Nathan Thrall’s Propaganda Welcomed at the New York Times

That the New York Times chose to publish Nathan Thrall’s How the Battle Over Israel and Anti-Semitism Is Fracturing American Politics is not surprising: Thrall can be counted on to produce, on demand, the usual anti-Israel screed that has long been the norm at the Times.

But Thrall outdoes himself this time. Consider the following paragraph:

To many Americans, the fulcrum of Israeli-Palestinian strife is the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza after Israel’s victory in the June 1967 war. Accordingly, the solution to the conflict would lie in creating a Palestinian state in those territories. The B.D.S. movement, by contrast, views the conflict as a century-long Arab struggle against the establishment of a Jewish state on land that was more than 95 percent Arab at the dawn of Zionism, in the late 19th century, and more than 90 percent Arab when the British promised in 1917 to try to establish a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine, soon to be under British rule. Before Israel was founded in 1948, there were Zionist campaigns to boycott Arab workers and exclude Arabs from Jewish-only residential communities. Following the 1948 war, which erupted after the United Nations announced its plan to partition Palestine into two states, the Jews who fled could return; Palestinians could not. Most of the Palestinians who remained within Israel were placed under military rule until 1966.

It’s amazing that Thrall can jam so many material falsehoods and deceptions into just a single paragraph:

1. Was the land more than 95 percent Arab in the late 19th century, and more than 90 percent Arab in 1917?

Only if you assume – falsely – that the Arabs owned whatever land the Jews didn’t. But about half of the land that became Israel in 1948 was the Negev desert, and in Mandate Palestine, and before that under Ottoman Turkish rule, and in most countries today including the US, the desert belongs to the government. For example, in Nevada the US government alone owns 84.9 percent of the land, not counting the additional land owned by the state and local governments. Even in California, Federal lands total 45.8 percent.

Under the Ottoman Land Code desert land was classified as mewat (or dead land) and was the property of the Sultan. The Ottoman Land code was maintained by the British when in 1922 they established the British Mandate of Palestine, with the role of the Sultan passing to the British government in the person of the High Commissioner.

So right from the start, Thrall makes a vast error. But what about land outside the desert? Did the Arabs own whatever the Jews didn’t own there? Again no – most of that land was agricultural land, and under the Ottoman Land Code was almost entirely miri land, or the land of the Emir (the ruler). The farmers who worked this land did not own it, they merely got the right to use it (usufruct) from the state in return for paying taxes on what they produced from the land. As long as they were using that land productively and paying taxes, no one else could use it.

So that takes care of the desert and most agricultural land, what about the rest? The land use records from the British Mandate authorities reveal that Arabs owned at most 14 percent of the land (and probably quite a bit less since this still includes some miri land used by Arab farmers), while Jews privately owned 8.6 percent (not counting miri land).

So contrary to Thrall and his less than attentive New York Times editors (are there New York Times editors anymore?), Arab and Jewish land ownership in Mandate Palestine was comparable, and the Arabs certainly did not own anywhere near 90 percent of the land.

2. Regarding “Zionist campaigns” to boycott Arab workers and exclude Arabs from Jewish communities, Thrall has it exactly backwards: the Palestinians boycotted the Jews. From The Palestinian National Revival: In the Shadow of the Leadership Crisis, 1937 – 1967:

The Fifth Palestinian Arab Congress took place in Nablus on August 20, 1922, against the background of the authorization for the British Mandate over Palestine, which included authorization of the Balfour Declaration as well. Among its resolutions were the following: rejection of the Mandate, a general boycott of the Jews, rejection of the proposed constitution for Filastin, and a boycott of the elections to the legislative council. (emphasis added)

And there weren’t just Arab boycotts, there were also murderous Arab attacks on Jews followed by boycotts, as in August 1929, for example:

On 15th August a Jewish demonstration was held at the Wailing Wall, and on the following day the Arabs held a counter demonstration. From 23rd to 29th August murderous attacks were made on Jews in various parts of the country. The most violent attacks were those against the old established Jewish communities at Hebron and Safad; there were also attacks in Jerusalem and Jaffa and against several Jewish rural settlements.  There was little retaliation by Jews, of whom 133 were killed and 339 wounded. Order was restored with the help of British troops rushed up from Egypt; 116 Arabs were killed and 232 wounded, mostly by troops and police.

