With Israel's normalization of relations with several Arab nations, and continued defiant rejection by the Palestinian leadership and its supporters, I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to take a fresh look at the competing narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by comparing two recent books, to better understand the growing hostility to Israel from American academia and a rising segment of Congress that will influence American policy toward Israel in the decades to come.
I decided that a good place to start would be The Hundred Year War on Palestine, a History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance, 1917–2017 by the preeminent Middle East Studies Prof. Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, and, for contrast, Ben-Dror Yemini's book, Industry of Lies: Media, Academia and the Israeli-Arab Conflict.
Khalidi's books are required reading on many university campuses, while Yemimi's book and others like it are largely absent from university curricula and unlikely to be mentioned in the analyses of mainstream journalists.
In today's academic and politically progressive world, where liberal Zionists, once common, are dwindling in numbers, the foundation for the bipartisan consensus of support for the US-Israel relationship is gradually being eroded, as America's younger generation of leaders is increasingly raised on a diet of preponderantly anti-Israel political advocacy in the mainstream press, and in both schools and universities.
Yemini, who supports a two states for two peoples solution, writes, "the problem is that hundreds of thousands or even millions of people have read the original (one-sided, anti-Zionist) articles, while only several thousand read the refutations." In his book he attempts to methodically deconstruct many of the omissions, fabrications, and factually out of context statements that have become the unexamined "truth" for pro-Palestinian NGOs, Middle East professors, and progressive political organizations. The "lies spouted by academic personages are the most dangerous... because they benefit not only from the protection of academic freedom but also from trappings of the ivory tower prestige... the contemporary version of the Big Lie turns Israel" into a country that purposely "harms innocent bystanders," while Palestinians who call for the extermination of the Jewish state and commit terrorist acts, are described as "freedom fighters." Regarding Arab Israelis, Yemini points out that they "demand that Israel recognize the Palestinians' right to self-determination without recognizing any reciprocal right for the Jews... a denial of the Jewish people's right to their own nation-state.... By making [the] impossible, and totally unacceptable demand that Israel's character as a Jewish nation-state be revoked or erased." Part of the strategy of Israel delegitimizers is to claim over and over things that are demonstrably false – for example, that the Jewish people were never indigenous to the Levant – that with time become an accepted fact.
Columbia University's Center for Palestine Studies under Khalidi has become a major epicenter of anti-Zionist activism, and Columbia University has become a forum for pro-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement speakers who delegitimize Israel. Khalidi, along with many Middle East faculty around the country, advocates for boycotts against Israel. Yet Khalidi claims that in his department, "we'd avoid doing anything that's directly related to any political activism." If only it were so. So it is instructive to examine specifically what Khalidi has to say about the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as this typifies the view from the ivory tower, being considered mainstream within Middle East Studies and social science departments in the US where America's next leaders were educated.
What his book and Middle East studies are about today is claiming that the Palestinian national narrative is authentic while the Jewish national narrative of Zionism is an exploitive, colonialist illegitimate process that was unfairly afflicted upon them, and if only there were no Israel, the Middle East would be a better place and antisemitism wouldn't exist. Here is a breakdown of some of what Khalidi writes:
On Israel and its right to exist
• "Israel's true light (is) a callous occupying power," a "thief" of Palestinian land.
• Zionism is illegitimate; the only truly indigenous people are Palestinian.
• Palestinians shouldn't have to accept Israel in any territorial dimension as this is all Palestinian Arab land.
• 1949 Armistice lines (1967 lines) that are supposed to be the holy grail for two-state advocates are illegitimate because this concedes a legitimacy for a Jewish state.
• UNSC Resolution 242 calling for two states for two peoples is unjustified because it supports a Jewish state.
Sometimes he makes claims that fly in the face of reality, or completely omits facts for historical context. Here are a few examples.
• Khalidi believes foreign subsidized NGOs are pro-Israel, which is incomprehensible as the reality is that most NGOs involved with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are overwhelmingly biased against Israel • In explaining the Six Day War, he omits any mention of Egyptian President Nasser or Syrian President Assad's repeated calls for the extermination and genocide of Jewish Israel.
