Juan Cole, a professor of history at the University of Michigan, has achieved considerable fame - some would say notoriety - with his blog "Informed Comment" where he posts "Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion". Among Cole's critics, Martin Kramer stands out for succinctly summarizing the problem already years ago, when he wrote a blog post entitled "Making Cole-slaw of history". Kramer's post is by now five years old, but the "recipe" is still in use: recent offerings include Cole's "Top Ten Reasons East Jerusalem does not belong to Jewish-Israelis" and a post from last weekend on the Palestinian commemoration of "Nakbah or Catastrophe Day".
Both the opening and the closing paragraph of Cole's "Nakbah" post provide excellent examples of how to fit a lot of misrepresentation into just a few sentences:
Thousands of Palestinians rallied in Gaza on Saturday to commemorate the Nakbah or national catastrophe of 1948, when European Jewish settlers brought into the Mandate of Palestine by imperial British policy expelled 700,000 Palestinians from what is now Israel and then sealed the border, confiscating all their property without compensation. These actions turned the bulk of the Palestinians into poverty-stricken camp dwellers and/or stateless persons living under the rule of others, and prevented the rise of an independent Palestinian state such as was envisaged by the League of Nations and the British government just a decade before.
Millions of Palestinians remain stateless, and citizenship was defined by Warren Burger as 'the right to have rights.' As long as so many Palestinians do not have the right to have rights, there will be no end of trouble in the Mideast, and Israel cannot itself be a normal country. Although the current situation is often called Apartheid by analogy, it is worse, since most South Africans had citizenship, whereas the Palestinians of Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, etc. lack that basic guarantee of a decent life. And they are being actively deprived of it by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his Likud-Shas-Yisrael Beitenu rightwing coalition."
Both paragraphs illustrate that Cole blames Israel for Palestinian statelessness - even though the professor of Middle East history undoubtedly knows that the relevant facts tell a very different story. As the Oxford scholar and former Palestinian negotiator Ahmad Samih Khalidi once explained in an article appropriately entitled "Thanks, but no thanks":
But statehood as such is a relatively recent addition to Palestinian aspirations. The main Palestinian impetus after the disaster of 1948 was that of 'return'; it was more about reversing the loss of Arab land and patrimony, than the fulfilment of classical post-colonial self-determination, via statehood. [...] It was only after the 1967 debacle that a new Palestinian national identity began to take shape. At its core was the notion of the armed struggle as a galvanising force. Armed struggle, according to Fatah, restored Palestinian dignity and gave the Palestinians a say in determining their future. Statehood and state building had no real place in this scheme. Indeed, the first tentative proposals to establish a state in Palestine (ie the West Bank) were rejected as defeatist and a betrayal of the national cause."
Khalidi clearly knows what he is talking about given that polls continue to show overwhelming popular support for the notion of a "greater Palestine".
Another noteworthy point in Cole's presentation is his argument that Israel is to blame for the fact that "the Palestinians of Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, etc. lack that basic guarantee of a decent life" which he associates with citizenship. Even if one ignores the fact that for many millions of people, e.g. in Congo or Sudan, citizenship provides no "basic guarantee of a decent life" whatsoever, one can only wonder what Cole would have to say if the hundreds of thousands of Jews forced to flee Arab countries had been refused citizenship for cynical political reasons like those that motivated the refusal of Arab states to grant citizenship to Palestinians.
But most likely, Professor Cole would have little to say about the Jewish refugees from Arab countries - indeed, he apparently prefers to ridicule "the fantasyland Leon Uris 'Exodus' narrative of 1948."
Yet another gross misrepresentation is Cole's claim that "European Jewish settlers brought into the Mandate of Palestine by imperial British policy expelled 700,000 Palestinians". It's safe to assume that Cole will not welcome Efraim Karsh's recent book Palestine Betrayed, in which Karsh argues that there was no systematic expulsion and dispossession of Arabs by Jews. In a recent interview, Professor Karsh explained:
Palestine was betrayed by its corrupt and extremist Arab leadership, headed by Hajj Amin Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem. From the early 1920s onward, and very much against the wishes of their own constituents, these leaders launched a relentless campaign to obliterate the Jewish national revival, culminating in the violent attempt to abort the UN partition resolution of November 1947."
But in Juan Cole's world, Palestinians and their Arab supporters have little agency; whatever they have done doesn't count for much, because it's those ruthless "European Jewish settlers brought into the Mandate of Palestine by imperial British policy" and their descendants who have been "actively" victimizing the Palestinians, depriving them of their property, their rights, their unity and their state.
Even if Palestinians say that for decades, they didn't really want a state, even if they say in poll after poll that they remain very ambivalent about a state that would have to co-exist peacefully with Israel as a Jewish state - it still passes as "Informed Comment" to blame Israel for Palestinian statelessness, and pretty much everything else that goes wrong for the Palestinians.
It's a kind of "Informed Comment" that the media all over the Arab world would eagerly welcome - even in the most repressive regimes, Professor Cole wouldn't encounter any problem if he wanted to publish his take on the "Nakbah". Ah, but I forgot: "Informed Comment" on the "Nakbah" only causes problems with the "wealthy and powerful elements of the rightwing Israel lobbies in the US [that] monitor and intimidate media figures and academics who dare depart from the fantasyland Leon Uris 'Exodus' narrative of 1948."
The historian Yaacov Lozowick, who followed Cole's "Informed Comment" for some time and shared his thoughts about Cole's writing on his own blog, once highlighted the fact that Cole had "forcefully expressed his revulsion at a speech of Ahmedinejad". Lozowick argued that "as anyone who has ever given the topic of antisemitism any thought will readily recognize, there are gradations of the malaise. Cole's is a comparatively benign version."
Lozowick certainly has a point; however, it's also clear that even though Cole might find a speech by Ahmadinejad highly objectionable, Ahmadinejad wouldn't find much wrong with Cole's "Informed Comment" on the "Nakbah".