The breach between the two races was widened by the events 1928-1929, first by the emergence of the religious factor and then by the outbreak of murder and pillage. Reciprocal boycotts of Arab and Jewish trade were organized.  (emphasis added; from A Survey of Palestine, V1, p 24)

Thrall’s readers would have no idea of this history, and for good reason: giving even a hint of it would destroy Thrall’s extreme agenda, which requires readers to swallow whole his false picture of rapacious Jews and innocent Palestinians. That’s why Thrall so often focuses on alleged Jewish misdeeds and entirely ignores Arab and Palestinian misdeeds.

3. Thrall then tells readers – using the passive voice, of course – that in 1948 a war “erupted” after the United Nations announced its plan to partition Palestine into two states.

Did it just erupt, or did five Arab armies, plus the Palestinian Arab Liberation Army attack the Jews, with the intention of committing a new genocide? And in that war were 6000 Jews killed, fully one percent of their population? The answer to both questions is yes, but one would never know it from Thrall’s potted history.

4. And after that war, Thrall tell us, “most of the Palestinians who remained within Israel were placed under military rule until 1966.”

True, sort of, but why most and not all? The answer, which Thrall either does not know, or would like to keep from readers, is that military rule applied to Israeli Arab villages bordering hostile states at war with Israel, like Jordan and Egypt. Most, but not all, of the Arab population centers in Israel were along those borders. But Israeli Arab communities not near a hostile border, such as those south of Haifa Bay, for example, were not placed under military rule. And by the early 1960’s most of the Arabs in the border areas had annual permits allowing them to move freely anyhow.

For more details on the subject of military rule see Democracy, Law and National Security in Israel and The Arabs in Israel.

So the facts don’t support what Thrall would like his readers to believe, that Israel acted in a racist manner towards its Arab citizens. Considering the brutal war of annihilation that had been imposed on Israel by its Arab neighbors, Israel’s treatment of Arab citizens after the war was nothing short of exemplary. Other democracies under lesser threats did not do nearly as well – to cite one example, the U.S. internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor. (See The Injustice of Japanese-American Internment Camps Resonates Strongly to This Day.)

Of course, this one paragraph is not the extent of Thrall’s distortions and errors, all of which are intended to portray Israel in the worst light possible.

Here, for example, is Thrall on US aid to Israel:

Yet year after year, Congress, citing “shared values” and Israel’s strategic importance, among other things, votes to give military aid to Israel, which is currently $3.8 billion per year: $500 million in missile defense and $3.3 billion in foreign military financing, more military financing than the United States provides to the rest of the world combined. And Aipac, whose positions many on the left regard as rarely distinguishable from those of the Israeli prime minister or the Republican Jewish Coalition, remains the dominant force among Israel-Palestine advocacy groups within the Democratic Caucus.

Contrary to Thrall, AIPAC generally supports the elected government of Israel. When that Israeli government is on the left, as during the Rabin-Peres years, which saw the beginning of the Oslo peace process, AIPAC supported that. Thus, as the Boston Globe reported in 1994, “AIPAC finds itself in the ironic role of backing American aid for Palestinian autonomy in the Gaza Strip and Jericho.” (US, Israeli Jews realign with times, Boston Globe, July 3, 1994)

And in 2007 AIPAC was criticized by the noted pro-Israel philanthropist Sheldon Adelson for supporting continued US aid to the Palestinians: Adelson raps AIPAC on aid letter.

Regarding aid to Israel, Thrall is again misleading when he claims that US aid to Israel totals more “military financing than the United States provides to the rest of the world combined.”

US aid to other countries comes from many different federal departments and programs – and including direct military aid completely changes the picture. Thus, the US spends over $3 Billion dollars a year defending South Korea, and vastly more than that – perhaps $100 Billion – for the defense of Western Europe through our NATO commitment. These subsidies paid by US taxpayers to our primary trade competitors truly dwarfs aid to Israel; perhaps that’s why Thrall didn’t mention it.

