To commemorate ten years of blogging (and because things are quieter during the lockdown!) I am republishing some of my blogs which were inadvertently deleted.
This deconstruction of the first edition of a book called ‘Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide’ by Ben White was published on a blog called Z-Word. The blog has long since been deleted.
In November 2008 the blog Z-Word published an important article by Anthony Julius. Entitled “False Confessions: How Anti-Zionists Incriminate Zionism”, it points out that doctored quotations are rife in the Israel bashing world: “We are now in the fifth stage. Incriminatory quotations are a staple of anti-Zionism. These quotations are partly the old ones, mostly updated by substituting “Zionist” for “Jew,” and partly new ones. They are a mix of fabricated quotations (including fictitious endorsements from prominent figures such as Nelson Mandela), and genuine quotations that are given undue weight. These quotations serve as substitutes for reasoned argument.” It seems that Julius had had a preview (premonition, more accurately) of this book.
The claim that Israel is an ‘apartheid state’ has a long history. In December 2004, for example, there was a Conference at SOAS (London University) on this subject. It is an especially attractive comparison for the unreconstructed Left. Since the collapse of Communism twenty years ago, it has been bereft of causes. “If pressure from anti-racists such as us brought down South African apartheid” goes their argument “then we can do the same in the case of Israel.”
That’s where Ben White is coming from, with some anti-colonialism mixed in for good unreconstructed socialist measure. And maybe something else – this is the fellow who said “I do not consider myself an anti-Semite, yet I can also understand why some are” and who tried to contextualise comments of Ahmadinejad which denote a disbelief in the Holocaust.
Of course the whole book is a Big Lie. Far from being a racist state, Israel was born from centuries of racism committed AGAINST Jews. Had Israel existed ten years sooner than 1948, hundreds of thousands of lives of those murdered in the Nazi death camps might have been saved.
Israel’s 20 percent non-Jewish minority has always had equal voting and other political rights. Arab Israelis were elected to the first Knesset in 1949 and have won as many as 12 Knesset seats in a single election. Some hold important positions in the government, court system, Ministries and the IDF. There has been an Arab Vice Consul (in San Francisco) and an Arab Minister. Contrast that with the position of blacks in South Africa under apartheid.
As in all countries there remain valid concerns about the treatment on minorities but Israeli Arabs and Palestinians have acknowledged the protection afforded them under the law, for example:
“Israel has proved that for fifty years its real power is in its democracy, guarding the rights of its citizens, applying laws [equally] to the rich and poor, the big and small.”
– Dr. Talal Al-Shareef, Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds, May 27, 1999
Israel rescued tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews and welcomed them. Israel also rescued the boat people from Vietnam and has been saving the lives of thousands of Sudanese refugees, including Darfuris, who escaped from Sudan through Egypt. What other Middle Eastern country has given refuge to Darfur refugees? Certainly not Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, or Saudi Arabia. Israel is the lone oasis of safety for those who are persecuted in the Middle East. 77 percent of Israeli Arabs say they prefer living in Israel to any other country in the world (Ha’aretz, 23 June 2008).
The rights of Arab citizens of Israel have been vigorously upheld in the Israeli Courts. A clear demonstration was in January 2003, with the decision of the Israeli High Court in favour of two Israeli Arab politicians, Ahmed Tibi and Azmi Bishara, who challenged the ruling of Israel’s Central Election Committee (CEC) disqualifying them from running in the Israeli general election. Such an episode could never have happened in an “apartheid state”. And Israel has a Communist Party whereas the Nationalists in South Africa banned it. Arabs in Israeli society get all the opportunities of Israelis. Take healthcare – the standard of healthcare available to all in Israel is far higher than in the neighbouring Arab States, and Arab life expectancy is considerably higher.
White’s book comes from the same genus as Walt and Mearsheimer’s “The Israel Lobby”. Like that book, everything is meticulously referenced but that enables the reader to see the circularity in the sources. Many are from known Israel bashers: Pappe, Uri Davis, Charles D Smith, Tom Segev, Tanya Reinhart, Jeff Halper, Hussein and McKay, and Maxime Rodinson. Colin Chapman features three times: He is the author of “Whose Promised Land” which revives the ancient Christian canard of ‘supercessionism’ – the belief that because the Jews denied the divinity of Christ, God transferred His favours to the Christians while the Jews were cast out as the party of the Devil. This doctrine lay behind centuries of Christian anti-Jewish hatred until the Holocaust drove it underground.
If the conclusions are a Big Lie, it follows that the arguments used to draw it must be, too. And so it proves. The rot starts early. The Foreword to the book was written by John Dugard, the South African lawyer who made the apartheid analogy, as a result of which Israel refused to allow him to conduct a UN-mandated fact-finding mission on its Gaza offensive in 2006.
