The Guardian approved malice of Joseph Massad

Even by ‘Comment is Free’ standards, the anti-Zionist diatribe published by Joseph Massad, a Middle East Studies professor at Columbia University, on Nov. 30 is remarkable.

Massad’s objective, in ‘The UN vote to recognize Palestine legitimises the status quo‘, was clearly not to advocate for the Palestinians, nor even to merely question the utility of the UN’s decision to grant the Palestinians non-member observer status but, rather, to undermine Israel legitimacy and frame the state as morally beyond the pale.

Certainly, what Massad has written for ‘Comment is Free’ is not at all surprising given his background.

As CAMERA has observed, Massad has characterized Palestinians seeking to destroy Israel benignly as pursuing (ala Seumas Milne) “the legitimate rights of the Palestinians to resist,” whereas he’s cast Israel as a “racist settler colony” which acts with “unceasing brutality and sadism”.

CAMERA cited, as one example of Massad’s extremism, a passage in Cairo’s weekly Al-Ahram paper, in which Massad criticized a European philosopher (CiF contributor, Slavoj Zizek) who, despite being a severe critic of Israel, supports its right to exist.  

Massad wrote the following:

“What concerns [Slavoj Zizek] most is not the foundational racism of Zionism and its concrete offspring, a racist Jewish state, nor the racist curricula of Israeli Jewish schools, the racist Israeli Jewish media representations of Palestinians, the racist declarations of Israeli Jewish leaders on the right and on the left, or the Jewish supremacist rights and privileges guiding Zionism and Israeli state laws and policies” [emphasis added]

‘Comment is Free’ editors have granted space to Hamas members on several occasions, so it is not surprising that they published a piece by an ideological extremist who has characterized Jews as “supremacists”, a term popularized by Gilad Atzmon and David Duke.  Nonetheless, the sheer volume of lies and the degree of malice in his CiF polemic are both staggering.

Massad’s rhetorical malevolence begins in the first paragraph, writing thus:

“On 29 November 1947, the UN general assembly voted to partition Palestine between native Palestinians and overwhelmingly European Jewish colonists. The partition plan granted the colonists (one-third of the population) 57% of the land, and granted the native inhabitants (two-thirds of the population) 43%.”

The word “colonists”, which Massad employs repeatedly throughout the essay, to characterize Israeli Jews past and present represents a popular lie parroted by those who wish to delegitimize Jews’ presence in Israel.  

However, as “colonists” would refer to interlopers and outsiders – those who have no connection to the land and have forcefully conquered its indigenous population – the word simply does not apply to Jews in Israel.

Jews are the only people for whom the land of Israel was their ancient homeland, dating back to 1300 BCE, and “by 1000 BCE Jews ruled themselves for over 400 years, more than a thousand years before Islam was established.” Even after exile, Jews maintained a continuous presence in the land throughout Roman, Christian, Ottoman and British occupation, with Jewish majorities in several towns. By the ninth century there were Jewish communities in Tiberias, by the eleventh century in Gaza, Ashkelon, Jaffa and Caesarea, by the thirteenth century in Safed and by the mid-nineteenth century there was a Jewish majority in Jerusalem.

The Jews’ connection to the land of Israel (and their legal right to settle anywhere in Western ‘Palestine’) was codified by the ‘Mandate for Palestine‘, the League of Nations document approved unanimously in 1922, and never abrogated.  The Mandate recognized the “historic connection of the Jewish people to Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.”

Not only has there has never been a Palestinian state, but the term “native Palestinians” is a misnomer, as there was never any distinct Palestinian identity until the later half of the 20th century.  Most Arabs who lived within the boundaries of historic Palestine were considered to be part of greater Syria.  

Further, hundreds of thousands of Arabs who were living in ‘Palestine’ by 1947 had in fact emigrated from other Arab countries and so, by definition, were not “native Palestinians” even in the narrow sense of the term.