Finally, here is Thrall on the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement:

The B.D.S. movement was founded in 2005 with a statement of principles, written collectively and known as the B.D.S. call. Signed by more than 170 Palestinian organizations from around the world, it made three demands of Israel, one for each of the three major Palestinian constituencies. For residents of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem: an end to the military occupation that began in 1967. For Palestinian refugees: the right to return to their homes and property, in keeping with United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194, which was adopted near the end of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, when 83 percent of the Palestinians in the territory that became Israel fled or were forced to flee. And for Palestinian citizens of Israel: full equality with Jews.

Here again Thrall deceptively keeps from his readers basic facts which undermine the anti-Israel portrait he is so eager to paint:

1. The end of the occupation is something that Israel has supported and the Palestinians have opposed. How can this be a demand on Israel when history shows it is the Arabs and the Palestinians who have stood in the way of a Palestinian state, not Israel?

Opportunities for a Palestinian state were rejected by the Palestinians and the Arab states multiple times, including:

  • In 1947 UNGA 181, the so-called Partition Resolution called for creation of a Jewish and an Arab state out of the territory of the British Mandate for Palestine. The Jews accepted the compromise, while the Arabs rejected it and promised to annihilate the Jewish state the moment the British withdrew. While the Palestinians and five Arab states attacked Israel and expected to win easily, in the end the Israelis, at great cost, beat back the invaders and survived the war. The Arab states made no effort to create a Palestinian state in the Mandate territory that they occupied after the war. For example, Jordan’s King Abdullah annexed the West Bank to his kingdom.
  • In 2000 President Clinton hosted Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and Israeli leader Ehud Barak for intensive talks at Camp David. After grueling negotiations Israel accepted the so-called Clinton parameters, but Arafat and the Palestinians rejected them. The Saudi representative to the talks, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, memorably said “If Arafat does not accept what is available now, it won’t be a tragedy, it will be a crime.”

    But Arafat did turn down the Clinton parameters and instead returned home and triggered the so-called Second Intifadah, which included numerous Palestinian suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks in which over a thousand Israelis were killed. (For more details about the Second Intifadah see here.)

  • In 2008, after extensive talks, then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and presented a comprehensive peace plan. Olmert’s plan would have annexed the major Israeli settlements to Israel and in return given equivalent Israeli territory to the Palestinians, would have divided Jerusalem, and also included a partial Palestinian “right of return.” According to The Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl, who had previously covered the region, “Olmert’s peace offer was more generous to the Palestinians than either that of Bush or Bill Clinton; it’s almost impossible to imagine Obama, or any Israeli government, going further.” Despite this, Abbas admitted to Diehl that he walked away.

(For more details see Palestinians Rejected Statehood Three Times, Claim Frustration — with Israel.)

Yes, Thrall allows ZOA leader Morton Klein to telegraphically say a small part of this, but without any supporting details that would prove the point.

2. Regarding Resolution 194, it doesn’t establish any “Right of Return,” which is why all the Arab states voted against it in the United Nations. Passed in the wake of the first Arab-initiated war against Israel, its central provision had nothing do with an alleged right of return, instead calling for creation of a Conciliation Commission and:

… establishment of contact between the parties themselves and the Commission at the earliest possible date … to seek agreement by negotiations [and thereby reach] a final settlement of all questions between them. (paragraphs 4 and 5)

Through many years and multiple wars, the Arab states refused even to meet with Israel, much less try to reach a peaceful settlement. The only clause the Arab side ever acknowledged was paragraph 11, which suggested (it could not “require,” since it was a General Assembly rather than a Security Council resolution) that:

refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date … [R]epatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of refugees and payment of compensation [should be facilitated]. (emphasis added)

Because this only recommends that refugees be permitted to return, it can hardly be characterized as creating a “right.” Moreover, the requirement that returnees first accept living “at peace with their neighbors” meant that Palestinian returnees would have to accept Israel’s right to exist, something that very few of them, even today, seem truly willing to do. Further, it did not even hint at any return rights for descendants of refugees.