The rot continues in the endorsements. Desmond Tutu – whom Alan Dershowitz called a ‘racist and a bigot’ – says “This book deals rationally and cogently with a topic that almost always generates heat…” Stephen Sizer says “If you really care about peace in the Middle East, read this book.” Sizer has given interviews to, endorsed or forwarded material from American white supremacists and Holocaust deniers. He has also applauded Ahmadinejad for having ‘looked forward to the day when Zionism ceased to exist’.
In the rest of this article I go through the book, cataloguing the omissions, inconsistencies and incorrect facts.
Part One takes only one paragraph to get to ‘ethnic cleansing’ (a phrase repeated on average every 12 pages in the book). It then quotes Jabotinsky out of context: “Zionist colonisation, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population”. Jabotinsky (writing in 1923) also said “I understand as well as anybody that we have got to find a modus vivendi with the Arabs; they will always live in the country, and all around the country, and we cannot afford a perpetuation of strife”. But White does not quote that passage (of course). As we will see, ‘doctored’ quotes (that is, partial quotes or quotes taken out of context or isolated from important supporting quotes) permeate this book.
White admits that Israeli Arabs have full voting rights – how can he not? But of course he sees an ulterior motive: had it been otherwise, he says, “outside support would surely have been jeopardised.”
But then White claims that the Israeli government planned the genocide of the Israeli Arabs. Why was it not worried about “outside support” now? It simply does not add up. (The claim of the intention of genocide is sourced from Moshe Machover, the Israeli Communist who now lives in the UK).
The tone of Chapter Two – on the history of Zionism – is set by the doctored quote with which it opens. As anyone who reads Guardian: Comment Is Free knows, a whole new industry of manufacturing false quotes has been set up by the Israel bashers. White has chosen probably the most common one to open Chapter Two. David Ben-Gurion never said “We must expel Arabs and take their places!” He said the opposite: “We do not wish and do not need to expel Arabs and take their places.”
The second quote at the head of Chapter Two is from Benny Morris: “Ben Gurion was right … Without the uprooting of the Palestinians, a Jewish State would not have arisen here”. First, that was not what Ben Gurion believed. Second, the quote refers to ‘transfer policy’, a policy which was never advocated by more than a tiny minority of Israelis – for example the followers of the fanatic Rabbi Kahane. As Ami Iseroff has written, beginning with “Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1948” (published in 1987) Morris has written several books and articles about the creation of the refugee problem in 1948 and related issues. In them, he carefully documented expulsions of Palestinians and massacres. He claimed that these were part of an unwritten policy. Yet later Morris notes the action of the Mayor of Haifa, Shabtai Levy, who on 22 April 1948 begged the Arabs to stay. In other words, Morris has been inconsistent. As Iseroff says “If “transfer” had been in the air, someone would remember it. Veterans of 1948 with whom I have spoken remember no such atmosphere of transfer. Transfer was always part of the ideology of revisionist Zionists and some Labour party activists. However, it was not part of the official ideology of the Labour-aligned political movements that supported the Haganah and the Palmach”.
Another false quote from the “Israel Bashers’ Greatest Hits” is ‘A Land Without A People, For A People Without A Land’ (pages 16 and 22). But even White resists the temptation to attribute it to an early Zionist (it was “coined and propagated by nineteenth-century Christian writers”).
Back to ‘transfer policy’. Instead of explaining that this was only the view of the fanatic Kahanists, White suggests it was the general policy of the Zionists. On page 17 we get ”… it is important to realise just how central the ideas of ‘transfer’ was to Zionist thinking and strategising. The need to ethnically cleanse Palestine of its native Arabs was understood at all levels of the Zionist leadership, starting with Ben-Gurion himself.” On page 19 there follows an alleged Ben Gurion quote at the 20th Zionist Congress, sourced from Benny Morris: “the growing Jewish power in the country will increase our possibilities to carry out a large transfer”. There are two problems with this alleged quote. The first is that it is from Ben Gurion’s private diary – it never appeared in the pubic domain. The second – entirely omitted by White, for obvious reasons – is that the 20th Zionist Congress was convened in Zurich a month after the July 1937 publication of the Peel Report and was convened specifically to consider that Report. And what do we find in the Report? A recommendation for a transfer of land and population: “[s]ooner or later there should be a transfer of land and, as far as possible, an exchange of population”.
To recap: Britain, the mandatory power in Palestine, had commissioned a Report, the recommendations of which were approved by the government in principle. That Report recommended that “[s]ooner or later there should be a transfer of land and, as far as possible, an exchange of population”. One month later the Zionist Congress meets, specifically to consider the Peel Report. Is it so surprising then that it should discuss the Report’s recommendation of ‘a transfer of land and … an exchange of population?” (In October 1938 the Woodhead Commission effectively killed off the Peel proposals which were rejected by the Arabs and which split Jewish opinion).
