Sunday, March 11, 2007

Washington Post lionizes far-left Israeli historian

Here is a classic example of a "news story" that serves no purpose but to promote the ideological agenda of the reporter.

In todays' Washington Post there is an article about Ilan Pappé, the revisionist Israeli historian and lecturer at the University of Haifa, by Scott Wilson. While the article starts off as if it is going to contrast the differing ideological journeys of Pappe and Benny Morris, it ends up being nothing but an adoring profile of Pappé - even as the article admits that he has no following in Israel itself:
Ilan Pappé, one of the revisionist scholars known in Israel as the "new historians," began his career in some of the same wartime archives as Benny Morris. But his own ideological journey has taken him to the far shore of Israel's political gulf and nearly complete isolation.

The two disagree not on the facts about Israel's founding that they helped uncover but on what lessons they hold nearly six decades later. Morris maintains the rise of radical Islam is largely responsible for the region's strife; Pappe is virtually alone among Jewish Israelis in blaming the Zionist project to create a Jewish state in the Arab Middle East for the lack of peace.

"Zionism is far more dangerous to the safety of the Middle East than Islam," Pappe says.

The 52-year-old historian is a senior lecturer at the University of Haifa, which overlooks the thriving port where Pappe's parents arrived from Germany seven decades ago. Many of the relatives who stayed behind perished in the Holocaust. Pappe's family was apolitical. He served in the Golan Heights during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.

What Pappe calls his "journey to the margins and beyond" began at Oxford University, where under the guidance of the renowned Arab historian Albert Hourani he wrote a doctoral thesis that became his first book, "Britain and the Arab-Israeli Conflict." He mixed with Palestinian intellectuals when the Palestine Liberation Organization was outlawed in Israel.

"My research debunked all of the lessons about Israel's creation that I had been raised on," Pappe says.

In his view, Israeli professors were not criticizing Israel's occupation of Palestinian land with the same stridency in academic conferences abroad as they did in the op-ed pages back home. He increasingly believed that land included all of Israel, not just the territories Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East War.

In 1996, Pappe joined Hadash, the mostly Arab anti-Zionist communist party and ran unsuccessfully for parliament. His work two years later organizing campus events to commemorate the 50th anniversary of "the catastrophe," as Palestinians call the 1948-49 war, placed him at odds with the university's politically powerful Land of Israel Studies department.

The university president began calling for his resignation.

"The debate that year prepared the way for the big battle -- the second intifada," Pappe says. "I looked around and I was alone."

Relatives stopped speaking to him over his rejection of the Jewish state in the dedication of his 2003 book, "A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples." He dedicated it to his sons: "may they live not only in a modern Palestine but in a peaceful one."

"When I was struggling against public denial of what occurred in 1948, I was still hopeful," Pappe says. "But the fact that denial has disappeared is even more worrying. It means that my outlook and theirs is unbridgeable. This is a basic problem of morality and ethics now."

Israel's war with the radical Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah last summer convinced Pappe of something he suspected for years: His views are irrelevant inside Israel.


He has accepted a post at the University of Exeter in England and will move there later this year.

"It will be an attempt to see if one can live outside this place," Pappe says.
Now, why is it newsworthy to profile a lone Israeli historian, who unsuccessfully ran for Knesset in an Arab Communist list and who calls for Israel to be dismantled? The only possible reason is that the author of the story agrees with him and tries to make him look like a romantic "lone wolf" telling the truth against his hundreds of colleagues who disagree.

Pappé himself hardly has impeccable credentials. As CAMERA shows, he freely admits that he lets his ideology cloud his historical judgment.
There is no historian in the world who is objective. I am not as interested in what happened as in how people see what's happened. ("An Interview of Ilan Pappé," Baudouin Loos, Le Soir [Bruxelles],Nov. 29, 1999)

I admit that my ideology influences my historical writings...(Ibid)

Indeed the struggle is about ideology, not about facts. Who knows what facts are? We try to convince as many people as we can that our interpretation of the facts is the correct one, and we do it because of ideological reasons, not because we are truthseekers. (Ibid)

The debate between us is on one level between historians who believe they are purely objective reconstructers of the past, like [Benny] Morris, and those who claim that they are subjective human beings striving to tell their own version of the past, like myself. (“Benny Morris’s Lies About My Book,” Ilan Pappé, Response to Morris’ critique of Pappé’s book, “A History of Palestine” published in the New Republic, March 22, 2004, History News Network, April 5, 2004)

[Historical] Narratives... when written by historians involved deeply in the subject matter they write about, such as in the case of Israeli historians who write about the Palestine conflict, is motivated also... by a deep involvement and a wish to make a point. This point is called ideology or politics. (Ibid)

Yes, I use Palestinian sources for the Intifada: they seem to me to be more reliable, I admit. (Ibid)
Beyond that, while the WaPo brings up Morris, they fail to even contextualize their disagreements to allow the reader some information on the matters. Morris has said about Pappé:
..Unfortunately, much of what Pappé tries to sell his readers is complete fabrication...

...In Pappé's account, there is no faulting the Palestinians for regularly assaulting the Zionist enterprise...The Palestinians are forever victims, the Zionists are forever "brutal colonizers"...

...The multiplicity of mistakes on each page is a product of both Pappé's historical methodology and his political proclivities...

...For those enamored with subjectivity and in thrall to historical relativism, a fact is not a fact and accuracy is unattainable. Why grope for the truth? Narrativity is all.
Shouldn't an article about Pappé mention some of the real, objective problems people have with him rather than frame it solely as being against his ideology (as reprehensible as it may be)? Especially egregious are Wilson's quoting of Pappe, "My research debunked all of the lessons about Israel's creation that I had been raised on," without a single indication that his research and conclusions are deeply flawed.

Even more unbelievably, the caption under his picture quotes him as saying "Zionism is far more dangerous . . . than Islam," going even beyond his own sickening quote about the safety of the Middle East as if to support the view that Zionism is a threat to the entire world.

This article is incredibly irresponsible journalism - not just shoddy, but ultimately deceptive. It hides more facts than it reveals, and as such it is the exact opposite of what journalism should be.

UPDATE: I didn't realize from my Internet search that this article was a companion piece on a larger article about Benny Morris. Even so, the point remains - the article about Morris is not shy with quoting people who disagree with him and why; it plays up his questioning of the standard Israeli historical narrative and it subtly demeans his more recent skepticism about the prospects of peace with Arabs. In other words, it pooh-poohs Morris' hawkish views while it embraces his findings that make Israel look bad, just as in the Pappe article it embraces his anti-Israel views and doesn't bother to find another viewpoint.