Appearing yesterday on Inside Washington, Charles Krauthammer followed up Friday’s mendacity by calling President Obama’s Cairo speech a “victory for the Iranian radicals.” Krauthammer claimed that the president “did more in three minutes to delegitimize the existence of Israel than any president in American history,” — at which co-panelist Nina Totenberg understandably couldn’t contain her laughter.
An undeterred Krauthammer then charged that the president, by recognizing both Jewish and Palestinian suffering, was making a “moral equivalence” (a favorite term conservatives use when they can’t come up with an actual argument) between genocide and displacement. Krauthammer then insisted that the state of Israel bore no blame for the displacement of the Palestinians:
The Palestinian displacement occurred not as a result of the birth of Israel, but as a result of the invasion of Israel at its birth, by Egypt Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Transjordan, and by Palestinian irregulars. It was the war of extermination started by the Arabs which resulted in the Palestinian refugees. Now that is an extremely important distortion of history.
The real distortion of history here is, of course, committed by Krauthammer. The Palestinian displacement began months before the Arab invasion of May 1948, the result of a civil war between Palestinian Arab and Zionist militias. By March 1948, some 100,000 Palestinians had already fled their homes and lands. The problem only grew worse with the invasion of Arab armies. While there is some disagreement among historians as to the extent to which expulsion of the Palestinians was a set policy of the Zionist leadership, there is general consensus that various acts of expulsion and cleansing of Arab villages took place.
While I generally concur with the other panelists that the most important thing is to deal with the here and now, at the same time I think one has a responsibility to honestly represent the scholarly-historical consensus, to the extent that it can be gleaned, and push back against the sort of denialism in which Krauthammer is engaged. While we shouldn’t get bogged down in historical blame arguments, we should recognize that stupendously dishonest renderings of history by prominent newspaper columnists play an important role in preventing American political support for attempts to broker peace.
Related, earlier I attended a panel discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center in which conservative scholar/activist Martin Kramer, while discussing the current problem of Palestinian disunity, raised the tired old question of “Are the Palestinians really a people at all?” As an academic question, this has essentially been settled. Of course, the purpose of this question is in no sense scholarly, but purely political. Questioning the genuine “peoplehood” of the Palestinians is intended to imply that the right of the Palestinians to a homeland is not equivalent to Israel’s, and, as with Krauthammer’s coloring book version of 1948, to support the idea that Israel bears no special responsibility toward a resolution of the Palestinian problem.
I was happy to see other panelists jump on Kramer for this, and then Kramer somewhat clumsily qualify his answer in response. Conservative scholars and pundits have been making these kinds of discredited claims for a long time, far too often going unchallenged in the mainstream media. With President Obama’s Cairo speech, however, in which he recognized both the Palestinian dispossession narrative and placed their claim to statehood on an equal footing with that of Israel, the president effectively placed the views of people like Krauthammer and Kramer where they belong: Out on the margins.