LA Times ‘Correction’ on Binational State Op-Ed Further Misleads

In recent months, the alarming campaign for the replacement of the Jewish state with a binational state has drifted from fringe publications and radical groups to mainstream media outlets. It has been adopted with particular enthusiasm by American professors such as Tony Judt, Saree Makdisi and Mazin Qumsiyeh, all of whom recently published Op-Eds in mainstream newspapers calling for the dismantling of the Jewish state.

In their Op-Eds, these writers, as well as Palestine Liberation Organization legal advisor Michael Tarazi in a New York Times piece, make distorted and falsified charges against Israel to bolster their case that the country is a racist, illegitimate state unworthy of existence.

Makdisi’s Factual Errors
For instance, in a Nov. 21, 2004 Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times, Makdisi, an English professor at University of California Los Angeles, gets the facts wrong about the West Bank barrier. Making multiple mistakes, he writes:

When it is finished, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians will be trapped in dozens of separate enclaves, each surrounded by concrete slabs three times the height of the Berlin Wall, with all points of access under Israeli control.

In actuality, the “concrete slabs” portion of the wall is at most 5 percent, or 30 kilometers, of the whole planned 700 kilometer barrier. (See, for example, Laura King, Los Angeles Times, March 29, 2004). Thus, while Qalqilya and a few neighboring towns–not dozens of enclaves–are surrounded by the Israeli barrier, they are not surrounded by concrete slabs. Much of the barrier around Qalqilya is made of wiring and not concrete slabs, as the photograph on the facing page demonstrates.

In addition, Makdisi exaggerates the height of the barrier. The Berlin Wall was up to 15 feet high (Encylopedia Britannica), while the West Bank barrier’s highest point is twice as high as the Berlin Wall, not three times. According to the spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Ministry, the height of the concrete wall was determined by simulated shootings from the Palestinian side towards the Israeli highway on the other side.

In response to CAMERA’s criticism about these points, the Los Angeles Times printed the following confusing correction on Jan. 16, 2005:

Israeli wall — A Nov. 21 commentary about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict said that, when it is finished, the separation barrier being built by Israel would trap Palestinians in enclaves “surrounded by concrete slabs three times the height of the Berlin Wall.” In fact, the material that will be used to construct future portions of the barrier is unknown, as is their eventual height. However, in places where the barrier now consists of concrete walls, the slabs are approximately 19 to 26 feet high; the Berlin Wall, by contrast, was about 13 to 15 feet high.

Unfortunately, this correction does not inform readers, but only further misleads them. It does not address Makdisi’s exaggerated claim that “dozens of separate enclaves” will be entirely surrounded by the barrier, when only a few communities will face that situation. Moreover, it wrongly states that the final percentage of the concrete portion of the still uncompleted barrier is unknown. In fact, the final percentage is not a mystery. According to Col. (res) Danny Tirza, who is responsible for the planning of the security fence, eight meters–or 5 percent–of the 700-kilometer barrier will be made up of concrete upon completion (see, for example, Jerusalem Post, June 16, 2004). In addition, the correction appears to gratuitously tack on Berlin Wall figures, without informing readers that the writer had erred on this matter.

In his November Op-Ed, Makdisi further misleads readers by deceptively suggesting that all West Bank residents are trapped in “closed areas,” which are only open to non-Palestinians.

Indeed, West Bank residents are already incarcerated. Even without the completed wall, whole [Palestinian] communities are trapped in ‘closed areas’ in the West Bank to which only persons of Jewish origin (and visiting tourists) have unrestricted access.

First, it is absolutely untrue that “persons of Jewish origin (and visiting tourists) have unrestricted access” to “whole [Palestinian] communities.” In fact, just the opposite is true. It is illegal for Israelis (Jewish or Arab) to enter Area A, that is, areas solely under the control of the Palestinian Authority, which is where most of the Palestinian population is concentrated. As B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization highly critical of Israeli policies, stated in an Aug. 9, 2004 report:

In Area B, restrictions are occasionally placed on travel by Israeli civilians, and Israeli civilians are completely forbidden to enter Area A (except for unusual cases). It should be noted that the prohibition on entry of Israelis to Area A and parts of Area B is incorporated in military orders.

(Area B refers to land under joint Israeli and Palestinian control.)

