In November 2011, CAMERA informed editors at the Journal of Palestine Studies (JPS) of a falsified quote, attributed to Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion, that was published in its pages. After investigating the matter, the journal went through the motions of clearing the record. Unfortunately its correction, while acknowledging that mistakes were made, introduced additional, serious inaccuracies that severely misinform readers.
According to JPS, the author of the article that relayed the hoax quote, Israeli historian Ilan Pappé, “declined to respond himself” to the questions about his falsification. Nonetheless, the journal’s editors defended “the overall accuracy” of Pappé’s piece, arguing that another purported statement by Ben-Gurion showed the author was essentially correct.
Pappé claimed that Ben-Gurion wrote, “The Arabs will have to go, but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen, such as a war.” JPS maintained this quote, while incorrect, is close enough to what they say Ben-Gurion actually wrote, namely that “We must expel Arabs and take their place.”
The editors should have realized, though, that the new quote they cited is at best questionable, and almost certainly inaccurate. Making matters worse, JPS inserted invented words into its English translation of the document it used to defend Pappé’s article.
In other words, it introduced its own falsehoods to defend Pappé’s falsehood.
The Journal of Palestine Studies, which is published by the University of California Press, should print a clarification for its readers, and for the record, as any serious scholarly journal would do in this situation.
Over the past several months, CAMERA contacted a number of institutions about Pappé’s quote. Our calls for correction began after the quote appeared in the 2010 film “With God on Our Side,” produced by Porter Speakman, Jr.
In his correspondence with CAMERA, Speakman stated that his source for the quote was Ilan Pappé’s 2006 book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, and acknowledged CAMERA’s finding that the quote did not appear in any of the sources that Pappé cited in this book. Speakman promised to delete the quote from his movie, and he did.
CAMERA then contacted the Journal of Palestine Studies, which in its autumn 2006 published the quote as part of Pappé’s article, “The 1948 Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.”
The Quote and the Correction
Pappé, a revisionist historian who calls for dismantling the State of Israel, claimed in JPS that Ben-Gurion sent a letter to his son Amos stating, “The Arabs will have to go, but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen, such as a war.”
CAMERA informed JPS editors that the quote could not be found in Pappé’s footnoted source. We elaborated elsewhere,
[I]t’s reasonable to conclude that famed revisionist historian Ilan Pappé has transgressed the sacred ground between quotation marks by inventing a quote and attributing it to Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion.
JPS’s response to CAMERA’s correction request acknowledged that the citation was incorrect:
According to the letter we received from CAMERA, “the quote attributed to Ben-Gurion does not appear in the citation provided.” Verification by JPS revealed that this indeed is the case
The JPS response added,
In accordance with CAMERA’s request, we are publishing this text in the winter 2012 issue of JPS—the first to appear since we learned of the erroneous citation. The correction will also be posted on our website at www.palestine-studies.org.
A New Problem
Unfortunately, a closer look shows that JPS’s correction fails to ethically resolve the problem. On the contrary, it raises serious ethical concerns, and for several reasons leaves the publisher in a deeper hole.
• First, the journal wrongly cast Pappé’s error as a typographical mistake amounting to little more than a “regrettable misattribution and punctuation lapse.” JPS editors suggested the author misplaced the second quotation mark in the passage, and that the “correct” quote should have ended with the word “go.” The rest of the sentence, they argued, should have been a paraphrase. Indeed, this is how the sentence appears in other publications by Pappé: “The Arabs will have to go,” but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen, such as a war.
But even in this “corrected” sentence, the essential problem remains unchanged: None of the words in the sentence were ever written or spoken by Ben-Gurion, so no arrangement of quotation marks would yield an accurate quote. By focusing on the “erroneous citation,” and by republishing the sentence with what they described as “corrected punctuation,” editors failed to address with due seriousness what was uncovered by their investigation — Pappé fabricated a quotation — and failed to acknowledge that this represents a grave violation of scholarly ethics.
• In addition, the journal directed its readers to online copies of the relevant letter, an October 5, 1937 missive that JPS editors explained is “well-known to scholars of the conflict.” Along with its English translation of the letter, which shows Ben-Gurion supposedly calling for Arabs to be expelled, the publication shared what it describes as “the Hebrew original” of the letter.
The document they link to, however, is not the original handwritten letter, but rather a typed transcription. For reasons that will be made clear below, this is an extremely important distinction.
• Of great concern, too, is a striking mistranslation in the publication’s English version
of the letter, which according to JPS was translated by their parent organization, the Institute for Palestine Studies. “In the interests of optimal accuracy … JPS asked the Hebrew Department of the Institute for Palestine Studies (IPS) in Beirut to translate the full text of the letter from the original Hebrew,” reads JPS’s published response to CAMERA. Their translation, though, fell far short of “optimal accuracy,” and in fact substantively manipulates the letter by inventing and inserting words that Ben-Gurion did not actually write
• Perhaps most seriously, the journal defended Pappé’s hoax quote by claiming that, while the quote doesn’t quite appear in the Ben-Gurion letter, its “essence” is accurate. This is because the letter, JPS editors insisted, includes an even more aggressive call for ethnic cleansing: “We must expel Arabs and take their place.” The presence of this statement in the letter “thoroughly vindicates Ilan Pappé’s reading,” they concluded.
