Pappe on Q&A

September 21, 2012 by Emily Gian
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As a student of literature, I find the narrative of a story is of the utmost importance. It drives the novel, and keeps us, the audience, interested in the point of view of the author. The study of history is different. It relies on facts and the retelling of those facts in the most authentic way….writes Emily Gian.

Emily Gian

This is why, when I watched Israeli “historian” Ilan Pappé on the ABC’s Q&A Program which was screened on Monday night, I felt outraged that a man could so easily call himself a historian, while relying mainly on one “narrative” to make a point which has nothing to do with history or fact and everything to do with his own particular ideology.

Many of you probably missed the program itself, as ABC conveniently had Pappé as a guest on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, when the majority of Australia’s Jews would have been sitting down to a family meal.

Also on the panel was the Australian’s Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan, the Lord Mayor of Sydney Clover Moore, author Robyn Davidson and prominent Jewish Australian Barrister Irving Wallach.

Even before the discussion turned to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Pappé used a discussion about Tony Abbot’s alleged wall punching in the 1970s to tell a story about his own student days at the Hebrew University involving Israel’s now Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Pappé claims he was a victim of Lieberman and his “thugs”. I have no idea if this story is even true but I do note that Pappé actually graduated in the same year that Lieberman immigrated to Israel but the anecdote already gave us a little bit of insight into Pappé’s storytelling.

The first question about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was directed at Pappé and appeared to be a contrived Dorothy Dixer from a Palestinian woman alleging as fact the “ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the displacement of three quarters of the Palestinian population”. It provided Pappé with a perfect opportunity to discuss his life’s body of work in which he has repeatedly accused Israel of a planned ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population before the 1948 War of Independence. Pappé’s arguments have not only been refuted but totally debunked in some cases (I will expand more on that later). Nevertheless, Mr Pappé had his share of willing fans in the studio audience, as well as some viewers twittering away at home who were more than happy to lap up everything he was claiming as gospel truth.

On the night, Pappé exposed himself is an unreliable source. He claimed that “the debate in Israel is not factual. The debate in Israel is moral”. This is not acceptable because if you can only establish what you deem to be a “moral” case upon a narrative based on lies, then by definition you have reached your conclusion by immoral means. Any debate about any historical event must be based on factual information if it is to be underpinned by the slightest fibre of morality.

This is not the first time Pappé has been exposed in presenting and dishonestly revising history. In an interview conducted in 1999, Pappé stated that “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”. That is not history or academia Mr Pappé, that is commentary.

But he continues, “I admit that my ideology influences my historical writings… 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 do it because of ideological reasons, not because we are truthseekers” (see more). Unfortunately for Australians, Pappé is on a media tour successfully doing just that – convincing as many people as he can about his interpretation of the facts.

Interestingly, when panellist Irving Wallach tried to make a point about Palestinian leadership in 1947, referring to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin Al-Husseini cosying up to Hitler, Pappé attempted to brush it off as “Israeli propaganda”. He stated that “even if it’s presented by an articulate barrister doesn’t make it truth. These are sheer lies”. One could also argue that if something is presented by an articulate historian like Pappé, we now cannot believe it to be the truth. In any event, as Wallach and the programme’s host acknowledged, we know that the Grand Mufti did indeed sit at Hitler’s side during the Second World War and try as he might, Pappé knows that the Palestinian leadership never put out a hand of welcome the Jews during that time.

Pappé would know a lot about lies and fabrication. In 2006 he claimed that in a 1937 letter to his son, David Ben-Gurion stated that “The Arabs will have to go, but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen, such as war”. If this quote were to be true, it may have assisted his case. Unfortunately for Pappé this quote does not exist anywhere in any texts (see more). That the same quote has been shamefully repeated by others over the years, shows how it easy it is for Pappé’s “interpretations” to find their way into academic discourse. Others have issued corrections, Pappé never has.

