Last summer, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid gave an intriguing speech about antisemitism, a speech that—if taken seriously—constitutes a profound indictment of his own government and the American Jewish institutions that work alongside it. In the speech, Lapid said “antisemitism isn’t the first name of hate, it’s the family name.” In other words, antisemitism is the name for bigotry against Jews. But bigotry against Jews isn’t worse than bigotry against other people. All bigotry is equally bad, and thus, Lapid suggested, Jews should start calling all bigotry—or at least all bigotry that spawns widespread violence—antisemitism. “The antisemites,” he declared, “were also slave traders who threw people bound together in chains into the sea. The antisemites were the Hutu in Rwanda who massacred Tutsis.” An antisemite is anyone who “hates so much that they want to kill and eliminate and persecute and expel people just because they are different.”
It’s worth recalling Lapid’s speech in the wake of legislation, introduced last week by Representative Rashida Tlaib, calling on the US government to commemorate the Nakba. Because if expelling people just because they are different does indeed constitute “antisemitism,” then the Nakba—in which roughly 750,000 Palestinians were either expelled from their homes by Zionist and Israeli forces between 1947 and 1949 or fled their homes in terror—constitutes a vast “antisemitic” atrocity. And commemorating that atrocity—and working to repair its effects—should be part of the struggle against antisemitism in our time.
But first a word about this week’s Zoom call, which will be at our usual time, Friday at Noon ET. (As always, paid subscribers will get the link this Wednesday and the video the following week.) We’ll be joined by New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, someone I’ve debated about Israel-Palestine several times over the years. I invited Bret because I believe in talking to people with whom I disagree profoundly. Obviously, everyone draws the line somewhere: I wouldn’t host a public conversation with a disciple of Meir Kahane. But my instinct is to err on the side of dialogue, especially when it comes to Israel-Palestine, for several reasons.
First, I’m fallible. I’m old enough to have been wrong about some very big things in the past. I’m sure I’m wrong about certain things today. Listening to people with whom I disagree—not just reading them but probing their views in the way one only can through conversation—can help surface the flaws in my own thinking. (I try to do that in both ideological directions, which is why I’ve recently interviewed John Mearsheimer and Noam Chomsky, both of whom are more dovish than me on Ukraine.)
Second, I’m in the persuasion business. I want to persuade everyone. But I especially want to persuade Jews—and especially those Jews who influence Israeli and US policy—that a grave evil is being committed in our name. That’s an intellectual and emotional challenge. It requires understanding the arguments marshalled to justify Israeli and American behavior and, just as importantly, to understand the fears and passions that underly those justifications. In my experience, the best way to do that is by talking and listening. I recognize that for some people, especially for Palestinians whose families Israel has harmed, those conversations are excruciating. They add salt to painful wounds, and I respect people’s right to avoid them. But I find them useful because they help me refine the arguments I make to other Jews about the necessity of Palestinian-Jewish equality.
My friend Fadi Quran, who organizes nonviolent Palestinian resistance to Israeli oppression, told me recently that the African National Congress spent years studying Afrikaner history and culture because it recognized that Afrikaner political psychology constituted a profound obstacle to the ANC’s effort to overthrow apartheid. I’m not comparing myself to either the ANC or to Fadi, nor am I suggesting that Israel and apartheid South Africa are exactly the same. Still, I think change requires persuasion as well as pressure. And the better you understand the people you’re trying to persuade, the more effective you’re likely to be.
That’s why I’m talking to Bret. Why is he talking to me? I don’t know. I’ll ask him on Friday.
Back to Lapid’s speech and the Nakba. What made Lapid’s speech subversive was that by calling all violent bigotry “antisemitism,” he suggested that Jews should view all violent bigotry as equally wrong. Which means that, by Lapid’s own logic, Jews should see the Nakba as a grave “antisemitic” act.
