’ of their country” but “perhaps, down the road, to their very presence in the land” (ibid., p. 37). After Israel’s establishment, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion conceded, “If I was [sic] an Arab leader, I would never make [peace?] terms with Israel. That is natural: We have taken their country.” The new Morris alleges, however, that, because of his ignorance of the Arab world, Ben-Gurion failed to grasp that this rejection of Israel was not “natural” but rather rooted in Islamic “abhorrence” of Jews.[13]Morris, 1948, p. 393. Insofar as Morris is not known for his expertise on Islam, and insofar as he used to be known for not speculating a hair’s breadth beyond what his sources showed, it might be expected that he would copiously substantiate such gross generalizations. But Morris’s elucidation of 14 centuries of an allegedly hate-filled “Muslim Arab mindset” and “Muslim Arab mentality” consists of all of one half paragraph of boilerplate.[14]Morris, One State, pp. 188-89.


[1] Benny Morris, 1948: The first Arab-Israeli war (New York: 2008), p. 407; Benny Morris, “Fallible Memory,” New Republic (3 February 2011).

[2] Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (Cambridge: 2004), p. 43.

[3] Benny Morris, “And Now for Some Facts,” New Republic (28 April 2006).

[4] Morris, 1948, p. 407.

[5] Morris, “Fallible Memory.”

[6] Benny Morris, One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine conflict (New Haven: 2009),p. 68.

[7] Ibid., p. 67.

[8] Ibid., p. 105.

[9] Morris, 1948, p. 409.

[10] Ibid., p. 408.

[11] Morris, One State, p. 179.

[12] Morris, 1948, pp. 393, 394; Morris, One State, p. 90. In one place he does grant albeit grudgingly that Arab opposition to Zionist settlers resulted not only from the “threat to the ‘Arab-ness’ of their country” but “perhaps, down the road, to their very presence in the land” (ibid., p. 37).

[13] Morris, 1948, p. 393.

[14] Morris, One State, pp. 188-89.

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• Category: History • Tags: Israel/Palestine 
Benny Morris: History By Subtraction, Part 2

The conclusion of Righteous Victims, Benny Morris’s sweeping “history of the Zionist-Arab conflict,” opened with a quote from Zionist leader (and Israel’s future first prime minister) David Ben-Gurion. The “conflict”with the Arabs, Ben-Gurion said in 1938, “is in its essence a political one. And politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves.” Morris then observed: “Ben-Gurion, of course, was right. Zionism was a colonizing and expansionist ideology and movement. . . . Zionist ideology and practice were necessarily and elementally expansionist.” Insofar as “from the start its aim was to turn all of Palestine . . . into a Jewish state,” he went on to elaborate, Zionism could not but be “intent on . . . dispossessing and supplanting the Arabs.” Or, as Morris formulated it earlier on in his book, “Jewish colonization meant expropriation and displacement” of the indigenous population.[1]Benny Morris, Righteous Victims: A history of the Zionist-Arab conflict, 1881-2001 (New York: 2001), pp. 652-54, 61. These consequences of Zionism, and the Arab resistance they inexorably generated, would figure as signature themes in Morris’s scholarly corpus.