In addition, as far as freedom of movement and access is concerned, while there are certain roads restricted to those with Israeli license plates and off-limits to those with Palestinian plates, there are no roads reserved only for “persons of Jewish origin (and visiting tourists).” Israel’s population is one-fifth Arab (a fact which Makdisi points out), and the country’s Arab citizens have just as much right to travel on those restricted roads as do Israeli Jews. In fact, Israeli Arabs frequently use the bypass roads, as they have business connections and relatives in the territories.

Weeks after CAMERA communicated this information to the Los Angeles Times, the readers’ representative responded that Makdisi’s aforementioned statement was referring only to the “closed military area” between the separation barrier and the Green Line. This area, which is also known as the “seam zone,” includes nine Palestinan villages containing 5,200 residents. According to B’Tselem:

The prohibition on entering and being in the seam area without a permit from the Civil Administration, applies only to Palestinians. Israeli citizens, including settlers living in the seam area, Jews from around the world, and tourists visiting Israel are allowed to enter and stay in this area as they wish.

Unfortunately, however, Makdisi fails to make clear that the restrictions that he describes apply only to Palestinians living in the “seam zone.” Indeed, the statement in question immediately follows the misleading sentence: “West Bank residents are already incarcerated,” leading readers to believe wrongly that the restrictions apply for West Bank residents in general.

Binational Background
Makdisi’s Op-Ed calling for the dissolution of Israel on the basis that it is an “anachronism” is following the precendent set by Tony Judt, a history professor at New York University, who made the same argument a year ago in the Los Angeles Times.

In the words of Judt, the Remarque Professor of European Studies, Israel “remains distinctive among democratic states in its resort to ethno-religious criteria with which to denominate and rank its citizens” (Oct. 10, 2003. A longer version of this article had appeared Oct. 23 in the New York Review of Books.)

Makdisi, the nephew of deceased Columbia professor Edward Said, who had for years advocated a binational state, closely mimicked Judt’s language in an Op-Ed this fall:

The question now is not how long Israel’s anachronistic system of ethnic separation–its regime of walls and ghettos–can endure in our global, multicultural world, but rather how desirable it is to think in terms of ethnic separation in the first place. Among developed countries, only in Israel is ethnicity deemed an acceptable foundation for politics. (Nov. 21, 2004)

Like Judt before him, Makdisi thoroughly inverts the reality in which 22 Muslim Arab states give privileged, sometimes exclusive, status to Islam and its hundreds of millions of adherents, while discriminating against non-Muslims.

As the Winter 2004 CAMERA On Campus article about Judt’s diatribe pointed out:

Just one week before [Judt’s] article was published, the Organization of Islamic Countries consisting of 57 nations dedicated to the lofty multi-cultural ethic of strengthening Islamic solidarity among member states, convened a meeting. More than half of the OIC states have sizeable non-Islamic populations. The host nation, Malaysia, which calls itself an Islamic state, has a non-Muslim population of 40 percent. (Israel’s non-Jewish minority is 20 percent.) Unlike Israel, Malaysia has statutory discrimination against its minority; the Malaysian Sensitive Issues Act of 1971 makes it a criminal offense to question the legalized discrimination favoring Muslims. Why is Malaysia (and the 56 other Islamic states) not anachronistic while Israel is?

If we were living in a multicultural world, why was East Timor, the latest addition to the United Nations, created? Why couldn’t multicultural Indonesia–another Muslim country with a sizeable non-Muslim minority–accommodate the East Timorese? Even the multiculturalism of European states is a sleight-of-hand: why did multi-cultural Yugoslavia have to be split up along cultural and religious lines into eight different entities, including the Muslim-Croat Federation?

Makdisi’s most grotesque falsehood is that a binational state “would join two peoples whom history has thrust together into one democratic, secular and self-governing community of truly equal citizens.” In actuality, the formation of a binational state is a formula for the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state.

The history of 22 Muslim Arab states and their discriminatory treatment of Jews and other non-Muslim, non-Arab minorities in their midst–who are deemed inferior “dhimmis”–is just one powerful warning against any concession by Israel of its sovereign status.

The argument for a binational state is one that has percolated on the fringe of the Israeli-Palestinian debate for years. In the last year, however, the idea has made its way into mainstream Op-Ed pages, as if the destruction of a nation is a “viable alternative,” as Makdisi puts it, to the conflict.

Comments are closed.