Monday, August 2, 2010

Time for the Pendulum to Swing Back on the Nakba?

Sol Stern has an article at City Journal about the pernicious narrative about the Nakba. He outlines the story: the hapless Palestinians are the victims of a malicious Zionist conspiracy to be rid of them. He notes how the story developed: it was hardly noticed at all at the time, since in the 1940s ethnic cleansing on a massive scale was the norm, not a unique exception, but by the 1960s the political Left was embracing a new story about singular Zionist crimes and unparalleled Palestinian victim-hood. He tells of the power of the present narrative and its many proponents and their logical goal, the inevitable dismantling of Israel. He also talks about some of the more important historians along the way, in which context he warmly recommends Efraim Karsch's new Palestine Betrayed, apparently the single most exhaustive piece of research to examine all the relevant sources.

The depressing part of the article is that it's all well-known and obvious for the few of us who follow these matters in depth; the author is however probably correct that a general public of the sort which reads City Journal doesn't know this all pat, and indeed may even find it novel. On the other hand, given enough articles such as this and its content could one day again become generally accepted; as Stern says, that would actually encourage the creation of two sovereign states alongside each other.
Unfortunately, no amount of documentation and evidence about what really happened in 1948 will puncture the Nakba narrative. The tale of dispossession has been institutionalized now, an essential part of the Palestinians’ armament for what they see as the long struggle ahead. It has become the moral basis for their insistence on the refugees’ right to return to Israel, which in turn leads them to reject one reasonable two-state peace plan after another. In the meantime, the more radical Palestinians continue to insist that the only balm for the Nakba is the complete undoing of the historical crime of Zionism—either eliminating Israel or submerging it into a secular democratic state called Palestine. (The proposal is hard to take seriously from adherents of a religion and a culture that abjure secularism and allow little democracy.)

Nor will the facts about 1948 impress the European and American leftists who are part of the international Nakba coalition. The Nakba narrative of Zionism as a movement of white colonial oppressors victimizing innocent Palestinians is strengthened by radical modes of thought now dominant in the Western academy. Postmodernists and postcolonialists have adapted Henry Ford’s adage that “history is bunk” to their own political purposes. According to the radical professors, there is no factual or empirical history that we can trust—only competing “narratives.” For example, there is the dominant establishment narrative of American history, and then there is the counter-narrative, written by professors like the late Howard Zinn, which speaks for neglected and forgotten Americans. Just so, the Palestinian counter-narrative of the Nakba can now replace the old, discredited Zionist narrative, regardless of actual historical facts. And thanks to what the French writer Pascal Bruckner has called the Western intelligentsia’s new “tyranny of guilt”—a self-effacement that forbids critical inquiry into the historical narratives of those national movements granted the sanctified status of “oppressed”—the Nakba narrative cannot even be challenged.

One of the historians Stern mentions is Benny Morris, a central figure in the academic research into the story of 1948. It just so happens that Morris has a long interview with Shimon Peres, one of the few people left who saw those events from their center and is still around to tell the tale. Yet it's a frustrating interview. Morris, unlike any journalist who might interview Peres, knows a lot about the periods Peres can reminisce about, and is in the position to ask intelligent questions; for whatever reason, however, the interview tantalizes, but doesn't supply the goods. Peres and Morris both skim along the years in a perfunctory matter. This is doubly regrettable in that Peres is 87 and visibly aging. By the time he steps down at the end of his term as president he'll be 90, and won't have the strength to write a serious memoir (though there as a collaboration of his with David Landau about Ben Gurion somewhere in the pipeline).

Comically, the part of the interview which drew a lot of attention was when Peres didn't really say that the English are antisemitic, and the UK media got all offended by what he didn't really say (here, too).


Anonymous said...

Karsh in the NYT:


PS: Amazon makes it seem like Karsh had more access to Arab archives than Michael Oren told me was possible. Has anything changed there?

Anonymous said...

Elder of Ziyon (having read the book)comments on Benny Morris's review of Palestine Betrayed.