As Dore Gold observed:

“During the years that the Jewish presence in Eretz Israel was restored, a huge Arab population influx transpired as Arab immigrants sought to take advantage of higher wages and economic opportunities that resulted from Jewish settlement in the land. President Roosevelt concluded in 1939 that “Arab immigration into Palestine since 1921 has vastly exceeded the total Jewish immigration during the whole period.””

Additionally, an estimated “25 percent to 37 percent of immigrants to pre-state Israel were Arabs, not Jews.” Between 1922 and 1946, roughly 100,000 Arabs entered the country from neighboring Arab lands.  

The question, then, of who was an “authentic” Palestinian in 1947 – even if we were to bestow political significance to such a loaded term – is not one easily answered.    

Massad’s CiF piece continues:

“On 30 November, the colonists embarked on the military conquest of Palestine, expelling hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.”

In fact, something closer to the opposite is true.

The Arabs responded to the UN vote by engaging in organized violence against Jews.

Jamal Husseini, the Arab Higher Committee’s spokesman, told the UN prior to the partition vote the Arabs would “drench the soil of our beloved country with the last drop of our blood” and they indeed attempted to follow through on that promise.

As Martin Gilbert, in his book, ‘Israel: A history’, wrote (page 155):

“From the moment of the UN vote, Arab terrorists and armed bandits attacked Jewish men, women and children all over the country, killing 80 Jews in 12 days following the vote. looting Jewish shops and attacking Jewish civilian buses on all the highways”.

[On the day after the UN vote] a bus taking Jewish civilians from Netanya to Jerusalem was attacked by three Arabs with a machine gun and grenades. Five Jews were killed.

This attack on the bus came to be the beginning of the war [of Independence] that would take 6,000 lives”

Moreover, the Arab war against Jews preceded the 1947 UN vote on partition. Major eruptions of Arab violence directed against Jews took place in the late 1920s (including the Hebron and Safed massacres of 1929) and mid 1930s, but systemic violence began as early as 1920.

As CAMERA explained:

“The primary agitator behind these attacks was Haj Amin al Husseini, who marshalled Arab discontent over Jewish immigration into violent riots.

In 1929, Husseini and his associates fomented a violent jihad as they called upon Muslims to “defend” their holy places from the Jews. As a result, pogroms were carried out across Palestine. Arab villagers sympathetic to Jews were often targets of murderous attacks by their Arab brethren as well. British forces were sharply criticized for not policing the territory adequately, for sympathizing with the Arabs, and for standing by and allowing havoc to be wreaked upon Jewish communities in Palestine.”

Also, Arab terrorism against Jews (for five and half months from November until May when Israel declared independence) wasn’t limited to the Jews of ‘Palestine’, as Martin Gilbert further explained:

“For Arabs outside Palestine, a similar wave of anti-Jewish hatred led to violence against Jews in almost every Arab city.”

Hundreds of Jews were killed by mobs – populations which were incited to violence by Arab political and religious leaders – in Arab cities across the Middle East. Jewish shops were looted, and synagogues attacked.

Over the next 20 or so years, more than 800,000 Jews would be forcibly expelled from Arab lands where their families had lived for centuries

Massad’s piece continues:

“They declared their state on 14 May 1948.

Palestinians rejected the plan as it dispossessed them of their lands.

Arab armies intervened to stop the expulsion but failed and hundreds of thousands more Palestinians were expelled. The colonists conquered the territory assigned to them by the partition plan plus half the territory assigned to the Palestinians.” [emphasis added]

Massad’s claims are completely ahistorical. Arab armies didn’t “intervene to the stop the expulsion” of Arabs, as Arabs within Israel’s new boundaries were not being threatened with expulsion.  

The Arabs “intervened” to expel all of the Jews and initiated the violence.

On February 16, 1948, the UN Palestine Commission reported the following to the Security Council:

“Powerful Arab interests, both inside and outside Palestine, are defying the resolution of the General Assembly and are engaged in a deliberate effort to alter by force the settlement envisaged therein.”