A fundamental challenge for Zionism was how to create a Jewish state, which meant minimally a state whose population was overwhelmingly Jewish, in an area whose population was overwhelmingly not Jewish. One novelty of Morris’s original scholarship was to point up the centrality of “transfer”—a euphemism, as Revisionist Zionist leader Zeev Jabotinsky put it, for “brutal expulsion”[2]Shabtai Teveth, The Evolution of “Transfer” in Zionist Thinking (Tel Aviv: 1989), p. 17.—to resolving this dilemma. Insofar as orthodox Israeli historians had treated it, they consigned the idea of transfer to a footnote, downplaying it as incidental to the Zionist enterprise.Thus, Shabtai Teveth purported that the Zionist movement only “here and there” and “briefly” contemplated transfer, while, according to Anita Shapira, the Zionist movement conceived transfer merely as a “good thing”that it could just as well “do without.”[3]Ibid., pp. 2, 6. Anita Shapira, Land and Power: The Zionist resort to force, 1881-1948
(Oxford: 1992), pp. 285-86.
But Morris contended in his groundbreaking study, Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, that, on the contrary, from the mid-1930′s “the idea of transferring the Arabs out . . . was seen as the chief means of assuring the stability of the ‘Jewishness’ of the proposed Jewish State,”[4]Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949 (Cambridge: 1987), p. 25. while in Righteous Victims he wrote that “the transfer idea . . . was one of the main currents in Zionist ideology from the movement’s inception.”[5]Morris, Righteous Victims, p. 139. In another seminal essay, Morris documented that “thinking about the transfer of all or part of Palestine’s Arabs out of the prospective Jewish state was pervasive among Zionist leadership circles long before 1937.”[6]Benny Morris, “Revisiting the Palestinian Exodus of 1948,” in Eugene L. Rogan and Avi Shlaim, eds.,The War for Palestine: Rewriting the history of 1948 (Cambridge: 2001), p. 40. The British proposed in 1937, and the Zionists seconded, transfer alongside partition to resolve the Palestine conflict.In a greatly expanded version of Birth,[7]Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (Cambridge:
Morris gave over fully 25 densely argued pages to documenting the depth and breadth of “the idea of ‘transfer’in Zionist thinking.” His conclusion merits full quotation:

“[T]ransfer was inevitable and inbuilt into Zionism—because it sought to transform a land which was ‘Arab’ into a ‘Jewish’ state and a Jewish state could not have arisen without a major displacement of Arab population; and because this aim automatically produced resistance among the Arabs which, in turn, persuaded the Yishuv’s leaders that a hostile Arab majority or large minority could not remain in place if a Jewish state was to arise or safely endure.”[8]Ibid., p. 60.

Thus, in Morris’s temporal-logical sequence of the conflict’s genesis, Zionist transfer was cause and Arab resistance effect in an ever-expanding spiral. He put forth a sequence of succinct and copiously documented formulations on this crucial point in Righteous Victims: “The fear of territorial displacement and dispossession was to be the chief motor of Arab antagonism to Zionism down to 1948 (and indeed after 1967 as well)”; “In the 1880′s there were already Arabs who understood that the threat from Zionism was not merely a local matter or a by-product of cultural estrangement.‘The natives are hostile towards us, saying that we have come to drive them out of the country,’ recorded one Zionist settler”; “[T]he major cause of tension and violence . . . was . . . the conflicting interests and goals of the two populations. The Arabs sought instinctively to . . . maintain their position as [Palestine’s] rightful inhabitants; the Zionists sought radically to change the status quo . . . and eventually turn an Arab-populated country into a Jewish homeland. . . . The Arabs, both urban and rural, came to feel anxiety and fear.”[9]Morris, Righteous Victims, pp. 37, 46, 49.In the conclusion of Righteous Victims, Morris reiterated that the Arabs’trepidation and ensuing opposition were “solidly anchored in a perception that [Zionist] expansion . . . would be at the expense of their people, principally and initially those living in Palestine itself.”[10]Ibid., p. 653. As Morris originally reckoned it, Arab fear was rational—because transfer was “inevitable and inbuilt into Zionism”—and Arab resistance natural—because it sprang“automatically” from the Zionist goal of transfer. He located the root of the conflict in a historical clash between Zionism and the indigenous Arab population of Palestine and the historical (if not moral) onus for engendering the conflict was placed squarely by Morris on the shoulders of the Zionist movement.[11]It could still be argued, and it is Morris’s contention, that although creating a Jewish state necessarily entailed the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the establishment of a Jewishstate was nonetheless a greater moral good. Even in his original, liberal phase, Morrisput both moral and historical culpability for the creation of the Palestinian refugeeproblem on the Arabs because, inter alia, they rejected the UN Partition Resolution


[1] Benny Morris, Righteous Victims: A history of the Zionist-Arab conflict, 1881-2001 (New York: 2001), pp. 652-54, 61.