As far as the swinging pendulum goes, both Karsh and Morris have been around for awhile now, is there any indication of a new wave in Israeli historiography?

Anonymous said...

OT @Silke
Do you know anything about this German spy or his book?

NormanF said...

Does it really matter? World hatred of the Jews is one thing that will never change. Israel now attracts the kind of calumny that used to be hurled at various Jewish communities throughout the ages. Hasbara is not going to be of much help to those who wage warfare against the Jewish State since truth and justice doesn't matter to them. Its not Israel's policies that are under fire in the Nakba narrative; its the very existence of the Jewish State itself.

Lee Ratner said...

The entire Nakba narrative taking hold of the imagination of many people on the Left can probably be traced back to romantization of the Algerian independence movement against the French. This is where the idea of the virtuous third-world against the evil first world narrative started. The genius of Palestinian leadership was presenting the Palestinian narrative in this form, especially after the Six-Day War. This is when many on the Left began turning against Zionism with the help of the Soviet Union.

Its not the Left was overwhelmingly pro-Zionist before the Six-Day War but there was strong support for Zionism among many eminent Leftists. Satre and Russel where pro-Zionist. Many African-Americans leaders like Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. DuBouis were also sympathetic towards the Zionists. Even Leon Trotsky had some fascination with Zionism because of the kibbutz. It was really only the Communists that were against Zionism.

Zionist leadership didn't exactly help either. Many non-Jews, regardless of their political orientation or level of sympathy towards Israel, have trouble grasping with the idea of Jews as an ethnicity rather and tend to see Jews as a religious community only. If you only see Jews as a religious community rather than as a ethnicity than the idea of Jewish self-determination is going to be a little to understand. More effort should have been made into publicizing the Jewish and Zionist narrative. Its a good narrative, it is supported by historical fact.

Anonymous said...

never heard of Dietl before. His last i.e. the one in Haaretz got a review in the FAZ (according to perlentaucher) which might mean that he is to be taken seriously. He hasn't shown up in my subscriptions for public radio reviews of books that I remember and the book was published by an Austrian outfit in February.

I saw though that he has once upon a time co-written an Eichmann-book.

As a rule I tend to be weary of ex-intelligence tell-alls who make it sound more interesting by hinting that the authorities don't like it.

German Google-News shows him with two entries, one Israeli, one Turkish - I'm afraid that's all I can come up with.


Victor said...

Lee, the Soviets viewed the Jews primarily as a race, not as a religion. It was stamped in passports. I don't think the race or religion issue matters very much. Read Sharansky's latest book, Defending Identity. He really ties a lot of loose ends in this exploration of western socialist antipathy towards the Jews and Israel. I should really write a review of it, barely anyone has read this excellent book.

Anonymous said...

Guernica has an interview with Norman Finkelstein and calls him a

Holocaust heir

Holocaust with a capital H and heir with a "normal" one. I won't read it and continue to hope that that is an attempt at satire.


Anonymous said...

Benny Morris' review of Karsh's book is here:

Morris' review is extremely critical, particularly of the quality of Karsh's scholarship. This is part of an ongoing feud between Morris and Karsh that goes back at least to the nineties.

Yaacov, it would be interesting to hear your opinion, as a professional historian, on what Morris has to say about Karsh's latest book and about the feud in general. My impression has been that they both have made some reasonable and important points but that Morris really is much more careful and thorough in gathering and working with the sources. That is just a vague impression though.

David E. Sigeti

Bryan said...

Silke, "Holocaust" (as in, the Nazi one) is usually capitalized, and "heir" usually is not, so I'm confused as to why that would lead you to believe it's bad satire.

That being said, Norm Finkelstein represents the worst brand of "as-a-Jew" anti-Zionist, so I'm not going to read the interview either.

Anonymous said...


it is the first time that I have read that somebody inherited the Holocaust and I think it is a language monstrum.

