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Israelis in Non-Israeli Universities
Reviews of Ilan Pappe


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Big questions for Stephen Sizer

The Christian monthly Evangelicals Now recently featured a review of Ilan Pappe's book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. You can read the review, written by Mike Moore, here.

Stephen Sizer, took exception to the review and critiqued it here, in a post headed 'Holocaust Denial?'. For good measure, I have reproduced the whole of Sizer's critique (which includes comments from Ilan Pappe) in bold at the end of this post.

Where to begin with fisking Sizer's post? Here are a few thoughts.

1. The history

Sizer accuses Moore of denying the Palestinian Nakba. Moore doesn't: he questions whether the Palestinian refugees fled because of preplanned 'forcible expulsion'. Pappe (and Sizer) would have us believe that all of the Palestinian refugees fled because they were forcibly expelled as part of a preconceived, deliberate Zionist plan. Anyone with a fleeting knowledge of Israeli historiography will know that this is the line taken by the so-called 'New Historians', in contrast to the line taken by writers such as Ephraim Karsh or Sir Martin Gilbert, whom I will label as 'traditionalists'. Good examples of Karsh's work are available here and here. The thrust of the traditionalist line is that many if not most of the Palestinian refugees fled because they were commanded to do so by their own leaders, so that they would not get caught up in a war unleashed by the surrounding Arab states on the fledgling state of Israel. This view is supported, among other things, by Arab voices quoted in a Palestinian authority daily
and by statements such as these. Stephen Sizer and Ilan Pappe are invited to comment on how such candid statements by Arabs fit into their own thesis that the Nakba was All Israel's Fault.

2. Other views of Pappe

Let's move on to the response to Pappe by other historians. Karsh labels one of Pappe's previous books as 'disgraceful'. Yoav Gelber called him a 'charlatan'. Seth Frantzman accuses him of 'flunking history':
"As a work of scholarship, Pappé's book falls short, and it does so in a particularly damning way. He ignores context and draws far broader conclusions than evidence allows by cherry-picking some reports and ignoring other sources entirely. He does not examine Arab intentions in the five months between the U.N. endorsement of Palestinian partition and Israel's independence, nor does he consider the widespread public statements by Arab officials in Palestine and in neighboring states declaring their goal of eradicating the Jewish presence in Palestine. It is obvious why a polemicist such as Pappé would cleanse—so to speak—his narrative of any such references: To avoid doing so would strike at the core of the reality that he wishes to foist upon his readers, one which precisely inverts the historical record and turns a coordinated Arab attempt at ethnically cleansing Palestine of its Jews into a Jewish attempt at ethnically cleansing Arabs.

Pappé's writings may win plaudits among his new British peers, whose disdain for the state of Israel is legendary. But his disregard for the obligations of the historian and his indifference to academic integrity condemn his work to the realm of the polemic, not scholarship."

Perhaps most significantly, Pappe was also denounced in the strongest possible terms by Benny Morris, here, here and here: 'This truly is an appalling book. Anyone interested in the real
history of Palestine/Israel and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict
would do well to run vigorously in the opposite direction.'
This is important because Morris at one time 'walked a stretch together in uneasy
companionship [with Pappe]'
. In short, it seems clear that Pappe is viewed with disdain by many of his own academic peers. Can Stephen Sizer tell us why, in light of all this, he himself is so keen to defend Pappe? What does he know that these professional historians do not?

3. Pappe's methodology

Echoing Efraim Karsh, Mike Moore referred to Pappe as a 'self-confessed post-modern relativist for whom historical research is a "backward-looking projection of political attitudes and agendas regardless of actual facts". Karsh's assessment derived, among other things, from the candid statement of Pappe in 'A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples' that

'My bias is apparent despite the desire of my peers that I stick to facts and the "truth" when reconstructing past realities. I view any such construction as vain and presumptuous. This book is written by one who admits compassion for the colonized not the colonizer; who sympathizes with the occupied not the occupiers.'

Yoav Gelber's comments are also worth re-reading, here.

In the light of such comments by both Pappe himself and by his peers, Sizer is again asked to explain his own fondness for Ilan Pappe. Whether or not Pappe refers to himself as 'post-modernist' seems irrelevant.

