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Editorial Article

Avishai Margalit looks at Israel only through a glass darkly

By Lee Kaplan

Rarely does the mainstream media present both sides of an issue in historical depth to a western audience with enough information to clarify things about Israel's struggle with the Arab world.  A sound bite is one of the best weapons for the anti-Israel activists' side, especially by those who practice hit and run propaganda against the Jewish state.

A case in point of this tactic is Israeli academic Avishai Margalit, formerly a professor at Hebrew University, now employed as the George F. Kennan Professor in the School of Historical Studies (even though his field is Philosophy) at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton University.

Princeton is already known to have a Middle East Studies department that is virulently anti-Israel that numbered among its academics some anti-Israel Jews. Richard Falk, a former Princeton faculty member who is Jewish will be heading the new UN Human Rights Commission led by that icon of human rights, Mohammar Qadaffi. Falk has compared using sound bites that Jews living in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) with Nazis and even praised suicide bombings against Israelis. In that sense, Margalit is in good company at Princeton.

The plethora of Israeli academics that continually damn the Jewish state with statements and information that are not scholastically sound or free of personal financial and political motivations is growing because of the Internet and availability of Arab oil and EU money to fund this phenomenon.

The Internet and mainstream media via such sound bites also allow Princeton on its website to declare to a wide audience that Margalit "is highly regarded for his profound and cogent observations of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the broader struggle between Islam and the West."

Of course, given the number of European and Arab financed academic institutions worldwide who want Israel boycotted, divested from and destroyed, any Israeli like Margalit who will use his background to lend credence to their anti-Israel rants will automatically be considered "cogent" in his observations as long as he toes the party line.

It's easy to see in reading just a few articles written by Margalit pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian struggle how his own observations display that Margalit is an emperor with no clothes, just another conveyor of such sound bites or half-truths in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

College professors and professional academics like Margalit enjoy a working atmosphere that most of us in the outside world community, particularly the majority of 4 million Israelis faced with the mostly 225 million Arabs, Persians and Pakistanis calling for Israel's annihilation cannot relate to. In the cloistered atmosphere of the University, academics (and their student acolytes) can reduce everything down to abstract ideas and then postulate about the causes of problems between Jews and Arabs without really experiencing or having thorough knowledge of what is happening on the ground.

For example, a professor like Margalit, in his secure office at Princeton, doesn't experience the stress of a Jewish mother like the mother of Danielle Shefi, killed at age 5.  Danielle's mother was preparing her toddler to attend synagogue when an Arab terrorist broke into her bedroom and spilled her child's brains all over the floor with an AK-47.  Danielle's infant sister was also wounded. Margalit also has the luxury of leaving out "cogent" details that might present a truer picture of what Jews in the territories face in such situations due to his presentation as a "highly regarded scholar," from Princeton no less.

The reason I cite this particular attack on a 5 year-old is because the Shefis reside in Adora, an area in Judea and Samaria, much like a southern California city, but one that the irredentist Arabs and western media still call "a settlement." Avishai Margalit would doubtless agree with Arabs that somehow it's the Jews in the settlements that are the cause for no peace happening between Israel with the Arab world.  Margalit considers the settlers as demented zealots who, if they simply gave in to the Arab claims that all land in the West Bank belonging to them, would willingly contribute to an end of the conflict. But this philosopher-cum-professor-of-history seems to ignore how the removal of 8,000 settlers in Gaza, making that area Jew-free, only netted 4,000 missiles fired on Israeli civilian communities such as Sderot. This was apparent in Margalit's writings before the Disengagement also, but certainly should have changed Margalit's attitudes about the settlements after the removal of Jews from Gaza.

But apparently it hasn't.

In a book review for the New York Review of Books, Margalit shows the major faults of academics like himself: a failure to verify his facts and merely repeat the untruths conveyed by the Israeli radical left on behalf of the Arabs, along with false claims of a Gandhi-like movement for nonviolence against the "occupation," as being laudable in opposition to the real Arab goals: the removal of Jewish control over all Israeli territory and the murdering of Jews as a scared Islamic or communist revolutionary duty. This includes all the communities that have many more Danielle Shefis. Margalit acknowledges at least most of the Arabs don't want a "nonviolent" movement because it's not macho enough to gain via nonviolence, but clearly delineates that Israel is at fault no matter what happens in this conflict.

But Margalit fails to define "nonviolent" as much as he ignores proper research, as we shall see. Better still, he seems to prefer the Arab definition of nonviolence-not being the one who holds the gun or bomb no matter how much support is given to the killers, financial or logistic, is considered "nonviolent."

Margalit in his review agrees with the book's author that Israel has a sizeable number of "sociopaths" and more closely defines these people as the settlers in the West Bank and those who support them.  At the same time, he offers praise for an "Israeli/Arab peace group" called Ta'ayush, that is composed of an inter-Arab and Jewish membership, who all of whom are communists and support the international communist party platform that considers Israel as a proxy of the West and as a part of capitalist colonialism and imperialist conspiracy, no matter how ridiculous the concept (Israel, established by the UN is no more a colony than any of the Arab states seeking to destroy her, and has ceded 50% of its territory to its enemies only to try and make peace.)