(I do not attempt to belittle the lot of children who had to grow up with beyond imagination traumatised parents but that's nothing one inherits. Whatever trauma results from that is one's own.)

(I am objecting to Palestinians that they other than anybody else inherit the refugee status but I Naqba heir would strike me as very very odd)
if a writer comes up with something for me so totally absurd then I would have expected it to be turned into a new form of title which would demand a capital H for heir and preferably put between these ""
as to Finkelstein: he struck me whenever I looked at him as a first-class hysteric overflowing with hate and misperceptions. In a way that makes me feel sorry for him but not forgiving.


Bryan said...

Oh okay, I see what you mean. You're right, it is sort of a strange phrase, and a little awkward besides. "Child of Holocaust survivors" is a little bit more wordy but much more descriptive and clear, so I think that's how most people formulate such a title.

Anonymous said...

Oops! The link I posted above just points to the Elder of Ziyon's discussion of Morris' review. The actual review is here:

Sorry about the screw-up.

David E. Sigeti

bataween said...

It's about time the pendulum did swing back, with a massive focus on the Jewish Nakba - the mass expulsion and dispossession of Jews from the ME, greater than the Palestinian.
This is the only way that Israel will recapture the moral high ground.
Already Martin Gilbert has written a book on Jews from Arab countries and I have a feeling that Benny Morris will follow.
Of course the real clincher would be a book exploring Arab archives on this controversial issue, but that's as likely as a snowball in hell.

Anonymous said...

Saw it on "Alondon net" a few months ago, send it to some friends, all from TAU (tau-tau) ME History – lets see how long before it gets a slandering from the faculty of humanities…

Sylvia said...

Indeed Bataween and it's time to take action. The suppression of the History of the Jews from Arab0-Muslim lands from Israeli History books and from the world's consciousness is coming back to haunt us.

I propose to immediately start an intensive campaign of information on all relevant websites and blogs as well as newspapers That should include articles and discussions, resources, book reviews, bibliographies films and videos.

Perhaps coordinate with other websites in the various languages.

I am just brainstorming but now seems to me the best time for this.

Sergio said...

Off-but-somewhat-related topic: reading Michael Wildt book "The uncompromising generation", focusiing in the "careers" of members of the murderous RSHA (Reichsicherheitaltamt), it is impressive how many were very young (so mostly were not 'frontsoldaten') and many at the top positions had university degrees and even doctoral degrees.

So, these guys were highly educated and ideologically motivated people, ready to prove themselves and catch up the missed opportunity of WWI. Far from wheels in a vast bureaucratic machine, they actively sought the fullfilment of their racial program.

And their degrees came massively from the humanities: law, history, criminology, languages,literature, economics.
(Some had degrees in medicine, agriculture, biology or chemistry.)

As Wildt mentions, this is no coincidence: the "exact" sciences
(say, physics and maths) respect logical argument, truth checking, consistenty, independent verification, all the traits the nazis despised as "bourgoeis intellectualism", "parlamentarianism" and such nonsense.

Of course, when it comes to technology, particularly military, then objectivity, truth and verifiability returns. And they were quite open to technological inovations in wholesale murder.

PS: yes, there were nazi physicists (Heisenberg, eg) and mathematicians (Teichmuller, Bieberbach, Gentzen), but as far as I know, not in the direct killing machine.

Anonymous said...

Silke, Finkelstein is a child of Holocaust survivors who made a career out of bashing children of Holocaust survivors making careers or money out of the Holocaust. To my mind he is the apotheosis of what happened to Middle East Studies. At least Pappe can read - and then misrepresent - archival material. Finkelstein doesn't even bother with that, rather his "work" is glorified book reviews.


bataween said...

From your mouth to G-d's ears!I agree we need an intensive campaign but how? I'm working day and night on my own website
but pro-Israelis need to sing from the same hymn sheet.

Barry Meislin said...

The effort must be made, but I doubt that it will make any difference.

The most important thing is to be able to convince ourselves.

But when lies have taken such a strong foothold to the extent that they have.