4. Tantura

Mike Moore wrote:

'[Pappe] repeats an allegation of the deliberate massacre of 200 Palestinians in the village of Tantura by the Jewish Alexandroni Brigade. Pappe's story relies heavily on a discredited doctoral thesis by Teddy Katz, a graduate of Haifa University, who was found to have 'gravely and severly' falsified his evidence. Nevertheless, in the Spring 2001 issue of the Journal of Palestine Studies, Ilan Pappe defended Katz, insisting that his conclusions were correct, even if his conclusions were not, since historical research need not be based on facts!'

When Sizer asked Pappe for his comments, Pappe replied 'Katz’s thesis is reliable but in any case it is not the basis for the Tantura affair, which is only two pages in the book, but my own research into the archives and oral history.'

On the allegations of the Tantura massacre, Yoav Gelber is worth quoting again, at length:

"Pappe reiterates endlessly that a massacre took place in Tantura. Unfortunately, saying it does not make it so. Reiterating slogans has nothing to do with historiography or truth. I have re-read the testimonies of the three Jewish witnesses alleged by Pappe to confirm the massacre (Ambar, Vitkon
and Lishansky) only to find that despite Katz's aggressive manner of questioning them (contrary to the teachings of all Pappe and Firro's authorities on oral history) they all denied the allegation.

Pappe's version of Sheikh Nimr al-Khatib's whereabouts in 1948 is absolutely baseless except for one fact - the Sheikh was indeed a member of the National Committee of the Arabs in Haifa until the attempt on his life. Al-Khatib's presence in Haifa later than 19/2/1948 (the date of the attempt), however, is not mentioned in any dcu'ment. If Pappe has such a doc'ument as he claims, let him scan it and put it on the web. Since he regards the al-Khatib story as a cornerstone of his argumentation, his nonsense illustrates the validity of the entire case.

The General Staff's docume'nt in question is now on the web (see:
http://www.ee.bgu.ac.il/~censor/katz-directory), and the readers are invited
to look in it for a "mass grave" that Pappe now declares was mentioned by
the sender. A "minor" detail indeed."

If Teddy Katz thesis is indeed reliable, then why, according to Rikki Hollander, did the University of Haifa find fabrications and distortions of quotes in Katz’s work and disqualify the thesis, removing it from the university’s bookshelves? Again, according to Hollander, why did Katz insist under oath that he had been misunderstood and that he had never believed there was a massacre? And later write the following?

'After checking and re-checking the evidence, I am now certain beyond any doubt that there is no basis at all for the allegation that after Tantura surrendered, there was any killing of residents by the Alexandroni Brigade, or any other fighting unit of the IDF. I would like to clarify that what I wrote was misunderstood, and that I did not mean to suggest that there had been a massacre in Tantura, nor do I believe that there ever was a massacre at Tantura.'

Why does Ilan Pappe, and by extension Stephen Sizer, consider Katz' thesis to be reliable?

5. The comparison with Holocaust Denial.

Sizer heads the piece 'Holocaust Denial?' and comments that 'Thankfully it is a crime in some countries to deny the Holocaust. It is a shame that it is not yet a crime to deny the Palestinian Nakba, as Moore does.' In Sizer's mind, Moore's robust critique of Pappe is equivalent to denying the Holocaust. In light of all the above, it is clear that this is at best ludicrous and at worse downright scurrilous on Sizer's part. There is no possibility whatsoever of Holocaust Denial being a legitimate position to hold. Yet there is every possibility of there being alternative explanations for the Nakba than that advanced by Pappe and Sizer. To equate the two is a particularly obscene example of immoral equivalence on Sizer's part; almost as obscene as labelling a picture of Israel's security barrier with the caption 'Arbeit macht frei.'

6. Sizer's alternative

As an alternative to Mike Moore's review, Sizer instead suggests Stephen Lendman's 'much more balanced review' at Global Research here. I'll leave it to others to decide whether or not the review is balanced, but one wonders why Sizer is directing people to a website which speculates on whether 9/11 was an inside job. One also wonders why he considers Stephen Lendman to be a reliable source of information: Stephen Lendman is a regular contributor to Ziopedia.org, a website which aims to 'to demask and expose Zionist crimes and Jewish supremacism as our contribution to the fight against the "Jew World Order".' Has Stephen Sizer not learnt his lesson about encouraging others to read material written by antisemites?