The problem is, some of the very scholars of the conflict JPS named to bolster its position have actually noted Ben-Gurion wrote the exact opposite in the letter: “We do not want to and we do not have to expel Arabs and take their place.”
The Facts, the Letter and the Mystery Scribble
In the original, handwritten letter, the sentence preceding the quote in question is covered with a scribble. That scribble spills over onto the first few important words of the purportedly “vindicating” sentence, and covers the words “We do not want to and we do not…” If the passage is read without those marked-over words, it conveys the opposite of its meaning as originally written.
It is unclear who scribbled over the key words, or when they were struck out. For a number of reasons, though, it is apparent that Ben-Gurion intended to note that expelling Arabs is neither desired nor necessary. But even if JPS insists on embracing the position that the sentence calls for Jews to expel Arabs — a position that is unsustainable for reasons discussed below — it is clearly unethical for them to hinge their argument on the modified, shortened version of the quote without even hinting at the serious doubts that have been raised by scholars of Israeli history.
• First, Ilan Pappé’s quote is a complete fabrication. Even if his footnotes were scrambled, and even if a quotation mark was misplaced, the historian is guilty of one of the worst violations of scholarly ethics and public trust. Pappé’s readers rely on him to convey the information from the historical record in an accurate and trustworthy manner. He did not. As the American Historical Association states, “Those who invent, alter, remove, or destroy evidence make it difficult for any serious historian ever wholly to trust their work again.”
• Likewise, regardless of what other thoughts Ben-Gurion did or did not express in the letter, Pappé’s misquote remains a serious violation.
• The Journal of Palestine Studies‘ defense of Pappé hinges on a passage in the letter that evidently says the exact opposite of what the journal claims. And its (mis)interpretation is buttressed by mistranslations in its English translation.
Below is an image of the passage (second sentence from the top) as it appears in the letter
described by JPS as the “the Hebrew original.”
Here is that passage again, but with the key portion — “We do not want to and we do not have to expel Arabs and take their place” — highlighted:
To be sure, the scribble requires some further attention. And one central issue to consider is the immediate context of the passage, which leaves little room for doubt that the marked out portion is an integral part of the sentence.
In the sentences that immediately follow the one shown above, Ben-Gurion continues his thought:
All of our ambitions are built on the assumption that has proven true throughout all of our activities in the land [of Israel] — that there is enough room for us and for the Arabs in the land [of Israel]. And if we will have to use force, not for the sake of evicting the Arabs of the Negev or Transjordan, but rather in order to secure the right that belongs to us to settle there, force will be available to us.
Of course, it would make no sense for Ben-Gurion to write that the Jewish community “must expel” Arabs, and with the next stroke of his pen state that the community believes there is enough room for both groups to share the land, and that force, if needed, would not be used to evict Arabs but rather to ensure the rights of Jews.
But here, JPS’s translation
of the transcription (which it offers as the “Hebrew original”) conveniently falters. The journal’s translators inserted the phrase “up to now” at the start the sentence beginning with “All of our ambitions.” Such a phrase does not exist — not in the actual original letter and not in JPS’s transcription of the original. It is hard to imagine how this mistranslation could have been an innocent mistake.
The Hebrew Department of the Institute for Palestine Studies also tweaks the subsequent sentence, changing the opening word from “and” to “but.” To be fair, the IPS’s Hebrew Department is not the only translator that has made this latter adjustment. But taken together, this major and minor change helps “fix” the problem of the incompatible context.
Just to get a sense of how important the inserted words are to JPS’s efforts to vindicate Pappé’s scholarship, here is how the three sentences in question read as they appear in JPS’s Hebrew transcription:
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 if we will have to use force, not for the sake of evicting the Arabs of the Negev or Transjordan, but rather in order to secure the right that belongs to us to settle there, force will be available to us.
Here is how the two sentences read with the words inserted by IPS’s translators:
We must expel Arabs and take their place. Up to now 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]. But if we will have to use force, not for the sake of evicting the Arabs of the Negev or Transjordan, but rather in order to secure the right that belongs to us to settle there, force will be available to us.
Without the words invented and inserted by JPS’s Hebrew department, the last two sentences contradict the first. With the invented words, Ben-Gurion is no longer saying there is room for both peoples in the land but is describing a change of heart, saying that until now he felt this way, but….
