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How Benny Morris Magically Reverses His Own Cause and Effect
Benny Morris: History by Subtration (Part 3)
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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.
(Benny Morris, One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine conflict (New Haven: 2009),p. 68.)
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.
(Benny Morris, One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine conflict (New Haven: 2009),p. 68.)
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.
(Morris, 1948, p. 409.)
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).
(Morris, One State, p. 179.)
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.

(Republished from Byline by permission of author or representative)
• Category: History • Tags: Israel/Palestine 
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  1. Parbes says:

    Good article by the refreshingly honest Norman Finkelstein.

  2. Blobby5 says:

    I am sure I disagree with the author with just about everything but Israel, but he is obviously so brilliant perhaps I should rethink my areas of disagreement.

  3. alexander says:

    It stands to reason that the locus of accountability for the entire conflict can no longer be sustained by recognizing Israel’s expulsion and extermination of Palestinians to pave the way for a Jewish state.

    Israel would be seen as having committed the exact same crime, against the Palestinians…as the Nazi’s committed against the Jews.

    This is not good.

    This can’t be.

    So Mr Morris has to rewrite history to restore a moral basis to Israels extermination of Palestine.

    I am surprised Dr. Finklestein didn’t see this “revisionism” coming from a hundred miles away.

    Maybe he is just surprised it is the reputable Mr Morris who has led the charge this time.

  4. domain says: • Website

    At this moment I am ready to do my breakfast, afterward having my breakfast coming again to read further news.

  5. Anonymous [AKA "Zenobia van Dongen"] says:

    I will preface my remarks by stating that I claim no great expertise in the subject matter, and I can easily have missed important facts.
    Norman Finkelstein rightly stresses the Arab fear of being displaced by Jews as the motive for Arab resistance to Jewish immigration. Moreover NF cites in support thereof the Zionist leaders’ plans to displace Palestinian Arabs.
    So far so good.
    NF’s arguments are psychological. What happens if we observe actual historical events?
    The Zionist displacement of Arabs occurred in a series of wars: the Arab revolt of 1936-1939 and the wars of 1948, 1967 and 1973. From NF’s account we would expect these wars to have been started by the Jews. But they were not. They were all started by the Arabs, often with great enthusiasm. And all of them with the declared intention of driving out the Jews. But the Arabs, despite their initial enthusiasm, lost all those wars.
    As a matter of fact all violent conflicts between Jews and Arabs that occurred in Palestine between 1920 and 2006 were initiated by the Arab side.
    Accordingly the expulsionist tendencies of islam cannot be so lightly brushed aside.
    Palestine was by no means the only successor state of the Ottoman Empire in which conflicts arose between Jews and Arabs. They also occurred in Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Algeria, as well as in Yemen (which had not belonged to the Ottoman Empire). In all of these countries it was the Jews who were driven out by the Arabs.
    Moreover in Palestine the nationalist movement did not only attack foreign Jews but also native Jews. The Hebron massacre of 1929 expressly targeted autochthonous (Mizrahi) Jews. As a result of this unprovoked slaughter, native Jews promptly rallied to the Zionist cause. From that time on Zionism in Palestine was no longer the cause only of immigrants, but of native Jews as well.
    Moreover Arabs started persecuting native Jews in Iraq in the 1920s. In 1948 a prominent ANTI-Zionist Iraqi Jew was arrested and executed. This was a clear warning that Arab nationalists planned to expel all Jews from Iraq, and expel them they did.
    Where did those Jews flee to? Israel.
    As a result of Arab Judeophobia, virtually all Middle Eastern Jews were expelled from their native countries and wound up in Israel, where they now make up almost half of the Jewish population.
    Consequently Middle Eastern history since 1945 or so can be realistically modeled as a mutual ethnic cleansing between Jews and Arabs. Although Zionist ambitions are undeniable, they do not seem to have played the decisive role that NF attributed to them. Arab Judeophobia seems to have been a much more powerful factor in determining the present state of the Middle East than Zionist ambitions.

    • Replies: @xfrd
  6. xfrd says:

    lol, this is like saying nat turner’s rebellion was the instigating factor in his being murdered.

    arab revolts were a direct response to documented jewish expropriation of arab lands and the exclusive use of jewish labor.

    remember, these are foreign amer-euro SETTLER colonists who have the expressed goal of creating a jewish state in a land occupied by another population.

    get real.

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