Ron Radosh

How John Judis Continues to Distort the Truth about the Arab-Israeli Conflict: An Answer to His TNR Defense

Writing in The New Republic, John B. Judis offered an answer to his critics — me, Rick Richman in Commentary, and Jordan C. Hirsch in the Wall Street Journal. Richman has already responded in detail at Commentary, and I will not repeat what I consider to be his devastating critique of Judis.

Judis accuses all of us of writing “condemnatory reviews.” Actually, Judis avoided answering my review in the Jewish Review of Books; instead he linked to an op-ed I was asked to write by the editorial page editor of the Jerusalem Post, who said he wanted to acquaint Israeli readers with Judis’ book and to explain why it was important. Judis knows the difference between an op-ed and a review, and yet he chose to call my column a review, although my actual review was already online when he wrote his answer.

What Judis does in his answer and throughout his book is to take the approach of Israel’s anti-Israel historians, Israel’s equivalent to those historians who follow Howard Zinn in the United States. These so-called “new historians,” historian Efraim Karsh explains, are “politicized historians” who have “turned the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims and vice-versa.” Omitted, always, is the desire of the Arabs to push all the Jews out of Palestine, preferably into the sea, and to do all in their power to prevent the creation of a Jewish state.

1. What Happened in Hebron in 1929

Judis says that I falsely accuse him of writing an apologia for the Hebron massacre in 1929, when in reality he did not play down or justify the massacre. In his eyes, the Arabs were indigenous to the region, while the Jews were “settler-colonialists.” If this were the case, one would not be surprised that he would think the Jews brought Arab hostility on themselves: as he so crudely puts it in various places in his book, the Jews “screwed the Arabs” out of land that was rightfully theirs.

For example, Judis writes that from the 1890s on, “when Zionists first settled in Palestine with the express purpose of creating a Jewish state where Arabs had lived for centuries … the responsibility for the conflict lay primarily with the Zionists. They initiated it by migrating to Palestine with the purpose of establishing a Jewish state that would rule the native Arab population.” (My emphasis.)

Judis neglects to acknowledge that Palestine had been the homeland of the Jews for centuries prior to the 1890s, as Lee  S. Bender and Jerome R. Verlin write in The Algemeiner. The intention of the Zionists, as Vladimir Jabotinsky wrote, was definitely not to settle in Palestine in order to subjugate the Arab population.

It is not surprising that Judis downplays the significance of fierce Arab attacks against Jews. What he does write — and what he leaves out of his response — is his claim that the 1929 events were caused by Revisionist Zionists marching to the Arab section of Jerusalem yelling “the wall is ours!”, and carrying the Zionist flag. It was their march to the home of the anti-Semitic Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, according to Judis, that “set off demonstrations that degenerated into large scale riots.”

If he had read the works of other scholars instead of the Arabists he cites in his footnotes, he would find the true reasons.

Efraim Karsh points out in Palestine Betrayed, a book which Judis obviously has not read, that it was the mufti who “utilized the immense inflammatory potential of Islam … and its deep anti-Jewish sentiment” to inflame the population against the Jews. The mufti had distributed copies of  The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to the Arab population in the early 1920s, something Judis somehow fails to mention. He simply writes that Hebron was proof of Jabotinsky’s admonition that “the ends of Zionism justified the means.”

Judis might also have looked at the book by historian Stephen Norwood, Anti-Semitism and the American Far Left. Norwood writes that the 1929 events were “aroused by the virulently anti-Semitic harangues of the grand mufti of Jerusalem.”

Norwood’s accurate description, had Judis cited it, would make clear on whom the responsibility lay for the attacks on the Jews. Moreover, it would have revealed to readers just what the Arabs did. Norwood writes:

Arab mobs armed with swords and axes, knives, sledgehammers, iron bars, and stones, screaming “Allah is Great … Kill the Jews!” attacked Jews in Hebron, Jerusalem, Safed, Haifa, Jaffa and even Tel Aviv, as well as many Jewish agricultural settlements. They broke into Jewish homes and massacred men and women — including the elderly and children, some of them less than five years old. The Arabs’s savagery was unrestrained. The pogromists beheaded some of their victims with axes and chopped off hands. They gouged out the eyes of a Jewish pharmacist in Hebron while he was still alive and then murdered him.

That is a description that correctly shows what a massacre is — the very opposite of the way in which Judis downplays what took place in his treatment. As Norwood writes, “entire Jewish settlements and neighborhoods were permanently destroyed,” and ancient Hebron essentially extinguished. Was this, as Judis claims, really the fault of the Zionists?

2. Deir Yassin

Contrast what Judis writes about Hebron with what he says about the famous events in Deir Yassin on April 9, 1948. This, he describes as a “massacre” by Jewish terrorists, who “killed at least 110 of its inhabitants, including women and children. Women were raped. Houses were blown up with their residents in them. Women and children and old men were carted through West Jerusalem in a victory parade reminiscent of the Romans. Prisoners were executed on the spot.” The reason for this massacre, Judis writes, was to put fear into the Arabs so that they would flee the area in order to create a Jewish majority even without new immigration by Jews to Palestine. It was, he concludes, “a potent symbol of Jewish injustice toward Palestine’s Arabs.”