Why isn’t this obvious? How can so many Jewish leaders deny that driving three quarters of a million Palestinians from their homes—either at gunpoint or fear of gunpoint—constituted a profound act of violent bigotry. Once upon a time, Israel’s defenders deflected that charge by claiming Palestinian refugees left at the behest of Arab governments. But that claim has been thoroughly discredited, first by the Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi, who in 1959 studied Arab radio broadcasts and newspapers and the statements of various Arab and Palestinian armies. He found that, far from asking Palestinians to flee, Arab and Palestinian leaders frequently implored them to stay. Decades later, the Israeli historian Benny Morris, employing Israeli and British archives, concluded that whatever Arab regimes had done “to promote or stifle the exodus was only of secondary importance.” Indeed, a June 1948 report by Israel’s own intelligence service estimated that “orders and directives issued by Arab institutions and gangs” led to the evacuation of only 5% of Palestinian villages. By contrast, the “impact of ‘Jewish military action’ . . . on the migration was decisive.”
These days, Israel and American Jewish leaders often deflect in a different way. Why wasn’t it violent bigotry when Jewish armies forced Palestinians from their homes? Because, as establishment Jewish groups argue, Arab and Palestinian leaders opposed the 1947 United Nations partition plan and then attacked Israel after it was created in May 1948. “The root of the catastrophe,” tweeted the Democratic Majority for Israel in response to Tlaib’s bill, is that “the Arab world refused to accept the UN plan for a Jewish & Arab state in what was left of the UK's Palestine Mandate after Jordan’s creation. Instead, 5 Arab armies invaded Israel, attempting to destroy it & push the Jews into the Mediterranean Sea.”
This argument ignores several important truths. First, Palestinians had good reason to oppose the UN partition plan, which gave a Jewish state 55% of British Mandatory Palestine even though Jews comprised only one-third of its population. Second, Zionist forces began expelling Palestinians—several hundred thousand of them—before the Arab governments declared war in May 1948. Morris suggests that one of the reasons the Arab armies invaded was to stem the vast flow of Palestinian refugees streaming into their fragile nations. Why did Zionist forces begin expulsions before the Arab armies attacked? Some of the expulsions occurred in response to local Palestinian violence, which included several grizzly atrocities. But, as Hebrew University historian Hillel Cohen has detailed, most Palestinians never attacked Jews. If they took up arms at all, it was only to defend their villages from assault. Again and again, Zionist forces even expelled the villages that had sought non-aggression pacts with neighboring Jewish communities. Why? Because there were simply too many Palestinians around. Since Jews comprised only one-third of Mandatory Palestine’s population, the “Jewish” state created by the UN would have been 40-50% Palestinian. For David Ben-Gurion—who as early as 1938 declared that “I support compulsory transfer”—a Jewish state with that many Palestinians wasn’t really a Jewish state at all. From Ben-Gurion’s point of view, Morris argues, “without some sort of massive displacement of Arabs from the area of the Jewish state-to-be, there could be no viable ‘Jewish’ state.”
For all these reasons, the Nakba was, by Lapid’s standard, clearly an act of violent bigotry—an act of “antisemitism.” Zionist leaders wanted a state dominated by Jews and creating such a state required forcing large numbers of Palestinians out and barring from them returning. Did some Palestinians commit violence? Yes. Did many Jews perceive Palestinians as a threat? Absolutely. But Rwanda’s Hutus were afraid too. A Tutsi-dominated rebel force had invaded their country four years before the genocide began. White South Africans were deathly afraid of the ANC, which waged an armed struggle with Soviet weaponry. Protestants in Northern Ireland feared the ultra-violent Irish Republican Army. If systematic violence aimed at expelling or dominating another ethnic, religious, or racial group is justified because the people committing it are afraid, then not only was the Nakba justified, but South African apartheid, Protestant domination in Northern Ireland, and the Hutu genocide in Rwanda were justified too.
If, on the other hand, you take Lapid’s speech seriously—if you believe all violent bigotry is the moral equivalent of antisemitism—then politicians and organizations concerned with fighting antisemitism should have praised Tlaib’s legislation commemorating the Nakba. Instead, they called it antisemitic. Representative Lee Zeldin suggested the legislation was antisemitic because it calls the Nakba a “catastrophe” and thus undermines the legitimacy of Israel’s creation. By that logic, it’s anti-Jewish to discuss any Israeli atrocities because discussing them might lead people to question the legitimacy of a state that systematically discriminates against Palestinians. Jewish Insider focused on the fact that Tlaib’s bill called Palestinians—but not Jews—indigenous. (Tlaib didn’t deny that Jews are indigenous to Israel-Palestine. She just didn’t address the subject, which is understandable given that her subject was the expulsion of Palestinians.) This omission, Jewish Insider implies, is antisemitic because it undermines the Jewish connection to the land of Israel.