On page 22, White is at pains to tell us how superior the Israeli military forces were to carry out the “forced ‘transfer’ they knew was necessary for the old propaganda slogan of ‘a land without a people’ to become a darkly self-fulfilling prophecy”. Avi Shlaim is his source for his assertion that Jewish forces significantly outnumbered Arab forces throughout the 1948 War of Independence. What a shame White ignored this passage from the same source:
“It is true that the Yishuv numbered merely 650,000 souls, compared with 1.2 million Palestine Arabs and nearly 40 million Arabs in the surrounding states. It is true that the senior military advisers told the political leadership on 12 May 1948 that the Haganah had only a ‘fifty-fifty’ chance of withstanding the imminent Arab attack. It is true that the sense of weakness and vulnerability in the Jewish population was as acute as it was pervasive and that some segments of this population were gripped by a feeling of gloom and doom. And it is true that during three critical weeks, from the invasion of Palestine by the regular armies of the Arab states on 15 May until the start of the first truce on 11 June, this community had to struggle for its very survival.”
Pages 22-29 deal with the so-called ‘Naqba’. White opens with a quote from Henry Siegman (New York Review of Books, February 2004): “the dismantling of Palestinian society, the destruction of Palestinian towns and villages, and the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians … was a deliberate and planned operation intended to ‘cleanse’ (the term used in the declassified documents those parts of Palestine assigned to the Jews as a necessary pre-condition for the emergence of a Jewish state).”
Again, White omits to tell us crucial information about the quote. In Siegman’s article, the quote is said to come from a Benny Morris interview in Ha’aretz (January 9, 2004). But here is what Morris said in response to Siegman’s NYRB article:
“In his article, Siegman repeatedly “cited” things I had said—with a consistency of distortion that is truly mind-boggling. Just to give one key example: I most emphatically never stated anywhere that “the dismantling of Palestinian society…and the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians [were] a deliberate and planned operation intended to ‘cleanse’…those parts of Palestine assigned to the Jews.” Quite the opposite. Had Siegman bothered to read my books, he would have discovered that mainstream (Haganah–JewishAgency) Zionist policy, until the end of March 1948—meaning during the first four months of the war—was to protect the Arab minority in the Jewish areas and to try to maintain peaceful coexistence. Intentions changed only in April, when the Yishuv was with its back to the wall, losing the battle for the roads and facing potentially politicidal and genocidal pan-Arab invasion. And even then, no systematic policy of expulsion was ever adopted or implemented (hence Israel’s one-million-strong Arab minority today). The Arabs have only themselves to blame for the (unexpected) results of the war that they launched with the aim of “ethnically cleansing” Palestine of the Jews.”
White’s account of the so-called Naqba is par for the course from an anti-Zionist. Of course there were isolated but regrettable atrocities committed by the Jewish forces, as atrocities occur in most wars: Deir Yassin (though that was irregulars), and some of what happened at Lydda and Ramle (following Arab attacks on Jewish traffic on roads near the strategically important cities throughout 1947). But there was no ‘ethnic cleansing’ and Plan Dalet was not a masterplan to achieve this non-aim, as White contends. As Benny Morris has written, “There was no Zionist “plan” or blanket policy of evicting the Arab population, or of “ethnic cleansing”. Plan Dalet (Plan D), of March 10th, 1948 (it is open and available for all to read in the IDF Archive and in various publications), was the master plan of the Haganah – the Jewish military force that became the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) – to counter the expected pan-Arab assault on the emergent Jewish state. That’s what it explicitly states and that’s what it was. ” (Irish Times, 21 February 2008).
Deir Yassin was followed a few days later by the conveniently forgotten massacre of 70 academics, doctors and nurses travelling to Mt. Scopus carried out by Arabs in revenge. The remains of their convoy line the road to Jerusalem to this day as a memorial.
Part Two of this catalogue of falsehoods purports to describe the methods by which Israeli ‘apartheid’ has been maintained. The fact-twisting starts in the third paragraph: “Israel is not a State for all of its citizens … but rather a State for some of its citizens: Jews”. Such an assertion writes off the Declaration of Independence ….:
“[Israel] will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
……. and writes off all the ‘checks and balances’ in a thriving democracy which are there to protect minorities – as in all thriving democracies. To support his argument White (p42) reprints a quote from Shamir (“the Jewish state cannot exist without a special ideological content. We cannot exist for long like any other state whose main interest is to insure the welfare of its citizens”) without revealing (a) that it was said when Shamir was in opposition and (b) that the quote was nothing to do with suppressing minority rights and everything to do with criticising his successor, Rabin, for failing in his inaugural speech to refer to Israel’s Biblical status as the promised land.