I do not have the time to go into the details of what led to Deir Yassin. But again, the context of the events that took place is missing in Judis’ account. Jews were fighting Arab armies for their very life, and the event occurred in the context of war — a context Judis does not provide his readers. He simply writes that it proved Jabotinsky’s admonition that “the ends of Zionism justified its means.”

Judis often cites the work of the historian Benny Morris, author of 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War. Morris discusses Deir Yassin, but his nuanced account is real history, not the politicized history Judis offers. He readily accepts that there were “atrocities,” as he calls them, committed by the Israeli troops fighting to take the village. But Morris puts it in the context not to be found in Judis’ account. He writes:

But the real significance of Deir Yassin lay, not in what had actually happened on 9 April, or in the diplomatic exchanges that followed, but in its political and demographic repercussions. In the weeks after the massacre the Arab media inside and outside Palestine continuously broadcast reports about the atrocities — usually with blood-curdling exaggerations — in order to rally Arab public opinion and governments against the Yishuv. Without doubt, they were successful. The broadcasts fanned outrage and reinforced the Arab governments’ resolve to invade Palestine five weeks later.

Morris continues to point out that the Arab charges of a massacre were an “atrocity campaign” meant to create fear, which led to the Arab population fleeing their own villages and towns. The broadcasts on Palestinian Arab radio were meant to encourage the population to remain steadfast; yet the effect was the opposite, sapping morale and precipitating panic.

Later, Menachem Begin said that “the legend [of Deir Yassin] was worth half a dozen battalions to the forces of Israel. Panic overwhelmed the Arabs.” It led to Arab flight everywhere, so that in other villages the Haganah faced little resistance.

Nor does Judis discuss the horrendous immediate aftermath.

Arab forces ambushed an armored convoy heading to the Hadassah hospital on Mount Scopus, wounding seventy-six people and killing thirty-four — most of them doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals. Using Sten and Bren guns and hand grenades, they hit the vehicles. The Jews’ cars and buses burst into flame, and the Arabs shot down the Jews who were trying to escape.

The attack on a marked medical convoy was a violation of the Geneva Convention, which says that such vehicles and personnel are to be immune to any military attacks.

The Arab attack on the medical convoy, which was a response to Deir Yassin, is omitted entirely from Judis’ account.

In other parts of his book, he writes about Judah Magnes, the president of Hebrew University and an ardent defender of creating a bi-national Arab-Jewish state instead of a Jewish one. Magnes is one of Judis’ heroes, whom he wishes had been successful in his quest. Magnes was so opposed to the demands of the Yishuv for a new Jewish state that he even supported the British in their opposition to it. He also believed that it was wrong for the Haganah, fighting for the survival of the Jews, to attack Arab villages.

The result of the Arab attack on the convoy and the “killing of the convoy’s passengers,” Benny Morris writes, “many of them Hebrew University employees, coupled with the government’s protracted inaction, thoroughly discredited Magnes. … Four days later he left Palestine for the United States, ostensibly in search of funds for his beloved university. He never returned and died there a few months later.”

Why does Judis not let his readers learn about how the Jews of the Yishuv felt about Magnes’ arguments? His readers do not learn of this major incident in the war that forced Magnes to resign as president of Hebrew University, nor that he was discredited entirely in the Yishuv.

3. Conclusion

Finally, Judis might have looked at Morris’ famous letter to the Irish Times of February 21, 2008, in which he writes — contrary to Judis — that “the Palestinian Arabs’ responsibility for the events of 1948 … was very direct and simple. … They launched hostilities against the Jewish community in Palestine in the hope of aborting the emergence of the Jewish state and perhaps destroying their community.” They lost, he notes, “and one of the results was the displacement of 700,000 of them from their homes.” Their displacement was “not a ‘racist crime,’” Morris explains, “but the result of a national conflict and a war, with religious overtones … launched by the Arabs themselves.” There was “no Zionist ‘plan’ or blanket policy of evicting the Arab population.”

Settler-colonialism, indeed.

Morris concludes by writing that “the demonization of Israel is largely based on lies — much as the demonization of the Jews during the past 2000 years has been based in lies.”

Judis should learn from history, and as Morris said in reference to other anti-Israel propagandists, he should “read some history books and become acquainted with the facts, not recycle shopworn Arab propaganda.”

Judis concludes his TNR rebuttal by writing that Israel is a result of “settler colonialism and conquest,” and that Israel’s early history shows that “Palestinian Arabs have a legitimate grievance against Israelis that has never been satisfactorily addressed.” He seems unconcerned with the inability of their spokesmen to ever acknowledge the legitimacy of Israel, and of their demanding a “right or return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees, which would mean the end of Israel. Any call for a two-state solution, which Judis claims to favor, will never occur without the Palestinians giving up that demand. Judis, of course, fails to address that at all.

John Judis’ book will serve the purpose of encouraging all of Israel’s enemies. They are indeed flocking to Judis’ defense, such as the extremists who write for the vicious anti-Semitic and anti-Israel site Mondoweiss.

Is this really what John Judis wants? The only answer, sadly, is yes.