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Norman G. FinkelsteinBROOKLYN, NY
What Happens When Benny Morris Discovers Jihadis Under Zionism’s Mattress

When Benny Morris was still an historian (the “old” Morris), he documented how the Zionist objective of creating a Jewish state in Palestine by ethnically cleansing it engendered Palestinian resistance. But after he metamorphosed into a State propagandist (the “new” Morris), Morris reversed cause and effect: he purported that Palestinian jihad-ism engendered Zionist intolerance. Coming to the modern period, he alleges that “since the fin-de-siècle, Palestine Arabs had been murdering Jews on a regular basis for ethnic or quasi nationalist reasons. . . . Arab mobs had assaulted Jewish settlements and neighborhoods in a succession of ever-larger pogroms.”[1] But the old Morris found that it was the very real prospect of Zionist transfer that “automatically produced resistance among the Arabs.” Morris appears also to have forgotten what he earlier wrote about Zionist resort to self-serving epithets: “anti-Zionist outbreaks were designated ‘pogroms,’ a term that belittled the phenomenon, demonized the Arabs, and, in a peculiar way, comforted the Jews—it obviated the need to admit that what they faced was a rival national movement, rather than Arabic-speaking Cossacks and street ruffians.”[2] Is this perhaps why Morris now designates Arab resistance “pogroms”?

The new Morris laments that “historians have tended to ignore or dismiss, as so much hot air, the jihadi rhetoric” of the Arabs, and he counters that “the evidence is abundant and clear” that the struggle against Zionism was conceived by Arabs “essentially as a holy war.”[3] But the old Morris—i.e., when he was still a historian—himself barely mentioned the “jihadi” factor and it was Morris himself who declared that the “chief motor” of Arab opposition to Zionism was not “jihad” but, on the contrary, the “fear of territorial displacement and dispossession.” To prove that Palestinian resistance was driven by a jihadi “impulse,”[4] the new Morris—i.e., the State propagandist—cites these statements: a “penitent land seller” swore, “I call on Allah, may He be exalted, to bear witness and swear . . . that I will be a loyal soldier in the service of the homeland”; the mufti of Egypt declared that the Jews intended “to take over . . . all the lands of Islam”; the ulema of Al-Azhar denoted it a “sacred religious duty” for “the Arab Kings, Presidents of Arab Republics, . . . and leaders of public opinion to liberate Palestine from the Zionist bands . . . and to return the inhabitants driven from their homes.”[5] It would not, however, be the first or last time that God and religion were invoked in a patriotic struggle: Stalin rehabilitated the Greek Orthodox Church in the battle against Nazism, Gandhi utilized the Hindu religion at every turn in resistance to British occupation, Bush conscripted a Christian god for homeland security and the War on Terror.In fact, although the old Morris noted that “the Arab radicalization often took on a religious aspect,” and that “increasingly the points of friction with the Zionists were, or became identified with, religious symbols and values,”[6] he nonetheless recognized that the “chief motor” of Arab resistance was fear of displacement and dispossession. The new Morris reports that “even Christian Arabs appear to have adopted the jihadi discourse”of “holy war.”[7] But doesn’t this suggest that opposition to Zionism, although utilizing the “jihadi discourse” of “holy war,” was not “anchored in centuries of Islamic Judeophobia”?

Morris purports that, in light of their “expulsionist and, in great measure, anti-Semitic” mindset, “it is unsurprising that the Arab mobs that periodically ran amok in Palestine’s streets during the Mandate . . . screamed ‘idhbah al yahud’ (slaughter the Jews).”[8] Yet, as Yehoshua Porath observed in his magisterial study of Palestinian nationalism, although Arabs initially differentiated between Jews and Zionists, it was“inevitable” that opposition to Zionism would turn into a loathing of all Jews: “As immigration increased, so did the Jewish community’s identification with the Zionist movement. . . . The non-Zionist and anti-Zionist factors became an insignificant minority, and a large measure of sophistication was required to make the older distinction. It was unreasonable to hope that the wider Arab population, and the riotous mob which was part of it, would maintain this distinction.”[9] If the Arabs shouted “idhbah al yahud,” it was because nearly every Jew they encountered was a Zionist, who, according to the old Morris, was bent on expelling them.


[1] Benny Morris, One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict, p. 19.

[2] Benny Morris, Righteous Victims: A history of the Zionist-Arab conflict, 1881-1999 (New York: 1999), p. 136.

[3] Morris, 1948: The first Arab-Israeli war (New York: 2008), pp. 394-95.

[4] Ibid., p. 395.

[5] Morris, One State, pp. 53-54; Morris, 1948, pp. 395-96.

[6] Morris, Righteous Victims, p. 123.

[7] Morris, 1948, p. 395

[8] Morris, One State, p. 106.

[9]Yehoshua Porath, The Palestinian National Movement: From riots to rebellion (London: 1970), pp. 91-92, 165-66, 297.

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