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Middle East Issues





Electronic Intifada Continues to Struggle With Quotations


Electronic Intifada has a problem with quotations. The virulently anti-Israel website can’t seem to use them accurately or discuss them honestly, most recently stumbling into a controversy about a letter penned by Israeli founding father David Ben Gurion.

This probably shouldn’t come as a great surprise. After all, those behind the site, which directs its wrath not only at Israel but also at peace talks and Palestinian moderates, have repeatedly demonstrated problems with accuracy.

Falsehoods

Electronic Intifada founder Ali Abunimah, for example, belittled the rockets fired by Palestinian terrorists into Israel, claiming the projectiles "carry about a charge, or an explosive charge, of about two pounds." In fact, at the time of he made this remark, Palestinian rockets carried warheads of up to 40 pounds. That is, Abunimah reduced the actual weight of the warheads by as much as 95 percent.

He also flatly lied by saying The New York Times had published an equal number of front-page photographs depicting Israeli vs. Palestinian mourning during the 2008-2009 Gaza war. "It's like almost 1 to 1, or even more images of mourning Israelis," he insisted. Actually, in the relevant time period, six front-page pictures depicted Palestinian suffering; none depicted Israeli suffering or mourning.

Abunimah again fibbed in a recent article about threatening messages sent to Animals lead singer Eric Burdon.

The Electronic Intifada piece, which tried to discredit Burdon’s manager who reported the threats, also goes after activist Avi Mayer. Mayer posted on Twitter that "BDS thugs threaten 72-year-old. Eric Burdon of The Animals cancels concert in Israel, citing threats." (BDS is the acronym for the fringe anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.) 

According to Abunimah, though, the article Mayer links to in his Twitter post "does not support his claim."

Except it is glaringly obvious, upon clicking on Mayer's link, that the article does support his claim. Already in its very first sentence, the piece notes that "former lead singer of The Animals Eric Burdon on Tuesday announced he is cancelling his planned concert in Israel, citing threats." The news story then quotes Burdon’s manager, who wrote, "We are under increasing pressure, including many threatening emails that we are receiving on a daily basis. I wouldn't want to put Eric in any danger."

(It is worth noting, too, that the Ali Abunimah who implies Burdon’s manager was cynically lying about threats against the singer is the same one who unquestioningly accepts such allegations when anti-Israel groups claim to be the victims of threats.)

Extremism

Finally, before turning to the website’s problem with quotes, it’s worth noting that Electronic Intifada has put out at least one call to violence. An Electronic Intifada contributor recently asked on the site, "Isn’t it the time for a popular Palestinian revolution in the form of a third intifada?"

Both the first and second intifada were multi-year episodes of Palestinian violence, during which hundreds of Israeli civilians were targeted for murder, and which resulted in Israeli counter-insurgency measures that claimed the lives of thousands of Palestinians. A call for a third intifada can only be understood as a call for a renewed wave of violent attacks against Israelis, which would not only be an inhumane violation of international law, but also would succeed only at adding to the suffering faced by both sides of the conflict.

The extremes of the website’s positions led one Palestinian moderate to describe Abunimah as "the talented writer at the Electronic Intifada whose words are driven by hatred of Jews."

Problems with Quotes

The hatred that keeps Electronic Intifada going might also be responsible for the sloppiness with which the site handles quotations.

For example, Abunimah based one of his articles on an inflammatory statement purportedly made by Israeli official. "In 2002," the Electronic Intifada founder wrote, "Israeli army chief Moshe Ya'alon declared that ‘the Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.’"

After a CAMERA investigation found that this was a false quote, Abunimah was forced to admit in an "editor’s note" buried at the end of his article that the quote was not verifiable. (Although his website generally is full of extrapolation, induction and conjecture, he could not bring himself to admit here that the invented quote is simply false.)

If only Electronic Intifada approached the Ya'alon quote with even a fraction of the skepticism they brought to bear in an attempt to discredit a quote by Martin Luther King slamming anti-Zionism as a form of anti-Semitism. The website devoted 2,500 words to casting doubt on the veracity and significance of King’s demonstrable support for Israel, concluding in an essay that there are "a few reasons for casting doubt on the authenticity" of the reverend's statement, "When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You are talking anti-Semitism."

It is easy to understand why Electronic Intifada would want to sow doubts about the quote. By King’s calculus, the website, so much of which is devoted to bashing "Zionists," is guilty of the oldest hatred. But here, too, Abunimah’s site stumbled, confusing various quotes and misquotes en route to the conclusion that, because King was not in the Boston area in 1968, the quote is suspect.

