Middle East studies in the News
The Guardian Approved Malice of Joseph Massad
by Adam Levick
Even by 'Comment is Free' standards, the anti-Zionist diatribe published by Joseph Massad, a Middle East Studies professor at Columbia University, on Nov. 30 is remarkable.
Massad's objective, in 'The UN vote to recognize Palestine legitimises the status quo', was clearly not to advocate for the Palestinians, nor even to merely question the utility of the UN's decision to grant the Palestinians non-member observer status but, rather, to undermine Israel legitimacy and frame the state as morally beyond the pale.
Certainly, what Massad has written for 'Comment is Free' is not at all surprising given his background.
As CAMERA has observed, Massad has characterized Palestinians seeking to destroy Israel benignly as pursuing (ala Seumas Milne) "the legitimate rights of the Palestinians to resist," whereas he's cast Israel as a "racist settler colony" which acts with "unceasing brutality and sadism".
CAMERA cited, as one example of Massad's extremism, a passage in Cairo's weekly Al-Ahram paper, in which Massad criticized a European philosopher (CiF contributor, Slavoj Zizek) who, despite being a severe critic of Israel, supports its right to exist.
Massad wrote the following:
'Comment is Free' editors have granted space to Hamas members on several occasions, so it is not surprising that they published a piece by an ideological extremist who has characterized Jews as "supremacists", a term popularized by Gilad Atzmon and David Duke. Nonetheless, the sheer volume of lies and the degree of malice in his CiF polemic are both staggering.
Massad's rhetorical malevolence begins in the first paragraph, writing thus:
The word "colonists", which Massad employs repeatedly throughout the essay, to characterize Israeli Jews past and present represents a popular lie parroted by those who wish to delegitimize Jews' presence in Israel.
However, as "colonists" would refer to interlopers and outsiders – those who have no connection to the land and have forcefully conquered its indigenous population – the word simply does not apply to Jews in Israel.
Jews are the only people for whom the land of Israel was their ancient homeland, dating back to 1300 BCE, and "by 1000 BCE Jews ruled themselves for over 400 years, more than a thousand years before Islam was established." Even after exile, Jews maintained a continuous presence in the land throughout Roman, Christian, Ottoman and British occupation, with Jewish majorities in several towns. By the ninth century there were Jewish communities in Tiberias, by the eleventh century in Gaza, Ashkelon, Jaffa and Caesarea, by the thirteenth century in Safed and by the mid-nineteenth century there was a Jewish majority in Jerusalem.
The Jews' connection to the land of Israel (and their legal right to settle anywhere in Western 'Palestine') was codified by the 'Mandate for Palestine', the League of Nations document approved unanimously in 1922, and never abrogated. The Mandate recognized the "historic connection of the Jewish people to Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country."
Not only has there has never been a Palestinian state, but the term "native Palestinians" is a misnomer, as there was never any distinct Palestinian identity until the later half of the 20th century. Most Arabs who lived within the boundaries of historic Palestine were considered to be part of greater Syria.
Further, hundreds of thousands of Arabs who were living in 'Palestine' by 1947 had in fact emigrated from other Arab countries and so, by definition, were not "native Palestinians" even in the narrow sense of the term.
As Dore Gold observed:
Additionally, an estimated "25 percent to 37 percent of immigrants to pre-state Israel were Arabs, not Jews." Between 1922 and 1946, roughly 100,000 Arabs entered the country from neighboring Arab lands.
The question, then, of who was an "authentic" Palestinian in 1947 – even if we were to bestow political significance to such a loaded term – is not one easily answered.
Massad's CiF piece continues:
In fact, something closer to the opposite is true.
The Arabs responded to the UN vote by engaging in organized violence against Jews.
Jamal Husseini, the Arab Higher Committee's spokesman, told the UN prior to the partition vote the Arabs would "drench the soil of our beloved country with the last drop of our blood" and they indeed attempted to follow through on that promise.
As Martin Gilbert, in his book, 'Israel: A history', wrote (page 155):
Moreover, the Arab war against Jews preceded the 1947 UN vote on partition. Major eruptions of Arab violence directed against Jews took place in the late 1920s (including the Hebron and Safed massacres of 1929) and mid 1930s, but systemic violence began as early as 1920.
