By Barry Rubin
It's ironic how the West has adopted the narrative of the very people who caused so much disaster in the Middle East. There are two reasons: The ignorance of the Western "experts" and the domination of the radical interpretations that made the mess in the first place.
Here's a example. In a paper just published by Harvard, somebody named Neil Lewis (where do they find these people to write about Middle East issues who know nothing about them?) argues that the idea the New York Times is biased against Israel is a myth. Not just a partially right or exaggerated claim. Oh, no, it's completely ridiculous! If anything, he writes, the New York Times--as a radical-controlled British university think tank did a while ago regarding the consistently anti-Israel BBC--is really too biased in favor of Israel! No doubt Mr. Lewis is destined for a fine, well-financed career. Look for his future articles featured in...the New York Times. Ah, brave new world that has such people in it!
Having written scores of specific articles documenting this bias in great detail, I know the Harvard is is one more triumph of ideology over serious scholarship. Some have pointed to the things that Lewis's paper ignored and twisted but my attention was drawn to a wonderful example of special pleading and historical ignorance so common when it comes to bashing Israel and apologizing for Palestinian intransigence. And there's a big surprise and irony here that I'll explain in a moment.
"The anniversary of the founding of Israel is an occasion for official joy in the country. But for many Arabs, it is instead commemorated as the `nakba'’ or catastrophe, the time when half the region’s Arab population—estimated at between 700,000 and 800,000—had fled or were driven out. Exactly what happened remains a heated debate."
"'Part of the appeal of the term `nakba’ for Arabs is certainly the hope that it may provide some rhetorical and moral counterweight to the emotive terms `Holocaust' and `Shoah' (Hebrew for “catastrophe.’’). It has been in use among Arabs since 1949, according to one expert."
"The word does not, however, make its first appearance in The Times until 1998 in an article that was part of a series examining Israel on its 50th anniversary. `Nakba’ which has become a familiar term on university campuses because of the considerable support in such places for the Palestinian cause, subsequently appears in The Times’s news pages only a few dozen more times."
Lewis's footnote about that expert reads: "The term `nakba’ was used beginning in 1949 by Arabs after it was part of the title of a book by Constantine Zurayk, a professor at the American University of Beirut, said Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University."
Thus, Lewis implies that because it didn't use the word "nakba" until 1998 that proves the Times was pro-Israel and ignored the Palestinians' plight. Like so much said about the Arab-Israeli conflict it is remarkable how absurd this argument can shown to be in less than 150 words. Here they are:
Everyone who ever lost a war is unhappy about it and suffered. Does the Times discuss the "nakba" of the Confederacy, the Germans in World War One and Two, the Japanese in World War Two, and so on through every modern conflict? Should it speak of Communists' mourning at the fall of the Soviet bloc? Lewis implies that the Times never discussed the fact that the Arabs were unhappy they lost in 1948 or that there were Palestinian refugees or that they claimed all of Israel. Every week, perhaps several times a week, for a half century or more this information has been published in the Times. The only thing the Times didn't do--but has "corrected" for quite some time by using the "nakba" concept--is to present Israel's creation as a tragedy and to imply Palestinian suffering was totally due to Israeli actions. Finally, Palestinian "nakba" commemorations are relatively recent, designed by the PA as propaganda exercises. Why recent? Because the PLO would never seek pity from the West but rather presented itself as heroic warriors headed for victory.
But the man who coined the use of the word "nakba" in this context had views quite different from Lewis, the Times, the PA, the campus anti-Israel demonstrators, and the revolutionary Islamists.