Benny Morris and ‘ID Blues’

Benny Morris and ‘ID Blues’

New York’s wonderful Other Israel Film Festival featured “ID Blues: Jewish and Democratic,” the final installment of Chaim Yavin’s penetrating series on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This documentary hour focused upon Jewish-Arab relations within Green Line Israel (and not the territories).

The one possible flaw in this segment was that it highlighted extreme voices on both sides. Most of the angry and extreme statements came from Palestinian citizens of Israel, with Avigdor Lieberman supplying the fireworks from the pro-Jewish side.

Lieberman asserted that in 1974 (I don’t know why he picked that year), most Israeli Arab villages flew the Israeli flag; now most Israeli Arabs are clearly alienated from the Jewish state. So what has happened?

Yavin’s work looks at the demonstration/riot during the start of the second intifada in October, 2000, when 12 or 13 Arab citizens of Israel, who were demonstrating in solidarity with the intifada, were shot dead by police snipers. This was a shocking event for a democratic country, at least as disturbing as the killings of four American students at Kent State, in 1970, protesting the Vietnam War. And the Orr Commission recommendations were never implemented, and nobody from the police was ever indicted or prosecuted.

I see this as the final straw which followed hard upon the Israeli-Arab disappointment when their overwhelming support for Ehud Barak for prime minister in 1999 was neither recognized nor rewarded politically, perhaps with a place by an Arab party within Barak’s governing coalition. Israeli Arabs had expected Barak to at least continue Rabin’s enlightened policy, which had been to promote more equitable budget distributions to Arab communities and to accept Arab support from outside his minority coalition, to hold together a majority in the Knesset. By way of contrast, Barak actually empowered the most pro-settler party at the time, the National Religious Party, with seats in his cabinet and by continuing to expand settlements.

In the discussion that followed, Meretz USA (a co-sponsor of this event) had the honor of its vice president, Prof. Leonard Grob, moderate a discussion with historian Benny Morris and journalist Aharon Barnea. For my money, there is no better or more balanced chronicler of the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict than Prof. Morris, but he disappoints when it comes to evaluating what’s happening today.

He, as is Yavin in the film, is absolutely correct in observing that the Arabs’ violent rejection of the UN partition plan of 1947, and their decision to go to war in an attempt to conquer the Jewish community, was the fundamental cause of the Nakba, the catastrophe that overwhelmed the Palestinian Arab people in 1948. Morris is a much better historian than Ilan Pappe, interviewed in Yavin’s film, who totally blames the Jews for the events of 1948. But Morris has become a total pessimist and somewhat factually suspect in depicting recent events.

For example, he sees a majority of Palestinians, both within and outside Israel, as rejecting a two-state solution of living at peace with a majority Jewish state of Israel. Part of his evidence is the notion that “a majority” of Palestinian voters elected Hamas in the parliamentary elections of 2006. He completely rejects the very reasonable observation that many (and perhaps most) voters for Hamas at that time were rejecting the corruption and incompetence of the previously ruling Fatah party. To my mind, this vote did not mean that they were buying into the rejectionist, antisemitic and Islamist philosophy of Hamas. But this is what Morris sees and he even misreports the facts here, in that Hamas only won a plurality of 44% of the vote in 2006, even though it won a large majority of the seats because of Fatah candidates running against each other in some constituency districts.

Morris was also more even-handed than I think is justified in looking at how the Negev Bedouin people have been treated by the State of Israel and the Jewish National Fund.  This issue was brought up in the Q & A by Gidon (Doni) Remba, head of the Jewish Alliance for Change.  He blogs here on his disagreement with Morris.

By | 2010-11-15T16:27:00-05:00 November 15th, 2010|Blog|2 Comments


  1. Shirley November 15, 2010 at 7:31 pm - Reply

    Thanks for what I also saw and heard at the same film and discussion which followed. That happens rarely with almost anyone else!
    My concern is similar to yours about Morris’ statements about the election in Gaza, and I have the same information and interpretation you do. I am worried that his response to my question was that he not only believes his statement, but projects that in the next election the voters in Gaza will do the same again, in support of Hamas. Free election? Unbiased information? Who will be the alternative? What could happen in the Peace Negotiations being assisted by the US and Arab League, not to say even those international forces trying to open up Gaza?
    For a historian, Morris failed, in my perspective, to project or even discuss possible scenarios in a dynamic context.

  2. Anonymous November 19, 2010 at 7:03 pm - Reply

    I have never quite understood how a voter who casts his/her ballot for an extremist party “with reservations” about some aspect of that party’s platform casts doubt upon the outcome of the election. If the party wins, it is empowered to carry out its agenda. The voter who has supported it, even if “with reservations”, has empowered it. If a German People’s Party supporter voted Nazi in 1932 to show his displeasure with some aspect of the People’s Party platform, he nevertheless voted in favor of an explicit platform of racism and militarization which was likely to lead to murder and war. The Nazis could claim both the power and the right to enact their platform based upon support of the largest percentage of the population, even if that percentage was only a plurality.

    The same holds true for those who voted for Hamas. Those who voted for a party which rejects compromise and which explicitly calls for the violent destruction of Israel voted for rejection and violence, even if they did so with “the best of intentions”. If they received violence in return, they at least could take comfort in the notion that this political party made good on its election promises, unlike many other parties.

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