What Right of Return?
On Sunday evening, April 14, Boston University hosted a forum titled "What 'Right' of Return?" Prompting this gathering was a conference held at B.U. the previous week, called unambiguously "The Right of Return," headlined by the infamous Professor Joseph Massad of Columbia University. Not surprisingly, that conference "failed to create an open forum for peaceful dialogue, and excluded key historical facts, speakers, and information," according to the organizers of Sunday's rebuttal -- "faculty, staff and friends of Boston University."
Those who showed up Sunday, besides the usual handful of Israel huggers and bloggers, probably came because of the rare opportunity to hear and see Professor Benny Morris of Ben-Gurion University, the highly controversial historian who is currently (and conveniently), a visiting professor across the river at Harvard.
Morris was joined by Israeli journalist, lawyer, and government advisor on immigration Ben-Dror Yemini; and by Asaf Romirowsky, adjunct scholar at the Middle East Forum. Each had important things to say about the omissions, propaganda, and lies being fed to vulnerable students at colleges across the world; lies, as Yemini said, that are couched in the seductive language of human rights and social justice, terms every student wants to believe. These are stratagems, of course, poisonous fabrications with one goal: the ultimate destruction of the Jewish state. Of these revisionist falsehoods, the so-called right of return is among the most sinister -- destruction by demography.
The transfer of populations, as Yemini pointed out, is as old as history. In fact, the 1937 Peel Commission envisioned the transfer of population from the Jewish to the proposed Arab state. It is true that about 700,000 Arabs left Israel in 1948. (It is also true that some 120,000, 20% of the population, remained in their homes, and today the Arab population of Israel is on the order of 1.4 million.) The Arab "refugees" now number at least 5 million souls -- children, grandchildren, and great-children by patrilineal descent, three generations still dispossessed, still being refused citizenship in Arab lands, and still being indoctrinated to hate the naqba (the "disaster"), the state of Israel, and the Jews.
Meanwhile, some 900,000 Jews, many of whose families had lived in Arab lands for centuries, were expelled from their homes, stripped of their possessions, and forced into exile. By contrast with their Arab counterparts, all have been absorbed into Israel, the United States, and other western countries.
Yemini put the transfer of populations into a larger context: In 1948 about 8 million Muslims were transferred from India to Pakistan, while some 7 million Hindus left Pakistan for India, and are not allowed to visit their sacred sites in Pakistan even now. As a consequence of the 1945 Potsdam Agreement, 12 million ethnic Germans were expelled from Eastern Europe and Russia and sent to Germany. 400,000 Karelians were forced out of Finnish Karelia in 1940; in 1998, 250,000 Georgians were "ethnically cleansed" from Abkhazia; in Cyprus in 1974, 250,000 Turks and Greeks were forced to exchange places. And so on. Yemini mentioned the inglorious name of John Mearsheimer, co-author of The Israel Lobby, who in 1993 said that 1 million people -- 600,000 Muslims, 300,000 Serbs, and 100,000 Croats -- would have to be relocated from the former Yugoslavia into homogeneous countries. Out of the other side of his mouth, Mearsheimer called the naqba one of the greatest crimes of modern history.
There has never in recorded time been a question of absorbing millions of sworn enemies into a host country, much less into a sliver of land the size of Israel, surrounded as it is by innumerable numbers of the same enemy. But to deal in historical realities is to ignore not only the world's hostility to Israel, but the entity known as UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency), the "perpetual self-expansion machine," in Steven Rosen's words. UNRWA has been fattening itself for 64 years on the Palestinian refugees--its one and only reason for being.
According to Asaf Romirowsky, who has focused much of his work on UNRWA, "One of the first rules of being an UNRWA official is omerta. Above all, the code of silence means refusing to tell two truths. First is the truth about UNRWA. It is a key mechanism that keeps Palestinians 'refugees' over 60 years after their ancestors' flight, to the tune of $1.23 billion for 2010-2011; but since it is run by Palestinians, it is a tool for reproducing their sense of grievance against Israel and the West, and a unique culture of dependence and entitlement," and perpetual victimhood, or as he says, "refugee-ness."
