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Norman G. FinkelsteinBROOKLYN, NY

When Benny Morris was still a historian (the “old” Morris), he anchored the resistance of Palestine’s indigenous population in its rational fear that Zionist settlers intended to “transfer”—i.e., ethnically cleanse—it (see Part 2). The “new” Morris, however, has a very different story to tell. He drastically reduces the salience of transfer in Zionism; locates the genesis of the conflict in “Islamic Judeophobia”; and reckons transfer as a Zionist reaction to this Islamic Judeophobia and the “expulsionist” tendency inherent in it. Cause and effect have magically been reversed: expulsionist Judeophobia—which is inevitable and inbuilt into Islam—is the cause, Zionist transfer—which automatically springs from Islamic Judeophobia—the effect. The onus for engendering the conflict is now placed by Morris squarely on the shoulders of the Arabs, while Zionists are depicted as the innocent victims of a lethal Muslim intolerance towards Jews.

According to this new Morris, transfer initially figured as but a “minor and secondary element” in Zionism; “it had not been part of the original Zionist ideology”; key Zionist leaders only “occasionally” supported transfer “between 1881 and the mid-1940s”; and “its thrust was never adopted by the Zionist movement . . . as ideology or policy” until the late 1940s.[1] Whereas the old Morris asserted that “the logic of a transfer solution to the ‘Arab problem’ remained ineluctable” for the Zionist movement, and “without some sort of massive displacement of Arabs from the area of the Jewish state-to-be, there could be no viable ‘Jewish’ state,”[2] the new Morris alleges that “the Zionist leaders generally said, and believed, that a Jewish majority would be achieved in Palestine, or in whatever part of it became a Jewish state, by means of massive Jewish immigration, and that this immigration would also materially benefit the Arab population.”[3]

If Zionists eventually came to embrace transfer, according to the new Morris, it was only in reaction to “expulsionist or terroristic violence by the Arabs,”[4] “expulsionist Arab thinking and murderous Arab behavior,”[5] which were “indirectly contributing to the murder of their [the Zionists’] European kinfolk by helping to deny them a safe haven in Palestine and by threatening the lives of the Jews who already lived in the country.”[6] Transfer has inexplicably metamorphosed from an “inevitable and inbuilt” component of Zionism—which is what Morris had written when he was still a historian—into a response “triggered”[7] by expulsionist Arab threats and assaults, not to mention Arab complicity in the Nazi holocaust. Indeed, in the narrative frame crafted by the new Morris, the indigenous population of a country has metamorphosed into expulsionists. Many cruel and unforgivable things have been said by American historians about our native population, but it took a peculiarly fecund Israeli mind to pin the label “starkly expulsionist”[8] on an indigenous population resisting expulsion. To document this “expulsionist mindset,”[9] Morris cites the testimony of a Palestinian delegation before a foreign commission of inquiry: “We will push the Zionists into the sea—or they will send us back into the desert.”[10] Insofar as the Zionists were intent on “transferring the Arabs out,” it is unclear how this statement manifests malevolence. Doesn’t an indigenous population have the right to resist expulsion?

The new Morris alleges that “Arab expressions in the early years of the twentieth century of fear of eventual displacement and expulsion by the Zionists were largely propagandistic.”[11] He seems to have forgotten that he himself pointed up this fear as the “chief motor of Arab antagonism to Zionism” and that he rationally grounded this fear in Zionist transfer policy. Morris now purports that the Arabs’ resistance to Zionism sprang from their thralldom to the notion of “sacred Islamic soil”; was “anchored in centuries of Islamic Judeophobia”; and reached into “every fiber of their Islamic, exclusivist being.”[12] After Israel’s establishment, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion conceded, “If I was [sic] an Arab leader, I would never make [peace?] terms with Israel. That is natural: We have taken their country.” The new Morris alleges, however, that, because of his ignorance of the Arab world, Ben-Gurion failed to grasp that this rejection of Israel was not “natural” but rather rooted in Islamic “abhorrence” of Jews.[13] Insofar as Morris is not known for his expertise on Islam, and insofar as he used to be known for not speculating a hair’s breadth beyond what his sources showed, it might be expected that he would copiously substantiate such gross generalizations. But Morris’s elucidation of 14 centuries of an allegedly hate-filled “Muslim Arab mindset” and “Muslim Arab mentality” consists of all of one half paragraph of boilerplate.[14]


[1] Benny Morris, 1948: The first Arab-Israeli war (New York: 2008), p. 407; Benny Morris, “Fallible Memory,” New Republic (3 February 2011).

[2] Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (Cambridge: 2004), p. 43.

[3] Benny Morris, “And Now for Some Facts,” New Republic (28 April 2006).

[4] Morris, 1948, p. 407.

[5] Morris, “Fallible Memory.”

[6] Benny Morris, One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine conflict (New Haven: 2009),p. 68.

[7] Ibid., p. 67.

[8] Ibid., p. 105.

[9] Morris, 1948, p. 409.

[10] Ibid., p. 408.

[11] Morris, One State, p. 179.

[12] Morris, 1948, pp. 393, 394; Morris, One State, p. 90. In one place he does grant albeit grudgingly that Arab opposition to Zionist settlers resulted not only from the “threat to the ‘Arab-ness’ of their country” but “perhaps, down the road, to their very presence in the land” (ibid., p. 37).

[13] Morris, 1948, p. 393.

[14] Morris, One State, pp. 188-89.

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