Benny Morris responds to “numerous historical errors” in The Independent

December 06, 2006

* Anti-Zionists “debate” Hitler’s guilt on Haifa University web forum



1. No right to respond?
2. “Like Budapest in 1956”
3. Not boycotting himself?
4. Anti-Zionists “debate” Hitler’s guilt
5. “Why can’t we mention Bin Laden?”
6. Attempted terror attacks on Israel continue
7. Islamists bomb music stores in Gaza
8. Letter to the editor of The Independent by Benny Morris
9. “Ethnic cleansing returns to Israel’s agenda” (Independent, Nov. 13, 2006)


[All notes below by Tom Gross]

This dispatch concerns various attacks on Zionism which some may argue have crossed a line into outright anti-Semitism.

Below I attach a response by the historian Benny Morris to an article written by Johann Hari, a columnist for the (London) Independent. I also attach Hari’s article. The Independent is the newspaper of which the notorious Robert Fisk is chief Middle East correspondent.

Morris, who is criticized in Hari’s article, sent his letter to the Independent on November 21. I waited two weeks to see if the Independent would publish even an abridged version of it. Predictably, they have not. So I attach it below instead, having first removed his address and email from the end of the letter.

Morris’s letter is a good example of how influential commentators such as Hari cite false facts and quotes about Israel, presumably having copied them from other journalists or “historians” such as Ilan Pappe.



Morris was previously a hero of the international left and the extreme right for his attacks on Zionism. But since 2002, he has openly criticized his former colleagues among Israel’s revisionist historians, such as Ilan Pappe (of Haifa University) and Avi Shlaim (of Oxford University). Pappe and Shlaim continue to build their careers on slandering Israel, and remain the darlings of anti-Zionists (and some anti-Semites) around the globe.

For more on Morris, see Benny Morris changes his tune (February 21, 2002). Morris said at that time that he felt like “western fellow travelers rudely awakened by the trundle of Russian tanks crashing through Budapest in 1956.”



Pappe, who doesn’t believe Israel as such should exist, has been leading the calls in the UK and elsewhere to boycott all Israeli academics. He continues to call for such a boycott (most recently at his address at the Oxford Union), while still serving as a “senior lecturer in politics at the University of Haifa.” People might be more open to his call if he were to follow his own advice and resign his post. But then of course, he seems to be claiming a right to speak that he would deny to his colleagues.

Tomorrow, on December 7, Pappe is to chair one session (beginning at 12 noon) of a Haifa University conference titled “The Second Lebanon War Causes, Management and Consequences.” It is striking to see Haifa formally invite Pappe to take part in events, even while he continues to call for others around the world to boycott his own university and other Israeli institutions.

Pappe has also upset many with his new book, “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.” It was lauded by the far left in Europe who have never been very interested in facts when it was published in Britain last month. It has just been published in America.

Another author criticized for a new book on Israel with a provocative title is former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, whose “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” is causing a stir in the U.S., as outlined in the second dispatch later today.



Pappe’s Haifa University seems to be stretching “freedom of speech” to the limit. Two weeks ago, an exchange on whether Hitler should bear guilt for the Holocaust appeared on Haifa University’s Alef discussion list, a forum used by extreme left-wing anti-Zionist Jews, for which a password is required.

The main participants were:

* Tony Greenstein, a British communist and IRA supporter, who visited Baathist Syria with PLO funding and openly demands the destruction of Israel;

* Yael Korin, a pathologist at the medical school of UCLA in California, who mourned the death of the founder of Hamas;

* Shraga Elam, a Swiss-Israeli anti-Zionist, who denies Hitler’s responsibility for Auschwitz.

The opinions expressed on the forum are too repugnant to be reproduced here. For example, Shraga Elam writes to Yael Korin (Wednesday November 22 03:35:16 IST 2006) concerning the gassing of Jews:

“Yael, It is widely agreed that Hitler was not a very strong dictator and had no control over many things done in Germany.”

Such statements are illegal in several European countries, including Germany and Austria.



Also at Haifa University, representatives of the (Israeli) Islamic movement’s northern faction have been distributing a booklet to Arab students at Haifa University honoring “great leaders of the Arab nation.” The booklet includes pictures of Osama bin Laden, former Palestinian dictator Yasser Arafat, Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, and convicted Fatah terrorist Marwan Barghouti. The booklet, which describes their terror activities and other details of their lives, and has been handed out by student representatives of the Islamic movement in the university’s Mount Carmel campus, has caused great anger among other students and professors at the university.

“Memorial dates” included in the booklet are September 11, 2001, the date of the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers in northern Israel in July, and Nasrallah’s birthday.

