There is some new and very real ferment on the Palestine Question these days, in the heart of the United States’ chronically very strongly pro-Zionist “liberal” political-cultural establishment.
Witness, the the increasingly sharply expressed series of arguments between the two bloggers Andrew Sullivan and Jeffrey Goldberg, both of whom have their blogs published by the liberal-establishment magazine The Atlantic.*
Last Thursday, Sullivan published this hard-hitting post about what he described as the “kick in the balls” that Benjamin Netanyahu and his government delivered two days earlier to Vice-President Joe Biden, then on a key fence-mending visit to Israel.
Joe Biden was kicked in the balls as he came to Israel with a simultaneous “fuck you” by the Israeli government announcing new settlements – 1600 houses – in East Jerusalem.
He then explored the question of whether Netanyahu had or had not known about the construction decision before it was announced. He concluded:
I cannot read Netanyahu’s mind. But I can observe Israel’s actions. They intend to occupy and colonize the entire West Bank for ever. They may allow some parceled enclaves for Palestinians, but they will maintain a big military presence on the Eastern border of West Bank, and they will sustain this with raw military power and force. I certainly cannot see any other rationale for their actions these past few years that makes any sense at all. Many Israeli politicians now use the term “apartheid” for this future.
He also prefaced the post with the now rightly famous “postcard” set of maps showing the growth in Jewish control over the area of pre-1948 Mandate Palestine.
Sllivan’s fellow Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg immediately had conniptions, expressed in this blog post, Friday.
Goldberg, who has written proudly about his service in the IDF back in the 1970s, has increasingly been emerging as one of the most persistent of Israel’s attack-dogs/ defenders within the American political discourse.
Sullivan’s use of the postcard map series seemed to arouse Goldberg’s particular ire. He wrote:
Andrew is free to publish malicious nonsense, such as the series of map[s] he published yesterday, maps which purport to show how Jews stole Palestinian land. Andrew does not tell us the source of these maps (in a magazine with standards, the source would be identified), but they were drawn to cast Jews in the most terrible light possible.
The first map in the series of four is most egregious. It suggests that, in 1946, nearly all of the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean was “Palestinian.” Land designated as “Jewish” in this map constitutes maybe five percent of the total. This map is ridiculous, not only because the term “Palestinian” in 1946 referred, generally speaking, to the Jews who lived in Palestine, not the Arabs, but because there was no Palestine in 1946 (nor was there an Israel.) There was only the British Mandate… The intent of this propaganda map is to suggest that an Arab country called “Palestine” existed in 1946 and was driven from existence by Jewish imperialists. Not only was there no such country as “Palestine” in 1946, there has never been a country called Palestine. Before the British conquered Jerusalem, Palestine was a sub-province of the Ottoman Empire. (And after the British left, of course, Jordan and Egypt moved in to occupy Gaza and the West Bank.)
On the first point, re attribution of the map series, Sullivan pointed out in a post he blogged yesterday that he had indeed provided a source for it, at the bottom of the original post. (Sullivan also, evidently, took great pleasure in reproducing the map series in this second post, too, to make his point even more forcefully.)
But the series of allegedly historical arguments Goldberg adduced in his conniption-post are also a fascinating example of the hasbaristas’ malicious manipulations of the historical record.
First of all, his claim that “the term ‘Palestinian’ in 1946 referred, generally speaking, to the Jews who lived in Palestine, not the Arabs.” This is simply ill-informed and wrong. The Term ‘Palestinian’, as used by everyone involved as residents or administrators in the British Mandate for Palestine, referred to all those then resident in the area of the mandate, and subjects of the Mandatory government. As anyone who has ever done even a cursory reading of the history of the Mandate era, the Palestinian Arabs used the term just as much as the Palestinian Jews (and there were a lot more of them.)
Where on earth did Goldberg get the idea that the term ‘Palestinian’ “generally” referred to the Jews, not the Arabs? Maybe from his many readings of Israeli/Zionist history, in which, it is true, the Jewish residents of pre-1948 were often referred to as “Palestinian Jews” or– when referring to them in the all-Jewish context in which many of these histories were cast– simply as “the Palestinians.” Those histories often didn’t even really refer to the local “Palestinian Arabs” very much, at all.
