UPDATED: Mazin Qumsiyeh Lacks Credibility

Dec. 15 update follows.

Nov. 18 Twice within two weeks, newspapers have had to correct false statements by anti-Israel activist Mazin Qumsiyeh. These two corrections, along with the many other erroneous statements by Qumsiyeh which have passed uncorrected, reveal a disregard for facts that should be a red flag for those considering reading–or publishing–his diatribes.

Qumsiyeh, formerly an associate professor of genetics at Yale University, frequently argues in newspaper letters and op-eds for the destruction of the Jewish State. This is to be accomplished, according to Qumsiyeh, by flooding the country with Palestinian refugees and their descendants–a process often misleadingly referred to as the “right of return.”

Although the viewpoints expressed by Qumsiyeh are disturbing to many who (in line with UN General Assembly resolutions 181 and 273) support the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in their homeland, most disturbing is the willingness of newspapers to publish pieces by the error-prone author with seemingly scant fact-checking, or none at all.

On August 21, the Providence Journal ran a typical Qumsiyeh column downplaying Israel’s Gaza withdrawal because, in his words, it “may not weaken but actually strengthen the Zionist project.” (Qumsiyeh proceeded to clarify that by “Zionist project,” he was referring to Israel as a refuge for the Jewish people: “The Zionist Project is not about 8,500 [Gaza] settlers. … It is about millions of Jews being gathered from around the world …”) After CAMERA informed Providence Journal editors of egregious factual errors in the piece, the newspaper published on Nov. 1 a correction which noted:

In his Aug. 21 column, “Illegal occupation of Palestine,” Mazin Qumsiyeh misstated the number of Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli settlers in the past four years. The figure is not 400 in the four years ending in August, as asserted by Mr. Qumsiyeh. According to the Israeli human-rights group B’tselem, only 22 Palestinian civilians were killed by Israeli settlers in that period. Perhaps more significantly, according to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, only 27 Palestinians were killed by Israeli settlers between Sept. 28, 2000, and July 31, 2005.

Ten days later, on Oct. 11, the New London Day also published a correction after CAMERA and others pointed out an error in another anti-Israel Qumsiyeh op-ed. It read:

Mazin Qumsiyeh’s Oct. 8 column said that Israel gets 30 percent of U.S. foreign aid. In fact, Israel receives 12.6 percent of America’s foreign aid budget.

Qumsiyeh’s misinformation regarding the number of Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli settlers and the amount of foreign aid the U.S. gives to Israel, however, were far from the only errors in these pieces.

Apparently attempting to minimize the connection between Israelis and their country, Qumsiyeh also prevaricated in his Providence Journal article about the number of immigrants in Israel. He wrote that “there are over 4 million Jewish colonial immigrants” in the country. In fact, according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, only 1.7 million Israeli Jews are immigrants. The rest are native-born Israelis. And of course, these Jewish Israelis, whether native-born or immigrant, cannot be accurately described as “colonial.” The American Heritage Dictionary points out that “colony” refers to a group of people “who settle in a distant territory but remain subject to or closely associated with the parent country,” or “A region politically controlled by a distant country.” Just as Qumsiyeh himself is not a “colonist” in the United States (despite clearly being “closely associated” with a foreign entity), Israeli citizens in Israel are not “colonists.”

The geneticist further misleads in the article when discussing the racial makeup of Israel. Offering the absurd suggestion that the American media sympathizes with Israelis over Palestinians, he proposed that this may be because Israelis are “white”:

Is disparity in media coverage between the United States and the rest of the world … due to Palestinins’ having brown skin and Jewish settlers’ [sic] being European and American Ashkenazi (white)?

Apparently, Qumsiyeh is not aware of the diversity of skin color within the Israeli Jewish population. Israelis originating from Ethiopia, Yemen, Iran, India, and elsewhere in Africa and Asia make up about 30 percent of the country’s Jews. This diversity is reflected in the settler population. (For example, the former Gaza settlement of Neve Dekalim had separate Sephardic, Ashkenazic, Tunisian and Yemenite synagogues.)

Qumsiyeh’s sloppiness with the facts seems to be a fixture in his earlier writings, as well. In a Feb. 2, 2004 op-ed published in the Hartford Courant, Qumsiyeh claimed that “the mainstream media in the United States ignored … or made cursory mention of” a Jan. 28 incident in which eight Palestinians were killed. (Most of the eight, Qumsiyeh failed to mention, were gunmen confronting Israeli troops.) He further protested that “No mainstream newspaper mentioned names of those killed …” (“News media ignore Israeli terrorism,” Hartford Courant).