In fact, the Arabs didn’t deny they began the war to eliminate the nascent Jewish state. As Jamal Husseini told the Security Council on April 16, 1948:

“The representative of the Jewish Agency told us yesterday that they were not the attackers, that the Arabs had begun the fighting. We did not deny this. We told the whole world that we were going to fight”

Again, Massad:

“The partition plan stipulated…insisted that the two states could not expel or discriminate against their minorities. For the UN, the “Jewish state” meant a state that champions Jewish nationalism without discriminating against non-Jews, and that its definition of Jewish and Arab states did not allow ethnic cleansing, which is what the Jewish colonists embarked upon immediately. Since then, the colonists and their descendants insist that for them the “Jewish state” is able to discriminate by law and policy against non-Jews for example, through ethnic cleansing.” [emphasis added]

Of all the unserious charges leveled against Israel, perhaps the most egregious one involves the charge of “ethnic cleansing”.

First, regarding the refugees as a result of the War of Independence, Mitch Bard wrote the following:

“The Palestinians left their homes in 1947-48 for a variety of reasons. Thousands of wealthy Arabs left in anticipation of a war, thousands more responded to Arab leaders’ calls to get out-of-the-way of the advancing armies, a handful were expelled, but most simply fled to avoid being caught in the cross fire of a battle. Had the Arabs accepted the 1947 UN resolution, not a single Palestinian would have become a refugee and an independent Arab state would now exist beside Israel.”

However, even more interestingly, the Secretary of the Arab League Office in London, Edward Atiyah, wrote the following in his 1955 book, The Arabs:

“This wholesale exodus was due partly to the belief of the Arabs, encouraged by the boastings of an unrealistic Arabic press and the irresponsible utterances of some of the Arab leaders that it could be only a matter of weeks before the Jews were defeated by the armies of the Arab States and the Palestinian Arabs enabled to re­enter and retake possession of their country.”

And, as CAMERA notedSyria’s Prime Minister in 1948-49 acknowledged Arab responsibility for the original refugee crisis in his memoirs, writing thus:

“Since 1948, we have been demanding the return of the refugees to their homes. But we ourselves are the ones who encouraged them to leave. Only a few months separated our call to them to leave and our appeal to the United Nations to resolve on their return” (The Memoirs of Haled al Azm, p. 386-7).

Further, subsequent charges that Israel, post 1949, engaged in “ethnic cleansing” are contradicted by population statistics in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem.

  • In Gaza, the Arab population increased from 82,500 in 1950 to roughly 1.5 million today.
  • In the West Bank, the Arab population increased from 462,000 in 1950 to more than 2.4 million today.
  • In Jerusalem, the Arab population increased from roughly 65,000 in 1948 to over 285,000 today.

So, the Arab population has increased (in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem) from 1948 till today by more than six fold.

Meanwhile, the Jewish population in the Arab world has decreased by over 100 fold – from over 850,000 in 1948 to, at most, 7,500 today.

Based on any criteria, it has been Jews, not Arabs, who have been ethnically cleansed.

Massad continues:

“The UN has affirmed the right of the refugees to return to their homes and be compensated for their losses, which Israel refuses.”

First, the UN resolution 242 only alludes to the Palestinian refugees issue in the second clause of the second article, which calls for “a just settlement of the refugee problem.” UN Resolution 194 refers to “refugees”, not just Palestinian refugees.  So, it could also be applied to the Jewish refugees from Arab lands. Moreover, nowhere in 242 and 194 are descendants of the original 1948 refugees mentioned.

As Ben Dror Yamini has argued about the broader issue of the refugees and UN:

“The UN has two bodies which deal with refugees. The High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which deals with all the world’s refugees and UNRWA, which deals only with those who became Palestinians. The Commissioner has taken care of fifty million people. They received initial help and they are not refugees. UNRWA, in contrast, began with 711 thousand and magically turned them into more than five million. The commission rehabilitates refugees. UNRWA nurtures, clones and perpetuates the refugee problem.’

