Forbidden Zone

June 20, 2013

In Uncategorized

Dr. Finkelstein,

I haven’t been able to read all of Knowing Too Much yet; though I have read Image and Reality, Beyond Chutzpah, and the Holocaust Industry. I’ve read reviews of Knowing Too Much, which cover your analysis of the new Benny Morris. I’ve seen him debate you on Democracy Now and on RT. I’ve read his Righteous Victims and Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem: 1947-1949, but intend to read the rest of his work. I’m familiar with his infamous racist Haaretz interview and am familiar with the fact that he found religion and now boils down the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Arab Jihad. His giggling performance on RT was revolting.
In fact, I’ve been meaning to ask you “what exactly is Benny Morris?” Kimmerling pointed out long ago that Morris wasn’t exposing Zionist atrocities in Birth due to moral outrage on Morris’s part. And it occurred to me that Morris only did so because it allows him to claim some kind of authenticity as a historian. But then, when the logical implications of the evidence he marshaled for Birth required different conclusions, he claimed a monopoly over what conclusions one could reach from the evidence. No one has a monopoly over logic. What conclusions we should draw as to the causes of the Palestinian exodus in 1948 are not up to you or me or anyone else. 
But, in hindsight, what should anyone have expected from a man who made a causal distinction between deliberate expulsion and flight in (reasonable) fear of forced expulsion or IDF attack? There is no difference causally or morally.
And, to a lesser extent, I take issue with some of the conclusions reached by Segev and Shlaim. I recently found the Democracy Now broadcast where you debated Mr. Segev and immediately ordered Segev’s 1967. I am reading it now and have nearly finished it. I read the relevant portions (i.e. those covering the points debated). I know you’re familiar with it, but Segev claimed on Democracy Now that territorial acquisition was not a motive for Israel attacking its neighbors. Yet, in 1967 he cites Israeli Generals and other officials as (behind closed doors, between each other) openly fantasizing about territorial acquisition and the disposition of territories once captured, cites American and Israeli officials as having no concerns that the Arab countries could defeat Israel (or even wanted war), describes in one whole 30 page chapter how Israeli military officials caused the escalation of tensions with Syria by settling the DMZ along their shared border (thereby forcing Nasser’s hand), that it was doubtful that Eshkol sincerely believed that Israel faced an existential crisis, that the Israeli maps (including those provided for the education of the young) depicted Gaza, Sanai, the West Bank, and all of Jerusalem as Israeli territory, described an Israeli love for military display, cited the public shame of not having conquered all of Jerusalem in 1948, and on and on and on. Yet, the war was not motivated at all, not even as a secondary concern, by territorial acquisition? He requires an explicit blue print. Notice how this parallels Morris’s argument regarding ethnic cleansing: it’s not deliberate unless there is a specific written (or spoken and contemporaneously noted in cabinet minutes) blue print detailing how and where each expulsion/acquisition would be done/made. (This sort of illogical analysis is not unique to Israeli historiography, of course).
Unfortunately, I found similar analysis on the 1967 war in Shlaim’s Iron Wall. I say unfortunately because I admire him. He recommended Beyond Chutzpah for publication and defended your scholarship and tenure bid on Democracy Now (compared to the despicable remarks of the late professor Novick). He recognizes the actions of Israel as, when applicable, state terrorism. But in the Iron Wall, which I read this January, he defends the 6 day war as a defensive war. He also denied that territorial acquisition was a motive for the war. But the war could only be defensive if preemptive war, against a country which has no intention of attacking you, is defensive. And his argument that territorial acquisition was not a motive was based on the fact that the official decisions to occupy each territory conquered was made separately on an ad hoc basis. Again, and I hate to say this about Shlaim, there is a failure here to confront the realities of the 1967 based on logic as flawed as Morris’s logic concerning deliberate expulsion. (In fact, I’m told that, sorry to invoke this, but Holocaust deniers have argued against the existence of the final solution for the lack of an explicitly detailed blue print).
The 1967 war is about as morally defensible as the war in Iraq or the U.S. war on Indo-China. (Those wars still have their defenders!) The inability to confront certain issues truly bothers me. Of course, here in the U.S., for example, our historians haven’t confronted the gratuitous use of the atomic bomb in the way Gar Alperovitz has.
I love the three books by you which I’ve read in full. Beyond Chutzpah was my Christmas gift from my wife in 2006. I read the first 100 pages that day. It remains one of my two or three favorite books. Upon receiving Knowing Too Much I immediately printed out chapters 7 & 10 and read them over this last weekend. I read the chapter on Benny Morris first because his late career transformation has me morbidly curious. I had seen his television and radio interviews arguing that Palestinian resistance was all really Islamic Jihad and always had been. Surprising to me because I was familiar with Righteous Victims where Morris had written that the primary cause of Palestinian resistance was due to their correct assessment of Zionism as an expulsionist doctrine.  My familiarity with Morris came anachronistically- I read Beyond Chutzpah between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in 2006 where you described the remarks he made in the Haaretz interview and cited his historical works in contrast to Dershowitz’s claims. A good while later I bought a copy of the first edition of Righteous Victims. And within this last year I read your critique of Birth in Image and Reality and then his Birth. I followed that up by reading his response and your rejoinder. But then I started to see some of his recent articles and read reviews he had written for the New Republic. I couldn’t see how he could say basically the opposite of what he spent 20 years writing. Chapter 10 of KTM really helped to illustrate why.
