Phyllis Bennis – anti-Israel fellow traveler

A long, tendentious interview with anti-Israel activist Phyllis Bennis in the Nov. 30-Dec. 6 issue of Artvoice, a regional alternative newspaper in Buffalo, New York, offers false information, distortions and contradictions about Israel.  The article, entitled “Israel and Us,” can be read by clicking here.
Ms. Bennis claims that the alliance between Israel and America is based on a mutual inability to trust the Arabs, and that this is due to Western racism.  She offers no evidence to bolster her assertion that racist motives underpin American or Israeli policy because her views have no basis in facts; they are founded upon a misinformed anti-American and anti-Israel perspective. While excoriating Israel for its alleged societal racism, she ignores true examples of racism like the Arab enslavement of Blacks in Saudi Arabia that continued a century after slavery ended in the West, or the ongoing racial genocide occurring in Sudan. Such real instances of racism have no place in her closed-minded ideology that can apparently only recognize racism by “whites.”
Ms. Bennis repeats the usual canards about alleged Israeli sins. She claims there is a two tiered system of education, when in fact Israeli Arabs have high matriculation rates into Israeli universities. In 2003,  57.4% of Jewish students and 50.7% of Arab students passed the High school matriculation exam ( Central bureau of Statistics, State of Israel, 2003). That is hardly evidence of the two-tiered system that Ms. Bennis claims.
She blithely condemns Paul Newman and the movie Exodus for justifying “Palestinian expulsions.” Noted historian Efraim Karsh has done exhaustive research showing that the majority of Palestinians who fled Israel in 1947-1949 did so at the urging of their own leaders or due to their fears about what might happen to them during the war. The vast majority were not expelled by Israel. In fact the British district superintendent of police in Haifa district reported on April 26, 1948 that
“Every effort is being made by the Jews to persuade the Arab populace to stay and carry on with their normal lives, to get their shops and businesses open and to be assured that their lives and interests will be safe.” 

She denies anti-Semitism had anything to do with Jews leaving the Soviet Union or Ethiopia despite ample evidence to the contrary.
Bennis asserts without citing any source that Israelis prefer “white, educated, violin playing surgeons” rather than “Ethiopian peasants”. Israel is the only country in the world that went to such lengths to rescue an African population when it airlifted Ethiopia’s Jewish community to Israel. Ms. Bennis’s assertion is shameful and completely contradicted by the efforts Israel undertook to save Ethiopian Jewry.
Ms. Bennis claims non-Jews can’t buy land in much of Israel. This is an old canard that anti-Israel agitators constantly repeat because land policy in Israel is quite unlike that in the United States and hence is confusing to the uninformed. Arabs and Jews have equal right to purchase land. But most of Israel’s land is held by a state agency called the Israel Land Authority and is leased to Arabs or Jews rather than sold. Therefore, non-Jewsand Jews have limited opportunity to buy land in much of Israel.
She describes Israel as a non-democratic democracy while admitting that Arabs have full rights to vote.  Until recently, Israel was the ONLY Middle Eastern state that gave Arabs the right to vote in freely contested elections. 
She claims the problem is that Arabs are “excluded” from serving in the army, and that “means that Palestinians don’t have access to state-funded university scholarships, government-supported low-income home mortgages, a whole host of things” that veterans are entitled to. 
However, Bennis is factually wrong here. Arabs are not “excluded” from military service; military service is simply not mandatory for them. They can volunteer to join, and many Arabs have served in the Israel Defense Forces, particularly from the Bedouin and Druze communities.
Bennis contradicts herself when she speaks of Israeli culture.  On the one hand she says that Israel intentionally built a culture divorced from the Arab culture that many of its citizens came from.  On the other hand, she talks about (and scorns) the fact that much of Israeli cuisine is Middle Eastern and Israeli companies use Middle Eastern images in their ads.  She writes:

“So the cultural dominance in Israel has really focused on building what they consider an independent Israeli culture. But not with any recognition that they are in the Arab world, that a huge component of their population is Arab – the 20 percent who are Palestinian and the Arab Jews who make up the majority of the Israeli Jews.

“It’s ironic really. Palestinian food has become the leitmotif of Israeli cuisine, such as it is. So falafel and tabbouleh – these are Israeli salads. For a while the advertising campaign for El Al had these beautiful Israeli flight attendants wearing traditional Palestinian thobes, the black dress with the beautiful embroidery on the chest. Where did that come from? It’s like, “That’s Israeli.” Excuse me: not quite. So there’s this identification with Europe that has also had this huge cultural impact. “

So, according to mean-spirited Bennis, if many Israelis enjoy classical music and have made it integral to the Israeli music scene, that must mean they are snobs who only value European culture, and if they enjoy Middle Eastern music and have integrated it into Israeli culture, that means they are simply stealing someone else’s culture.  Ditto with European vs. Middle Eastern food.  Why is it so hard for Bennis to understand that Israel is a diverse society that has integrated various cultural elements into it? 

These are only a sampling of the factual errors, distortions, contradictions and just plain odd perspectives offered by Ms. Bennis. Please write to Artvoice expressing your disappointment with the decision to include such a misguided article and request that they print letters correcting the numerous inaccuracies and errors.

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