If you believe that bigotry against Palestinians is as bad as bigotry against Jews, these objections are laughable. How can Jewish Insider claim that not describing Jews as indigenous constitutes a greater offense than expelling 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and not permitting them to return? The answer is obvious: For Jewish Insider, Lee Zeldin, the Democratic Majority for Israel, and the entire panoply of establishment pro-Israel groups and leaders, bigotry against Palestinians doesn’t matter. It’s not even a conceptual category that they admit exists. Bigotry against Jews must be found no matter how hard you have to squint. Bigotry against Palestinians must be ignored even when it’s staring you in the face. Thus, after eyewitnesses accused Israeli forces of killing Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, Israel’s Special Envoy for Combating Antisemitism Noa Tishby declared that “journalist [sic] are killed around the world every week, without the same global reaction. This is the antisemitic double standard.” Put aside the fact that Abu Akleh was an American citizen who was killed, according to eyewitnesses, by a country that receives $3 billion in US aid. What’s remarkable about Tishby’s statement is the way it exemplifies the Israeli and American Jewish establishment’s ability to interpret even the most blatant example of anti-Palestinian bigotry as an example of antisemitism. Abu Akleh was an iconic Palestinian journalist working in the West Bank—a territory where Jews enjoy citizenship, due process, free movement, and the ability to vote for the government that controls their lives. Meanwhile, Palestinians enjoy none of these rights. She was killed, according to eyewitnesses, by the army of the Jewish state. Yet according to Tishby, her killing highlights not bigotry against Palestinians but bigotry against Jews.
This is the opposite of what Lapid argued last year in his speech: That bigotry against Jews is wrong because bigotry against all people is wrong. Lapid illustrated his argument by suggesting that all violent bigotry be called “antisemitism.” By his own logic, therefore, Lapid’s government and its American Jewish allies—who deny or justify the Nakba and deny or justify the expulsions of Palestinians that Israel carries out to this day—are guilty of antisemitism. They’re far more guilty than Rashida Tlaib, who—unlike them—believes Jews and Palestinians should be treated as equally precious human beings.
In Jewish Currents (subscribe!), Dylan Saba interviewed Columbia University historian Rashid Khalidi about the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh.
Last week, I talked with MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan about the Buffalo shooter’s manifesto and with MSNBC’s Yasmin Vossoughian about the Biden administration’s failure to revive the Iran nuclear deal.
I also talked about the Iran deal on a podcast with Ploughshares President Emma Belcher.
See you on Friday,
Is denying the Nakba anti-Semitic? Well, let's see. What exactly is the Nakba?
According to Peter in paragraph 2 it's : "roughly 750,000 Palestinians were either expelled from their homes by Zionist and Israeli forces between 1947 and 1949 or fled their homes in terror"
But according to the same Peter in the same piece in paragraph 14 it's: "expelling 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and not permitting them to return."
If Palestine apologists like Peter wanted to actually commemorate the Nakba, what actually happened, or at the very least the historical consensus, no, commemorating the Nakba would not be an anti-Semitic act. Because commemorating the Nakba would be remembering a terrible war between the newfound state of Israel founded by indigenous Jews seeking to be independent and the Arab armies who wanted Palestine to be entirely part of the Arab world, a war in which hundreds of thousands of people on both sides were hurt, killed, and became refugees, and like all wars was a tragic result of peoples not getting along. In the case of the Palestinians, it would be commemorating the war the Palestinians started (according to Benny Morris), a war which killed 1% of the Jewish population of Palestine, and lost, the result of which was hundreds of thousands of people leaving their homes, some of whom (but not even close to all) were forced to do so.