7. Pappe & the neo-Nazi newspaper

Mike Moore wrote, 'Pappe's anti-Israel bias is so extreme that he recently gave an in-depth interview to the German anti-Semitic neo-Nazi paper National Zeitung, in which he repeated his charges against Israel.'

When asked about this by Sizer, Pappe responded:

'The interview in Germany. I gave a press conference that was published also in that newspaper. On the day the interview appeared there I published a special note to all the German press that I deplore and rebuke the positions of this newspaper and have nothing in common with its agenda and views.'

I'll leave it to others whether this (translation into English available here) is an 'in-depth interview' given to a specific newspaper or a general press conference given to many journalists which somehow ended up in the National Zeitung. The question in any case remains: why would a neo-Nazi newspaper be interested in Pappe's work in any event? What is Pappe doing to make his work useless to antisemites? The same questions can, of course, be asked of Stephen Sizer, a man who gave an interview to American racist Mark Dankof (apparently arranged by his publisher) and whose own work is so admired by a variety of antisemitic and white supremacist sites. (Interestingly, both Sizer and Lendman are feted by the Revisionist Clarion.)

8. Conclusions

The last time I wrote an in-depth critique of Sizer, he responded by insisting that he shares Jewish concerns about the rise of antisemitism and that he is working to defeat it. Is he working to defeat antisemitism by linking to Stephen Lendman, by comparing a critique of a revisionist historian with Holocaust Denial and by defending a man who is admired by a German neo-Nazi newspaper? Methinks Rev Sizer needs to work a little harder yet.


Sizer's post is reproduced in full below. All hyperlinks are in Sizer's original.

Holocaust Denial?

I was saddened but not surprised to read Mike Moore cynical ‘review’ of Professor Ilan Pappe’s “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” in last month’s Evangelicals Now.

Don't get me wrong. EN is a fine newspaper. I subscribe, as does our church. I read it avidly. I even contribute occasionally when asked. I just find it a little strange to read such a one sided and wholly negative 'review' of a book by a Jewish author about the Palestinian Nakba reviewed by a pro-Zionist Christian in an evangelical paper. Was the review commissioned or more likely sent unsolicited and used to fill a gap? I'll give EN the benefit of the doubt.

Thankfully it is a crime in some countries to deny the Holocaust. It is a shame that it is not yet a crime to deny the Palestinian Nakba, as Moore does.

The simple fact is that one in four refugees in the world today, according to the United Nations, is a Palestinian. Where did they come from? Over 500 towns and villages erased from the map of Palestine in 1948-1949.

Far from “leaving no trace” as Moore suggests, there are over 5 million Palestinian refugees registered with the UN today who still have the keys and title deeds to their homes in what is now Israel. (see here and here for more information)

I took the liberty of asking Professor Pappe to respond to the specific criticisms which Moore makes. He replied:

1. The interview in Germany. I gave a press conference that was published also in that newspaper. On the day the interview appeared there I published a special note to all the German press that I deplore and rebuke the positions of this newspaper and have nothing in common with its agenda and views.

2. I did not say that I am using oral histories instead of military archives, half of the book is based on the latter!, I am using them in conjunction. I do have my doubts on the reports of the IDF, as one would and should have about them today.

3. The basis for the allegation of expulsion in the first five chapters of the book are based on the Israeli military archives not on a post modernist notions. I never declared myself to be a post modernist and I am not a post modernist scholar.

4. Katz’s thesis is reliable but in any case it is not the basis for the Tantura affair, which is only two pages in the book, but my own research into the archives and oral history.

5. Finally, none of the professional Israeli historians refute that the half of Palestine’s population was expelled, they do not share the shame that I feel about it.

Evangelicals Now is highly regarded for its factual reporting and balanced book reviews. Mike Moore’s review was neither.

You can read the review and decide for yourself here

Stephen Lendman has written a much more balanced review for Global Research here

Watch Ilan Pappe on the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine here

Ilan Pappe's website
And here is one of the best sites for maps showing the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

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