• He claims the Arabs were never going to attack Israel in the Six Day War, omitting the clear evidence of Arab troop movements, removal of UN peacekeepers, and the closure of maritime traffic to Israel via the Red Sea.
Regarding the US
• He claims Israel and US Jews wag the American dog, the antisemitic canard of behind-the-scenes Jewish control of government and finance.
• He creates a Palestinian nationalism that was part of his family story, then projects his personal narrative as representative of the Arab population in the first half of 20th century who, in fact, did not see themselves at that time as a distinctive people.
• His narrative is overwhelmingly one of Palestinian victimhood without any responsibility.
On moral equivalence
• His euphemism for Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorism: "Strenuous advocates for armed resistance."
• His statistics count all Palestinians as victims even if they were terrorists.
• In regard to population transfers, he omits for historical context the far larger population transfer of Jews forced from Arab and Muslim countries, or other contemporaneous population exchanges that dwarfed the Palestinian migration.
On a two-state solution
• He dismisses the possibility of two states for two peoples as fiction.
• Claims Israel's desire is to control 100% of the West Bank but sidesteps Palestinian rejection of Israel's offer of 90-100% of that land by Ehud Barak at Camp David and again by Ehud Olmert.
• Muslim and Palestinian antisemitism exists only because Israeli propaganda created it, not because it is in the Koran and is preached from early childhood on.
• Uses the classic antisemitic trope, "infestation" of Jews in the Trump administration, and highlights "Jewish" neoconservatives for controlling US policy.
• Describes a dual loyalty when referring to former US ambassador Dennis Ross, whom he claims colluded with Benjamin Netanyahu and works with the Israel lobby against American interests.
IN A more balanced world, students would be reading books on the same subject from two different vantage points, especially on a topic that is as complex, contested and multi-faceted as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That, sadly, is not the case for those who believe Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state, or challenge Palestinian historical revisionism.
As Yemini says, "There are many intellectuals who will... create a new reality, invent facts, publish innumerable tracts containing known lies and speak and quote each other."
The one-sided narrative against Israel as a pariah state of ethnic cleansers, explains the rise of harshly critical organizations such as J Street, IfNotNow, Jewish Voice for Peace, and BendTheArc, who view Palestinian "refugees" as America's African-Americans. So it is no wonder that America's next generation leave universities with a distorted version of the Middle East, especially because of the clever manipulation of using all victim stories as intersectional, so support of social justice means exclusive support of Palestinians.
What those who claim they are for two states miss regarding Palestinian "refugees" is that "most of them remained in territories earmarked for the Arab state... in Gaza and the West Bank, the same territories that most of the world envisions as the site for a future Palestinian state." For Khalidi, however, not only are these internally displaced people "refugees," but every Palestinian Arab who is a citizen of Jordan as well as a descendant of any Arab who lived in Israel remains a "refugee" for perpetuity. The goal is not two states for two peoples, but the end of a Jewish state.
Israel's future security over the next quarter century is dependent on the continuation of a strong US-Israel relationship. The change in academia's view of Israel began more than a generation ago in universities, and now has permeated even middle schools whose obedience to a politically correct view of the world that is anti-Zionist, has placed Israel squarely in the docket of perpetrator, ethnic cleanser, and victimizer. The curricula for many high schools and now even grade schools are written and influenced by polemicists from Middle East Studies departments, and underwritten by local school boards.
These are the future leaders of America. Hopefully, with time, this generation can mature and see the region as it is, not as Khalidi presents it. If not, the US-Israel relationship will be on a downward spiral over time and Israel must take note.
Those who care about the importance of Israel for US security interests must not stop fighting the good fight, continue to support politicians who don't demonize Israel and withhold funding of universities that poison the minds of our young people. As for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the quintessential pro-Israel political organization, it will need to stop giving its customary warm embrace to every incumbent, as with time too many will cross the line and join with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.