Interestingly, a former UNRWA official, Sir Alexander Galloway, wrote the following all the way back in 1952:

“The Arab States do not want to solve the refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore, as an affront to the United Nations and as a weapon against Israel. Arab leaders don’t give a damn whether the refugees live or die.”

Moreover, the fact that millions of Palestinian Arabs (mostly descendants two or three generations removed from the original refugees) are still living in towns administered by UNRWA in Arab states, and haven’t been granted full citizenship rights, is not a commentary on Israel but, rather, on the cynicism of those perpetuating the refugee “crisis”.


“After Israel’s conquest of the remaining 22% of Palestine in 1967 and its establishment of more colonies in the conquered territories, more resolutions were passed condemning Israeli violations of international law.”

The “conquest” Massad refers was a defensive war (Six Day War) which was forced upon Israel in 1967 by Arab leaders who were openly threatening the Jewish state with destruction.

Further, Massad’s mention of “22% of Palestine” represents another fiction, as it suggests a percentage of what was all of pre-state Mandatory Palestine – which never existed as an independent Arab state.  After the 1948-49 War, Israel was in control of 78% of Mandatory Palestine. The remaining 22% (West Bank, eastern Jerusalem, and Gaza) was split between Jordan and Egypt .

Again, an independent Palestine was never created.  So, if a Palestinian state is eventually established on most of the West Bank it will be, by definition, 100% more sovereign territory than Palestinians ever previously could claim under Arab or Jewish rule.  “Palestine” never existed, so the words “22% of Palestine” represent a rhetorical deception. 

Massad continues:

“The vote [by the UN General Assembly to grant Palestine observer status] is essentially an update of the partition plan of 1947, whereby the UN now grants Jewish colonists and their descendants 80-90% of Palestine, leaving the rest to the native inhabitants, and it risks abrogating the refugees’ right of return.

A small minority native to the West Bank (about 1.3 million people), for whom the PA claims to speak, will gain UN status as a state under occupation, while the Palestinian refugees in the West Bank (1 million people), along with six million other refugees, risk losing their right of return.

By recognising a diminished Palestinian state, the vote effectively abandons the UN understanding of the “Jewish state” as one that has no right to discriminate against or ethnically cleanse non-Jews. The new arrangement confers the blessing of this international forum on the Israeli understanding of what a “Jewish state” entails– namely, the actually existing legal discrimination and ethnic cleansing practised by Israel –as acceptable.”

In other words, for Massad, any outcome which denies the unlimited “right of return” to Palestinians – the alleged right of millions of Palestinian Arabs who never set foot on Israeli soil, and whose only claim rests on the fact that many of their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents may have once lived there – is unworthy of consideration.

Any solution which leaves the Jewish state standing represents, for Massad, a grave offense to social justice.

Massad concludes, thus:

“That this occurred on 29 November, the date of the partition plan, reiterates this date as one of continuing defeats for the Palestinians who continue to suffer from Israel’s colonial laws, and repeats UN guilt in denying Palestinians their rights not to suffer dispossession and racism. The Palestinians, however, whose majority is not represented by the PA, will no more heed this new partition plan than they did the last one and will continue to resist Israeli colonialism until it comes to an end and until Israel becomes a state for all its citizens with equal rights to all regardless of national, religious, or ethnic background.”

Massad makes one thing clear: he is among the many rejectionists gracing the pages of ‘Comment is Free’ who dismiss, as a craven surrender to the Palestinian cause, any diplomatic solution, any compromise with the Jews.

To put Massad’s solution more succinctly:

“…initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences are in contradiction to the principles of the …Resistance Movement.

Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are but a waste of time, an exercise in futility…”

That last quote was excerpted from Hamas’s charter.

It’s truly getting harder and harder to distinguish between ‘Comment is Free’ and the Islamic Resistance Movement.

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