“Israel is a colonial, apartheid regime,” an “international crime,” said Lubnah Shomali, the advocacy manager for the Bethlehem-based Palestinian “refugee” organization BADIL during a May 10 Middle East Institute (MEI) webinar. Entitled “The Palestinian Nakba: What Happened in 1948 and Why It Still Matters,” this diatribe against Israel’s existence included Columbia University professor and former PLO spokesman Rashid Khalidi and Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.).
The very day of the panel, Hamas terrorists in Gaza began their latest attacks on Israel, demonstrating the real-world results of the panelists’ bigotry. Parallel to this hatred, panel sponsors were unsurprisingly uniformly hostile to Israel. They included the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Foundation for Middle East Peace, and the Institute for Palestine Studies.
Khalidi explained that the “Nakba is what Palestinians call basically the destruction of their society in 1948” during Israel’s independence war. Tlaib in her “fact-based truth” keynote address promoted the Palestinian myth of deliberate Israeli ethnic cleansing, as “over 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes and lands.” In reality, most of these Arabs fled a war zone in what became Israeli territory, often at the behest of Arab leaders, who wanted free-fire zones for a supposedly quick destruction of nascent Israel.
As moderator, Georgetown University adjunct professor and MEI senior fellow Khaled Elgindy began the panel alarmingly with a short film from the anti-Israel Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU). The film examined the April 9, 1948, attack by Israeli militias on the Arab village of Deir Yassin on strategic high ground on Jerusalem’s outskirts, a hamlet which “was completely depopulated in addition to a massacre that took place,” he claimed. The film would supposedly “help ground our conversation in the reality of what happened in 1948” But extensive historical research has debunked this Deir Yassin narrative, a staple of Palestinian propaganda.
The film’s shocking, Holocaust-inverting appropriation of photos also undermined Elgindy’s credibility. One image he displayed, common in pro-Palestinian circles, showed masses of corpses laid out on the ground. Yet the horror is not from Deir Yassin, but from the liberated Nazi Nordhausen concentration camp in April 1945.
Khalidi’s claims about Israel’s founding were equally fallacious. “Expulsion was always considered vital to the creation … of a Jewish-majority state in what was then an Arab-majority land. It was the logic of Zionism that produced the Nakba,” he intoned. Among other figures, Khalidi claimed that “60,000 people were driven out of Haifa.” Yet Israeli historians have documented in detail how Israeli authorities pleaded with these Arabs to remain in this port city before they obeyed Arab leaders in Syria to leave.
Shomali likewise claimed that “Israel has been diligently working since before the Nakba in 1948 to effectively cleanse Palestine of its indigenous Palestinian population.” Quite the opposite is true: pre-Israel Zionist economic development during British rule under a League of Nations mandate stimulated Arab immigration and population growth. Shomali also failed to explain how Israel could be responsible for actions before its independence from British rule.
Relying on Palestinian propaganda that descendants of those who left Israel in 1948 qualify as refugees after several generations, Shomali claimed that “Palestinian refugees today number 9.1 million.” This is the “largest and most protracted refugee population in the world” that, if granted a “right of return” to Israel, would demographically destroy this Jewish state. She claimed to find this right in UN General Assembly Resolution 194. Yet Arab states in 1948 voted against this resolution precisely because it merely listed return as an option.
MEI President Paul Salem also took historical revisionism to absurd lengths by attempting to blame Israel for ongoing property disputes in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. The Nakba “is really relevant today in a literal sense,” he asserted. In fact, Jewish owners of buildings seized by the Jordanian government during its 1948–67 occupation of East Jerusalem successfully sued in Israeli courts for eviction of rent-defaulting Arab tenants.
Sheikh Jarrah activist Mohammed El-Kurd said that “Israeli occupation authorities were able to replace artillery and weapons with a judicial system that is inherently supremacist” and “inherently colonial.” Such evictions amounted, he said, to a “legalized order of ethnic cleansing.” Delegitimizing Israel’s very existence, El-Kurd said the “occupation is 73 years old,” while both Hamas-ruled Gaza, from which Israel withdrew in 2005, and the Israeli city of Haifa are in “occupied Palestine.”
Sheik Jarrah’s Jewish landlords loomed large in Khalidi’s imagination as well. They were engaged in “egregious, egregiously illegal behavior” in the “occupied territory” of Jerusalem, Israel’s ancient capital, he said. “This is not a group of people claiming a residence, this is a forcible colonization, systematic,” he continued. “Israel has been colonizing, Judaizing, and settling occupied Arab East Jerusalem,” he asserted, again distorting the city’s history for political gain.
As has become common among Palestinian advocates, Tlaib relied on intersectional ideology to connect the demonization of Israel with the fight against racism in America. Evoking her home of Detroit, “where the civil rights movement was birthed,” she appealed “to end racism of all kinds and end the erasure of indigenous Palestinians from their historic homeland.” Evoking that most hackneyed of clichés about U.S.–Israel relations, she charged falsely that America “emboldens the apartheid policies” of Israel.
These anti-Israel screeds made dubious Khalidi’s call for new Palestinian leadership. Hamas and Palestinian Authority autocrats “who claim to be leaders and drive around in Mercedes and BMWs and Audis really should be disgracefully condemned for what they haven’t done, their failures, and should leave the scene,” he said. He left unexplained how recent Palestinian rioters on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, “young people in Jerusalem who are standing up to defend the Al Aqsa mosque,” would be an improvement.
In truth, the views of Khalidi and his co-panelists, including his academic colleague Elgindy, represent just one more dead end of Palestinian rejection of Israel, no matter how prestigious their pedigrees. Equally shocking and depressing, these establishment figures see the creation of a Jewish state as an ongoing crime against humanity, and therefore, like the terrorists who attacked Israel from Gaza, they will never grant Israel’s legitimacy. In turn, no negotiation or compromise with such falsehoods is possible in the wider realm of Middle East Studies; rather, such intellectual rot must be exposed and expunged.
Andrew E. Harrod is a Campus Watch Fellow, freelance researcher, and writer who holds a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a J.D. from George Washington University Law School. He is a fellow with the Lawfare Project. Follow him on Twitter at @AEHarrod.
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