Archive/File: people/c/cohn.werner/partners-in-hate/hidden-alliances.07 Last-Modified: 1996/12/05 [Archived with author's consent] [Partners in Hate: Page 106] The Documentary Basis of Anti-Zionism Chomsky's most ambitious book about the Jews and Israel, published in 1983, is entitled The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians. It purports to review the history and current status of the Arab-Israel dispute as well as the role of the United States in it. Like other political writings of Chomsky's, this one has been widely praised by his supporters for its wealth of "facts" and documentation. As we have seen, too, the book is featured as a prized item on the book lists of organized anti-Semitism. The violence between Arabs and Jews -- who did what to whom and when -- is naturally a field of much contention among those who write about the two peoples. Two events in the modern history of Arab-Jewish relations have most particularly demanded the attention of both scholarly and propagandistic writers: the riots of 1929 in Hebron and elsewhere, and the War of Independence in 1948. Enough about these is known to serve as touchstones for those who would write rationally about Arabs and Jews. I propose to examine Chomsky's treatment of these two events, not only to study his point of view but also to see whether his methods conform to a modicum of scholarly objectivity. The 1929 Violence Chomsky devotes two paragraphs, one of main text and one long footnote, to the 1929 events. The text, on page 90, reads as follows: The [Arabs] never accepted the legitimacy of [Balfour's] point of view, and resisted in a variety of ways. They repeatedly resorted to terrorist violence against Jews. The most extreme case was in late August 1929, when 133 Jews were massacred. The "most ghastly incident" was in Hebron, where 60 Jews were killed, most of them from an old Jewish community, largely anti- Zionist; the Arab police "stood passively by while their fellow Moslems moved into the town and proceeded to deeds which would have been revolting among animals," and a still greater slaughter was prevented only by the bravery of one member of the vastly undermanned British police. (4) Many were saved by Muslim neighbors.* I have shown the footnote references -- one marked (4), the other with an asterisk -- as they appear in Chomsky's original. Footnote (4) is found on page 169, and says "Ibid., pp. 109-10, 123," a reference to Crossroads to Israel by Christopher Sykes. The footnote marked by an asterisk is found on the bottom of pages 90 and 91 and reads: * The massacre followed a demonstration organized at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem to counter "Arab arrogance" -- "a major provocation even in the eyes of Jewish public opinion" (Flapan, Zionism and the Palestinians, p. 96). See Sheean, in Khalidi, From Haven to Conquest, for a detailed eyewitness account. This provocation was organized by Betar, the youth movement of Vladimir Jabotinsky's Revisionist organization, which is the precursor of Begin's Herut, the central element in the Likud coalition. The very name, "Betar," reflects the cynicism of this fascist- style movement, which, in Flapan's words, described Hitler "as the saviour of Germany, Mussolini as the political genius of the century," and often acted accordingly. The name is an acronym for "Brith Yosef Trumpeldor" ("The Covenant of Joseph Trumpeldor"). Trumpeldor was killed defending the northern settlement of Tel Hai from Bedouin attackers; Jabotinsky "opposed the Labour call for mobilization to help the threatened settlements" (Flapan, p. 104). Chomsky here acknowledges that a slaughter of the Jews of Hebron had taken place and he borrows words from Sykes to show that this had been "ghastly." He writes the word "ghastly" and his reproduction of the word -- though borrowed from Sykes and in quotation marks -- may well be used later by him and his friends as proof of his sensitivity to Jewish suffering. As we have seen, Chomsky is fond of such self-exculpating formulas. But Chomsky is also quick to give us two separate sets of justification for the Arab assassins at Hebron. The first comes at the very beginning of the main paragraph: the killings were part of the "resistance" of Arabs against the Balfour plan for a Jewish national home.<73> The second is more elaborate and takes up the whole of the asterisked footnote: it seems that the killings were "provoked" by a "fascist-style" Jewish youth organization, Betar. How does Chomsky document his charge of "provocation?" He cites three references in this footnote: a) Simha Flapan concerning the import of BetarOs demonstration in Jerusalem; b) Vincent Sheean, the "eye witness" to the same demonstration; and finally c) Flapan again, this time concerning the nature of Betar. a) Betar's demonstration in Jerusalem: Flapan vs. the historians Simha Flapan, recently deceased, was a left-wing Israeli editor and polemical writer and indeed says that Betar's 1929 demonstration "... led to the bloody riots and disturbances." But Flapan mentions the incident only in passing, gives no evidence for his assertion, and is in any case no historical expert. Like Marlen, Chomsky here quotes the unsupported opinion of an unqualified writer as if such citation constituted evidence. It so happens that there is now a scholarly literature concerning the 1929 events and that all such scholarly writing takes as one of its starting points the Report of the Shaw Commission of Inquiry that was appointed by the British government. Chomsky does not mention this Report although it is probably the most detailed description of the facts as they could be ascertained then or now. One reliable guide to the various claims is contained in Y. Porath, The Emergence of