On Gilad Atzmon’s Critique of Ilan Pappe

On BBC’s news program Hardtalk, historian Dr Ilan Pappe answers questions from interviewer Stephen Sackur which begins with Mr Sackur describing Ilan Pappe as maintaining that the Jewish state is racist, born of a deliberate program of ethnic cleansing.

This very interesting discussion, which takes the form of an adversarial debate.

In response, Mr Gilad Atzmon, author of the book, The Wandering Who, has the following to say:

the history professor is afraid to utter the ‘J word’ [implying cowardice], he fails to analyze Zionism and Israeli’s action within the appropriate ideological, historical and cultural context and he refuses to question the true meaning of the Jewish state.” … “Instead of identifying the Zionist crime within the context of Jewish history and culture, Pappe attempts [italics mine] to isolate the Zionist crime by disconnecting it from Jewish history and continuum.” … In practice, Pappe actually attempts to conceal [implying willful concealment; italics mine] that which is most shameful – the Jewishness of the Jewish State.

He finds it impossible to admit that the making of the Jews-only state was determined by the same Jewish exclusiveness, ghetto-mentality, ethno-centrism and racial orientation that is symptomatic of all Jewish collectives whether Zionist or ‘anti’. …

This is as irresponsible as it is false as well as unseemly for accusing Pappe of ‘attempting to conceal… ’, i.e. willful deception.

This interview with Dr Pappe was conducted within a 30 min time frame in which the topic of discussion was determined by the questioner. Two topics were addressed: 1) was there premeditated ethnic cleansing in 1948 as opposed to a wartime situation in which the expulsion of the Palestinian population was incidental, as Benny Morris claims, and 2) was the evacuation of the Palestinians justified or moral, as Benny Morris again claims.

The adversarial nature of the discussion was essentially a debate between Pappe and Morris, with Mr Sackur playing the role of Benny Morris.

That was the issue under discussion during this interview, not the history of Jews. The history of Jews, and its relation to the Zionist movement and the state of Israel is a worthy topic and one taken up in Atzmon’s book The Wandering Who, but it was not the topic under discussion, and is a totally different line of inquiry. That topic is perhaps Mr Atzmon’s specialty, but it is not Ilan Pappe’s.

Mr Atzmon is faulting Dr Pappe for not substituting his own interests for his Dr Pappe’s.

Whatever the history of the Jews and the relation of Jewish culture to the Zionist movement and whether anything in Atzmon’s book is true or false, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 by European Jews is a cold hard fact as revealed primarily by the opening of Israeli military achieves from 1948 and carefully explored and revealed by Dr Pappe as well as Morris, Flapan, Masalha, and a few others.

Dr Pappe’s book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine ((Review.)) published in 2006, is the based on that primary research, and remains the most recent and most important explication of the events in Palestine of 1948.

This is not to say that such a line of inquiry as Mr Atzmon suggest is without worth, indeed it is quite worthy, but it is not Pappe’s focus as a researcher, nor was it directly relevant to the two issues up for discussion in the debate.

Mr Atzmon has claimed, in separate correspondence to me, that he is a philosopher and that his critique bares some (obscure) relation to the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. There is no discernible trace of Heidegger at all in the critique.

Mr Atzmon, a self-described philosopher, would be better off if he gave some study to the American tradition of philosophy and studied Peirce, Dewey, Woodbridge, Quine, and Ernest Nagel and those who believe that trustworthy belief can best be based on a methodology emulating the process of scientific discovery and disciplined by an awareness of the demands of logic.

William James Martin writes frequently on the Middle East. He can be reached at wjm20@caa.columbia.edu. Read other articles by William.