[2] Shabtai Teveth, The Evolution of “Transfer” in Zionist Thinking (Tel Aviv: 1989), p. 17.

[3] Ibid., pp. 2, 6. Anita Shapira, Land and Power: The Zionist resort to force, 1881-1948
(Oxford: 1992), pp. 285-86.

[4] Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949 (Cambridge: 1987), p. 25.

[5] Morris, Righteous Victims, p. 139.

[6] Benny Morris, “Revisiting the Palestinian Exodus of 1948,” in Eugene L. Rogan and Avi Shlaim, eds.,The War for Palestine: Rewriting the history of 1948 (Cambridge: 2001), p. 40. The British proposed in 1937, and the Zionists seconded, transfer alongside partition to resolve the Palestine conflict.

[7] Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (Cambridge:

[8] Ibid., p. 60.

[9] Morris, Righteous Victims, pp. 37, 46, 49.

[10] Ibid., p. 653.

[11] It could still be argued, and it is Morris’s contention, that although creating a Jewish state necessarily entailed the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the establishment of a Jewishstate was nonetheless a greater moral good. Even in his original, liberal phase, Morrisput both moral and historical culpability for the creation of the Palestinian refugeeproblem on the Arabs because, inter alia, they rejected the UN Partition Resolution

(Reprinted from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: History • Tags: Israel/Palestine 
From Clerk to Kook
Benny Morris.  Credit:
Benny Morris. Credit:

Israeli historian Benny Morris played a pivotal role in molding the current scholarly consensus on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Until his generation of scholars came along (the so-called new historians), the dominant depiction of the conflict, even in academia, amounted to little more than a footnoted version of Leon Uris’s potboiler, Exodus. The current consensus casts Israel since its founding in a much darker light. During the past 15 years, however, Morris has been given to lashing out at, and defending the old orthodoxy against, critics of Israel.

An unorthodox new historian not too long ago, Benny Morris in effect reinvented himself in recent times as an orthodox old historian. The process has been incremental, the quantitative degeneration becoming at a certain point qualitative. Although disfigured in ways small and large by ideological bias, Morris’s earlier works, such as The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947–1949,[1]New York: 1987. Israel’s Border Wars, 1949–1956: Arab infiltration, Israeli retaliation, and the countdown to the Suez war,[2]New York: 1993. Righteous Victims: A history of the Zionist-Arab conflict, 1881–1999,[3]New York: 1999. and The Road to Jerusalem: Glubb Pasha, Palestine and the Jews[4]London: 2003. brought to light a wealth of novel information. The body of his subsequent major work, 1948: The first Arab-Israeli war,[5]New York: 2008. preserves a standard of scholarly rigor, but his conclusion crosses the threshold to crude distortion. His last major work, One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine conflict[6]New Haven: 2009. lacks any redeeming value and reeks of rancid propaganda.

Whereas he did not break new conceptual ground, Morris did roam the archives and cull revealing documents on the Israel-Palestine conflict that he then collated into a fresh, compelling narrative of the past. Once an industrious clerk, Morris has metamorphosed into a raging kook. In all fairness to him, it is of course arguable that Morris has honestly come to reconsider his former conclusions on the basis of new evidence; to discover that, however deficient their scholarship, the conclusions of the old historians were right after all. The problem is that Morris does not adduce new evidence to support his return to the old orthodoxy, but rather whites out the findings of his own pioneering research. This genre might be called doing history not by accretion but by subtraction.


[1] New York: 1987.

[2] New York: 1993.

[3] New York: 1999.

[4] London: 2003.

[5] New York: 2008.

[6] New Haven: 2009.

