So what exactly, I'd like to know, led to Radio National's decision to follow Monday's interview with Israeli historian Ilan Pappe with a rant by fellow Israeli historian Benny Morris on Tuesday? Lobby pressure or a craven act of self-censorship?
And what a rant it was! Morris threw every vile epithet in the book at Pappe in what amounted essentially to a case of character assassination. Pure projection of course, but nothing in Geraldine's questions betrayed the slightest awareness that she was dealing with a deeply disturbed individual.
Morris' tirade reminded me of nothing so much as the excoriations of a cult leader directed at one who not only got away but is now blowing the whistle on the whole mad enterprise. Poor Geraldine, desperately seeking relief from the cognitive dissonance occasioned by her exposure to the bleeding obvious on Monday, got more than she bargained for with motor-mouth Morris, the Israeli establishment's go-to historian on the events of 1948. Once a colleague of Pappe's, Morris has, in the words of the former, "transformed to become a racist anti-Arab pundit and less of a professional historian." (Out of the Frame: The Struggle for Academic Freedom in Israel, 2010, p 20)
Here's my transcript with bracketed commentary:
Doogue: Well there are other 'new' historians who see Israel's history very differently [from Ilan Pappe]. One of those is Professor Benny Morris an Israeli professor of history at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. He's a harsh critic of Ilan Pappe. Indeed, writing in The New Republic last year he said: "At best Ilan Pappe must be one of the world's sloppiest historians. At worst, one of the most dishonest. In truth, he probably merits a place somewhere between the two." Well Benny Morris now joins us from Beersheva. Professor welcome to Radio National Breakfast.
Morris: Thank you for having me.
Doogue: Ilan Pappe says if you go to the sources and look at the documentation from 1948 onwards, which you have done as well, then you form a very different opinion of what happened to the Palestinians compared with mainstream Israeli history. Now how far do you disagree with that?
Morris: Ilan Pappe's description is mendacious and politically motivated. He's an anti-Zionist and he wants to blacken Israel's image. Actually, I saw the documents long before and published long before Ilan Pappe [inaudible] actually what happened. The documentation gives us a complex picture. We have the Palestinian Arabs launching an attack on the Jewish community, followed by an attack by the Arab states during which, in self defence, Israelis occupied Arab towns and villages, some of which they expelled. Most of the people fled and there was no pre-planning, no systematic what he calls ethnic cleansing. There were cases where there were expulsions, cases where Arab leaders instructed or advised Arabs to leave and in most cases Arabs fled the wrath of war, the flame of war and not because of any systematic plan or intention by the Israelis.
[Shhh... don't mention Ben-Gurion's telling the Jewish Agency mere weeks before the UN partition plan that to prevent the Palestinians in the proposed Jewish state becoming a fifth column, "they can either be mass arrested or expelled: it is better to expel them." (2/11/47)*
Or the infamous Master Plan for getting rid of the Palestinians, Plan Dalet of March 1948: "These operations can be carried out in the following manner: either by destroying villages (by setting fire to them, by blowing them up, and by planting mines in their debris) and especially those population centers which are difficult to control continuously; or by mounting combing and control operations according to the following guidelines: encirclement of the villages, conducting a search inside them. In case of resistance, the armed forces must be wiped out and the population expelled outside the borders of the state." (10/3/48)]**
What is true is that the Israelis as policy did not allow the Palestinians to return to their towns and villages, arguing that these very Palestinians tried to destroy Israel and would constitute a fifth column were they to return.
[This, of course, is typical Zionist double-talk: one version for the Geraldines of this world, another for his fellow Israelis. Keeping in mind that the Palestinian Arabs had been smashed militarily by the British in the late 30s and were therefore no great military threat to the Zionists in 1948, what Morris only hints at here, the Palestinian demographic threat - the fact that the Palestinian Arabs were the majority population in Palestine in 1948 - becomes explicit in an interview he gave to Haaretz journalist Ari Shavit in 2004, Survival of the Fittest: "That is what Zionism faced [in 1948]. A Jewish state would not have come into being without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. Therefore it was necessary to uproot them... I feel sympathy for the Palestinian people, which truly underwent a hard tragedy... But if the desire to establish a Jewish state here is legitimate, there was no other choice." (See my 11/5/08 post Benny Unhinged for a fuller account of this interview.)]
Doogue: So a central part of Ilan Pappe's thesis as I understand it anyway was that going right back to the end of 19th century through to the 30s and so on the planners, the people who were dreaming of the Jewish state did allow themselves to almost fantasise how good life would be if they had no Arabs around them at all and that this did amount to and led to a genuine plan to evict the Palestinians so they could have the land to themselves. Now you contest that, do you?
Morris: Again, it's a mixture of truth and fantasy. The world Zionist leaders, especially during the 1930s including Ben-Gurion, the leader of the Zionist community in Palestine, did talk about, think about the possibility of transferring Arabs out of Palestine but that was because the Arabs had revolted against British rule and were attacking the Zionist community in Palestine. The Jews in Europe were suffering from anti-Semitism and needed a safe haven and in order to supply them with one the Jews wanted a state in Palestine and they understood that as masses of Jews poured in they would be attacked by the Arabs who wanted to expel them. So part of the Zionist response was perhaps it would be best to transfer Arabs or some Arabs or all Arabs from Palestine but this was never [inaudible] and we see this in Ben-Gurion's diary. This was never adopted as policy. This was just an idea, one idea, among Zionist leaders how to deal with this problem of Arab belligerancy and expulsionism vis-a-vis the Jewish community. It was never adopted as policy by the Jewish Agency or the Israeli government subsequent to May 1948. It was never adopted by any major party as part of its platform. Without doubt though the feeling about transfer in the 30s in some way affected the actions of Israeli generals, officials and politicians in what happened in 1948. It affected them in not wanting the Arabs to return once they'd fled.
