Washington Post Gives Ari Shavit Undeserved ‘Two-fer’

Sally Quinn writes The Washington Post’s “On Faith” feature. In it she naively promoted Ha’aretz columnist Ari Shavit’s new and often-erroneous book, My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel (“A voice from Israel speaks of fear, celebration and caution,” December 14). She mirrored Post columnist Richard Cohen’s similarly unquestioning praise for Shavit’s effort four days earlier (“Israel’s open wound,” December 10).


Shavit might have been smiling all the way to the next book signing. But a little skepticism would have served Quinn and Cohen, and their readers, much better.


Quinn writes, for example, “[Ari] Shavit is most worried about the gradual disappearance of the Christian community in Israel and Palestine [sic.].”


‘Disappearing’ Christians


This error of fact is easily discovered through journalistic due diligence. Israel’s Christian community is not disappearing. At the country’s Israel’s founding in 1948, its Christian population was 34,000. At the end of 2012, according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, it stood at 158,000.


Contrary to Shavit’s false equivalence between Israel and “Palestine”—the Palestinian Authority’s Fatah and Hamas factions respectively administering the West Bank and Gaza Strip—while the Israeli Christian population grows, that of the West Bank and Gaza declines. As Reuters reported on May 10, 2009, “the Palestinian Authority says the Christian population in the West Bank has shrunk over the last three decades due to emigration, many to Australia, Canada and the United States, but lacks accurate figures.”


Quinn quotes Shavit as saying his book “is about homeless people creating a home for themselves and creating homeless Palestinians.” CAMERA has pointed out, including recently regarding the “dispossessed-Jews-dispossessed-Arabs” allegation in Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century, by David Laskin, this too amounts to false equivalence.


Blaming Israel for Arab self-dispossession


The facts again contradict Shavit (and Laskin in this case). Arab pogroms in 1920 and 1929 and the Arab uprising of 1936 – 1939 helped convince British authorities virtually to end Jewish immigration to Mandatory Palestine. This contravened London’s pledge to administer the Mandate so as to assist the Zionist movement in reestablishing the Jewish national home there.


By helping trap Europe’s Jews in the Nazi maelstrom, Palestinian Arabs were complicit in the Holocaust. A decade before the Arab nakba, the “catastrophe” of Israel’s creation, Palestinian Arabs helped foster the catastrophe of European Jewry’s destruction.


But the Jewish remnant in British Mandatory Palestine expelled comparatively few Arabs in the creation of Israel, and those were in the context of a war for survival. Had the Arab states and Palestinian Arab leadership not rejected the 1947 U.N. partition plan; had they not gone to war in 1948 despite the U.N. vote to create a Jewish state and a second Arab state in what originally had been Mandatory Palestine (trans-Jordan, today’s Jordan, was the first); and had they not failed in their attempt to destroy the infant Israel, there would have been no Arab refugees.


Arab, but not Jewish, culpability for Shavit’s homeless Jews and homeless Arabs does not end here. Roughly 400,000 to 600,000 Arabs were displaced to other parts of Palestine or nearby Arab countries in the late 1940s. Meanwhile, approximately 850,000 Jews fled or were expelled from Arab countries, and nearly 600,000 settled in Israel.


Shavit apparently doesn’t think this core reality worth mentioning in connection with hawking My Promised Land. In any case, Quinn gives no indication she knows.


Palestinian rejectionism


The columnist also quotes Shavit as saying Israel’s security threats mean “we are really in danger. … Palestinians have difficulty accepting our existence.”


Perhaps the ellipsis indicates omission of extenuating material. In any case, Palestinian Arabs recognize Israel’s existence; both the late Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat, and his successor, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, did that. What they—and many other Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East and beyond—reject is the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state. Therein lies Israel’s existential danger.


While Quinn served more as Shavit’s stenographer, Cohen’s column functioned as a megaphone for the author’s disinformation. The Post columnist spotlights “the ethnic cleansing of Lydda during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948. ‘Lydda is our black box,’ Shavit writes. ‘In it lies the dark secret of Zionism. The truth is that Zionism could not bear Lydda.’”


Pure propaganda. During the war—caused by five Arab armies invading the new Jewish state to “ethnically cleanse” Israel of its Jews—Lydda (Lod) was a Jordanian-occupied garrison town near the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway, as Cohen notes. He omits, however, the following (for the details see Ari Shavit’s Lydda Massacre):


A ‘massacre’ that wasn’t


Though outnumbered, Israeli forces attacked on July 10, 1948. Local Christian and Muslim religious leaders agreed to surrender armed personnel and weapons in 24 hours in exchange for continued peaceful civilian presence. The Israelis then sent some troops to the Negev front.


On July 11, a Jordanian patrol reached Lydda but was driven off. The residents, thinking the Jordanians were retaking the town, broke the truce and attacked the diminished Israeli force. First to be killed were five Israelis, massacred and mutilated outside Dahmash Mosque. In the second battle for Lydda in two days, the 500 remaining Israelis, in house-to-house fighting, killed approximately 250 Arabs. The residents, having proven untrustworthy, were ordered to evacuate toward Jordanian lines.


There was no massacre, no “ethnic cleansing,” no “dark secret of Zionism.” 


Cohen mislabels Israel’s War of Independence “a civil war” when it was an inter-Arab war against Jewish sovereignty in the truncated statelet the Jews had accepted but the Arabs rejected under the U.N. partition plan. The columnist says “innocents were murdered. Terrible things happened.


“Shavit provides first-person accounts, but Israeli historians, particularly Benny Morris in his book 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War, have not ignored the ethnic cleansing that produced what the Arabs call ‘the Nakba,’ the catastrophe. Israel is more than an open society. It is an open wound.”


‘I say it happened and I say it didn’t’


Again, examples of Israeli “ethnic cleansing” of Arabs during the War of Independence, like the claim of a massacre at Lydda, don’t survive examination. Cohen acknowledges this immediately after alleging it happened: “Israel today is 20 percent Arab. That is because the country was not ethnically cleansed.”


Of the “50,000 to 70,000 Palestinians … evicted from the [Lydda] area,” according to Cohen, most traveled only a few dozen miles to Arab-controlled territory, and never left Mandatory Palestine. Rather than “an open wound,” Israel by any measure, including education, economics, science, technology, the arts, integration of Jews of various national, ethnic and racial backgrounds, democracy and, yes, militarily, is the most successful of all the scores of post-World War II nation-states.


To the extent that Palestinian Arabs or the still-unresolved status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip constitute an “open wound,” responsibility falls not on Israel but rather on the body politic of the 21 Arab states and Palestinian leadership that have insisted it fester for 65 years.


Cohen says Shavit is “a columnist for the robustly left-of-center newspaper Ha’aretz ….” Ha’aretz, with its small and shrinking circulation, facing additional competition from newer newspapers and broadcast outlets, is anything but robust. CAMERA’s Israel office continues to prompt corrections to the paper’s too-often erroneous reporting and commentary. Left-of-center is one thing; shrill and anti-historical is another. 


In mangling the big picture, The Post columnist manages to get some details right, including the know-nothing nature of many of Israel’s critics: “The Americans [in this case, the National Council of the American Studies Association, which recently approved an anti-Israel boycott measure] know so much, yet understand so little.”


Unfortunately, the same can be said of Cohen, who shares with Quinn gullibility toward Shavit’s phony equivalences. Cohen asserts “much of Israel’s history is about parallelism.” Too bad he mistook false parallels for truth.












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