Tom Segev, one of the leaders of the Israeli “New Historians” — their cause is to expose the “founding myths” of Zionism, so as to undermine Israeli self-confidence — has written for the New York Times a review of a book about the grand mufti of Jerusalem that is a perfect illustration of the desire of the New Historians to see politics triumph over scholarship. (The grand mufti was the leader of the Palestinian Arabs during the 1920’s and 30’s and a proud ally of Adolf Hitler.)
It is apparent from the get-go that Segev applies the same intellectual standards to reviewing a work of history as he does to writing a work of history:
“Icon of Evil,” is of little scholarly value, and may be potentially harmful to Middle East peace prospects.
What in fact has been very harmful to the peace process is the New Historians themselves, whose work has helped convince the Palestinians that the “right of return” is not just historically legitimate, but that there is pressure building among Israeli elites to approve just such a concession.
It is also interesting to hear Segev advocate that the touchy subject of the Mufti be suppressed, when he has never discouraged Arabs from broaching a host of subjects that cause acute touchiness in Israelis — such as Holocaust-denial, the glorification of killing Jews, and the standard practice on Palestinian state television of denying Israel’s existence on maps. For Segev, as for most self-styled peaceniks, it is only Arab sensitivities that must be respected in order for the peace process to go forward.
Palestinian leaders have a long history of aligning themselves with tyrants — Hitler, followed by the Soviet Union, then Saddam Hussein, and today, at least for the Hamas half, Iran. Does Segev believe that discussion of these alliances should also be suppressed?
The final sentence of the review is so mind-boggling that it must be reproduced:
The suggestion that Israel’s enemies are Nazis, or the Nazis’ heirs, is apt to discourage any fair compromise with the Palestinians, and that is bad for Israel.
Nowhere does Segev leave room for the basic question of whether the troublingly large number of people in the Arab world who indeed wish to fulfill Hitler’s mission is worth discussing at all. No, everyone should just shut up about it because such facts interfere with enlightened political causes. This selectivity is not new for Segev: just read Michael Oren’s review of his book on the Six Day War.
[Segev’s] most telling omission relates not to the Israelis or to any foreign power but rather to the Arabs. Segev’s book is all but devoid of Arab calls for Israel’s destruction and the slaughter of its citizens. There is no mention of pro-war demonstrations, of Egypt’s willingness to use poison gas against its enemies, or of the detailed Arab plans for conquering Israel. Segev even ignores the Khartoum resolution after the war, in which the Arab states refused to negotiate with Israel and to grant it peace and recognition. These omissions inflict an injustice on the Arabs by treating them as two-dimensional props in a solipsistic Israeli drama.
And this man calls himself a historian.