ANALYSIS: Chapel bringing in anti-Israel speaker
By MICHAEL C. DUKE • Thu, Nov 25, 2010
A partisan revisionist historian is returning to Houston for a program
on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The Rothko Chapel is hosting a lecture by Ilan Pappé, titled “Gaza in
Crisis,” on Thursday, Dec. 9, at 7 p.m.
Pappé is author, along with Noam Chomsky, of the new book, “Gaza in
Crisis: Reflections on Israel’s War Against the Palestinians.” Other
titles by Pappé include “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” (2006) and
“The Making of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1947-1951” (1994).
Rothko’s upcoming speaker is regarded as a “new historian,” whose aim
is to debunk the purported “Zionist narrative” of Israeli history,
specifically of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The “new historians” depict
Zionism as the “original sin” underlying the Mideast region’s recent
Pappé’s contributions to this effort include portraying the State of
Israel as a colonial usurper that deliberately and premeditatedly
disinherited the indigenous population from its land.
He accuses Israel of committing repeated massacres of Palestinians.
Other claims include arguing that, through collusion, Israel’s 1948
War of Independence had a predetermined outcome. His views on Gaza are
consistent with his other writings.
Pappé has publicly supported boycotts against Israel and has advocated
for the destruction of Israel through calls for a “one-state solution”
and a “right of return” of Palestinians.
Agenda over facts
A political science professor and historian by profession, Pappé has
self-identified as a “relativist.” In a 1999 interview, he explained:
“I am not as interested in what happened as in how people see what
He went further by professing to be an ideologue. “I admit that my
ideology influences my historical writings,” he said. “Indeed, the
struggle is about ideology, not about facts.”
Pappé has earned praise from like-minded colleagues and political
circles. Journalist John Pilger, for example, called Pappé “Israel’s
bravest, most principled, most incisive historian.”
Pappé twice (1996 and ’99) ran failed bids for the Israeli Knesset as
a member of Hadash, a socialist-Marxist, non-Zionist party whose
platform includes backing a Palestinian “right of return” and whose
appeal includes Arab nationalists.
Observers have noted that Pappé’s popularity, in part, is due to the
fact that he’s Israeli Jewish-born.
Rothko Chapel has hosted presentations in the past by other Jewish
anti-Israel advocates, like Baylor University’s Marc Ellis, along with
anti-Israel advocates who are not Jewish, like Rice University’s
Ussama Makdisi and Columbia University’s Rashid Khalidi. Rothko hosted
a follow-up program to Ellis’ lecture by an outside request.
The Chapel’s Israel-related programming has been narrow, with
presenters, in varying degrees, depicting Israel as an illegal entity;
a pariah; a colonial, racist and/or apartheid state; one that is
guilty of ethnic cleansing and war crimes; and one that bears
responsibility for the region’s conflicts.
Mainstream scholars largely ignore or dismiss Pappé’s work.
King’s College London professor Efraim Karsh, for example, has
published detailed books and papers showing where and how the “new
historians,” Pappé included, have fabricated and/or distorted Israeli
history as part of a political agenda.
In “Fabricating Israeli History: The ‘New Historians’” (1997),
writes of Pappé and his colleagues: “[T]he self-styled ‘new
historians’ are neither new nor true historians, but partisans seeking
to provide academic respectability to long-standing misconceptions and
prejudices relating to the Arab-Israeli conflict. They are scarcely
‘new’ since most of their ‘factual discoveries,’ and some of their
interpretations, are effectively nothing more than an attempt to
reinvent the wheel; and they are anything but historians, because,
taking in vain the name of the archives, they violate all tenets of
bona fide research in their endeavor to rewrite Israeli history in an
image of their own devising.”
Karsh’s latest book, “Palestine Betrayed” (2010), includes an
in which the author calculates the number of Palestinian refugees on a
village-to-village basis, using British, Jewish and Arab population
figures, and the reasons for their departure. These figures alone
rebut Pappé’s “ethnic cleansing” thesis.
Even some “new historians” have been critical of Pappé’s claims.
Morris, for example, reviewed Pappé’s 2004 book, “A History of Modern
Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples,” and called the work “appalling.”
Other critics of Pappé’s, like the Committee for Accuracy in Middle
East Reporting in America and StandWithUs, find that while Pappé
attacks what he views as the “Zionist narrative,” he uncritically
accepts the Palestinian narrative.