The student body of the Islamic movement told Israel’s Yediot Ahronot newspaper that it stands behind the distribution of the booklets, which were funded by a branch of the Islamic movement in the Arab-Israeli town of Umm al-Fahm. Islamic movement member and Haifa University student Mouad Hatib told the newspaper: “We mention Nasrallah and the date of the kidnapping of the two soldiers and the killing of eight others as a brave operation that led to the Lebanon war... It’s important for the Arab public to remember its leaders, the people who are paving the way for its independence, so why can’t we mention bin Laden?”

The Haifa student union has released a statement saying “We are shocked and appalled by the fact that booklets were distributed on campus with such pictures of terrorists who publicly called for the annihilation of the State of Israel.”



Meanwhile, the international media continues to all but ignore ongoing attempts to kill Israelis by Palestinian terrorists. For example earlier this week, on December 2, two terrorists planning a suicide bombing were arrested at a checkpoint near the village of Qaffin, west of Jenin. The two were Osmat Tsabah, 19 and Ahmed Tahama, 21. The western media regularly publishes lengthy feature articles on the hardships of Palestinians having to pass through checkpoints (which incidentally, tend to take much less time than the average period passengers have to endure for security checks at western airports) but fail to mention the reasons these checkpoints exist, and why they are saving lives.

The security fence around Gaza (unlike the one around the West Bank) is complete, so terrorists there have been launching rocket attacks instead. So far, at least 15 Qassam rockets have been fired at Israel since the so-called Gaza ceasefire was declared last week, narrowly avoiding killing anyone. Israel has not responded. It seems the western media will not report on these breaches of the ceasefire unless Israel takes some action to stop the rockets.

One of the Qassam rockets even landed in the cemetery in the town of Sderot, where those killed by Palestinian rockets last month had recently been buried. Responsibility was claimed by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an arm of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction.

The Israeli security cabinet decided at its meeting at the start of this week to instruct the IDF not to take action to stop terrorists spotted about to launch rockets towards Israel nor to try to hit them immediately after they have launched the rockets. Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Public Security Minister Avi Dichter argued that Israel was obligated to protect its citizens but they were overruled by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni who maintained that there were “other considerations” that transcended preventing Israelis from being murdered by Qassam rockets.

There is fury among some in Israel at this decision; they suspect that Olmert is now more concerned about Israel’s international image on CNN and about impressing Condoleezza Rice than about preventing Israelis being killed.



An al-Qaeda linked Islamist group has declared war on music and the Internet in the Palestinian Authority. The group, named “Swords of Islam,” has claimed responsibility for attacking stores that sell music or Internet-related equipment. About a dozen such stores have been bombed so far in Gaza.

“The shops were attacked, because they occupy the minds of an entire generation of youth, who instead of spending their time in holy war and worship, serve the interests of the Jews and the Crusaders,” the group said in a statement on November 29.

Middle East News Line cites Palestinian sources saying the stores were struck by rocket-propelled grenades fired by masked attackers. They said Palestinian Authority police have not made any arrests.

[All notes above by Tom Gross]



From: Benny Morris
Sent: Tue, 21 Nov 2006 12:45:09 +0200
Subject: Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor,

Johann Hari (‘Ethnic Cleansing Returns to Israel’s Agenda’, 13 Nov) misrepresents my views, while peddling numerous historical errors.

I have not moved to the Right. I still believe (as I believed 30 years ago) that a two-state settlement a Palestinian state alongside and living in peace with Israel more or less along the pre-1967 borders is the optimal solution to the conflict. It would not give either side the full ‘justice’ they would like, but in the circumstances (demographic, geographic, political, military) it is the best to be hoped for.

What has changed is that in the 1990s I was guardedly hopeful that the Palestinians who had previously always demanded all of Palestine for themselves were moving toward acceptance of a two-state solution. But I was wrong. Yasser Arafat, the previous Palestinian leader, rejected such a solution when it was offered by Israeli and American leaders (Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton) in the year 2000. And in January 2006, to emphasize their rejectionism, the Palestinians voted the Hamas into power in free, orderly general elections. The Hamas, a deeply anti-Semitic movement (it describes Jews as ‘sons of pigs and monkeys’), continues to reject the legitimacy of Zionism and Israel and to call for Israel’s destruction. The election, unfortunately, represented the will of the Palestinian people.

I am no supporter of Avigdor Lieberman, the head of the Right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, recently co-opted into the Israeli government. But he has a point: Israel’s 1.3 million (not ‘two million’) Arab citizens identify with the Palestinian cause (and, at times, with the Lebanese fundamentalist Islamic militia, the Hizbullah), and are potentially a dangerous Fifth Column, who do not want to live in a Jewish state. This may be unfortunate but one should face reality. Contrary to liberal opinion, not all minorities are well-intentioned and loyal.

