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The Six-Day-War and its mythology

On May 2, James North and Phil Weiss talked with Norman Finkelstein in his Brooklyn home about the Six Day War, its history, its mythology and its impact on US Jewish life. Finkelstein then revised the transcript of that conversation.

Weiss: How important was the Six-Day War in your neighborhood when you were a kid?

Finkelstein: I was in 8th grade. My social studies teacher, Josh Abramson, was a religious Jew. I remember in the schoolyard—I can see the scene in my mind’s eye—he had transistor radio to his ear. He was visibly worried about Israel’s fate. It seems a lot of Jews worried. I recently read Professor Chomsky’s reminiscences. He and his friends in Cambridge also feared the worst.

But it came, they won, it went.

It was the era of the Vietnam War and Black Power. Go back and look at the topical television programs. Laugh In, The Smothers Brothers, All in the Family. Israel never comes up.

It’s historical revisionism that Israel figured prominently in Jewish life back then. When you say someone in ‘67 was a “Zionist”—well, Zionism, it wasn’t an issue. There were a handful of idealistic young people, the Bernie Sanders type, who had romantic ideas of socialism, kibbutzim.

But folks like Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer—Schumer attended my high school, a few years ahead of me—wanting to experience the hard life? You’ve got to be kidding! Schumer was the son of an exterminator. The last thing he wanted to experience was a gritty life! He once said that his father “hated his job” and he was determined not to end up like his father. Schumer was his class valedictorian. He got a perfect score of 1600 on his SAT, a rare feat in those days. He was out to conquer the upper reaches and inner sanctums of American power, not sing Kumbaya on some kibbutz in a backwater.

Weiss: My mother’s best friend, Golda Werman was born in Berlin in 1930. She and her husband moved from Bloomington to Jerusalem in 1968. My cluster may not be meaningful, but there were people for whom this was very important. Bernie Avishai, MJ Rosenberg—they were called by that, their lives changed.

I, too, remember some classmates who did “aliya.” But I had in mind the top tier in my school, the soon-to-be movers and shakers.

North: In ‘71, ‘72, Chuck [whom North knew] would turn it around to Israel. I would say to Chuck, I admire Ho Chi Minh. Who do you admire? I’d have to think. No American politicians. Certainly David Ben-Gurion. But you’re entirely right, he wasn’t going to move there.

Weiss: What about your family?

My eldest brother lived in Israel for a short while. He was there during the 1973 war. He was a bit of a loner. He went there in search of family. When he returned we argued bitterly. But he later turned against Israel with a vengeance. I suppose it was a feeling of betrayal, as the truth slowly sunk in. Now he makes me look like Alan Dershowitz.

My parents perceived the whole world through the prism of the Nazi holocaust. The Red Army defeated the Nazis, so the Russians could do no wrong. A Jew who didn’t support the Soviet Union was a sellout and traitor. Those were the epithets they used. You can laugh, but for my parents it wasn’t a laughing matter.

Israel Gutman was a director of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. My father knew Gutman in Auschwitz. They were on the Auschwitz Death March together, and then in the same Displaced People (DP) camp in Linz, Austria. They both belonged to Hashomer Hatzair, the Zionist youth movement that was pro-Soviet at the time. They were very close. Gutman eventually became—via revelation or prudence—very anti-Soviet. My father lost all respect for him. As far as my father was concerned, he was just another sellout and traitor.

My parents were, as my mother used to put it, the real McCoys. Starting in the 1970s, everyone who had immigrated from Europe after the war pretended to be a Holocaust survivor. Well, my parents were Holocaust survivors.

Every member of my family was exterminated on both sides. No grandparents, aunts, uncles. [He gestures to pictures on his wall.] That was my mother’s father. My mother’s mother. Her two sisters and her brother. If I can point to these pictures, it’s because my mother had an aunt in the US, so before the war my mother’s mother had sent over the pictures.

Finkelstein family photographs. His father is in the lower left in the glare. His mother’s parents are on the upper left. His mother is in top center. Her two sisters and brother are in the upper right.
Finkelstein family photographs. His father is in the lower left in the glare. His mother’s parents are on the upper left. His mother is in top center. Her two sisters and brother are in the upper right.

No pictures survived of my father’s family. My mother once glimpsed from afar my father’s sister in Majdanek before she was killed. Every so often during their marriage, my father would suddenly stand solemn, erect, pensive, as he pled with my mother, “Tell me what she looked like.”

When the Holocaust industry started up in the ‘70s, authentic survivors were in high demand. My parents were not indifferent to money—I’m not going to idealize them—they would not sneer at the opportunity to make a buck. My mother was a witness at a trial of Nazi concentration camp guards from Majdanek in 1979. The survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, several tens of thousands, including my parents, were deported to Majdanek. My mother was going to testify but—I’m not happy to admit this—at one point she wanted the German government to compensate her. I found that really wrong. I’m saying this in the context of, my parents could have cashed in on the Holocaust. Like Elie Wiesel, who was both a mountebank and consummate Holocaust entrepreneur. He accumulated tens of millions of dollars playing the role of a Holocaust survivor.

But the Holocaust industry only let survivors bear witness if they denounced the Soviet Union. The campaign to “Free Soviet Jewry” was in high gear—the Jackson-Vanik amendment, etc. As much as they liked money, there was no way on god’s earth my parents would ever utter a single word critical of the Soviet Union. So they were never asked to speak.

I’ve always respected their fidelity. They loved Stalin even as the Communist Party blushed at his legacy. My mother was very smart. She knew many languages including Latin—to the end of her life she devoured books at a pace that bewildered the local librarian and she effortlessly summoned forth a better vocabulary than my own—was president of her high school class, and went on to study mathematics at Warsaw University. But she refused even to acknowledge that Stalin killed Trotsky. “It was the CIA.” Well, there was no CIA then.

You might call it fanaticism, but at bottom it was faithfulness: however unpopular it might be, you don’t betray a friend. They might have been wrong, but my parents weren’t up for sale. They despised Israel when it aligned with the US in the Cold War at the time of the Korean war. Up until Korea, it was still touch and go. It was unclear which way Israel was going to lean. Mapam, the second largest Israeli political party, was blindly pro-Soviet. It even supported Stalin during the 1953 Doctors’ Plot.

‘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.

• 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?

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] 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]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]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]

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] 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]

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

• 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] 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] 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] 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] 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] 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] 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] 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] 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] 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.

• 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] 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] 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]

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] “expulsionist Arab thinking and murderous Arab behavior,”[5] 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] 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] 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] on an indigenous population resisting expulsion. To document this “expulsionist mindset,”[9] 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] 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] 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] 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] 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]


[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.

• 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] 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]—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] 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] 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] 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]In a greatly expanded version of Birth,[7] 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]

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]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] 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]


[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

• 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] Israel’s Border Wars, 1949–1956: Arab infiltration, Israeli retaliation, and the countdown to the Suez war,[2] Righteous Victims: A history of the Zionist-Arab conflict, 1881–1999,[3] and The Road to Jerusalem: Glubb Pasha, Palestine and the Jews[4] brought to light a wealth of novel information. The body of his subsequent major work, 1948: The first Arab-Israeli war,[5] 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] 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.

• 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] 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]—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).

• 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] 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.

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Israel 
The Shaping Event of Our Modern World
Becker update V1.3.2