Far from ignoring the incident, the mainstream media uniformly reported it with headline coverage:

• A 1004 word New York Times story was entitled: “Israeli Raid in Gaza Kills 8 Palestinians” (1/29/04). Contrary to Qumsiyeh’s assertion, the Times mentioned by name one of the dead.

• The Chicago Tribune mentioned the names of three of the Palestinian fatalities in its story, “8 Palestinians killed in Gaza; Fatal blast hits Jerusalem bus; dozens wounded” (1/29/04).

• Also mentioning the name of one of the casualties, the Boston Globe covered the story in detail in “Israelis, militants clash in Gaza; Five militants, three civilians reported killed (1/29/04).

• The Washington Post, too, mentioned the name of one of those killed in its Jan. 29 story, “Eight Palestinians Are Killed In Clash With Israelis in Gaza.”

• The Los Angeles Times covered the story in its Jan. 29 story, “Suicide bomber blows up bus; 8 Palestinians killed in Gaza Clash…”

• An Associated Press dispatch was headlined: “At least eight Palestinians killed in fierce fighting with Israeli soldiers in Gaza City” (1/28/04). The dispatch ran in a number of mainstream U.S. newspapers.

• NPR also covered the raid and mentioned the name of one of the casualti es.

In another Op-Ed published on April 15, 1998 by the Raleigh News and Observer, Qumsiyeh misquotes Theodor Herzl in a false paraphrase outside of the quotation marks and an omission (both with and without ellipses) within. Accusing Israel of ethnic cleansing, Qumsiyeh claims that the following “quote will illustrate the origin of the problem”:

The removal of Arabs bodily from Palestine is part of the Zionist plan to “spirit the penniless population across the frontier by denying it employment…Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly.” (Theodor Herzl, founder of the World Zionist Organization, Complete Diaries, June 12, 1895 entry).

Qumsiyeh’s paraphrase leading up to the quote is pure fabrication. As noted by Efraim Karsh, Professor and Head of the Mediterranean Studies Program at King’s College, University of London:

Herzl’s diary entry makes no mention of either Arabs or Palestine, and for good reason. A careful reading of Herzl’s diary entries for June 1895 reveals that, at the time, he did not consider Palestine to be the future site of Jewish resettlement but rather South America.

Furthermore, by omitting key parts of Herzl’s diary entry, Qumsiyeh also misrepresents the meaning of Herzl’s comment. Herzl wrote of finding employment for the locals in other countries; of buying their property–only from those willing to sell and for more than the owners would have expected–and then keeping the properties for Jews; and of respectfully tolerating and protecting those of other faiths.

A more complete version of Herzl’s diary entries that day follows, with some of the significant omissions by Qumsiyeh underlined:

When we occupy the land, we shall bring immediate benefits to the state that receives us. We must expropriate gently the private property on the estates assigned to us. We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries, while denying it any employment in our country. The property owners will come over to our side. Both the process of expropriation and the removal of the poor must be carried out discretely and circumspectly. Let the owners of immovable property believe that they are cheating us, selling us things for more than they are worth. But we are not going to sell them anything back.

It goes without saying that we shall respectfully tolerate persons of other faiths and protect their property, their honor, and their freedom with the harshest means of coercion. This is another area in which we shall set the entire old world a wonderful example. …

Estate owners who are attached to their soil … will be offered a complete transplantation–to any place they wish, like our own people. …If this offer is not accepted either, no harm will be done. … we shall simply leave them there ….

And in a letter to the editor in the July 3, 2002 Hartford Courant, Qumsiyeh erroneously claimed that Israel “reserves 93 percent of housing and farming lands for [Jewish] use.” In fact, people of all religions are free to use Israeli state land. (See CAMERA Backgrounder.)

While most of Qumsiyeh’s deceptions serve to demonize Israel, one misstatement targeted a group of students at his former university. Writing in the May 28, 2003 New York Sun, Yale student James Kirchick described a scandal at the university after Qumsiyeh circulated a blacklist of 64 (mainly Jewish) students’ names and e-mail addresses, claiming that as members of the Yale College Students for Democracy (YCSD) group, the students were supporters of the Iraq war and subscribers to neo-conservative philosophy. In fact, while the each student on the list was a member of the Yale Friends of Israel group, not all were members of the YCSD. Qumsiyeh later apologized.

