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Editorial Article

Tel-Aviv University – Daniel Bar-Tal (Dept of Psychology) reveals new gospel – Zionism is the main obstacle to peace

Would you buy a research from an academic who uses it merely to reinforce his own ideological prejudice? From somebody who thinks that the Second Intifada was actually provoked by Israel? From a man who believes that Zionism is the mother of all evil? And from the same lecturer who wants to silence his critics by complaining to the university authorities. From Tel Aviv University psychologist comes:

It's the Zionists, stupid!

By Alon Ben Shaul

A new anti-Jewish gospel was revealed to us mortals recently from the enlightened Left encamped within Tel-Aviv University. It is this: for peace to be achieved in the Middle East, the Israelis must recognize their responsibility for the “tragedy” that they inflicted upon the Palestinians in 1948. As long as the Israelis deny their collective guilt for the Palestinians becoming refugees and deny that the Palestinians were maliciously expelled by them, then all reconciliation is a pipe dream. Hence, Israel’s acknowledging Arab “suffering” is a key to reaching a settlement in the region. Embracing Zionist “dogma” is, accordingly the main obstacle to peace. In short, "holding such a Zionist narrative serves as an obstacle to peace since it promotes negative emotions, mistrust, de-legitimization and negative stereotypes of Arabs and Palestinians.”

The author of those words is Daniel Bar-Tal, a University of Tel-Aviv Professor of Educational Psychology. No wonder. He (jointly with his colleague Rafi Nets-Zehngut) is behind what he himself considers "pioneering research" into the Jewish collective memory of 1948. His conclusion was: "Israeli Jews' consciousness is characterized by a sense of victimization, a siege mentality, blind patriotism, belligerence, self-righteousness, dehumanization of the Palestinians and insensitivity to their suffering…"

Bar-Tal laments the fact that his study shows that most Israelis accept the 'official version' (or “narrative”) of the conflict's history with the Palestinians, the one where the Jews are the victims of Arab terrorism, genocidal aggression and hatred. "Most of the nation retains a simplistic collective memory of the conflict, a black-and-white memory that portrays us in a very positive light and the Arabs in a very negative one…" 1  But Bar-Tal has a new "revelation" based on a biased public opinion survey that he conducted. In it he finds surprising self-denunciatory attitudes on the part of Israeli Jews regarding Israel’s ongoing conflict with Arabs and Palestinians.

With regard to the main historical event of the conflict - the 1948 Palestinian exodus – Bar-Tal reports: "39% of Israeli Jews surveyed believe expulsion by Israel was one of the factors leading to that exodus, in addition to Palestinian fear and the call of Arabs/Palestinian leaders to leave.”  (In reality, 39% of those he surveys say isolated instances of forced expulsion of Arabs played some role in the Palestinian flight from Israel, among many other factors.) This finding is a source of satisfaction for Bar-Tal and his co-researcher and they explain: "The fact that we found this memory of the conflict to be somewhat critical (even though the conflict is still going on) is encouraging. It suggests that the Israeli-Jewish society has changed to become more critical, open and self-reflective, allowing it to adopt less biased narratives.”2

Bar-Tal, true to the familiar rhetoric of the Tel Aviv Leftist clique, believes that expressing Israeli “guilt” over the 1948 events offers a remedy for the future. In his opinion, the fact that 39% of Israeli Jews supposedly believe in the “expulsion theory” proves that they are self-critical and feel evil and guilty. But it is clear as day that the formulation of the question in the survey was totally flawed. Even if 39% of Israelis indeed believe that some “expulsion” was a component of the Palestinian exodus, one should have asked them to elaborate. After all, many would have said that some cases of “expulsion” were inevitable, since the alternative was a total annihilation of the Yishuv, the Jewish population of pre-state Israel. They may have also added that cases of “expulsion” were responses to the war that was waged against the Jewish Community by the belligerent and aggressive Arab firepower.

The “researchers” write that Israelis think that instances of “expulsion” were "one of the factors" leading to that exodus, "in addition to Palestinian fear and the call of the Arab/Palestinian leaders to leave.”  One of the factors, along with things like disruption of food supplies and fear of being caught in the crossfire? In other words, these 39% of Israelis actually claim there were a host of reasons for the Palestinians becoming refugees, and cases of “expulsion” were only one of them. So why is it that the “expulsion theory” response is separated out and celebrated by Bar-Tal in complete divorce from these other factors?