Pappé left a teaching post at the University of Haifa amid a 2000
scandal involving a disqualified thesis. Pappé’s student, Theodore
Katz, was found to have falsified testimony “gravely and severely” in
his work. Pappé reportedly faced discipline for not meeting academic
standards and yet continued to back Katz’s claims, which Katz,
himself, later revised. Pappé now teaches at the University of Exeter
in the U.K.
Pappé has lectured in Houston before. In February 2006, Rice’s Makdisi
organized a Pappé presentation titled, “The Peace Charadein Palestine
and Israel.” This program was one in a controversial multi-part series
that eventually lost a sponsor due to its biased agenda.
Pappé fits into Rothko Chapel’s ‘human rights’ mission, director
The JH-V contacted Rothko Chapel regarding Ilan Pappé’s Dec. 9 ”Gaza
in Crisis”” lecture.
Questions pertained to how this program was organized and vetted, how
it is funded and how it fits into the Chapel’s mission. The JH-V also
asked if the Chapel is interested in pursuing more balanced Israel
Emilee Dawn Whitehurst, the organization’s executive director, replied
with the following statement (in full):
“The Rothko Chapel is a sacred space dedicated to art, spirituality
and human rights. As an interfaith space, the Chapel is alive with
ceremonies and spiritual practices led by members of the world’s major
religious traditions. It was the conviction of the founders, John and
Dominique de Menil, that from deep and thoughtful faith comes
attention to the betterment of humanity, thus the Chapel also
functions as a forum to address matters of worldwide concern.
“As concerns human rights, the Chapel has a long tradition of
presenting well-respected scholars, public intellectuals, journalists
and advocates who investigate injustice. In keeping with that
practice, the Chapel will present scholar Ilan Pappé, who was born in
Haifa, Israel, to German-Jewish parents who fled Nazi persecution and
is professor of history at the University of Exeter, to discuss
universal human rights concerns as they relate to the particular
challenges facing residents of Gaza.
“Funding is provided, in part, by the Lannan Foundation, as well as
individual contributions. No public funding is involved.
“Programming decisions at the Chapel are handled by a committee of the
board of directors. The Chapel regularly presents programs in
collaboration with other organizations and individuals and welcomes
suggestions for speakers and programs in keeping with its mission.”
The awakening conscience of the Jewish Diaspora
Official British Jewry has a long record of unconditional loyalty to
Israel. To betray that loyalty has been to invite opprobrium. When, in
1991, Britain’s former chief rabbi Lord Jakobovits reportedly said
that the suffering of Palestinians at Israel’s hands was a “stain on
humanity,” the Anglo-Jewish establishment was outraged. Soon
Jakobovits was insisting that his views had been scandalously
So it was an extraordinary development when last week a leading figure
in the British Jewish community spoke out against Israel, censuring
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for failing to advance the
peace process and asserting the right of British Jews to take issue
with Israel’s conduct. The figure in question, Mick Davis, chairman of
the Jewish charity organization UJIA, was addressing a Jewish debate
in London whose participants included the American writer Peter
Beinart, author of the controversial recent polemic attacking the
Zionist zealotry of the US Jewish establishment and the lack of
sympathy with the Zionist project of many young American Jews. Among
other things, Davis conveyed that Jewish leaders in Britain were
greatly concerned about unrestrained settlement building and the
proposed Jewish loyalty-oath for non-Jewish immigrants to Israel.
Davis warned that without a change of direction Israel’s capacity to
deal with existential threats will diminish in the coming years. It
dismays him that Israel pays no attention to Diaspora Jewry,
apparently regarding it simply as a source of philanthropic support.
In a remarkable outburst, he declared that the government of Israel
needed to recognize that certain of its actions directly impacted on
him as a Jew living in London. “When they do good things it is good
for me, when they do bad things it is bad for me. And the impact on me
is as significant as it is on a Jew living in Israel.”
Davis’ remarks reflect the sense that British Jews are in danger of
being identified with the increasingly brutal and intransigent stance
of Jewish state itself. They also reflect his anxiety that the
building of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the Occupied
Territories is rapidly expunging the possibility of a two state
solution to the Middle East conflict. Davis echoes the pragmatic
belief of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that in the
absence of a two state solution Israel faces the dilemma of either
becoming a single state and forfeiting its essentially Jewish identity
or of persisting with the status quo and effectively declaring itself
an apartheid state.