Politically, Benny Morris has become a brutal pundit. He joins the ranks of Joe Klein (, Tom Friedman (, Bill O’Reilly, and many many many more, in giving sociopathic and fascistic support for extreme levels of brutality. But we knew that before he began writing “rancid propaganda.” As a scholar, he’s decided to put himself somewhere between Oren and the Dershowitz-Peters polycephalic serpent. (Distorting the claims of the Peel Commision was a play right out of the Peters play book!) I thought “history by subtraction” was a fantastic way of putting it. I had no idea that his most recent book (following his supplemental chapter to Righteous Victims and an unsupported conclusion in 1948) rewrote the entire history of the conflict. The new right-wing shill Morris says that, prior to the explosion of Zionist settlement in Palestine in the early 20th Century, there was a pervasive streak of “Islamic Judeophobia.” The Palestinians were anti-semites by nature- “Islamist exclusivist being(s).” Without any serious new evidence. A couple of anecdotes. (Those may have been known to Morris, but old Morris would have relied on, despite his poorly veiled bias, the weight of the evidence on balance.) This really seems calculated, at least in part, to appeal to American views of Arabs and Muslims. I was always told that the Arab-Israeli conflict boiled down to rabid Jew-hating Arabs who were by nature irrational.
It’s not terribly surprising that he would whitewash partition, expulsionism. and territorial expansion in 1948 and 1967. I was never really satisfied with Morris (and Shlaim’s) explanations for the 1967 War even before I read Image and Reality. (Don’t you understand that Nasser engaged in inflamatory “bellicose” rhetoric??!!) But what I found particularly odd and disgusting was his claims that the first Intifada was caused not by resistance to brutal occupation, but mere Islamic Jihad. Even more bizarre and particularly disgusting claim is his claim that Israel had long supported a two-state solution because it supported absorption of the West Bank into Jordan. The two-state solution has basically become a term of art. And he knows it. He knows that when the phrase is used it refers to an independent Palestinian state along the pre-1967 borders. It’s a lie, a fabrication, and nothing less. Then he, Israel’s greatest historian, goes on to claim that a two state solution was supported by an “overwhelming majority” of Israelis “for decades.” Just fabricating it, out of whole cloth, despite the polling data. Less than one-fifth of the nation, in the poll you cite, supported his faux version of the two-state solution. (By the way, something is seriously wrong when 80% of a country implicitly supports the permanent annexation of foreign territory, and, at times, a majority supports the expulsion of an ethnic minority.) It was these last three points, for some reason, perhaps because they were particularly dishonest, that disgusted me the most. Which is pretty disgusting, considering how disgusting Morris has become.
That the new Morris was required to move further to the right in a country that’s shifted so far to the right, is an excellent explanation for the development of the new Benny Morris, a pseudo-scholar in the Joan Peters tradition. Obviously, fame, and not the exposure of horrific crimes against humanity, has been Morris’s prime motivator throughout his career. Without the rightward shift, he’d be irrelevant and obscure, and not writing for major newspapers and appearing on TV. You certainly answered my question as to what exactly is Benny Morris.
Chapter 7 was wonderful as well. It appears very similar to what you wrote on the 6 day war in Image and Reality. I believe you covered Oren’s book there as well. But it appears you’ve provided alot more recently discovered information, while weaving in important evidence cited by Segev. I was amazed how different your views were on the 6 Day War when I read Image and Reality from those of Morris and Shlaim. It just seems odd to me, and morally reprehensible, to justify a preemptive war, oh, excuse me “preventitive” war (give me a break!), without addressing whether the assailed had any intention to attack the assailant and whether the assailed could even muster a decent fight. It appears that much of the new information in KTM (concerning the Johnson administration’s assesments and intelligence) comes from volume XIX of the Foreign Relations of the US source you cite beginning with note 17. It’s fantastic, and I’ll be following up with Gluska’s book on the 1967 war. The most significant difference, and you covered this parallel, between 1967 and the Suez War in 1956 seems only to be the difference between the Johnson and Eisenhower administrations’ respective postures towards Israel.             Understanding this, I think, is essential to understanding the conflict and potential resolution. After reading Image and Reality I was convinced given what we know, there is basically no chance that newly revealed evidence could change that assessment. If we’re wrong, I’ll eat my hat.
Thank you,

Kevin Bradshaw, 34