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• Category: Foreign Policy, History • Tags: Benny Morris, Israel/Palestine 
Is There a New "New Anti-Semitism"? Part 10

Although it might not be the only epitome of human suffering in the contemporary world, Palestine surely qualifies as a “worthy” candidate.

The historical record shows that Israel’s rights have not been prejudiced but in fact privileged by the international community. It has been not the victim but the beneficiary of a global double standard. Therefore, the thesis that a primal hatred of Jews accounts for its current pariah status cannot be sustained. Still, hasn’t Israel been unfairly targeted? Many more innocents (it is said) have been killed by Arabs in Syria and Darfur, while Tibetans, Kashmiris, and Kurds have also suffered under the incubus of foreign occupations. Nonetheless, public opinion fixates on Israel’s sins. How else to account for this discrepancy except anti-Semitism? But, although South Africa also bemoaned its pariah status, and in some technical sense it perhaps was unfairly singled out, it would have been ludicrous to argue that anti-White-ism figured as a corrupting factor in the international community’s moral calculus. The system of apartheid incarnated an essence so flagrantly antithetical and repugnant to the epochal zeitgeist, that the expostulations of its adherents fell—Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher excepting—on deaf ears.

Precisely why a particular local struggle metamorphoses into an international cause célèbre is not subject to mathematical demonstration. How does one prove that one people’s suffering is the worst? But surely the Palestine struggle possesses sufficient appalling features in its own right such that anti-Semitism need not be dragged in as a critical, let alone the overarching, explanatory factor. If you eliminate the “terrorism” background noise, it’s hard to come up with a more pristine instance of injustice. “What crime did Palestinians commit,” my late mother (who knew something about human suffering) once rhetorically asked, “except to be born in Palestine?”[1]My late mother was a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, Maidanek concentration camp, and two slave labor camps. Every other member of her family was exterminated. The longevity of the conflict puts it in an “elite” class: if its inception is dated from the Balfour Declaration, nearly a century has elapsed; from the Nakba, seven decades; from the West Bank/Gaza occupation, still, five decades. Its various phases and facets embrace the gamut of human misery: ethnic cleansing, foreign occupation, and siege; massacre, torture, and humiliation. Its inequity endows the conflict with a biblical resonance: is it not David versus Goliath when a tiny battered people does battle with the regional superpower backed by the global superpower? The sheer cruelty and heartlessness bewilders and boggles: in the past decade, Israel has unleashed the full force of its high-tech killing machine on the “giant open-air prison in Gaza” (British Prime Minister David Cameron) not less than eight times: “Operation Rainbow” (2004), “Operation Days of Penitence” (2004), “Operation Summer Rains” (2006), “Operation Autumn Clouds” (2006), “Operation Hot Winter” (2008), “Operation Cast Lead” (2008-9), “Operation Pillar of Defense” (2012), “Operation Protective Edge” (2014). The incommensurability of the suffering makes mockery of affectations of “balance”: during Israel’s last “operation” in Gaza, 550 Palestinian children were killed while one Israeli child was killed, 19,000 Gazan homes were destroyed while one Israeli home was destroyed.

Although it might not be the only epitome of human suffering in the contemporary world, Palestine surely qualifies as a “worthy” candidate. What is more, whereas so much of the world yearns to “Give peace a chance,” Israel conspicuously yearns to “Give war a chance, and another chance, and another chance” (is there a day that goes by without Israel contemplating yet another attack on Gaza, Lebanon, Iran?); Israel flouts the global consensus supporting a two-state solution by appropriating and incorporating the last remnants of Palestine; Israel’s current head of state is an obnoxious loudmouth Jewish supremacist, while the Israeli people “shoot and cry,” “love themselves to death and pity themselves ad nauseam” (Gideon Levy)[2]Gideon Levy, “Yair Lapid, Israel’s New Propaganda Minister,” Haaretz (22 February 2015).—don’t Israel’s singular warmongering, brazenness and self-righteous arrogance themselves accentuate the conflict’s image as one of pure good versus pure evil?