As CAMERA explained:
Also, Arab terrorism against Jews (for five and half months from November until May when Israel declared independence) wasn't limited to the Jews of 'Palestine', as Martin Gilbert further explained:
Hundreds of Jews were killed by mobs - populations which were incited to violence by Arab political and religious leaders - in Arab cities across the Middle East. Jewish shops were looted, and synagogues attacked.
Massad's piece continues:
Massad's claims are completely ahistorical. Arab armies didn't "intervene to the stop the expulsion" of Arabs, as Arabs within Israel's new boundaries were not being threatened with expulsion.
The Arabs "intervened" to expel all of the Jews and initiated the violence.
On February 16, 1948, the UN Palestine Commission reported the following to the Security Council:
In fact, the Arabs didn't deny they began the war to eliminate the nascent Jewish state. As Jamal Husseini told the Security Council on April 16, 1948:
Of all the unserious charges leveled against Israel, perhaps the most egregious one involves the charge of "ethnic cleansing".
First, regarding the refugees as a result of the War of Independence, Mitch Bard wrote the following:
However, even more interestingly, the Secretary of the Arab League Office in London, Edward Atiyah, wrote the following in his 1955 book, The Arabs:
And, as CAMERA noted, Syria's Prime Minister in 1948-49 acknowledged Arab responsibilityfor the original refugee crisis in his memoirs, writing thus:
Further, subsequent charges that Israel, post 1949, engaged in "ethnic cleansing" are contradicted by population statistics in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem.
So, the Arab population has increased (in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem) from 1948 till today by more than six fold.
Meanwhile, the Jewish population in the Arab world has decreased by over 100 fold – from over 850,000 in 1948 to, at most, 7,500 today.
Based on any criteria, it has been Jews, not Arabs, who have been ethnically cleansed.
First, the UN resolution 242 only alludes to the Palestinian refugees issue in the second clause of the second article, which calls for "a just settlement of the refugee problem." UN Resolution 194 refers to "refugees", not just Palestinian refugees. So, it could also be applied to the Jewish refugees from Arab lands. Moreover, nowhere in 242 and 194 are descendants of the original 1948 refugees mentioned.
As Ben Dror Yamini has argued about the broader issue of the refugees and UN:
Interestingly, a former UNRWA official, Sir Alexander Galloway, wrote the following all the way back in 1952:
Moreover, the fact that millions of Palestinian Arabs (mostly descendants two or three generations removed from the original refugees) are still living in towns administered by UNRWA in Arab states, and haven't been granted full citizenship rights, is not a commentary on Israel but, rather, on the cynicism of those perpetuating the refugee "crisis".
Further, Massad's mention of "22% of Palestine" represents another fiction, as it suggests a percentage of what was all of pre-state Mandatory Palestine – which never existed as an independent Arab state. After the 1948-49 War, Israel was in control of 78% of Mandatory Palestine. The remaining 22% (West Bank, eastern Jerusalem, and Gaza) was split between Jordan and Egypt .
Again, an independent Palestine was never created. So, if a Palestinian state is eventually established on most of the West Bank it will be, by definition, 100% more sovereign territory than Palestinians ever previously could claim under Arab or Jewish rule. "Palestine" never existed, so the words "22% of Palestine" represent a rhetorical deception.
In other words, for Massad, any outcome which denies the unlimited "right of return" to Palestinians – the alleged right of millions of Palestinian Arabs who never set foot on Israeli soil, and whose only claim rests on the fact that many of their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents may have once lived there – is unworthy of consideration.
Any solution which leaves the Jewish state standing represents, for Massad, a grave offense to social justice.
Massad concludes, thus:
Massad makes one thing clear: he is among the many rejectionists gracing the pages of 'Comment is Free' who dismiss, as a craven surrender to the Palestinian cause, any diplomatic solution, any compromise with the Jews.
To put Massad's solution more succinctly:
That last quote was excerpted from Hamas's charter.
It's truly getting harder and harder to distinguish between 'Comment is Free' and the Islamic Resistance Movement.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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