Yet even with JPS’s mistranslations
, the short version of the Ben-Gurion quote does not fit in with the letter as a whole. In the sentences leading up to the “We must expel” passage, Ben-Gurion refers again and again to cooperating with the Arabs:
• “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.”
But in JPS’s account, Ben-Gurion suddenly reverses course and writes “We must expel Arabs and take their place,” before immediately again explaining that he believes there is enough room in the country for both peoples and that force, if needed, will not be used to dispossess the Arabs.
Even without knowledge of the scribbles, then, the “we must expel” quote raises eyebrows because it stands out so dramatically as an outlier.
One other point worth considering is how the scribble fits with the structure of this individual sentence. It simply would not make sense for Ben-Gurion to write “We do not want to and do not have to expel Arabs and take their places,” and then, suddenly realizing that he actually believes the opposite, scribble over the negation that opens the sentence.
The Scholarly Discussion
JPS was right, at least, when it stated that
Ben-Gurion’s 5 October 1937 letter to his son Amos is well-known to scholars of the conflict. Benny Morris, Ben-Gurion biographers Shabtai Teveth and Michael Ben-Zohar, Nur Masalha, and numerous others have all quoted from it.
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’Israël; Véronique Meimoun in Bulletin du Centre de Recherche Français á Jérusalem; Efraim Karsh in Fabricating Israeli History; and Benny Morris in Alpayim.
The Journal of Palestine Studies should be well aware of this discussion about the crossed out lines, because Benny Morris also mentions them in an essay published in the journal’s winter 1998 issue.
And what specifically do the scholars invoked by the Journal of Palestine Studies have to say? In the original English version of Benny Morris’s Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem published in 1987, Morris relayed the short version of the quote (“We must expel…”). But after coming to understand what the original letter looked like, he relayed the complete quote (“We do not want to and we do not have to expel…”) in the 1991 Hebrew edition of his book. Again in issue 12 of Alpayim, published in 1996, Morris relays the long version, and alternately suggests Ben-Gurion scribbled on the text many years after the letter was sent, or that it was “apparently not Ben-Gurion himself” who marked up the letter. In The Journal of Palestine Studies (1998), Morris describes the quote as being “problematic” due to the crossed out lines, and said it was unclear who was responsible for the scribbles, or what Ben-Gurion’s intent was when writing the passage. When asked in April 2012 for clarification, Morris told CAMERA he now guesses that Ben-Gurion mistakenly erased the key words, intending only to erase what preceded it.
Shabtai Teveth’s 1985 book Ben-Gurion ve’Arvie Eretz Israel, in its Hebrew original, relays the long version of the quote. The English version, published the same year, relays the short version. Although Teveth’s explanation for this in issue 13 of Alpayim is rather bizarre — he says the text was cut because the English publisher asked him to shorten the book by a third — this explanation makes clear that he stands by the Hebrew version of the book.
It is true that Nur Masalha repeatedly uses the shortened version of the quote. But Masalha relies on Shabtai Teveth’s English book (see, e.g., his citations in the autumn 1991 issue of Journal of Palestine Studies and his 2007 book The Bible and Zionism) and as we have seen, Teveth believes the long version is the accurate one.
In short, the scholars mentioned by JPS have all endorsed, or otherwise rely on those who endorse, the complete version of the quote. (We could not find a reference to the quote by Michael Bar-Zohar.)
(4/18 Update: After this article was published, Bar-Zohar let CAMERA know that “There is no doubt in my mind that Ben-Gurion never wrote the sentence: ‘We must expel the Arabs and take their place.’)
The Need for a New Correction
This piece is not about the evolution of Ben-Gurion’s views on transfer. That is a worthwhile topic, but it’s one that has already been deeply explored and intensely debated by scholars. But before any honest assessment of this subject can begin, Ben-Gurion’s Oct. 5, 1937 letter to his son Amos must be accurately understood. Scholars must contend with the misrepresentation of the record introduced by Pappé, who invented a quotation, and the misrepresentations now introduced by JPS. Hopefully this article will serve as a comprehensive resource on the Ben-Gurion letter, and will help prevent the careless spread of the allegation that it called for expelling Arabs.
The Journal of Palestine Studies insisted in its response to CAMERA that “JPS’s dedication to accuracy is no less deep than CAMERA’s,” and that “In more than forty years of publication, JPS has always prided itself on its high editorial standards. We very much regret the occasions when we inadvertently fall short, but we would be more distressed had the essential accuracy of an important article on so important a topic been found wanting.”
If true, JPS will publish a straightforward correction acknowledging the seriousness of Pappé’s initial error. It will correct the serious mistakes in its translation, especially the inexplicable insertion of the phrase “up to now.” It will clarify that its copy of the letter is not an original but rather a transcription. And it will acknowledge that scholars who have seen the original, handwritten letter state that Ben-Gurion expressed his opposition to expulsion it the phrase JPS claims is a call for evicting Arabs.