If Palestine has become the emblematic cause of our time, it’s not because of a new “New Anti-Semitism,” although no doubt some anti-Semites have infiltrated its ranks. It’s because the martyrdom of Palestine and the meanness of Israel are so wrong.


[1] My late mother was a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, Maidanek concentration camp, and two slave labor camps. Every other member of her family was exterminated.

[2] Gideon Levy, “Yair Lapid, Israel’s New Propaganda Minister,” Haaretz (22 February 2015).

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• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Israel, Israel/Palestine 
Is There a New "New Anti-Semitism"? Part 9

The international community only first turned against Israel after its repeated and flagrant flouting of international law and the consensus among nations on how to resolve the conflict. When Israel thumbed its nose at the world one time too many, the world finally started to react.

When the Palestine struggle reemerged after the 1967 war, the international community paid special deference to Israeli rights. Whereas the UN rejected South Africa’s bid to create a majority White state beside Black homelands (Bantustans), it upheld a Palestinian state only in the West Bank and Gaza beside, not in lieu of, Israel, thereby affirming the 1947 Partition Resolution’s support for the creation of “independent Arab and Jewish States.” Insofar as the Partition Resolution was passed when the UN was still unrepresentative of world opinion (it included just 56 member States; today there are 193 member States), and insofar as the rights of colonial peoples received far greater recognition in the ensuing years, it might easily be imagined that in the 1960s-70s, during the heyday of Anti-Imperialism and the Non-Aligned Movement, the principle of partition, which the indigenous population overwhelmingly opposed, would have been dissolved by the UN into the demand for a unitary state in Palestine. But that didn’t happen. ” On the contrary, to gain entry into the UN’s chambers, PLO chairman Yasir Arafat had to scrap the PLO charter and embrace the international consensus of two states. The closest the international community came to reversing itself was the 1975 “Zionism is racism” resolution. However, although asseverating that “the racist regime in occupied Palestine and the racist regime in…South Africa have a common imperialist origin,” the notorious resolution did not call for Israel’s dismantling, only managed to garner 72 votes (nearly an equal number, 67, voted against or abstained), and was eventually rescinded (in 1991). International public opinion first began to turn against Israel when, annulling the quid pro quo inscribed in UN resolution 242 (1967), and embarking on a second round of territorial aggrandizement, it not only refused to withdraw from the territories occupied in 1967 despite an expressed Arab willingness to live at peace with it, but also, via its settlement policy, endeavored to make the occupation irreversible and permanent, denying Palestinians the right to self-determination in even a sliver of their historic homeland. “Neither in 1948 nor in 1967 was Israel subjected to irresistible international pressure to relinquish her territorial gains,” former Israeli foreign minister Ben-Ami observes. “But the international acquiescence…in 1967 was to be extremely short-lived.” Once Israel set out on a “war of conquest, occupation and settlement, the international community recoiled and Israel went on the defensive. She has remained there ever since.”[1]Shlomo Ben-Ami, Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab tragedy (New York: 2006), pp. 314-15; cf. Zeev Maoz, Defending the Holy Land: A critical analysis of Israel’s security and foreign policy (Ann Arbor: 2006), p. 167. The bottom-line is, the international community only first turned against Israel after its repeated and flagrant flouting of international law and the consensus among nations, inscribed in UN resolution 242, on how to resolve the conflict. When Israel thumbed its nose at the world one time too many, the tide of public opinion started turning against it.


[1] Shlomo Ben-Ami, Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab tragedy (New York: 2006), pp. 314-15; cf. Zeev Maoz, Defending the Holy Land: A critical analysis of Israel’s security and foreign policy (Ann Arbor: 2006), p. 167.

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• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Israel 
Is There a New "New Anti-Semitism"? Part 8

Far from singling Israel out for criticism, the international community has repeatedly turned a blind eye to its breaches of international law.