In one sense, Margalit and his allies may be right in declaring Israel as being full of sociopaths-only against Jews though, not Arabs.  Margalit defines Jews who legally bought their homes on former Jordanian state land after 1967, legally according to international law, who have a sense of loyalty to the Jewish nation against Arabs who clearly want the Jewish homeland destroyed by even denying Jews ever lived there in biblical times, as "demented" and extremists. Meanwhile, the Arabs are always dispossessed and reacting to the unreasonable Jews, no matter what how non-credible the Arab claims are, they are always right, to be written about as truth.

Margalit would seem to only want to see what he wants to see in arriving at any type of academic conclusion about the conflict and attacks on Jews. For example, he praises Sari Nusseibeh, the current president of Al Quds University and coos about the man because he is a fellow "academic intellectual" from the other side who also eschews violence but relentlessly pushes the Arab narrative of dispossession.

There's just one small problem.

While Nusseibeh is considered a welcomed ally by Margalit for suggesting nonviolence as being workable and making comparisons to Gandhi for the Palestinian movement against the Jews, few people know that Nusseibeh was arrested and deported during the first Gulf War because he was telephoning information to the Iraqis on where to fire their S.C.U.D.s against Israeli civilians. The sad thing is the only real "sociopaths" in Israel are the ones who let Nusseibeh return to live in Jerusalem, the same one who release thousands of convicted terrorists, many who go on to kill Israelis again, not the settlers, both religious and non-religious who set up communities in legal areas per legal procedures. Nusseibeh is an example of Palestinian nonviolence that Margalit would no doubt agree with: you don't shoot the gun with your own hands, you let someone else do it then declare you are nonviolent even though you helped them.

Margalit also cites a passage in his book review and explains to readers about Arab Bedouins who reside in caves near the Jewish community of Chavat Maon. Lately, the PA's propaganda ministries have hit on a formula for deflecting Arab terrorism against Jews in the West Bank, by trying to claim the Jewish settlers there are attacking Arabs just for fun. Margalit tells a tale of some Arabs who live in caves on property that is just as logically belonging to the Jewish settlement, yet Margalit calls whatever land in the area the Arabs want to say is theirs as being theirs and stolen by the settlement.  The Arabs in question don't live in those caves all year long, just part of the year, but they also misappropriate property that is not theirs when they arrive.

There have actually been cases in the West Bank of Arabs who filed lawsuits in Israeli courts and got control of Israeli settlement lands by arguing the agriculture they planted on as yet unused property made the property theirs, for example, the community of Efrat lost valuable land because they allowed Arabs to raise vineyards on them for years only to have the court declare the land in the Arabs favor due to adverse possession.  Margalit negates any scholarly responsibility by reporting the land as belonging to the cave dwellers who misuse the settlement's property for herding their flocks that eat agricultural plantings. To anti-Israel activists and to Arab irredentists all the land of Israel belongs to the Arabs, even legally purchased land, so even Jews living in Tel Aviv are ultimately "settlers" or "colonialists."  Margalit accuses the Jews in the settlement of poisoning the flocks of the cave dwellers also without any proof. There are plenty of tales of Arabs attacking other Arabs in blood feuds then blaming the Israelis to cover it up.  Margalit mentions the settlers tend to be very pious, and then suggests that the religiously pious are more apt to attack others than the atheists, something that also has no scholarly foundation.

The same lack of scholarly objectiveness exists is his writings about the Second Intifada. Margalit insists the Arab narrative that Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount was what started the problem despite claims by the PA leadership that the Intifada was planned in advance.  Margalit mentions that Barak's offer was not generous in Arab eyes yet the percentages of land offered in his writings are incorrect, not matching those of Dennis Ross who actually negotiated the deal. At best, this is sloppy research.

Avishai Margalit also has tried to reduce Israel's desperate wars of survival as being mere "theatrical productions." He should tell that to the thousands of Jews who died after the Holocaust and in Israel's last five defensive wars against an Arab enemy that insists on no peace, no negotiation, no more Israel since 1967 in Khartoum.  Margalit has stated that photos of the young Israeli paratroopers weeping at the Western Wall immediately after their battle to liberate the Old City of Jerusalem n 1967 were particularly offensive to him as staged theatrics.  Apparently, the constant handing out of candy in praise of "martyrs" when Arab terrorists kill Jews doesn't classify as real theatrics to Avishai Margalit.

Whether all this is based on narcissism, a chance to make money or simply developing a way for a philosopher to teach his own faulty history to the delight of anti-Semitic world, it's still not sound academics, and Avishai Margalit is just another example of the anti-Israel ex-pat Israeli academic crowd that is making this appear more and more in our mainstream media.


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