I just received a letter from the David Horowitz Freedom Center responding to my critique of the center’s advertisement that ran in The California Aggie a couple weeks ago. Though I stand by my view that there was at least one racist claim in the advertisement, I think this letter makes a lot of valid points.
I have re-posted it below, interrupted in a few places with my own comments.
Reply to Jeremy Ogul and the “Group of 15” Regarding the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s ad in the The Aggie
By David Meir-Levi, DHFC Associate
June 6, 2011
Jeremy Ogul, a former editor of the UC Davis “Aggie” has joined the leftwing attacks on the ad placed in the Aggie by the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and endorsed their calls for censorship of the ad. If Ogul and the so-called “Group of 15” led by the Muslim Students Association and Students for Justice in Palestine prevail, this would close the door to any further defenses of the Jewish state and any semblance of historical truth in dealing with 63-year Arab war against Israel.
The objections raised by Ogul and the “group of 15” are that the Freedom Center ad is “..racist, inaccurate and discriminatory…” Wrong on all three counts.
False Claim One – that the Ad is racist: The ad’s description of the Arab war against Israel is factually correct not racist. Describing this war as an “Arab aggression” cannot be racist because “Arab” does not designate a race. The term “Arab” is an ethno-linguistic identification. There are black-skinned Arabs and light-skinned Arabs and a lot in between; so “racism” is a misuse of the term, and misleading as well, because “racism” has become an indiscriminately applied weapon of the political left to silence disagreement with its views.
Race and racism are about a lot more than skin color. The estimable Encyclopedia Britannica defines it this way: “‘Race’ is today primarily a sociological designation, identifying a class sharing some outward physical characteristics and some commonalities of culture and history.” According to this definition, the way I used the term racism was not inappropriate or misleading.
False claim Two – that the Ad is discriminatory: Ogul and the group of 15 may claim the ad discriminates unfairly against Arabs, a variation of the previous charge. But the use of the term “Arab” in the ad is appropriate. From the point of view of simple and widely accepted English usage, the ad is not referring to the Arab people as a whole or to all or every individual Arab. The ad refers to those Arabs, Arab states, Arab leaders conducting the aggressive war against Israel.
Just as people speak of the American intervention in Viet Nam even though, obviously, many American individuals and groups opposed that intervention, so too one can speak of the Arab aggression against Israel without the implication that the Arabs as an entirety, as a people, as a whole ethno-linguistic group, engage in or support that aggression. On the other hand, while their were many dissenters in the United States against its intervention in Vietnam, and there many Israeli opponents of Israeli actions in the Middle East, there are no visible Arab or Palestinian leaders, parties, organizations that dissent from the terrorist war conducted by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas against the Jewish state.
In sum, the term “Arab aggression” does not imply a universalization of, or generalization regarding, all Arabs or the Arab people as a whole. Thus there is no discrimination against Arabs in the historically accurate assertion that there was Arab aggression against Israel. The ad is not demeaning or stereotyping Arabs. It is stating historical fact. The claim that to state a historical fact is “discriminatory” is an attempt to suppress the historical fact.
I’m glad the DHFC clarified that the phrase “Arab aggression” was not intended to describe a general characteristic of all Arab people. Like I said in my original critique, multiple interpretations were possible based on the way the original advertisement was worded. I would advise the DHFC to clarify their meaning in any future iterations of the ad to avoid (or at least minimize) some of the anti-racist backlash.
False Claim Three – that the ad is Inaccurate: It is beyond argument that seven Arab states and several paramilitary Arab forces, armed and supported by some of those states, attacked the newly-created state of Israel in 1947 and 1948. This was an act of naked and unprovoked aggression. Intelligent people disagree to this day about details of this war of genocidal aggression initiated by the Arabs; but the first hand evidence, the numerous eye-witness accounts, and the many statements and threats and predictions of slaughter and mass murder made publicly by Arab religious and political and military leaders are so numerous and so widely accepted as accurate and reliable that even Arab historians acknowledge that Israel’s 1948 war, a war of survival, was indeed initiated by the Arab side.