The superficially most compelling case for a lurking new anti-Semitism is the comparative one. It is said that the world is replete with worse cases of oppression and repression; if the international community focuses “obsessively” on Israel, it must be due to an anti-Jewish bias. During the apartheid era, South Africa also alleged that it was being unfairly singled out. The African continent, its defenders parried (with a measure of truth), was dotted with one-party dictatorships, while South African blacks fared better economically than many of their counterparts elsewhere. In significant circles Israel has replaced South Africa as the defining moral issue of our time, and the identical charge of a double standard is now being leveled by it. Indeed, Israel is widely accused of practicing apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territories (and, according to some, in Israel itself), while the popular movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel casts itself as the lineal successor of the anti-apartheid sanctions campaign.

As it happens, the South Africa and Palestine struggles bear much in common. The South African cause was initially spearheaded by the African continent, where apartheid constituted a personal affront to every black person and was perceived as a running sore from the humiliating era of Western colonialism. The Palestine cause was initially spearheaded by the Arab world, where Zionist dispossession of the indigenous population deeply resonated and Israel’s founding was also perceived as a festering wound from the imperialist epoch. Neither the South African nor the Palestinian struggle fell into the generic pattern of decolonization—they weren’t overseas non-self-governing territories seeking independence from a metropolitan state—but both were eventually assimilated to the anticolonial paradigm and came to be championed internationally as exemplary of it.

However, when it adopted these kindred struggles as its own, the international community did not deny that the, as it were, alien interlopers had acquired rights. Far from demanding their extirpation, a right of place was conferred on both the White settlers in South Africa and Jewish settlers in Palestine. In the Palestine context, the right of place validated by the 1947 Partition Resolution (181) was much more generous, in that the Zionists, unlike the Afrikaners, had only just recently impressed their physical presence against the manifest will of the indigenous population, and to boot were allotted more than half of Palestine, even as they constituted just a third of its population. From hereon in, public opinion in all its dimensions evinced not hostility but uncommon leniency, forgivingness, even magnanimity toward Israel. Although it eviscerated the Partition Resolution by forcibly expanding its borders and expelling the indigenous population, Israel was admitted to the UN, which eventually acquiesced, wholly or in part, in these egregious transgressions. Whereas the preambular paragraph of Security Council Resolution 242, passed after the 1967 war, emphasized the legal tenet of the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war,” it called for Israel’s withdrawal only from those territories “occupied in the recent conflict,” and not also from those territories beyond its UN-designated borders conquered in 1948. Resolution 242 also pointed only to a vague “just settlement of the refugee question,” and not to the Palestinian refugees’ right, stipulated in General Assembly Resolution 194 (1948), “to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors.” (General Assembly resolution 273 (1949), which secured Israeli admission to the UN, recalled Israel’s obligations under 194.) These concessions/capitulations to Israeli faits accomplis have now been enshrined in the international consensus for resolving the conflict, as set forth in the annual General Assembly resolution, Peaceful Settlement of the Palestine Question, and in the legal analysis of the advisory opinion rendered by the International Court of Justice in 2004. It calls for two states on the 1967 border, and a “just resolution of the problem of Palestine refugees in conformity with [General Assembly] resolution 194.” (In this resolution’s nuanced crafting, “just resolution…in conformity with” waters down the commitment to ensure “implementation of” 194.) Moreover, the UN did not condemn Israel’s first strike in 1967 as an act of aggression, although Israel had breached the UN Charter,[1] and it did not call for Israel’s unconditional and immediate withdrawal from the territories it occupied. Instead, in a spirit of high-minded statesmanship and banking on Israel’s good faith, it required a reciprocal termination of Arab belligerency as the necessary quid pro quo of an Israeli evacuation.[2]

[1] John Quigley, The Six-Day War and Israeli Self-Defense: Questioning the legal basis for preventive war (Cambridge: 2013).
[2] Finkelstein, Knowing Too Much, pp. 203-14.

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• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Israel, Israel Lobby 
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