Qumsiyeh, who continues to submit factually inaccurate information to newspapers, does not seem to have learned from his earlier mistakes. Hopefully editors, who thus far have continued to publish the professor’s screeds with insufficient (if any) fact checking, will draw the appropriate conclusions about Qumsiyeh’s credibility. 

UPDATE: Dec. 15, 2005: Qumsiyeh’s Response Reveals Dishonesty 

Shortly after publication of the above report, Mazin Qumsiyeh posted on his Web site—and subsequently removed—a document entitled “Response to CAMERA.” Qumsiyeh’s response, while meant to refute the newspapers’ corrections and substantiate some of his other errors, in fact illuminated the deceit and absurdity of his claims.

Simple math

Attempting to justify his claim that the “total Palestinian civilians killed by these [Israeli] settlers is now over 400 in just the past four years,” Qumsiyeh wrote:

Israel has universal conscription for Jewish residents. Israeli population is 5 million Jews of which nearly 10 percent live in the occupied territories and hence are settlers. Since B’Tselem reports that over 4000 Palestinians were killed (majority civilians per B’Tselem) than those who are killed by Soldiers also include those killed by Settlers. Simple math would dictate at least 400 killed by settlers…

Such math is not “simple,” but simplistic—and disingenuous. Qumsiyeh’s reference in the Providence Journal to “settlers” clearly implied they were Jewish civilians from the West Bank or Gaza Strip. After making general references to “all 450,000 settlers” (Qumsiyeh incorrectly counts Jewish residents of eastern Jerusalem as settlers), he specifies that “these settlers” have killed the Palestinians. (If one were to say, “Eight million people live in New York City,” and immediately afterwards say that “these New Yorkers” have attacked hundreds of Arabs, of course it would connote that New York civilians randomly attacked Arabs, and not that U.S. soldiers who happen to be from New York shot Iraqis in the line of duty.)
Moreover, even if one were to overlook his deceptive wording and accept his questionable statistics, as a former Yale geneticist, Qumsiyeh should certainly know better than to assume that 10 percent of an army is responsible for 10 percent of everything the army does. No reasonable person could claim to know the number of Iraqis killed by Texans, Jews or redheads based on the percentage of those groups in the U.S. Armed Forces. Math doesn’t work that way.
Finally, even if, for the sake of argument, one were to make such an illogical assumption, Qumsiyeh’s numb ers would still be well off the mark. According to the B’tselem, the organization cited by Qumsiyeh, 3310 Palestinians were killed by Israelis since the start of their violent campaign against Israel–not “over 4000.” B’tselem’s most recent reference to the number of Palestinian civilians killed appears to be its June 27, 2005 assertion that 1,722 were “not taking part in the hostilities” at the moment they were killed. Thus, even using Qumsiyeh’s funny math and B’tselem’s notoriously unreliable numbers, the hypothetical number of civilians killed by settlers would be around 172–not 400.

“One could subtract deceased immigrants…”

Regarding his claim that “there are over 4 million Jewish colonial immigrants” in Israel, Qumsiyeh stated:

The Israel Ministry of foreign Affairs … lists [the] number of Jewish immigrants to Israel as follows.

1948-51 688,000
1952-59 272,000
1960-69 374,000
1970-79 346,000
1980-89 154,000
1990-96 737,000

Adding those who came 1919-1948 under British rule (about 300,000) and those who came after 1996, one would get close to 3 million (even if one does not count immigrant children who while born in Israel would still be legitimately called immigrants). One could subtract deceased immigrants, but the point of CAMERA’s excercise in numbers again is intended to prevent discussion of the real issue: displacement of natives and colonization of other people’s lands.

The Providence Journal never published a correction to this particular invention, but Qumsiyeh’s tortured, almost comical explanation reveals the inaccuracy of the claim. Abandoning the “over 4 million” figure he duped the Journal into publishing, he claimed in his “Response to CAMERA” that there are “close to 3 million” immigrants. But this figure, over a million less than his original claim, is also preposterous. Not only does he include in this number people who have already died—making his figure as much a count of tombstones as it is a count of immigrants—but his figure also includes former immigrants who briefly lived in Israel before emigrating to other countries.
(Although the newspaper did not run a correction to Qumsiyeh’s “immigrant” claim, it did publish a CAMERA letter addressing the error. But a letter, while useful, is not the same as a correction for a number of reasons, as explained here.)

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