Lieberman, whatever his formal title, is not ‘in charge of’ the Israeli response to the Iranian nuclear threat (and it is a frightening, existential threat a mad president, who denies the Holocaust and posits Israel’s destruction, surrounded by a coterie of mullahs who live in the Middle Ages). The response will be devised by the Israeli prime minister, defense minister and army chief of staff, and endorsed by the full cabinet, when and if it is decided upon. And let me add: If Israel is faced with a choice between its own imminent destruction and the destruction of Iran, and, given the weakness of the international community in face of the Iranian challenge, it may well boil down to that I hope Israel’s leaders have the sense and courage to choose the latter.

Hari quotes David Ben-Gurion as saying in 1937: ‘I support compulsory transfer ... The Arabs will have to go, but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen, such as a war.’ The first part of the quote (‘I support compulsory transfer’) is genuine; the rest (‘The Arabs will have to go ... such as a war’) is an invention, pure and simple, either by Hari or by whomever he is quoting (Ilan Pappe?) It is true that Ben-Gurion in 1937-38 supported the transfer of the Arabs out of the area of the Jewish state-to-be which was precisely the recommendation of the British Royal (Peel) Commission from July 1937, which investigated the Palestine problem. The commission concluded that the only fair settlement was by way of partition, with the Jews receiving less than 20 per cent of Palestine, but that, for it to be viable, the 20 per cent should be cleared of potentially hostile, disloyal Arabs. (Britain, incidentally, at the end of World War II supported the expulsion to Germany of the German Sudeten minority, which had helped Hitler destroy and occupy Czechoslovakia for precisely the same reasons.) The Arabs, then and later, rejected the principle of partition as well as the specific Peel proposals.

Neither Ben-Gurion nor the Zionist movement ‘planned’ the displacement of the 700,000-odd Arabs who moved or were removed from their homes in 1948. There was no such plan or blanket policy. Transfer was never adopted by the Zionist movement as part of its platform; on the contrary, the movement always accepted that the Jewish state that arose would contain a sizeable Arab minority.

But in 1947-48 the Palestinian Arabs, joined by invading Arab states’ armies from outside, launched a war whose aim which they (and even Pappe, Israel’s Lord Haw-Haw) have never denied was to destroy the nascent state of Israel (and quite probably its inhabitants as well). But what can you do? the Arabs were beaten. And in the course of beating them, the Israelis drove out the Palestinians, who were not ‘totally innocent ... peasants’ (a ludicrous phrase). Their villages and towns served as the bases from which their militiamen and armies attacked Jewish communities and convoys.

The ‘innocent’ Palestinians were the aggressors and dispossession was the price they paid for their aggression. In the circumstances, had the Jews not driven them out, Israel would not have arisen and its (Jewish) population would have been slaughtered or, at the least, the Jewish state would have been established with a considerable Fifth Column in its midst and rendered mortally unstable. (Conversely, had the Arabs accepted the 1947 UN Partition Resolution, refrained from violence, and gone on with their lives as loyal Israeli citizens, nothing would have happened to them.)

Nonetheless, Israel emerged from the 1948 War with a 160,000-strong Arab minority (alongside 700,000 Jews) a fact that tends to undermine the charge that there was a blanket policy of ethnic cleansing.

Lastly, Hari refers at one point to ‘the sands of Lebanon’. Perhaps it is time he visited the Middle East: The only sands in Lebanon are in children’s playgrounds or on the beaches of southern Beirut.


Benny Morris,
[Address and email removed]



Ethnic cleansing returns to Israel’s agenda
The silence over Lieberman’s appointment is a bleak sign of how far Israel has drifted to the right
By Johann Hari
The Independent
November 13, 2006

When Jorg Haider’s far-right Freedom Party joined the governing coalition in Austria in 2000, the world offered a collective retch and moved to isolate the country. In the past fortnight, a startlingly similar far-right politician named Avigdor Lieberman has joined the governing coalition in Israel in the lofty position of Deputy Prime Minister but the world’s gagging reflex has yet to respond.

Lieberman is an ex-nightclub bouncer, once arrested for attacking a boy who he suspected of insulting his son. His party, Yisrael Beytenu (Israel, Our Home), has campaigned on two ugly issues. The first is the claim that Israel’s two million Arab citizens are “a danger to the country”, to be dispensed with, in part, by ethnic cleansing. Lieberman wanted to bus thousands of released Palestinian prisoners to the Dead Sea and drown them.

Today, he has moderated his stance and merely wants to “transfer” many hundreds of thousands of Israeli Arabs inevitably by force to the scraps of remaining land that will be labelled Palestine after Israel has annexed the major illegal settlement blocks. If your name’s not on the list, you’re not staying in.

