The faux Zionist history of Ilan Pappé

A guest post by Dexter Van Zile 

Ali Abunimah, Ilan Pappe, and Sophia Deeg

By now, it’s reasonable to conclude that famed revisionist historian Ilan Pappé has transgressed the sacred ground between quotation marks by inventing a quote and attributing it to Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion. It’s also reasonable to conclude that his publisher, Oneworld Publications and his colleagues at the University of Exeter will fail to hold him account for his actions.

The quote in question appeared in an article Pappé wrote for the Autumn 2006 issue of the Journal of Palestine Studies and in his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oneworld Publications) that came out a few weeks later. In these texts, Pappé reported that in a 1937 letter to his son, Ben-Gurion declared:

“The Arabs will have to go, but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen, such as war.”

Historian Benny Morris declared that the quote was an invention in December 2006. He did not challenge Pappé directly, but journalist Johan Hari used the quote to assail Israel in a commentary that appeared in The Independent soon after it appeared in print twice under Pappé’s name.

In declaring the quote an invention, Morris was on solid ground. The quote does not appear in any of the references that Pappé cited for it. In Ethnic Cleansing, Pappé cites the July 12, 1937 entry in Ben-Gurion’s journal and page 220 of the August-September issue of New Judea, a newsletter published by the World Zionist Organization. The quote appears nowhere in these texts, nor does it appear in the source he references in the article appearing in the Journal of Palestine Studies, a book by Charles D. Smith.

Morris’ statement that the quote attributed to Ben-Gurion was an “invention” should have prompted Pappé to either provide an accurate, verifiable source for the quote or to issue a retraction to prevent others from using it. Instead, the quote lingered on – without correction or retraction – in the fever swamp of anti-Zionist commentary.

It eventually made its way into With God on Our Side, an anti-Israel documentary produced by Porter Speakman, Jr. in 2010. (One of the main commentators in this movie is Rev. Stephen Sizer. Sizer is well known to readers of CIF Watch, Harry’s Place, Seismic Shock and to fans of his appearances on Iranian state television.)

To his credit, Speakman was the first person to issue a correction regarding the quote. After challenges from CAMERA, Speakman acknowledged that the quote in question did not appear in the original sources that Pappé cited and stated it would not appear in future editions of the movie 

It took a few months for Speakman to finally respond to a factual challenge, but he did the right thing. And to its credit, the Journal of Palestine Studies is taking a closer look at Pappé’s 2006 article, but is apparently having a tough time getting a hold of the historian himself.

This is no surprise. Pappé has ignored repeated inquires from CAMERA about the quote.

Pappé’s silence on this matter is inexcusable.

Six years on, it’s time for an accounting.

Pappé needs to admit the quote is a fake, or pull a rabbit out of a hat and provide an actual, verifiable source for the statement he attributed to David Ben-Gurion.

The space between quotation marks is sacred ground and needs to be treated as such.

If Pappé does not come clean, his colleagues at the University of Exeter need to challenge him to do, as do his publishers at Oneworld Publications, which needs to expunge this quote from its text.

To fail to do so would indicate the publishing house seeks to profit from a fabrication.

Dexter Van Zile is a researcher at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

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