the Palestinian-Arab National Movement, 1918-1929. Chomsky professes to respect this work and quotes it as an authority elsewhere in his book (p. 169). Porath takes pains to give an account of provocative actions by both Jews and Arabs in the period preceding the 1929 events. Concerning the demonstrations by Betar, Porath's judgment is as follows: While it is true that the demonstration by Betar ... at the Wailing Wall on Tishea Be-Av (15th August 1929) prompted the Muslim demonstration there the next day ... the bloody [Hebron] outbreaks occurred a week later and not necessarily in response to the Jewish demonstration. (p. 269) Porath is known for his sympathies for the Arab national movement, and Chomsky quotes him with approval concerning the Lebanon war on pp. 200, 260, and 334 of his book. But when Porath writes in his most professional capacity, i.e. as a historian of the Arab-Jewish entanglement, Chomsky chooses to ignore him. Chomsky's failure to refer to Christopher Sykes is equally reprehensible. Chomsky quotes from Sykes in his main paragraph as an authority on the Hebron riots but he suppresses what Sykes has to say in connection with the alleged "provocation" by Betar. Actually Sykes gives a general account of the background in a way similar to Porath. A Jewish boy had been killed in Jerusalem in the days leading to the serious riots. Both Jews and Arabs had been embroiled in provocative acts. Referring to the days immediately before Betar's demonstration, Sykes writes that "the atmosphere in Jerusalem was daily growing more tense and the goading policy of the Supreme Moslem Council over the Wailing Wall had the desired effect of driving Jews to exasperation." (p. 136). In fact all historians agree that Arabs and Jews had been involved in reciprocal provocation, but Chomsky, ignoring all this testimony in favor of the obiter dictum of a journalist, sees fault only with the Jews. b) Vincent Sheean, eye witness Betar's demonstration of course had hundreds of "eye witnesses." One of these, the American journalist Vincent Sheean, has claimed that his presence at the Jerusalem demonstration qualifies him to pass judgment on what happened a week later in Hebron, where he was not. Sheean tells us that previous to the 1929 events he had been very much pro-Zionist but that the Jewish demonstrations in August of that year, which he blames for all the subsequent bloodshed, turned him into a convinced anti-Zionist ever after. The Shaw Commission (see its Report, p. 52) examined more than twenty eye witnesses concerning the Jerusalem events, of whom Sheean, according to his own writings, was one. Sheean also tells us that his testimony was directly contradicted by others at the Commission hearings, and this is not surprising since eye witness reports are notoriously unreliable. Nevertheless Professor Chomsky cites Sheean and only Sheean as an eye witness, and the question arises why this would be so. First, a word about how Chomsky discovered Sheean. Sheean included his reminiscences of the 1929 events, "Holy Land," in his collected essays Personal History (1935).59 The book was published by standard American and British publishers and is widely available in research libraries. But Chomsky's reference is not to this book. He cites a greatly abbreviated reprint of the Sheean essay in an anthology entitled From Haven to Conquest, edited by Professor Walid Khalidi and published by the Institute for Palestine Studies, Beirut, in 1971. Unlike Chomsky, Professor Khalidi does not profess neutrality between Jew and Arab. He dedicates his volume "To all Palestine Arabs under Israeli occupation" and explains how he selected the various snippets for his book: "Any anthology is selective by definition. The items in this anthology have been selected to illustrate the central theme in the Palestine tragedy, which is the process by which Zionism has sought to wrest control of Palestine and its surroundings from the Arabs." (p. xxiv). Naturally, materials that do not "illustrate the central theme" are not in the Khalidi book. Chomsky relies heavily on this volume in his own book, citing it over and over again. One of the ways of evaluating eye witness testimony is to consider whether the witness is credible. Sheean wants to be believed, obviously, not only for what he has seen with his own eyes but also for his insight and perspicacity in relating what he has seen (Jerusalem) to what he has not seen (Hebron). And the unabridged version of SheeanOs reminiscences gives us valuable clues indeed about SheeanOs credibility. On pages 409 to 411, Sheean reports "the pogrom heritage" of Jewish people that he observed in Palestine and elsewhere, the unbelievably irrational fear that harm might come to them simply because they were Jews. "It was a state of mind I had never seen before, and it required a powerful effort of the imagination to understand it." (p. 409). But understand it he could not, and what he judged to be Jewish irrational fears, both in Palestine and in general, are cited as reasons for his remarkable sudden conversion from pro-Zionism to anti-Zionism. He published these observations in 1935, before the Holocaust but already after Hitler's seizure of power in Germany, and of course he was not alone then in his failure to appreciate the exceptional realism of the Zionists of 1929. But alone or not, Sheean's state of mind at the time does not exactly add to his qualification as an informed observer. Perhaps for this reason, these passages are not reproduced in Khalidi's version of the essay. Sheean's unexpurgated essay also shows great admiration for Al-Hajj Amin al-Husayni, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem: "But the Grand Mufti kept his head; the better I knew him the more I realized