[Now compare the above antiseptic account of the 'transfer' idea with that in his 2004 book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited: "My feeling is that the transfer thinking and near-consensus that emerged in the 1930s and early 1940s was not tantamount to pre-planning and did not issue in the production of a policy or master-plan of expulsion; the Yishuv and its military forces did not enter the 1948 War which was initiated by the Arab side, with a policy or plan for expulsion. But transfer 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. By 1948 transfer was in the air." (p 60) Just one idea among many, eh? If 'transfer' - expulsion - was inevitable and inbuilt into Zionism maybe its publicity-conscious leaders not only didn't need to shout it from the rooftops but knew that to do so would be quite counter-productive under the circumstances. If Geraldine had had a clue, could she not have alluded to this?]
Doogue: It might be useful to listen to what he did say because he did say proof of the expulsion of the Palestinians, no matter what the exact plans were or how pre-meditated it was, is plain to see: "And the proof is there. Every Jewish settlement is built on the ruins of a Palestinian village. There are 5.5 million Palestinian refugees who are testimony to the fact that they were expelled. So actually the true story is there even without going to the archives but when you get to the archives you can see a very systematic planning, a realisation that is very sad for me, a realisation I don't agree with but that was how Zionist leaders saw it." So how far have your views... because you and Ilan Pappe if I'm right were pretty close. How far and why have you fallen out?
Morris: I don't think we've fallen out. Politically, we don't have the same agenda or beliefs and Pappe in my opinion is not a serious historian and invents things. There is no documentation for a plan or pre-plan or pre-determination for the expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948, not before or during 1948. There was mass flight. In some cases there were expulsions. In some cases Arabs asked old people to leave their sites. The fact that there are 5 million refugees today - 700,000 of them in 1948 - is not proof of anything except that they left their homes. The question is why they left their homes and, as I said, they left mainly because of war. There is another fact which points in my view to the fact that there was no pre-plan or systematic expulsion and that is that at the end of the 1948 war 160,000 Arabs remained in place in the area that became the state of Israel alongside 700,000 Jews. IOW about a fifth of the population. The fact they remained there and were allowed to is proof that there was no systematic ethnic cleansing as he puts it. Had there been they would have been expelled as well.
[Of course, the only thing that the existence of an Arab minority in 'Israel' after 1948 proves is that ethnic cleansing isn't always 100% successful. In his 2004 Haaretz interview, Morris complained that Ben-Gurion "should have done a complete job" and "cleansed the whole country as far as the Jordan River." As for today's Palestinians (those still in Palestine that is), Israel's minority Palestinian Arab citizens, the descendants of those 160,000, and the Palestinians under Israeli military occupation in the Palestinian territories, here's what Morris told Haaretz in 2004: "In the present circumstances it is neither moral nor realistic [to transfer and expel the Arabs from the West Bank, Gaza, the Galilee and the Triangle]. The world would not allow it... But, in other circumstances, apocalyptic ones, which are liable to be realized in 5 or 10 years, I can see expulsions..."]
Doogue: What for you is the central problem with Pappe's approach, because he's going to be here in Australia with quite a few public appearances? How do you critique him?
Morris: The basic problem is he invents the documentation, mistranslates, invents whole sentences in the things he supposedly quotes. He is essentially a liar. Not one sentence in any of his books can be trusted, especially on this type of subject because he has a political axe to grind which is to blacken Israel's image to serve the Palestinian purpose. He wants no Jewish state, no Zionist state, just a Palestinian state which he says will contain Jews and Arabs, essentially a majority Arab state. That's his political agenda and he subordinates his history writings to this political end and this isn't the way historians are supposed to write history.
Doogue: Why would he do that though? Does he represent a real strand in Israeli society?
Morris: He represents a type of self-hating Jew. There have always been self-hating Jews and people who've been anti-Zionists within Israeli society. It goes beyond anti-Zionism in his case. It's something which only a psychiatrist could explain. There are such Israelis, academics who call for an international boycott of their own universities. But it's a very small number. Israel's a democracy. It allows them to flourish. Ilan Pappe no longer lives in Israel. He works in England. I'm not really sure he can be called an Israeli.
Doogue (who seems to have no problem whatever with Pappe being described as a psychiatric basket case who can hardly even be described as an Israeli anymore, still can't quite believe that Israeli Jews are Zionists) : He did claim in yesterday's interview that about 95% of Jews in Israel would be Zionist and that only a small percentage of Israelis would agree with his take on Israel's past. Does that misrepresent or correctly represent in your view the level at which the Palestinian issue is debated and contested among other Israelis?
Morris: No, there are gradations. It doesn't simply divide between Zionist and non-Zionist. He's actually quite correct that the number of anti-Zionist Jews living in Israel is very small. There are also a lot of ultra-Orthodox Jews who are also anti-Zionist but they're not involved in this kind of discussion. They care only about the Bible. There are also all sorts of gradations among the Zionists: more critical of the government, more critical of Israeli policies. It doesn't simply divide into yes-men and critics of the whole Zionist enterprise, which he of course is.
[He's right, of course, there are all sorts of Zionists: they range from those who want all Palestinians out (the hard-boiled) to those who just don't want them to become a majority again in their former homeland (the soft-boiled).]
There was a little more but I weary, and anyway I think you've got the point.
[* Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, 2006, p 49; ** ibid, Chapter 4: Finalising the Master Plan.]