If the smoke and mirrors work, it is only because King is documented making the statement in 1967, not 1968.

Which brings us to Electronic Intifada’s mishandling of Ben Gurion.

One EI article refers to a fabricated quotation first promoted by Israeli historian Ilan Pappé, who claimed Ben Gurion said "The Arabs will have to go, but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen, such as a war."

According to the author, Charlotte Silver, the sole problem with this quote is that a version of Pappé’s article "provides the wrong citation for the quotation," but that the quote "does appear" in a letter Ben Gurion wrote to his son.

But this is pure mendacity. In fact, although Electronic Intifada tries to convince its readers otherwise, Ben Gurion simply never made the statement. There is no "right citation" for the quote because it is a hoax.

Finally, Electronic Intifada revisited the issue in a second article — not to correct Silver’s falsehood (the piece approvingly links to her earlier article) but to obscure the matter even further.

The piece, published several days ago, misleads in several ways.

Wading into a well-worn dispute, Electronic Intifada blogger Asa Winstanley claims Ben Gurion wrote in a letter to his son: "We must expel Arabs and take their place."

Winstanley goes on to dismiss as "CAMERA’s theory" that scribbled-over text in the original letter indicates that Ben Gurion originally wrote "We do not want to and we do not have to expel Arabs and take their place." This "strange theory," he argues, "verges on conspiracy theory."

If Winstanley were more honest, it would be clear that it is he, if anyone, who dabbles in conspiracy theory. This is because CAMERA’s detailed article about the Ben Gurion letter makes clear, and Winstanley conceals, that the issues raised by the scribbled text have been discussed at great length by numerous researchers, including some of the most important scholars on Israel and its history. As CAMERA explained,

The letter, and more importantly, the nuances of the specific passage about (not) expelling Arabs, is discussed by scholars including Arye Naor in the journal Israel Studies; Shabtai Teveth in Ben-Gurion ve'Arvie Eretz Israel and in the Hebrew journal Alpayim; Ilan Greilsammer in La Nouvelle Histoire d'IsraŽl; Véronique Meimoun in Bulletin du Centre de Recherche FranÁais Š Jérusalem; Efraim Karsh in Fabricating Israeli History; and Benny Morris in Alpayim.

Winstanley might prefer his readers see this group of notable researchers as conspiring to cast doubt on what Ben Gurion’s letter clearly says; but that would be an argument more suited for the anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists at rense.com (who, incidentally, often rely on Electronic Intifada) than a serious discussion about Ben Gurion.

Instead of mentioning any of the above scholars, Electronic Intifada decided to ask "two professional Hebrew translators and a linguist" — all anti-Israel activists who have contributed to or helped Electronic Intifada in the past! — for their opinions.

The results are predictable. One of EI’s assistants insisted that it is "difficult to decipher what exactly is written underneath these scribbles," and so he does not bother to do so. But the relevant text is quite decipherable. It states, in Hebrew, "ein anu rotzeem ve’ein...." (This roughly translates to "We don’t want to and we don’t...."

Naturally, Electronic Intifada also omits the context of the quote. Were they to show readers the very next sentence, they would be stuck having to make the case that Ben Gurion wrote the absurd and self-contradictory passage, "We must expel Arabs and take their place. All of our ambitions are built on the assumption that has proven true throughout all of our activities in the land — that there is enough room for us and for the Arabs in the land [of Israel]."

And naturally, Winstanley omits other relevant context from the letter, which is full of calls for Jewish-Arab cooperation and alliance:

• "The greater the Jewish strength in the country, the more the Arabs will realize that it is neither beneficial nor possible for them to withstand us. On the contrary, it will be possible for the Arabs to benefit enormously from the Jews, not only materially but politically as well."

• "... the Arabs will realize that it is better for them to become our allies ..."

• "They will derive benefits from our assistance if they, of their own free will, give us the opportunity to settle in all parts of the country."

• "... the Jews could be equal allies, real friends, not occupiers or tyrants over them."

• "It is very probable that they will agree that we undertake the development of the Negev and make it prosper in return for our financial, military, organizational, and scientific assistance."

In short, just as they lied about Palestinian rockets and New York Times cover photos, and just as they had misled about Ya'alon, and about Martin Luther King, and about Pappé, Electronic Intifada’s authors continue to mislead about Ben Gurion.

You can read CAMERA’s detailed discussion of the Ben Gurion quote here.


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