Karsh refutes the revisionist view of the history of the state of Israel that has become the standard version taught at American (and other) universities, according to which early Zionists advocated expulsion of Palestinian Arabs and then the Hagana, Etzel and Lehi carried it out. In fact — and Karsh carefully documents this — Ben Gurion, Jabotinsky and others did not call for or desire ethnic cleansing in Palestine, and most of the exodus of Arabs in 1947-49 was not directly caused by the actions of the Jews. The nakba (catastrophe), presented in Arab mythology as an unprovoked mass expulsion on racial grounds, Karsh argues, is exactly that — a myth.
Further, he argues that the disaster that overtook the Palestinian Arabs was entirely caused by the stubborn insistence of their leadership, particularly the antisemitic, Nazi-admiring Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, to oppose any accommodation with the Jews in Palestine. The violence that characterized the pre-state period, he shows, was almost entirely provoked by these leaders, who cynically fostered hatred and suspicion of the Jews and disseminated antisemitic propaganda while profiting massively from the sale of land to those same Jews whose death or expulsion they called for daily.
In the years since 1948, the view of the ‘new historians’ has almost entirely replaced that found in contemporary accounts, and has done enormous damage to Zionism and Israel. Today most American university students accept as given that the state was founded in a racist, colonialist act of oppression in which most of the indigenous population was expelled and the remainder exploited. Their opinions on today’s events — and their decisions about whom to believe — are built on the foundation of this myth. An ironic thanks is due to Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim, Ilan Pappé, etc., the dishonest historians who, in part because they are Jews — Israeli Jews — did so much to arm Israel’s academic and media enemies.
The fact is that if you already believe that Israel’s founders were scoundrels, then it is easy for you to believe that today’s leaders are also. If you believe that Jewish forces made a habit of massacring Arabs in 1948, it’s easy to believe that the IDF did the same in Jenin in 2002 and Gaza in 2009. And if you don’t believe that the Palestinian Arabs perpetrated systematic terrorism against Jews in 1947 and before because they accepted a genocidal, antisemitic ideology, then perhaps you can believe that today’s conflict is about borders, and that today’s terrorism is best described as a ‘cycle of violence’.
In a particularly offensive article in the New York Review of Books, Peter Beinart claims that there are two kinds of Zionism; one that is fascist, racist, uncaring about human (Palestinian) suffering, overwhelmingly Orthodox, concerned only with parochial Jewish issues and obsessed with Jewish victimhood. The other is secular, liberal, open, pro-peace, committed to human rights and Palestinian self-determination.
Guess which one Beinart thinks characterizes Israel’s government, encouraged by the American Jewish establishment? And guess who opened his eyes?
You can see this spirit in “new historians” like Tom Segev who have fearlessly excavated the darker corners of the Zionist past and in jurists like former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak who have overturned Knesset laws that violate the human rights guarantees in Israel’s “Basic Laws.” You can also see it in former Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s apparent willingness to relinquish much of the West Bank in 2000 and early 2001.
The “darker corners of the Zionist past.” Possibly if his education had shone some light into the dark corners of Arab Jew-hatred, if he knew more about Husseini’s extended love affair with Nazism, or if he understood better about why Ehud Barak’s “apparent willingness” was not good enough for Husseini’s heir, Yasser Arafat, he might understand why some Zionists are less optimistic than he that Jewish territorial compromise can be an answer to atavistic Arab hate.
I recommend Karsh’s book for a start.