that he was a man of remarkable character, extraordinary inner calm and certainty. He never got excited, he was always open to reason, and he never rejected an argument or a suggestion without examining it carefully." When Sheean published these lines in 1935 he may not have known that two years earlier, immediately after the Nazi seizure of power, the Mufti had conveyed his admiration and support to the Hitler government, praising in particular the Nazi policy of anti-Semitism. <75> But Sheean should have known, as all informed observers have testified, that the Mufti played an important part in inflaming Arab violence against Jews throughout the 1920s. Since the Second World War the Mufti has become an embarrassment for partisans of the Arab side. The original Sheean publication must have been among the very last in which a reputable Western writer expressed admiration for him. In Khalidi's version of Sheean, the one cited by Chomsky, all praise of the Mufti is suppressed, as well it might. But without these passages the reader of Sheean is deprived of one of the most important clues to Sheean's lack of credibility. In brief, Chomsky ignores the scholarly literature on the 1929 riots. Had he reported the contents of this literature to his readers, his pro-Arab and anti-Jewish charges could not have been sustained. He cites the eye witness testimony of only one witness when many were available, and the witness whom he uses has been pre-selected for him by an anthology of pro-Arab writings. Finally, he suppresses all information that would enable the reader to test the credibility of his witness. Is this the scholarship that is taught at MIT? c) the "fascist" Betar Chomsky charges that Betar, the youth organization of the Zionist Revisionist movement, was not only "fascist-style" but actually praised Hitler, presumably as part of its general political stance in 1929. (Of course in 1929 Hitler had not yet come to power and was barely known outside of Germany, but let that pass). Chomsky again cites the left- wing Israeli writer Simha Flapan who had little to say about the Hebron incident but who does devote a whole chapter to Zionist Revisionism. Chomsky, whose full passage I have quoted above, speaks of Betar as "...this fascist-style movement, which, in Flapan's words, describes Hitler "as the saviour of Germany, Mussolini as the political genius of the century" .... " Chomsky tends toward forgetfulness in such matters and does not tell us just where he found this in Flapan. The fact is that Flapan wrote something just a little bit different: The violent anti-labour campaign, accompanied as it was by venomous propaganda, brawls and physical violence on both sides, created in the 1930s a tension resembling a state of civil war [between Labour Zionists and Zionist Revisionists]. The attempt to challenge the labour hegemony failed and boomeranged against the Revisionists themselves. They earned for themselves a reputation as fascists due to the viciousness of the anti-socialist propaganda, their unbridled hatred of kibbutzim, their "character assassinations", the unconcealed sympathy of some members towards the authoritarian regimes (Hitler, for example, was described as the saviour of Germany, Mussolini as the political genius of the century). -- Flapan, pp. 111-2. Chomsky has Flapan claim that Betar as such embraced Hitler and Mussolini, but Flapan just says that "some members" had such sympathies. The "some members," which here makes all the difference and completely changes the meaning, is suppressed by Chomsky. Is this how scholarship is taught at MIT? But this outrageous misquotation aside, Flapan does maintain that there was some sympathy for Hitler in Betar. How does Flapan know this? To what extent can we trust Flapan as an expert on Betar and the Zionist Revisionist movement? Like Chomsky, Flapan is often cited by Arab and other "anti-Zionist" propagandists. Like Chomsky, Flapan's articles have appeared in journals hostile to Israel. But Flappan's work has a certain inner integrity, and he likes to tell us how he has come to know what he says he knows. So he appends a little note at the end of his chapter on the Revisionists: Shortage of time did not allow me to look for and peruse primary sources. Rather, I had to rely mainly on personal recollections of events I have lived through and experienced as a member of the Zionist-Socialist Movement, Hashomer Hatzair ... I have checked these recollections against the official literature of the Revisionist Party. Those with recollections of the Zionist youth movement some forty years ago will remember, as Flapan does, that members of Hashomer Hatzair would indeed refer to Betar as "fascist," and that Betar knew how to return such compliments with epithets of its own. What Flapan remembers about such youthful name-calling tells at least as much about Hashomer Hatzair as it does about Betar. Flapan does not cite any direct source, Revisionist or otherwise, for his assertion that even as many as "some" Betar members admired Hitler. And if he had seen any praise of Hitler in the "official literature of the Revisionist Party" we can be sure that he would have cited it. He doesn't. Flapan is loose about his charge but still stays within the polemical style of 1930s youthful Zionism. Chomsky goes a few steps further. He drops the crucial modifier "some;" he projects back into the 1920's what Flapan describes about the 1930's; he disregards the tenuous and hearsay nature of this evidence. These steps, certainly beyond anything that Marlen would have tried, now give Chomsky his proof that the Jewish demonstrators in 1929 in Jerusalem were really like Nazis.
Site Map ·
What's New? ·
© The Nizkor Project, 1991-2012
Home · Site Map · What's New? · Search Nizkor