It should also be noted that (1) the resolution applies equally to Palestinian refugees from Israel and to the similar number of Jewish refugees from Arab countries who came to Israel after 1948, and (2) that it placed repatriation, resettlement, and payment of compensation on an equal footing. This equal footing was also included in other GA resolutions of that era, such as Resolution 393 of December 2, 1950, which stated that:

… without prejudice to the provisions of paragraph 11 of General Assembly resolution 194 … the reintegration of the refugees into the economic life of the Near East, either by repatriation or resettlement is essential … for the realization of conditions of peace and stability in the area.

Similarly, Resolution 394 of December 14, 1950 called upon:

… the Governments concerned to undertake measures to ensure that refugees, whether repatriated or resettled, will be treated without any discrimination either in law or in fact.

And Resolution 513 of January 26, 1952, speaks of “reintegration either by repatriation or resettlement.” It is therefore quite clear from the plain language of these resolutions that the General Assembly did not even try to establish a binding right of return.

• All Arab States Voted Against Resolution 194

All the Arab states voted against Resolution 194, precisely because it did not establish a “right of return,” and because it implicitly recognized Israel. It is disingenuous, at best, for those same Arab states, Palestinian representatives, and BDS supporters to see today in Resolution 194 a right of return.

• It is the Arab States that have violated UN Resolutions and the UN Charter

Despite present-day appeals to UN resolutions by the Arab states, it was the Arab states which violated all of the above resolutions, by making war against Israel, by forcing the Palestinian refugees to live in squalid refugee camps, by refusing to offer them citizenship (with the exception of Jordan, which did so not for humanitarian reasons, but to absorb the West Bank, which it had conquered, occupied and annexed), by discriminating against them (Resolution 394) “in law and in fact,” and by forcibly preventing (Resolution 393) “the reintegration of the refugees into the economic life of the Near East.” The Arab states did this because they were determined to exterminate Israel, or failing that, to prevent (Resolution 393) “the realization of conditions of peace and stability in the area.”

So extreme was the Arab position that the former director in Jordan of UN aid to the Palestinians, Ralph Galloway, stated:

The Arab states do not want to solve the refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore, as an affront to the United Nations and as a weapon against Israel. Arab leaders don’t give a damn whether the refugees live or die. (Ralph Galloway, UNRWA, as quoted by Terence Prittie in The Palestinians: People History, Politics, p 71)

Of course, beyond the refugee weapon the Arabs also used military weapons to make war against Israel, violating Resolution 181 (the Partition Resolution), and the UN Charter, which calls upon members to:

  • .. settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered. (UN Charter, Article 2(3))

  • .. refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state … (UN Charter, Article 2(4))

Finally, the Arab states have for more than 70 years violated Resolution 194 by refusing to pay compensation to Jewish refugees whom they drove out of their countries.

As for the demand for full equality for Arab citizens of Israel, the claims that they don’t essentially have this already comes from extreme agitprop groups like Adalah, which Thrall – of course – cites and quotes throughout his article.

The reality is once again quite different from the malign portrait of Israel that Thrall habitually paints.

When examined in detail, the apartheid charges fall apart, since Israel is, in fact, a progressive and liberal democracy. Like other western democracies Israel is imperfect, but when mistakes and injustices occur they are usually, in the end, rectified thanks to the country’s extensive checks and balances. Unlike neighboring Arab countries Israel has free elections, a free press, full religious freedom, and full rights for women and minorities, including gays, and an activist Supreme Court. In Israel there are Arab legislators in the Knesset, Arab diplomats in the Foreign Ministry, Arab generals in the Israel Defense Forces, and also Arab judges. In fact, it was an Arab District Court judge (George Karra) who sentenced former Israeli President Moshe Katzav to jail, and an Arab Supreme Court Justice who upheld the sentence (Salim Joubran).

For more details on why the Israeli “apartheid” charge is crude propaganda, see Deconstructing “Israeli Apartheid” and CAMERA’s Apartheid Week site.

Nathan Thrall presents himself as a scholarly researcher, while the BDS movement presents itself as a group of human rights campaigners. He’s not, and they’re not.