When lies continue to be invented and spread ad infinitum, ad nauseum to the extent that they are.

When everything and anything that is used to explain, to justify, to provide context for Israel's predicament is labeled "Israel Lobby," "neo-con" or "Likud" and thus derogated automatically to non-believable and non-reliable.

And when everything is "narrative" and nothing is true (except those lies that have been propagated ad infinitum, etc.), then there is, generally, only one way for sobriety and truth to reestablish themselves.

Unfortunately. For everyone.

Anonymous said...

bataween and Sylvia

I know bataween's website and read her posts whenever he/she tells something an outsider like myself can get into (last one about the next? Kurdish consul). Also if I should need facts it would be my starting side.

That said:
I get the impression that recipients of the message are mixed up.

on the one hand I think I have learned that "you" are talking about discontents between the "arabs" and the "europeans" within Israel which to me as an outsider are of no particular interest because I assume that they are the same as those discontents are everywhere.

on the other hand there seem to be no airport-novel level books telling riveting stories of girls and boys who made it against all odds. Come to think of it, the same seems to apply to the Kurds and the Armenians. It's amazing since sleuths who operate from a special field of knowledge are ideal start-up drugs.

I know of one detective novel writer Matt Beinon or so but he seems to write mostly about palestinians. Then there is Shulamit Lapid with her delightful sleuth from Beer Sheba who brought the horror of the gas masks in the first Iraq war closer to my guts than any news could have ever done and then there is Batya Gur whose books weren't my cup of tea.

But where is the suitable to the beach stuff of the rescue operation of the "arab" Jews. There must have been heroes involved on all levels.


Anonymous said...


The way I have experienced young academics (including physicists and chemists;-) it must have been exhilirating for them to work in an atmosphere of "entre-nous" outside academia at a time when academics were still comparatively rare.

There is a way they tend to bond in a we the superiors style to this day. No matter how ironic they do their Herr Kollege, Frau Kollegin, a lot of them mean it.


Sylvia said...


I think the best route is to do “specials” for each community and make it to coincide with significant dates. For example, include information and debates around the “Farhoud” in Iraq or “the Fateful Day” in Morocco on those specific events’ anniversaries.
There are also hot issues debated everywhere except in Israel that are specific to certain countries but not to others. Take, for instance, a recent video reporting on Al Jazeera on the Jews of Morocco in Israel where they seem baffled by the fact that those Jews are still attached to their old customs and go back to visit their graves yet in Israel they are usually on the right of the politicaL spectrum (they mean by that that they are Zionists).

The information should be most reliable and use only serious scholarship, well researched articles and original documents. Any article which purports to describe “Mizrahi culture” for example can’t possibly be taken seriously. You'll nevercatch them using those misnomers in Journals such as the ME Forum, or in serious history books such as the Ben-Sasson.

All this should be permanently placed at the top of the page with a clear, descriptive title.

Of course that would require the help of volunter translators and googlers.

Still brainstorming.

Anonymous said...

Sylvia and bataween

just listened to a "lecture" by the "eminent" scholar Tariq Ali at LSE who claims that some of his books are force-fed to US-students

and who proves his vast capacity for falsifying history ever so "slightly" by positing amongst other things that the Normans in Sicily built a town in the Baroque style, that the Ottoman empire was the longest ever existing one etc. etc.

I think it was during the Q&A that he informed his audience that there were in fact Israeli Jews who bore witness to the fact how good they had ALWAYS had it under muslim rule mentioning specifically one Israeli female author who has a book forthcoming and whose daughter? had been killed by a suicide attack but insisted that "they" couldn't be held responsible for it because it was all Israel's doing just as if they were devoid of common human decency.

Besides that, most interesting is listening to the sounds of his constant inept dealing with his ample phlegma, his claims of everybody's ignorance except his own (Spaniards knowing nothing about Andalusian history for example) and the for an LSE-lecture remarkable fact that people actually had to be prodded to ask the first questions.