Davis’ views have shocked the British Jewish community. But they have
perhaps had a more measured reception in Britain than in the US where
they have drawn ferocious Zionist condemnation for their failure to
recognize the life and death decisions that Israeli leaders are
obliged to make. The British Jewish establishment may be more
susceptible to disquiet about Israel’s intransigence than its US
counterpart, more conscious of the need to accommodate itself to the
changing climate of opinion. A further reason why Davis has spoken out
perhaps is the recognition that many younger Jews share the unease
about Israel’s conduct of much secular liberal opinion. With talk of
the possible establishment in Britain of a version of J Street, the
American left-of-center Zionist group, the Anglo-Jewish hierarchy has
cause to fear the alienation from it of younger Jews who have no wish
to be associated with blind support of Israel.
Yet it is a question how far Israel is interested in the opinions of
Diaspora Jews — for all that it spends billions on PR. The Israeli
historian Ilan Pappe, who now lives and works in Britain, is all too
mindful that not only the Israeli political establishment but the mass
of Israelis no longer care what people in the world at large, Jews or
otherwise, think about Israel’s actions. Pappe believes that the
security wall that Israel has built to protect its citizens from
Palestinian terrorism is paralleled by the endemic psychological
insulation of Israeli society.
In 2008 Pappe decamped to Britain’s Exeter University, having become a
public enemy in Israel on account of his anti-Zionist activism and
insistence that Israel was founded on the “ethnic cleansing.” In his
eye-opening new book, Out of the Frame: the Struggle for Academic
Freedom in Israel, he explains how, though brought up as a Zionist, he
rejected an ideology that he regards as inherently racist and became a
radical historian who supports the “One-State solution.” His book
evokes the increasingly chauvinistic and intolerant atmosphere that
emerged in Israel after the outbreak of the Second Palestinian
Intifada in 2000. Its most compelling pages concern an episode that
challenges Israel’s claim to be an open society that upholds freedom
of inquiry. Pappe describes his involvement at the University of Haifa
with the historical research of a mature student, Teddy Katz, who
amassed powerful evidence of a war crime, the killing by Jewish
fighters of a large number of the inhabitants of the Palestinian
village of Tantura in May 1948. Katz ended up being sued for libel by
military veterans of 1948 and subjected to a harrowing commission of
inquiry by the university authorities. Spurned by his colleagues and
vilified in the Israeli Knesset, Pappe himself was in due course to be
hounded out of Israel. It is astonishing that the persecution he
suffered has not been covered in depth by the more liberal sections of
the British media.
Committed to the case for sanctions against Israel, Ilan Pappe is
hardly an ideological soul mate of Mick Davis who wishes not to
de-legitimize but re-legitimize Zionism. Yet, albeit from very
different perspectives, both are contributing to the growing effort to
make the Jewish state heed international opinion. Pappe writes that
what “conscious and conscientious people” throughout the world think
about Israel and what politicians decide to do about it “holds the key
to changing the reality in Israel and Palestine.” It is a sentiment
with which pained Diaspora Jews like Davis might well concur, far
though they may be from sharing Pappe’s militant anti-Zionism.
Book review: An Israeli academic's struggle against McCarthyism
Raymond Deane, The Electronic Intifada, 17 November 2010
The Israeli historian Ilan Pappé's new memoir Out of the Frame (Pluto
Press, London and New York, 2010) is subtitled "The Struggle for
Academic Freedom in Israel." This manages to link Pappé's personal
struggle against Israeli McCarthyism with a broader struggle for human
and political rights of which "academic freedom" is merely one aspect.
In his formative years, Pappé viewed Israeli life "through a leftist
Zionist prism, which allowed a liberal pluralist critique of the
ideology of the state of Israel, but inevitably vindicated its major
precepts" (14). In 1979 he went to Oxford University where he
researched the 1948 war (Israel's "War of Independence," the
Palestinians' Nakba or catastrophe) (15). His 1984 doctoral
dissertation claimed "that Britain played a major role in allowing the
Zionist movement to found a state in Palestine through the ethnic
cleansing of its indigenous people" (17). Simultaneously, Benny Morris
and Avi Shlaim published books challenging the accepted version of
1948. Together with Simha Flapan, this group became collectively known
as the "new historians" (23).
In Israel, at Haifa University, Pappé's stubborn attempts to "connect
... Zionist ideology and past policies with present atrocities" (177)
and to combat "Nakba denial" (22 etc.) led to accusations of treason
and the first "anonymous ... and poisonous" telephone calls (22-4). In
compensation, he won "the confidence of, and access to, Palestinian
political and cultural scenes," meeting the late Palestine Liberation
Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat in Tunis in 1993, and becoming
friendly with the leading Palestinian intellectual, the late Edward
Feeling more secure after receiving tenure in the early 1990s, he
joined the communist-socialist party Hadash (30) as a "non-affiliated"
In 1995 the assassination of Yithzak Rabin (the Israeli premier who
had signed the Oslo peace agreement with Arafat) and the election of
Benjamin Netanyahu as his successor darkened the political climate and
saw a steady increase in the militarization of academia and the media.
The outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada or uprising in 2000
intensified this process (44). Many Israeli dissidents, such as Benny
Morris, were tamed and transformed into "intellectual eunuchs" (57).
Pappé found himself in the position of a pariah (63), his contention
that a focus on the Nakba was imperative to a meaningful peace process
becoming quite simply unthinkable as the "transfer option" -- the mass
expulsion of Palestinians -- acquired new legitimacy (67).
It was at this juncture that the Katz Affair erupted. Teddy Katz was a
liberal Zionist postgraduate student whose masters thesis on the 1948
war, under Pappé's supervision, originally received a 97 percent
rating. Katz had implicated the Israeli army's Alexandroni Brigade in
an alleged massacre of some 250 Palestinians at the village of
Tantura. Veterans of the brigade sued. At the trial in December 2000,
Katz, under intolerable pressure and having suffered a heart attack,
retracted his allegation. The judge rejected his subsequent attempt to
retract this retraction. Haifa University conducted a commission of
inquiry at which Pappé unsuccessfully defended Katz, and the thesis
was disqualified (71-85). A subsequent disciplinary procedure against
Pappé for "relentless defamation of the University" (95) was suspended
-- but not annulled -- after a massive national and international
campaign in his favor (97).
At this point Pappé interrupts his narrative with a short story, "The
Best Runner in the Class," originally published by The Electronic
Intifada in May 2007. The tale arrestingly dramatizes many of the
issues surrounding the Katz affair, and would make a harrowing film.
It features an inquisitive Israeli student, Yaacov, with whom Pappé
explicitly identifies himself (109). More interesting is a further
identification to which Pappé doesn't allude -- with the student's
supervisor Musalem, "the only practicing Palestinian historian in
Israel" who "unconsciously us[es] his student as an extension of his
No fiction could invent the weird campaign of intimidation to which
Pappé was subjected in the wake of the Katz affair and his signature
in April 2002 of an international petition calling for the boycott of
Israeli academic institutions (93). A lecture-hall where he was to
have held a conference was locked and guarded by armed security men.
Redefined as a symposium, the conference eventually took place in a
cafeteria (127-8). His colleagues were warned against socializing with
him, and his students were "deemed guilty by association" with him.
Finally, during 2005-06, he was barred from the public space "so that
an intellectual or historiographical dialogue with my own society
became impossible" (132).
Pappé moved to Kiryat Tivon on the edge of the Jezreel valley (Marj
ibn Amr) and founded his "home university," lecturing weekly on the
1948 ethnic cleansing to up to 70 interested but skeptical listeners
(134). This relatively receptive mood evaporated with the 2006 war
against Lebanon. Israel's increasingly genocidal policies against Gaza
and a renewed campaign of death threats against Pappé forced him to
leave Israel. In 2007 he took up a chair in the history department of
the University of Exeter in "decent" but "introverted" England (163).
Here he has continued his campaign for a single democratic state,
advocating a sustained international campaign of boycott, divestment
and sanctions (BDS) and "a very tough dialogue with a state and
society that wish to be part of the 'civilized' world, while remaining
racist and supremacist" (199).
The title Out of the Frame refers to Pappe's inability to continue
functioning within an Israeli Jewish framework, but also recalls Out
of Place, Edward Said's great 1999 memoir. Pappé's introductory
chapter momentarily leads us to expect a similar process of
childhood-based introspection into themes of identity and exile,
particularly when he evokes his German/Jewish/Israeli background in
which "we mistook the pathetic group of pine trees that defined our
yard for the Black Forest" and his father "singled out one particular
wadi [valley] ... in Mount Carmel ... as a Little Switzerland" (2).
However, neither introspection nor stylish elegance à la Said is
Pappé's forte, not even in the interpolated short story. Matters
aren't helped by Pluto Press's shoestring approach to copy editing,
which allows for many distracting misprints and occasional
incoherencies (English isn't Pappé's native tongue).
Nonetheless, this book makes riveting reading. Pappé refers to his
"modest sense of achievement in that many of my Palestinian friends
mourned my departure [from Israel], and kindly bestowed on me gifts --
that I will bring back when I return -- and honors that I do not
deserve" (166). Readers of Out of the Frame will be convinced that he
fully deserves such honors, and that if he does one day return to
Israel, he will have contributed much towards making it a place worth
Raymond Deane is an Irish composer and political activist.