Ilan Pappé rode to fame by bashing Israel, repeatedly accusing the Jewish state of war crimes and crying oppression when academics actually looked at his evidence and found it lacking. But, just as with University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole or University of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer, there is a certain type of person who will cry persecution whenever critics find arguments unpersuasive if not bordering on deranged conspiracies. If, in Cole’s case, Yale and Duke University turn you down, it’s not because he came off as arrogant, did not fit the job description, or gave a sub-par job talk; it’s because the CIA was out to get him. Or, in Mearsheimer’s case, it was just easier to complain that Jews were muzzling him as he took a $750,000 book advance to the bank. That he subsequently chose to endorse a Holocaust denier’s book certainly shouldn’t reflect on his judgment.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with historical inquiry, but it must be done honestly. When I was working on my Ph.D, one of my faculty advisers quipped that theory was for people who did not have libraries. If there was not archival evidence to support a statement then, simply, that statement could not be made. Ignorance is no excuse for an academic, nor is stubbornness a virtue. When Benny Morris mistreated quotes by David Ben-Gurion and Theodor Herzl, he was rightly pilloried for it. In December 2006, he came clean and acknowledged that the Ben- Gurion quote was fraudulent. Kudos to him for reversing the error.
Alas, to advance his polemic, Pappé has embraced the false Ben-Gurion quote endorsing ethnic cleansing, an outlandish accusation. Some of those who relied on Pappé have issued corrections, or are in the process of doing so. Not Pappé, however. He may believe that tainting Israel with original sin justifies his lies. That is sad, but in the post-modern world of modern academe, too often polemics trump truth. The question posed recently by Dexter Van Zile, a researcher at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, is whether his home institution, the University of Exeter, and publisher, agree. Academics embrace free speech and, indeed, free speech should be sacred. Such freedom, however, does not expunge poor research, integrity, and honesty.