I learned from this talk that Tariq Ali has written 5 historical novels on it all. This is the kind of nonsense you are up against and serious scholarship alone is not going to be a match for such idiocies, neither is high-brow literature.


bataween said...

Silke and Sylvia
For airport-stye suspense try 'Operation Babylon'by Shlomo Hillel and 'Flight from Babylon (now reissued as something else) by Heskel Haddad.There's the riveting story of Judy Carr who got Jews out of Syria.
I feel I have to cover inter-ethnic issues (if I don't, who will?) as every so often there is a genuine case of discrimination, such as the Haredi school crisis. (More often than not there is Rachel Shabi making troube where none exists) You can skip over those posts!
I do mark the Farhud (70 years next year) and other anniversaries.How about you help me do a Jewish Nakba day next year?
Tarek Ali is a disgrace and if this shoddy propagandist is what passes as a serious academic then G-d help us all.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the info and yes I hear Tariq Ali hailed again and again as a person to be taken seriously - I know he is a disgrace, I heard him on BBC hailing the South-American dictators Chavez and the others as the true democrats of today's world when peddling his book "pirates of the carribean"
he makes me sick but "they" revere him- at least one book of his is required at US-unis he claims.
everything he and his dear friend Said (according to his latest BS) say is the gospel.
Said is the one person I haven't been able to listen to till the end, he's too full of hatred - if you can bare it, here he is

Sylvia said...

I agree. If you decide to open a thread on your site for that topic, let me know.
This August 20 is the 55th anniversary of the anti-Jewish riots in Morocco that made many Jews homeless and led hundreds of thousands to eventually leave the country.
The question is what determines the anniversary. In some countries, major pogroms, legislation to deprive them of their nationality, legislation to deprive them of their property and laws to expel them sometimes were enacted at different dates in the same country.
I didn't see the discussions you mentioned. I'll keep looking.

bataween said...

It's a deal, Sylvia, I'll do something for the anniversary of the Moroccan riots on August 20th. Do come and visit that day...
Search 'Farhud, Farhoud' in the box, Baghdad hangings of 1969, etc.

Sylvia said...

Thanks for the link.

This sounds like a palimpsest on historian Cecil Roth's biographies of Dona Gracia Nasi and her nephew Joseph, Duke of Naxos, and their journeys. Their story which also begins with the expulsion from Spain and Portugal, and continues in a journey through Antwerp, Ferra and Ancona in Italy Italy, and the Ottoman Empire.
Ali's last book is particularly striking in its similarity in terms of religious self-deternmination. The Nasi family bought -- and Joseph was finally granted after Dona Gracia's death- the area of Tiberias as a refuge for the Jews.
Tariq Ali's last portion of the quintet takes place in Pakistan (the Land of the Pure), billed tobe a refuge for India's Muslims - and interestingly created on the same year as the State of Israel.

Well, let's just say that he had his research cut out for him with the counless books that have been written by Jewish expulsees in the past 500 years.

The apple didn't fall too far from Edward Said, who for his Orientalism looted two Jews and filled in the cracks with a little Foucault, then told Ari Shavit in an interview that he (Said) may be "the last Jew".
I know that with your extraordinary perceptive quality, you will have no problem figuring out what I am not saying, particularly if I add that Said was educated in replacement theology Anglican school in Egypt.

"his claims of everybody's ignorance except his own (Spaniards knowing nothing about Andalusian history for example)"

Well, as anyone who went to school in an Arab-conquered country knows, in children textbooks History begins with the first Arab whose horse ever stepped in the region. Before that minute, there is nothingness.

Sylvia said...

Oops the typos! Sorry for that.
That's Ferrara, not Ferra

Anonymous said...

I remembered I once read a page-turner in which the Mufti's shenanigans figured, the details are all over at bataween's

Anonymous said...

thanks for the Cecil Roth alert - it lead me in the end to this site which will be marvellous to have if the rest is anywhere near as good as this once I get to my history of Venice.