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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.