Middle East studies in the News
What Did Moshe Yaalon Really Say? [incl. Rashid Khalidi]
by Jason Maoz
Rashid Khalidi, professor of Arab studies at Columbia–and (depending whom you asked and at what point in the 2008 presidential campaign you asked it) friend, acquaintance, or friendly acquaintance of Barack Obama–had an op-ed column in yesterday's New York Times. The piece was fairly unremarkable in its boilerplate condemnation of Israel's military operation in Gaza. What caught my attention, however, was the article's last sentence, in which Khalidi, seeking to illustrate what he sees as Israel's true goal and motivation, employed an alleged 2002 quote from former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Moshe Yaalon:
Pretty strong imagery, bringing to mind an Israeli boot planted firmly on the neck of a prostrate Palestinian. The only problem is that the quote appears to be inaccurate–and in fact turns the meaning of Yaalon's actual words upside down.
The bogus version of the quote does not originate with Khalidi (though he did use it in his 2005 book Resurrecting Empire), but had been circulating on the web since at least early 2003 if not before. It has been cited ad nauseam by Arab news services, neo-Nazi websites and leftist bloggers, though only occasionally with reference to the venue of Yaalon's alleged remark and never with a hyperlink to the actual article where it supposedly appeared–an August 2002 interview with the Israeli daily Haaretz.
Here is what Yaalon actually said when asked, "Do you have a definition of victory? Is it clear to you what Israel's goal in this war is?":
Responding to a follow-up question, Yaalon elaborated:
Tellingly, the same week that Haaretz ran the interview with Yaalon, a rival Israeli daily, Yediot Aharanot, published the transcript of a speech Yaalon had just given to a conference of rabbis in Jerusalem. Its blunt tone drew intense criticism from liberals and leftists, but the sentiments expressed dovetailed with what Yaalon told Haaretz:
It's clear, then, that in both his speech to the rabbis and his interview with Haaretz, Yaalon–far from saying the Palestinians had to be "made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people"–was stating that the Palestinians had to understand that Israel would not be defeated by violence and terror.
Further indication that Yaalon did not make the remark attributed to him by Khalidi and others is the fact that two days after publication of the Haaretz interview, Israeli uber-leftist Uri Avnery wrote a column in the Israeli daily Maariv dissecting Yaalon's statements and listing nine points he found particularly offensive to his (Avnery's) left-wing sensibilities. There was no reference to any statement by Yaalon about making the Palestinians understand that "they are a defeated people."
It's hard to say with any degree of certainty who first circulated the egregious misquote, but one of the earliest and most oft-cited sources is Henry Siegman, formerly a Jewish organizational official and for years now one of Israel's fiercest critics in the American Jewish community. Siegman has used the misquote in a number of columns over the past six years, though not always consistently.
What is fairly certain is that this is yet one more example of an insensitive or incendiary comment falsely attributed to Israeli officials (one of the most notorious is the statement Ariel Sharon is supposed to have made regarding Israel's control of Congress) and given eternal life in cyberspace for the comfort and edification of Israel's enemies.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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