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Editorial Article

UCLA – StandWithUs.Com provides information about Gabriel Piterberg's (Dept of History) “dishonest tactics”


When UCLA professor Gabriel (Gabi) Piterberg speaks, be prepared for an intense anti-Zionist, anti-Israel litany presented in fancy academic terminology. Though Piterberg’s area of expertise is the early Ottoman Empire, he presumes his views about Israel have special authority because he grew up in Israel and served in the IDF during the 1982 Lebanon War. Don’t be intimidated. Like other anti-Zionist Israeli academics such as Ilan Pappe, Piterberg distorts facts, ignores context, and relies on the questionable claims and flawed scholarship of post-Zionist researchers.

Piterberg spouts the anti-Israel views of the late Columbia Professor Edward Said, who was the foremost anti-Israel polemicist in academia. Piterberg revered Said, and called his own participation in a plenary honoring Said “one of the proudest and most emotional moments” of his career.

Piterberg distorts facts to excoriate Zionism and delegitimize Israel, and when he concedes some facts, he gives them a sinister interpretation or, through fancy intellectual footwork, twists them to set up an artificial and inaccurate picture of Zionism and Israel that he can then attack. For example, he admits that Zionists knew Arabs lived in the Jewish homeland, but nonetheless claims “Zionist ideology defined the land as empty” because it lacked “Jewish sovereignty.”[3]

Using similarly dishonest tactics, Piterberg claims that from its inception, Zionism was nothing more than a campaign to ethnically cleanse indigenous people (the “subalterns”) and justified its actions through “its foundational myths.” He attacks these myths, denying that there was continuity between the Jews of the “ancient past” and modern Jews, and he argues that the idea of re-establishing the Jewish state was largely due to Romantic nationalism of the late 19th century, not due to the 2,000 year old history of Jewish dreams of return. [4] He even attacks Zionism for dismissing the successes of Jewish life during their millennia of exile. The history of persecution of Jews does not enter his narrative, nor does he accord it any role in the development of modern Zionism. He also accuses Israel of exploiting the Holocaust to justify its actions.

In Piterberg’s narrative, Palestinians are always helpless victims of the expansionist, colonialist Zionist movement which used the “cover of war” to ethnically cleanse them in 1948.[5] He ignores the fact that Arab states started the war that produced the flight of Arab citizens. Piterberg is wrathful about Israel’s decision not to reabsorb Palestinian refugees after the 1948 War, ignoring Israel’s offer to absorb 100,000 in the framework of a peace treaty. He also conveniently ignores the fact that post-war negotiations collapsed and no peace treaties were ever signed, and that an equal number of Jews became refugees because Arab countries forced them out, and Israel absorbed them. But Piterberg’s greatest anger is that, he claims, Israel tried to “erase” the “collective memory” and identity of Israeli Arabs. To prove this point, he turns various early proposals for integrating Israeli Arabs into the young Jewish State into sinister efforts to deny them their identity and to enforce their “structural exclusion from equal rights within the state.” [6] For Piterberg, facts are irrelevant or are spun into a narrative in which Israel can do no right; the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs can do no wrong. Piterberg does not critically scrutinize to Palestinian foundational myths, which he accepts without question, and he propagates romantic myths of his own, particularly that of the purity and innocence of “indigenous” people, though this romantic notion contradicts the historical record of human migrations, particularly in the region of Palestine.

Piterberg does not keep his inflexible political views to himself. Some students complain that he uses his classroom as a platform and is dismissive of other points of view. His office door may say it all: an “End the Occupation” poster that depicts Israelis dragging away Palestinians.[7]

Piterberg apparently hopes his activism and non-scholarly work will earn him a recognizable spot in the anti-Israel field of Middle East studies. In December 2002, he wrote a memo lambasting the Daniel Pipes-run organization Campus Watch for “black list[ing] . . . professors whose views are unpalatable to the pro-Israeli lobby and to the current administration . . . UCLA is one of the main targets of Campus Watch . . . I [am] on its black list.” In reality, when Piterberg sent his memo, UCLA did not even have an entry on Campus Watch’s “Survey of Institutions” list and Piterberg himself was not even a mentioned on the website.[8] According to historian Martin Kramer, Piterberg and other anti-Israel professors desperately want to be “blacklisted” by Pipes because “being ‘blacklisted’ by Pipes,” even due to academic bias and fraud, “is a credential” in the anti-Israel circle. Therefore, Piterberg “completely fabricated his own blacklisting.” [9]

While it is a shame to grant Piterberg’s wish and grant him any notoriety, it is important to expose the myths that he propagates and the dishonest tactics that he uses to do so.

Some of Piterberg’s most venomous claims are:

  • In 1948, there was an “explicit Zionist intention to unleash ethnic cleansing [of Palestinians], under cover of war . . . There were, of course, deliberate and massive expulsions.”[10]
  • “The reality is that the eventuality of massive expulsions was inherent in the nature of Zionist colonization in Palestine long before war broke out in 1948.” [11]
  • “Jewish settlers were to be accorded exclusive privileges deriving from the Pentateuch, and Palestinian Arabs treated as part of the natural environment.”[12]
  • “This kind [of nationalism] was feral in its demand for ethnic homogeneity, ruling out from the beginning any possibility of the Zionism movement accepting a bi-national state in Palestine.” [13]
  • “The physical implementation of the policy of non-return [of Palestinian refugees after 1948] meant the brutal wartime demolition of occupied villages, and in some cases of urban neighborhoods; the confiscation of lands and properties; the settlement of Jews in places rendered Arab-free.” [14]
  • ‘[This 1951] memorandum is a faithful illustration of the ruthless state of mind of the Israeli establishment as it set out to transform the consciousness and memory of its victims.” [15]
  • “[Israel’s policy] tells of the tacit axis of apartheid that defines the state of Israel to this day: the interplay between the formal inclusion of Palestinians as citizens and their structural exclusion from equal rights within the state. This is the particular dialectic of oppression—of a population formally present but in so many crucial ways absent…”[16]


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