His model is Cyprus in the 1970s, where the mixed Turkish and Greek populations were separated out at gunpoint. “The final result was better,” he sighs. “Minorities are the biggest problem in the world.” He would like to begin these racist expulsions with a simple, swift move: executing Israeli Arab members of the Knesset. Since they have spoken to the democratically elected Palestinian leadership, they are “traitors”, Lieberman argues.

His second issue has been an attempt to streamline and centralise power into the hands of one Strong Man. Lieberman grew up in the Soviet Union. His support base is overwhelmingly among the one million Jews who emigrated to Israel after the fall of Communism. Much as they despised Soviet anti-Semitism, many have imbibed Soviet habits of mind and do not see why faffing about with coalitions and supreme courts should be allowed to get in the way of the Great Leader vanquishing the Great Enemy.

It is important to stress that Ehud Olmert, the Prime Minister, says he rejects Lieberman’s views, and will not carry out his policies. But he has placed Lieberman in charge of the largest single issue in Israeli politics how to respond to Iran’s imminent nuclear bomb. We already know his views on this: Lieberman was calling for bombing of Iran as long ago as 2001, and says Israel is “on the frontline of the clash of religions”.

The silence that has greeted Lieberman’s appointment is a bleak sign of how far Israel has drifted to the right. In the 1980s, a fascist called Rabbi Meir Kahane emerged calling for a Lieberman-style “pure Jewish state” that was “cleansed of Arab contaminants” and “stripped of liberal democratic illusions”. He was execrated by everyone and banned by the Supreme Court from sitting in the Knesset even as a fringe member. Yet today, only a handful of heroic Israelis have spoken out at the appointment of Lieberman to the deputy premiership. One Labour cabinet minister one resigned, saying it would be a betrayal of everything the Jews have learned to sit alongside “a racist”.

It is revealing that ethnic cleansing would re-emerge as a mainstream issue in Israel politics now, as the country undergoes a national nervous breakdown. This summer, in the sands of Lebanon, Israel effectively lost a war for the first time. (In his testimony before a Knesset committee last month, Olmert was reduced to defiantly bragging, “Half of Lebanon was destroyed is that a loss?”). The country’s political class is on life support just as surely as Ariel Sharon, with the President facing rape charges and Olmert facing a battery of corruption allegations.

In the midst of all this, a national taboo has melted away. Anybody who studies the history with open eyes can now see that ethnic cleansing of Palestine’s indigenous population was Israel’s original sin, a prerequisite for the state to come into existence. Today the Israeli people feel their existence is threatened once more, so they are returning in their minds via Lieberman to those birth crimes in the search for solutions.

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding father, wrote in 1937, “I support compulsory transfer. I do not see in it anything immoral ... The Arabs will have to go, but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen, such as a war.” The brave Israeli historian Ilan Pappe’s new book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, documents in detail how Ben Gurion’s plan was carried out, village by village, town by town, in 1948. The Jewish soldiers who carried out this crime were often still emaciated from the Nazi concentration camps, trying desperately to convince themselves that these totally innocent Arab peasants were somehow akin to Nazis that Adolf Hitler was hiding in Ramallah, or Bethlehem, or Nablus.

Lieberman’s argument is, in essence, that the ethnic cleansing of 1948 did not go far enough. Yes, 800,000 were driven out but almost as many were left behind, a “fifth column” within Israel, who must now be dealt with.

The best symbol of how Israeli thinking has cracked and reverted to an earlier, base impulse is the historian Benny Morris, who I met up with last time he was in London. In the 1980s, Morris became a hero to the Israeli and international left because he was the first man brave enough to pore into the declassified Israeli military archives from the 1940s and show how Israel’s founders carried out the expulsion of the Palestinians.

But then at the height of the second intifada, he gave an interview in which he said he had been misunderstood all these years. All this time he was talking about ethnic cleansing, he didn’t mean it was a bad thing. No “You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. You have to dirty your hands,” he said. It would have been “much better” if they had driven out all the Arabs, he declared.

The ugliest strains in Israeli political thought are rising to the surface. There have always been some anti-democratic forces in the country Sharon considered mounting a military coup in 1967, for example. There have always been ethnic cleansers, from Ben Gurion to the politicians who today authorise the blowing up of “unpermitted” Arab (never Jewish) houses in East Jerusalem, a process I have witnessed myself.

But Avigdor Lieberman is a logo for all this at its most extreme, and today he is only a few bullets away from the Premiership. For the sake of the Palestinians, for the sake of Israel itself, now is the time for the world to jolt Israel, just as we jolted Austria back from its dark dance with the far right.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.