It is also beyond argument that Israel has offered to relinquish legitimately acquired lands in defending itself against aggression – lands which, according to international law, Israel would have every right to annex — in exchange for peace. Israel’s offers have been formally, through the UN and through the offices of the United States and other parties, and have been rejected publicly and unconditionally by Arab leaders repeatedly, since 1947.
Mr. Ogul adds the following false claims concerning the accuracy of the ad:
There are some statements in this advertisement that seem plainly false.
- For example, the ad states that “there has never been a political entity, state or country called Palestine in the Middle East.” As a matter of fact, dozens of countries have recognized a state of Palestine since 1988. And as historian Moshe Sharon writes, “the name Palestine became the official name of the country under the British Mandate,” in 1923.
- Another example: “The derivation of the name “Palestine” is Roman not Arabic.” Actually, according to both Sharon and the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, the name Palestine can be traced back to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, who referred to the area as Palaistinê in the 5th century BCE.
- Another: “The goal of the PLO, as expressed in its charter, was not to liberate Palestinian Arabs from foreign rule but to destroy the Jewish state.” The Palestine Liberation Organization’s charter certainly does make clear the group’s goal to “destroy the Zionist and imperialist presence,” but it also makes abundantly clear the desire for self-determination and sovereignty on the part of Palestinian Arabs over the borders set in the British Mandate.
These statements may “seem” plainly false to Mr. Ogul but only because, as he himself concedes, he is largely ignorant of the history and issues of the Arab-Israel conflict, or the geography of the Middle East. Like Moshe Sharon, the authority whom he cites, Mr. Ogul seems unaware of the fact that the Palestine Mandate referred to a geographical region, not a “country” or state.
It is true that any Arab and some Muslim countries allied with the Arab aggressors in the Middle East conflict over the existence of a Jewish state have recognized “Palestine” as the state of the “Palestinian people,” but:
- a.) Such partisan claims do not constitute the creation of a state, and are not self-validating.
- b.) The designation of the territory known as the Palestine Mandate was the work of the League of Nations and the United Kingdom after World War I. It was the product of Britain’s desire to carve out that region – acquired from the Turkish Empire after its defeat in World War I — as an area under direct UK control, for political and economic and strategic reasons. The area that then became known as “British Mandatory Palestine” was not a nation or a state or a political entity. It was a non-autonomous region of the former Turkish (not Arab) Empire now under British control.
- c.) Mr. Ogul needs to be more careful in his use of terminology. He has, apparently inadvertently, mixed up the concepts “state” and “country” with “region.” But in this he may have been misled by Moshe Sharon’s inaccurate and misleading use of the term “country” when he was referring to British Mandatory Palestine – a geographical region sporting numerous and disparate ethnic and linguistic and religious groups devoid of political identity, much as New England in the northeastern United States is a geographic region devoid of political identity.
Derivation of the name “Palestine”:
- a.) The ad’s statement refers to thousands of years of history during which time there never was a state or a nation or a country known as “Palestine” nor was there a people known as “Palestinians”. There was, however, a region known as Palestine (or Palestina in Latin) certainly prior to the Roman conquest of the region. But that region’s name was the off-spring of the Philistine conquest of the eastern Mediterranean coastal plain at the onset of the Iron Age in the 11th century BCE. Its name “Philistia” derived from the name of its conquerors, invaders from the area of Greece and the Aegean islands, speaking a language related to pre-Homeric Greek and ethnically related to the Achaeans of Homeric lore.
- b.) While the name does indeed appear in Herodotus, the territory it references there is a vague and undefined geographic entity, generally congruent with Iron Age Philistia…the area along the coastal plain conquered by the Philistines. Thus the name served as a vague and undefined geographic term, rather than the designation of an ethnically identifiable people or a politically defined state – much as we today might use the term Appalachia or the Great Southwest.
- c.) It was only after the Roman conquest of the Eastern Mediterranean littoral that the name was applied to a larger and better defined territory, which now included Judea and Samaria and other small nation states which fell victim to Rome’s aggression. But even then, it was a geographic term for a region which incorporated several states and a host of ethno-linguistic groups. It did not define a people or a nation….not politically, not ethnically, not culturally, not linguistically.
- d.) Throughout the next 1,900 or so years, the region, with its many different peoples and languages and cultures and religions, changed masters many times, coming under Arab control only in the 8th century CE. Even then, the area was never a separate political entity, and certainly never an independent state or country.