In his piece entitled ‘The faux Zionist history of Ilan Pappé Dexter Van Zile notes that “the space between quotation marks is sacred ground and needs to be treated as such”. I guess when I called Pappé a “historian” I also did a disservice to the sacred space between the quotation marks.

Even Israeli historian Benny Morris, who for decades was classed as a “New Historian”, has discredited Pappé. In a review of Pappé’s book A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples, Morris states that “unfortunately, much of what Pappé tries to sell his readers is complete fabrication”.

Morris continues “For those enamoured with subjectivity and in thrall to historical relativism, a fact is not a fact and accuracy in unattainable. Why grope for the truth? Narrativity is all”. He then goes on to list on a number of facts that Pappé got wrong, facts that cannot be distorted by “narrative” (see more).

In a letter in 2008 addressing others that have mis-cited his work, Morris declared that “there was NO Zionist “plan” or blanket policy of evicting the Arab population, or of “ethnic cleansing”. Plan Dalet (Plan D), of March 10th, 1948 (it is open and available for all to read in the IDF Archive and in various publications), was the master plan of the Haganah – the Jewish military force that became the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) – to counted the expected pan-Arab assault on the emergent Jewish state. That’s what it explicitly states and that’s what it was. And the invasion of the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iran duly occurred, on May 15th” (see more).

As Morris declares later on in the letter, “the demonization of Israel is largely based on lies – much as the demonization of the Jews during the past 2,000 years has been based on lies”.

I can accept demonization from an Israeli, or from a fellow Jew – they are all entitled to their opinion. I cannot accept it from a historian.

In the course of the discussion, Greg Sheridan also raised an interesting point about Jewish refugees from Arab lands, which is an issue that is very rarely, if not at all, acknowledged. He stated “the only reason we get these extraordinary numbers for Palestinian refugees is because every descendant unto the ages of the Palestinians is classed as a refugee, unlike every other refugee case in history or in contemporary life… there were 800,000 Jews who were forced, in violent fashion, out of Arab lands at about the same time. Now, you could claim, therefore, that there are five million Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Nobody does that because there is no political interest in maintaining this fiction of refugees”.

Tony Jones tried to dismiss this offhand, but I am glad that Sheridan brought it up. Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council declared earlier this month that the “claim that Jews who migrated to Israel, which is supposed to be their homeland, are ‘refugees’ who were uprooted from their homelands… is a form of deception and delusion… If Israel is their homeland, then they are not ‘refugees’; they are emigrants who returned either voluntarily or due to a political decision” (see more).

David Harris, the Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee wrote a great rebuttal in the Huffington Post entitled ‘Hanan Ashrawi is to truth what smoking is to health’. The issue of Jewish refugees will be discussed tomorrow in the halls of the United Nations. While 172 UN resolutions have been dedicated to Palestinian refugees, not a single resolution exists about the Jews expelled from Arab countries. To read more, click here.

To go back to the issue of Pappé, panellist Irving Wallach put it best when he said, “Now if you want to go on and carry on in the fashion that Ilan does and throw about the clichés and the accusations then a couple of things follow. Firstly, you have to seriously consider surrendering your claim to be an objective historian. Secondly, what has to be done is you have to consider and accept that what you are wanting to do is to encourage ongoing conflict and battles and death and destruction between the Israeli people and the Palestinian people. If you want to go along the conflict road, then forget about peace. If you want to promote Israel as a so called pariah state for your own political and ideological agenda, go ahead. History will not thank you for it”.

I believe Wallach has hit the nail on the head. Every speaker who is brought out to Australia and trotted out in the media and on university campuses by the anti-Israel lobby and spreads the same vile message of deligitimisiation of Israel does absolutely nothing to bring about future understanding and cooperation between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Instead, they simply perpetuate the hatred and distrust.

Pappé likes to talk about narrative, and as a student of literature, I too like to talk about narratives. But until these narratives find some way to actually meet, the situation will remain in a constant state of limbo.

Emily Gian is the Israel Advocacy Analyst at the Zionist Council of Victoria and a PhD Candidate in Israeli Literature at the University of Melbourne