Buyer Beware! A “reference work” authored by Dilip Hiro, entitled Dictionary of the Middle East and currently sold in book stores across the United States is in reality an unabashed, anti-Israel polemic. Published by St. Martin’s Press, the book is advertised as a “must-have reference for anyone interested in the Middle East” and as an “authoritative reference book.” It is designed for use by students and academic scholars, as well as the general public. The book is plagued by errors, and its numerous omissions and sharp bias seriously compromise its suitability as a reference work.
Whether writing about the modern era or the ancient, the author’s indifference to factual precision is regrettably constant. In the Dictionary’s description of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, for example, Hiro distorts virtually every aspect of the Arab attack on Israel. He labels the war the “Palestine War” and, consistent with Arab claims, greatly inflates the numbers of Jewish fighters involved. Hiro alleges there were 109,000 Jewish soldiers, while scholars such as Chaim Herzog and Nadav Safran maintain that only 40,000 to 47,000 Jewish soldiers met the invading forces from five Arab countries.
Hiro’s partiality to the Arab/Palestinian point of view is again underscored in the entry for “Jews in the Arab Middle East.” The author makes no reference to the dire conditions that forced Jews to flee Arab countries around the time of the establishment of Israel, presenting the mass migration instead as a voluntary movement of people. He writes:
After the Palestine War most of the Jews left Egypt. Still more departed after a group of Jews, acting as an Israel espionage-sabotage cell, was caught in 1954. The situation changed abruptly with the defeat of the Arabs in the Palestine War. Most of the Jews left [Iraq], mainly for Israel. A majority of them departed Syria following the Palestine conflict.
Of course, the Jews did not simply “leave” their homes in Arab countries, but fled in the face of violent, state-sponsored persecution. More than 700,000 Jewish refugees were driven out of ancient communities, some of which dated back over 2,500 years to the Babylonian exile. Hundreds of Iraqi Jews, for example, were killed in anti-Jewish riots or imprisoned. Property was confiscated and support for Zionism was made a capital offense. In the face of this oppression 123,371 Iraqi Jews were airlifted by Israel to safety in the new-born state. The same pattern of violence, arrest, property confiscation and discrimination affected Jews throughout the Arab world and prompted their flight to Israel.
Hiro’s pattern of factual dereliction is not limited to the entries on modern Israel. The entry for Judea also contains gross inaccuracies. Hiro claims that:
Judea was the name given by the Romans to the vassal kingdom in Palestine which came under their rule in 63 BC. This lasted until 135 AD, when it was renamed Palestina. The term Judea was revived by Israel’s right-wing government in 1977.
The name Judea long predates the advent of the Romans. It derives from the territories allotted to the tribe of Judah, which later became the Kingdom of Judea. This kingdom lasted until its defeat by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The area was indeed later a province of the Roman Empire and although the Romans attached to Judea the name Syria-Palestina after the defeat of a Jewish revolt in 136 CE, the region continued to be known as Judea in geographies. Even the British used the terms Judea and Samaria to designate the geographic names for the West Bank territories in their official A Survey of Palestine, published during the Mandate.
Contrary to Hiro’s assertion, the use of the term Judea has nothing to do with Israel’s 1977 election of a Likud government and the charge reveals both the ignorance and bias of the author.
Hiro’s definition of anti-Semitism is also marred by inaccuracy and deception. It states:
As the Jews are blamed for killing Jesus Christ, who was born a Jew, Christians have harboured feelings against Jews since the inception of their faith. This has resulted in the periodic persecution of Jews… Restrictions on the trades that Jews could pursue led more and more of them to resort to money lending, thus giving popular prejudice an economic dimension… Hatred of Jews, a Semitic race, reached its peak in Nazi Germany …and resulted in the extermination of an estimated six million Jews in Europe, a phenomenon commonly described as the Holocaust.
Anti-Jewish sentiment, prevalent in ancient Rome and Greece, not to mention Egypt, where Jews were enslaved, long preceded the birth of Jesus. Although for many centuries the church doctrine which blamed the Jewish people for Jesus’ death increased acts of anti-Semitism, today both the Vatican and Protestant denominations have repudiated the charge, making clear the Crucifixion, a common mode of capital punishment used by the Romans, was imposed by that power. While the Holocaust is certainly the most heinous and systematic expression of anti-Semitism, discrimination and violence against Jews by civilians and governments in Eastern Europe, Russia and the Middle East continue. The most virulent anti-Semitism today is to be found in Arab countries such as Syria, Iraq, Libya, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Regrettably, the Palestinian Authority is also culpable in this regard.
CAMERA wrote to St. Martin’s Press, detailing many of the errors contained in the book and requesting that editors address the inaccuracies identified. Their response has unfortunately been inadequate. The director of the scholarly and reference division of St. Martin’s Press characterized the issues raised as matters of “opinion, political perspective, or authorial judgment,” and declared that it was “not appropriate for [St. Martin’s Press] to ask the author to modify his views … because [CAMERA] disagrees with him.” In addition, St. Martin’s has thus far refused to engage an independent reviewer, as CAMERA has urged, to evaluate Dictionary of the Middle East, claiming that such an assessment would “compromise the work’s objectivity.”
CAMERA has formally rejected the characterization of the Dictionary’s gross factual errors as “opinion or political perspective,” and continues to pursue the issue with St. Martin’s Press. In addition, CAMERA has provided its detailed evaluation of the Dictionary to academic journals, alerting the academic community to the book’s unsuitability as a reference manual.
The book’s flaws were also publicized in a May 2, 1998 Jerusalem Post column by Moshe Kohn, who cited many of CAMERA’s findings.
Because the book’s errors are so numerous and the bias so grievous, it is important that St. Martin’s Press receive complaints from the wider public. Individuals can add their voices by writing or calling St. Martin’s and by alerting local book stores and libraries to the deficiencies in the text. Indeed, CAMERA letter-writers have already contacted many libraries and schools, and have received encouraging responses in many cases.