The next ‘fraud on the reader’ (to quote from Anthony Julius, op cit) is a 1972 quote from Yeshayahu Ben-Porat (p44): “One certain truth is that there is no Zionist settlement and there is no Jewish State without confiscating lands and fencing them off.” First, this was not said about Arab citizens of Israel, it was said about the West Bank and Gaza; second it was not an ‘ex-cathedra’ pronouncement by a politician but merely a call by a journalist to the government to recognise the implications of the occupied territories.
On page 45, White suggests that the Absentee Property Law (1950) allows land of absentee Arabs to be seized ‘if the owner was absent for even just one day’. This is pure sophistry. The text of the Law makes it clear that it applied only to long-term absentees. Moreover absentees that had left Israel were compensated financially. And decisions under the Law are subject to judicial review (as is the case with all administrative decision-making). For example, in an opinion of 1 February 2005, Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz held that the Ministerial Committee and the Israeli Cabinet had exceeded their powers under the Law.
Now White moves the focus to Gaza and the West Bank. Nowhere in this section does he mention that Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005 (indeed in places (eg page 60) it is as if this had not happened) and nowhere does he mention the Khartoum Conference (August 29 to September 1, 1967) where eight heads of Arab countries responded to Israel’s offer to give back the lands with Three No’s: ‘No Peace, No Recognition of Israel, No Negotiations’. Instead we get ‘land theft’ assertions: “the main characteristic of Israel’s rule in the OPT since 1967 has been land theft.” While there may be some cases of land acquired without compensation (see the recent Spiegel Report) the situation is far more nuanced than White suggests. First a final peace settlement will see the restitution of most of the land under Israel control in the West Bank. The exceptions will be compensated by ‘land swaps’ which has already been agreed with the Palestinian negotiators. Second Israel’s right to control the use of public land (in the so-called Area C, amounting to 72 percent) was accepted by the Palestinians at Oslo.
White repeats the untruth that the settlements are illegal (p62). The United States for example has not considered them illegal since the time of Professor Eugene Rostow, US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, 1966-9. Article 49(6) of the 4th Geneva Convention does not prohibit the voluntary movement of Israelis who wish to live in Jerusalem or the West Bank, since this does not constitute a deportation or transfer within the meaning of that provision, which mentions the word ‘forcible’ (“…individual or mass forcible transfers….”)
Much the same applies to White’s assertion that the separation fence is illegal. It is not. The ICJ declared it so – but the ICJ has no legal standing. It is the judicial body of the United Nations. Its opinions are advisory only. On occasion White lapses into pure invective eg p73: “The logic of the wall is to grab as much land as possible, with as few Palestinians as possible”. Wrong – the logic of the fence is to save the lives of Israelis – all Israelis – from suicide bombers and in pursuit of that aim it has been highly successful. Many countries have similar fences to protect their citizens.
The book ends with some FAQs, mostly a rehash of earlier material. However we do get White’s view (or rather, Charles D Smith’s view) of the Camp David negotiations in 2000: “Israel never offered the Palestinians 95 percent of the West Bank as reports indicated at the time. The ‘generous offer’ was just another incarnation of previous Israeli plans to annex huge swathes of the OPT, retaining major settlement blocs ‘that effectively cut the West Bank into three sections with full Israeli control from Jerusalem to the Jordan River’ “.
Dennis Ross was at Camp David in the US negotiating team. If you go to Dennis Ross’s book “The Missing Peace” you will learn that the Palestinians turned down an offer of 91 percent of the West Bank in contiguous territory plus an additional 1 percent in land swaps (there was to be a continued Israeli security presence along 15 percent of the border with Jordan). Contiguous – not cut “into three sections”.
In April 2000 Nelson Mandela came to London and spoke to the Board of Deputies of British Jews. He spoke of the need for Israel to leave the lands taken in 1967 but not unless there was first recognition of the Jewish State by the Arab States: “I added a second position, that Israel cannot be expected to withdraw from the Arab territories which she legitimately conquered when the Arab States wanted to whip her out of the map of the world.” No mention of ‘apartheid’ in Israel – from a man who spent 27 years as a prisoner of the loathsome apartheid regime in South Africa.
There can be no better answer to Ben White than that.
This artless, crude piece of Israel-bashing will no doubt be welcomed in all the usual circles but anyone with a modicum of independent critical faculty will soon see it for the tired piece of intellectually bankrupt propaganda that it is. What a waste of a Cambridge English degree.
Stephen Sizer said , “If you really care about peace in the Middle East, read this book.”
This reviewer says “don’t bother”.
 See various articles by Melanie Phillips
 Diana Muir, Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2008, pp. 55-62