But Peter and the rest don't want to commemorate the actual Nakba. They want to commemorate the fictional Nakba, in which evil Jews expelled every single Palestinian from their homes for no reason other than the Jews were racist and they hated the poor, innocent Palestinians who had never done anything to them. Peter reveals that himself in paragraph 14, he can't even commit to the historical facts he himself laid out earlier in his piece. That is anti-Semitic, because it presents an inaccurate and hateful depiction of Jews designed to perpetuate racial conflict and hate of Jews.
An actual nuanced view of history is messy and more complicated, and therefore less convenient to the Jew hating Palestine narrative, but it's what happened and it's time for Palestine to accept it.
When someone throws so much mud at the wall you are left with a decision do you take off every muddy stain one at the time? Do you simply whitewash the wall? Oy.
First and foremost, let’s be clear why there is an Israel and not a Palestine. And the truth is there was a choice. Not a choice made by the Arabs who lived in Palestine, but by the Arab states that surrounded Palestine. And the choice was not for a Palestine but for a NO Israel. Regardless of what was said or not said on the radio in 1948 that was in fact the case. The proof of that decision is in the various resolutions that the Palestinian people had no say in but which the Arab states blocked at the time. Thus the only approved border is the one between Israel and Lebanon. All the other borders were provisional and in place until the next round.
More proof? The West Bank and Gaza which are now sought by the Palestinians for a state were totally available for that purpose from 1948 to 1967 and all that happened was annexation by Jordan and occupation by Egypt. Even after the 1967 June war the Arab states spoke for the Palestinians and refused to negotiate. In truth the Arabs in Palestine were shafted by their Arab brothers.
As for your statement about unfairness that the Jews got 55% of the partition? P-e-le-e-a—s-e there were prior offers where Jews got a tiny sliver of the land. All rejected. Let’s be clear NO Israel was the primary objective of the Arab Nation at the time and that is the primary reason there was no Palestine.
As for the 700,000 “expelled”. For sure at least 50% were expelled and for sure; the other 50% fled. Why? Who wants to be in a war zone (look at Ukraine). And who wants to stay when the leaders depart first. And there is absolutely no question that the 1% left. And let’s be clear those are also the ones who sold all that land to the Jews.
Look at Ukraine many people think that if the Russians knocked off Zelensky the Ukrainian effort would collapse. And had he left in the first few days, as was predicted at first, we certainly would not have a Ukraine today. And millions more would have left the Ukraine. People leave war zones and hope to return when its over. But no one expects to return if the enemy wins. Bu that is not the calculus in the heat of the battle.
As for placing blame squarely on “Zionists and Israelis (as if there is a difference), that too is nonsensical. For sure, the Jews wanted Arabs out. They experienced a fair amount of Arab violence in the years leading up to the partition plan and did not believe being saddled with an Arab majority in a democratically based country would work. The animosity was palpable on both sides not just the Jews.
Want more proof of why it would not work? How about the 700,000 Jews who were disenfranchised in the Arab countries and left for the newly formed Israel? They had lived in for over a thousand years.
And finally, and this will garner me the most wrath, the Arabs in Palestine did not see themselves as Palestinians in 1948 or at any time before. They saw themselves as part of the Arab nation, at best they saw themselves as part of Syria which is why there was no demand for an immediate Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Over time the Arabs who have been refused citizenship in Lebanon, Syria and Egypt had no choice but to develop a Palestinian nationality. A nationality that requires them to unseat the State of Israel, something you now support as well. The primary effort today has been “Palestine from the river to the sea” as Rashida Tlaib, BDs and others have said.
I do have one sad memento from the 1948 departure of Arabs from Haifa. There was a large Arab population in Haifa and efforts were made by the Jews to stop the Arab population from fleeing Haifa. No, not because they loved them but because they feared the UN might end the partition if they saw so many Arabs fleeing a city. But they fled anyway. I was 5 years old at the time. I recall my father coming home shaken, we lived in Haifa at the time, and he was very upset as he described the Arabs fleeing and the Jews looting the Arab homes and stores and walking out with refrigerators and other appliances. He came home with a little brass coffee urn. He felt he had to take it away before being accused as an Arab sympathizer. I still have it.