- e.) Mr. Ogul is correct that the name first appears in Herodotus and not in Roman sources. But Mr. Ogul should discriminate between material facts and immaterial facts. The appearance of the name in Herodotus does not undermine or contradict the argument mounted in the ad.
I never intended to suggest that the inaccuracies I discussed in any way undermined or contradicted the argument being made in the advertisement. My purpose was not to discredit the argument. The purpose of my critique was to evaluate the criticisms of the ad. People were saying that the ad was inaccurate — so I looked for inaccuracies, and those were the ones I could find with my limited knowledge on the matter.
Mr. Ogul should also discriminate between material and immaterial elements of an argument. He is correct that the PLO Charter in addition to calling for the destruction of Israel, also expresses the desire to create a state for what Mr. Arafat calls “the Palestinian People” (the only people hitherto not defined by a distinctive national, language, culture or history). So one might conclude that the PLO Charter espouses two goals, while the ad indicates only one. However, there are five issues that Mr. Ogul fails to consider:
- a.) PLO leader Yassir Arafat himself stated, many times throughout his inglorious career as the world’s most honored terrorist, that the only means whereby the State of Palestine could be created would be via the violent destruction of the State of Israel: or in his words “resistance until victory or martyrdom.”
- b.) Until 1993 he eschewed, repeatedly, the use of negotiations as a means of creating a State of Palestine on some part of the territory under Israel’s sovereignty, choosing instead to maintain an endless terror war against Israel to weaken Israel, in the hope (not unfounded) that he would eventually gain the support of other Arab nations that possessed the military might to crush Israel and fulfill his dark vision of a “Palestine from the river to the sea.”
- c.) At the time of the founding of the PLO in 1964, Israel was not in control of the West Bank or Gaza Strip, which had been annexed by Jordan and Egypt. The PLO charter did not mention these annexations or call for the liberation of what is now erroneously described as the Palestinian “homeland.” The West Bank is actually the historic home of the Jews, which the Arabs have conquered. The original PLO Charter specifically excluded the West Bank and Gaza from consideration as part of the future State of Palestine. The only territory that Arafat envisioned as a “Palestinian” homeland was Israel. In other words his concern was the destruction of the Jewish state, not the creation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank or in Gaza.
- d.) Mr. Ogul should take note, therefore, that for Arafat and his cohorts in terrorism, the only way that the State of Palestine could come into existence would be through the destruction of Israel. Thus it is immaterial that the PLO Charter includes the statements about the desire for a State of Palestine to achieve political self-determination and national self-realization for a hitherto non-existent “Palestinian people.” The Charter states clearly its genocidal goals regarding Israel. That these goals remained throughout Arafat’s career the primary motivation for his terrorism and related political machinations is clear from the fact that he could have been the founder of a Palestinian state many times over had he been willing to enter into negotiations with Israel. But his “higher goal” and primary desire was always the destruction of Israel.
- e.) Even after 1993 and the Oslo Accords, Arafat maintained the priority of Israel’s destruction and subordinated any agenda of state-building to his need for constant terrorism against Israel. Instead of using the vast resources pouring into the newly created “Palestinian National Authority” to develop a functioning government, bureaucracy, and economy, he funneled most of that aid into the creation of a terrorist army and the support for his new partner in terror, Hamas. Thus it is obvious from Palestinian deeds, that the destruction of the state of Israel took precedence over any possible agenda to create a Palestinian state.
In sum, the ad is factually accurate, and the Aggie was right to run the ad, while the attacks on the Aggie and the ad are an unprincipled attempt to suppress a view that differs from their own.
I strongly disagree with Meir-Levy’s opinion that rejecting this advertisement would “close the door” to further pro-Israel discussion of this issue. Nothing about my critique was intended to suggest that pro-Israel arguments are inherently racist or anti-Arab. My criticisms were specific to the way this particular advertisement was written. I would be happy to support the publication of an advertisement that made a similar argument without the racist generalizations. Again, that’s not because I share that specific viewpoint, but because I support a free and open discussion of this issue in The Aggie.
Thank you to the David Horowitz Freedom Center and Mr. Meir-Levy for taking the time to read and respond to my post.