Monday, August 2, 2010

Efraim Karsh, Defender of the Palestinians

     In the famous Jewish definition, the term “chutzpah” is best illustrated by the story of  the man who, having been convicted of killing both his parents, pleads for mercy on the ground that he is an orphan.   That can’t be topped, but we now have a new second-best illustration: Efraim Karsh, one of the most infuriating and disingenuous of the rightwing Israeli historians,  shedding crocodile tears for the poor Palestinians, repeatedly betrayed by their Arab brethren.

      Here are just a few examples of Karsh’s chutzpah, in his oped in today’s New York Times, “The Palestinians, Alone”:

      *“It was common knowledge that the May 1948 pan-Arab invasion of the nascent state of Israel was more a scramble for Palestinian territory than a fight for Palestinian national rights.”  Karsh quotes the first secretary-general of the Arab League as having admitted that the goal of King Abdullah of Transjordan “was to swallow up the central hill regions of Palestine, with access to the Mediterranean at Gaza. The Egyptians would get the Negev. Galilee would go to Syria, except that the coastal part as far as Acre would be added to the Lebanon.”

        But if that is true, it serves to refute the standard Israeli claim that the purpose of the Arab invasion was to destroy the new state of Israel and “throw the Jews into the sea.”  Unsurprisingly, Karsh fails to point that out, since the myth of permanent and undying Arab hostility to the very existence of Israel is a staple of those who, like Karsh, find unending excuses for the demonstrable fact that Israel has repeatedly rejected clear opportunities for an overall Arab-Israeli peace settlement.

        *Writing about Arab violence against Palestinians,  Karsh says that Lebanese Christian militias “again slaughtered hundreds of Palestinians in 1982 in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, this time under Israel’s watchful eye. None of the Arab states came to the Palestinians’ rescue.”

      “Under Israel’s watchful eye”—well, I guess that’s one way of putting it.  Most other accounts are more informative, however: it is common knowledge that the Sabra and Shatila massacres were a product of—at a minimum—the tacit collaboration, and much more likely the active encouragement of, the Israeli Army, then under the direction of Ariel Sharon.  Camped just outside the refugee camps, fully aware of what was happening, and with the military capacity to end the massacres, the IDF took no action—except, that is, for firing illuminating flares over the camps throughout the nighttime slaughter.  A subsequent high-level Israeli investigation found that Israel had “indirect responsibility”—and Ariel Sharon “personal responsibility”--for the massacre, which made him unfit to continue as Defense Minister. 

      *Karsh concludes that it’s a good thing for the Palestinians that the Arabs have now “apparently become so apathetic about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” for their previous “self-serving interventionism has denied Palestinians the right to determine their own fate….The sooner the Palestinians recognize that their cause is theirs alone, the sooner they are likely to make peace with the existence of the State of Israel and to  understand the need for a negotiated settlement.”

        Can one find a more disingenuous “explanation” of why there has been no settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? And, wearily, one must once ask again why the New York Times lends itself to such travesties?


David said...

Efraim Karsh's assertion that "Arab apathy" is predominately to blame for the Palestinians failure to achieve statehood is particularly galling to those who have actually taken the time to read the history books. For one thing, this mono-causal, indiscreetly self-serving interpretation overlooks the combined effect of Arafat's obstructionism, Shamir's intransigence, and Netanyahu's duplicity on the abortive peace process. And secondly, the analysis is just plain dishonest, as Jerome pointed out, for in reality, the Arab League has been heavily engaged in the peace process, at least since the 1990s, the highlight of which being King Hussein's final status proposal which eventually became the Pan-Arab Initiative (2002). This unanimous (!!!) Arab initiative is striking in that it staked out a moderate position on the "right of return" and even assented to Israel's demand for an "end of conflict" clause in the final status agreement. The "Arab apathy" contention, therefore, just doesn't stand up to recent historical facts. Rather, of late, it has been the Arab states--albeit the conservative monarchies in particular--which have tried to save the Palestinians from their own ineffectual leadership, by getting the PA to commit to a more moderate position vis-a-vis Israel, one that G.W. Bush even found himself belatedly in support of.

Anonymous said...

James Zogby, the pollster, also has an excellent refutation of Karsh here:

Paul Lookman said...

Teymoor Nabili also covered the NYT article on Professor Efraim Karsh on, however drawing particular attention to a poll that suggests 71 per cent of Arabs don't care about the Palestine issue, and because of this "staggering" number, the Professor says, there is absolutely no basis to the belief that the Palestine problem is fuelling "regional anger and despair, [that gives] a larger rationale to terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and to the insurgency in Iraq". Together with “a list of carefully chosen historical events” this leads him to the conclusion that Palestinian people might as well give up any hopes of being heard.

The Professor surely has knowledge of statistics, so his conclusion is almost criminally flawed. One can prove anything with statistics, even plain lies. The source appears to be Al Arabiya news channel which conducted an online survey “to gauge the extent to which ordinary Arabs are still interested in the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks”. We have not seen how the question was phrased exactly (a very delicate matter for a researcher). Moreover, we have no information on the sample. An online audience is not representative for the total population and certainly not “ordinary Arabs”, many of whom I suppose are not even “on-line”. Online surveys activate motivated, articulate people and can only give a biased picture. I would apply an error margin of 20-50% to judge the outcome of this questionable research.

Jim Donnellan said...

A representative of CAMERA was called upon to engage me during an online interaction sparked by a rabbi's editorial that accused Anna Baltzer of being a terrorist sympathizer. The good Rabbi never responded, but a member of his congregation did. She quickly became frustrated and called upon a representative of CAMERA. He invoked Efraim Karsh as his authority in attempting to debunk the work of Benny Morris. Never having heard of Karsh, I replied with a rejoinder of my own and then suggested that he might like to become involved in the TV project that I was planning (and still am).
I received no further responses. Indeed, I've made requests of many local rabbis in an attempt to have their points of view represented. No response from them either. I wonder what all that means.

Harlan said...

The works of the "new historians" are littered with references to declassified documents from US government archives, including the official documentary history of the US State Department "Foreign Relations of the United States" (FRUS) series.

Efraim Karsh has taken-up the mission of debunking the new historians, but he has always failed to mention or analyze any of the well-known material that has been published in the FRUS regarding the 1948 war. His latest book, "Palestine Betrayed", is no exception in that regard. It is "yet another" in a long line of books based upon cherry-picked sources that avoid all mention of anything that contradicts his far-fetched postulations.

Anonymous said...

Efraim Karsh demolishes the so-called 'New Historians.' He offered detailed proof and accounts by Arabs themselves that explain the exodus of 10% of the so-called 'refugees' from Haifa alone. The Arabs went out of their way to make sure their brothers and sisters departed, and now it's the Jews fault ? Sorry, not buying it.

Anonymous said...

O.K. let's assume that Karsh is right. Why aren't the refugees allowed to return since he claims it wasn't Israeli policy to expel them.