"The second thing UNRWA officials need to learn is to never, ever tell Palestinians the truth that they are not going back to their ancestors' homes in what is now Israel. That pipe dream underlies the entire sense of grievance and perhaps of self." As such, it is a shadow government of Palestine, with Hamas and Hezb'allah actively working in the camps. UNRWA has fed off the Palestinians to justify its own existence as the gatekeeper of Palestinian identity and culture: "refugee-ness." The fact is that earlier governments of Israel, such as that of Levi Eshkol, invited the refugees to come back and build new homes. They refused.
UNRWA is the largest employer in the U.N, a monster bureaucracy of over 30,000 people, and the United States is its third largest donor, at $240 million a year. Thus far, only Canada has decided to stop contributing to UNRWA, though Sen. Mark Kirk (R. Ill.) has proposed an amendment to the charter setting out a precise definition of exactly what constitutes a refugee: "A Palestinian refugee is defined as a person whose place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who was personally displaced as a result of the l967 Arab-Israeli conflicts, who currently does not reside in the West Bank or Gaza, and who is not a citizen of any other state." As Ramirowsky says, "Refugee status would therefore no longer be heritable."
The Arab world gives huge contributions to perpetuate UNRWA as keeper of the open wound. Paradoxically, Israel is ambivalent about defunding. Should UNRWA be defunded, experience suggests that Israel will inherit the bulk of the costs. After all, it is what the world expects.
Turning to Benny Morris, moderator Richard Cravatts innocently mentioned the name of Ephraim Karsh, who, perhaps unknown to Cravatts, is one of Morris's betes noires -- a skirmish carried on at, among other places, American Thinker (q.v. July 2011). Morris merely smiled.
Morris, until about 2000, was considered a more-or-less left-wing "New Historian," and may indeed have been the first to apply the label to himself. Whereas in an earlier time, he called the War of Independence "a territorial struggle between two national groups," in his latest book and elsewhere he claims it was "a jihad -- an Islamic holy war." As he told The Middle East Quarterly in 2010:
What I discovered in the documentation relating to the war, at least from the Arab side, was that the war had a religious character, that the central element in the war was an imperative to launch jihad. There were other imperatives of course...but the most important from the enemy's perspective was the element of the infidels who had the nerve to take control over sacred Muslim lands and the need to uproot them from there.
But Morris did not stray into controversial territory at this conference. He stayed on topic, aiming his barbs at Joseph Massad, a transcript of whose lies about Israel in the previous week's conference he had with him. On the subject of population transfer, said Morris, Massad has said repeatedly that the Zionists advocated moving Arabs away from Israel. What is true, said Morris, is that Zionism did want a Jewish state. Early on, the Zionist leaders were assured that Jews would come to Israel and perhaps even convert the others. But "nowhere did Zionists advocate the expulsion of the Arabs. Never. What is true is that during the late thirties and early forties, in private conversations, Ben-Gurion and Chaim Weitzmann supported the concept of transfer, but they supposed the Arabs would leave voluntarily."
However, he continued, "because of the Holocaust, and because America and Britain and other countries were closing their gates to Jewish immigration, there arose the desperate need for a safe haven. And it was clear that Palestine was not a safe haven. In 1936, the Arabs of Palestine rose up and attacked and massacred Jews, and by killing Jews, they essentially sent the message that Jews who come here will be killed. It was then that Ben-Gurion began considering transfer."
In the run-up to the '48 war, said Morris, "the Zionists officially rejected transfer, but you won't hear that from Massad. Those 700,000 that were displaced were displaced by the war itself. They fled their homes in fear. A small number were expelled, in places like Lydda and Ramle, but," he emphasizes, "as a result of orders from their own leaders."
One other point that Massad always makes, said Morris, is that Israel was essentially Goliath, while the Palestinians were David. "In terms of the Palestinians, yes, he is right. In terms of the Arab world, no: unfortunately, Israel is David."
Perhaps not the happiest way to end a conference. But, as Morris told HaAretz last fall, "I've written enough about a conflict that has no solution....I've done all I can."