We can note, too, for example, that in pre-1948 years, the Israeli newspaper now known as the “Jerusalem Post” was called the “Palestine Post”.
So what we have here from Goldberg are two remarkable feats of rhetorical legerdemain. He is trying to tell us that the area’s “Arabs” didn’t use the term ‘Palestinian’. And he is trying to tell us that the Jews of the area, a large proportion of whom were recent immigrants, had almost exclusive use of it.
The first of those rhetorical tricks is all of a piece with the whole bundle of quite unsubstantiable claims to the effect that there never was anything resembling a stable Arab population in the area of British Mandate Palestine, but that any Arabs who by chance turned up there in the early 20th century had come from elsewhere, attracted, indeed, by the many “economic opportunities” the Zionist immigration offered to them (the argument of the dreadful disinformer Joan Peters), and that there had never actually been a “Palestinian people”, at all (Golda Meir’s argument.)
And the second of those rhetorical tricks is– yet again!– an act of Zionist-colonial cultural appropriation of the boldest possible kind. Here we have the arch-Zionist Jeffrey Goldber telling us that even the name “Palestinian” that the Palestinians use to identify themselves and their own people should really (for the pre-1948 period, and perhaps also for today) be used exclusively for the country’s Jews!
But let’s move on to Goldberg’s claim that,
there was no Palestine in 1946 (nor was there an Israel.) There was only the British Mandate… ”
This, too, is arrant nonsense. There was a British Mandate for Palestine, just as there was a British Mandate for Iraq, a French Mandate for Syria, etc. “Palestine” was not a name made up from nowhere”, and the name of the Mandatory administration was quite specific. The coins, postage stamps, passports and ID cards issued by the Mandatory authority all quite clearly said “Palestine”.
Anyway, I’m sure you get my drift.
Fascinating that Goldberg got so riled up by the postcard map-series, eh?
But the big story here is not Goldberg and his mouth-frothing excesses. It is Sullivan, and the degree to which this important figure in the liberal-establishment elite is now willing to take Goldberg on head-on.
In his March 13 post (yesterday), Sullivan wrote:
I will respond merely to the criticism… First, the map was not discussed except as an historical illustrative context for the way in which the Netanyahu government is intent on aggressively expanding Israeli settlement even further in Jerusalem and the West Bank. This matters because as that famous anti-Semite [btw, irony alert there ~HC], Joe Biden, said yesterday
“This is starting to get dangerous for us. What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.”
… [T]here was a place called Palestine (among other things) under mostly Ottoman or British rule for a very long time before Israel came into existence. Wikipedia tells us that in 1850, for example, the population of the area comprised roughly 85% Muslims, 11% Christians and 4% Jews. In 1920, the League of Nations reported that
Four-fifths of the whole population are Moslems. A small proportion of these are Bedouin Arabs; the remainder, although they speak Arabic and are termed Arabs, are largely of mixed race. Some 77,000 of the population are Christians, in large majority belonging to the Orthodox Church, and speaking Arabic. The Jewish element of the population numbers 76,000.
By the end of the British mandate, and an influx of Jewish refugees and Zionists, the proportions were roughly 70 percent Muslims and 30 percent Jews. Jews were concentrated in urban areas along the coast but, as the first map shows, some were indeed in the West Bank, although as a tiny minority.
This isn’t propaganda; it’s fact.
The maps show what has happened since – in sixty years in terms of growing sovereignty and accelerating Israeli control…
This is great. To have these matters now being openly discussed within the heart of the US political-cultural establishment is new and important.
* Some people may claim that Andrew Sullivan is not a member of the U.S. liberal establishment. It is true that he is far from being a committed, knee-jerk liberal. He writes thoughtfully and thought-provokingly on a number of different subjects and is, I gather, a fairly devoted Catholic in his belief. He is also, fwiw, an out gay. But the fact that he was previously editor of The New Republic and is now a fixture at the Atlantic qualifies him, I believe, as a leading figure in the liberal establishment.