In other words, how can this survey be taken seriously by any social scientist? As it turns out, in the survey itself (in which only 500 people participated), only 8% of Israelis said they believe the Palestinian refugees were in the main “expelled” by the Jews That figure was added to Bar-Tal’s magical "39%," the people who said some instances of expulsion did take place, and the total sum of 47% became the headline for a press release issued by the “researchers.” That headline was picked up by the Columbia Teachers College in New York, where Nets-Zehngut is doing his PhD, and has been very widely quoted in the media ever since. It typically reads: "Study Surprisingly Finds 47% of Israeli-Jews believe that the 1948 Palestinian Refugees were expelled by Israel.” But the survey responses were intentionally manipulated and distorted by these “academics,” no doubt for purposes of serving their ideological agenda.

Needless to say, Bar-Tal himself did not conduct any survey among the Palestinians. One can only assume that 100% of those who live in Gaza, Nablus and Jaffa would reject the "Zionist narrative" and blame Israel entirely for creating the refugee problem. No doubt the vast majority would say that the Jews have no right at to any land in the Middle East. However, Bar-Tal and his crowd never bother to collect surveys of Palestinians or other Arabs. That way he never has to blame them for being an "obstacle to peace."

He also intentionally overlooks the fact that his own survey shows that 41% of Israelis accept the “Zionist narrative” in full and reject the claim that even some instances of partial expulsion of Palestinians took place in 1948. These people say that there is one and only one reason for the Palestinians becoming refugees and that is that they fled at their leaders’ behest and on their own accord. This finding depresses Bar-Tal and he wrings his hands over it. The lesson he draws from it is that the Israeli public has not changed its reactionary racist views, even in the aftermath of the last military Israeli-Palestinian confrontation. "Is it any wonder,” he asks, "that the same public also buys the establishment explanation of the operation in Gaza?"

The "truth" about Camp David

Bar-Tal has a habit of placing the onus for continuing Middle East hostilities upon Israel in his “research” and media interviews. Parts of his survey addressed the failure of the Camp David summit in spring 2000. Bar-Tal notes the "hard line" that was taken by Israeli Jews: " 56% believe that Yasser Arafat declined a very generous peace offer by Ehud Barak because he did not want peace with Israel, versus only 25% who believe both parties were responsible for the failure and 3% who believed that Barak was responsible.” In other words, 56% of Israelis dared to tell the truth in their response to his questions!

But in the same paragraph in the same press release about his own "pioneering work,” the Bar-Tal turns our attention to another historical event. The researchers report that 60% of those surveyed replied that in the 1947 United Nations' partition plan of the Land of Israel/Palestine, the Palestinians received an equal or larger part of the territory, relative to their percentage of its population. However, they remind us, "The facts are that the partition plan, which was rejected by the Palestinians, offered them (about 2/3 of the total population then) a smaller part of the territory (only 44%).”  Benjamin Disraeli would have called this lying with statistics.

The professor wants to tell us that the Israelis have no knowledge of their own history, hence their negative bigoted attitude to their enemies. And their "ignorance" over the Partition Plan is a proof. But the inevitable conclusion that any informed reader will draw is that Bar-Tal is simply twisting the facts. In doing so he shows that he lacks all shred of academic integrity. It also shows how his “survey” was conducted with no measure of good faith.

They try to give the impression that if the Jewish population of 1948 or Yishuv was offered a territory that was smaller than the one offered to the Palestinian-Arabs, the latter would have accepted it and the conflict would have been avoided. The truth, as we all know, is that the Arabs rejected any territorial compromise or any sort, while the Jews were willing to embrace any stretch of land on which they could have a homeland. Moreover, the Arabs were opposed the existence of any Jewish community in Palestine, as they demonstrated by perpetuating the massacres of the 1920s and 1930s. And what about the fact that the land offered to Israel was the least fertile and was not heavily populated by Arabs?  Finally, Bar-Tal takes as the defining demographic balance that which was in place in November of 1947, when the UN passed its partition proposal. But that partition was designed to create a Jewish state into which millions of homeless refugees could be absorbed. The Arabs already had a large number of oppressive undemocratic states in their control and had no moral claim at all for getting one more in the Land of Israel.

The Bar-Tal study also found that older Israelis and more religious ones are more likely to believe what they call the "Zionist narrative.” Furthermore, those supporting the "Zionist narrative" were significantly less likely to support peace agreements with the Palestinians and Syria, "pointing to the important role of collective memory in conflicts.” In addition, a strong connection was found between the collective memory of "past Jewish persecution" (regarding anti-Semitism and the Holocaust) and understanding of the conflict. People holding a strong memory of Jewish persecution are much more likely to adopt the “Zionist narrative.” This memory of persecution is discussed as one of the determinants of Israel's evil conduct in the conflict.

In other words, holding the "Zionist narrative" is a recipe for intransigence and serves as an obstacle to peace in the Middle East. Zionism, especially when it is based on Jewish history, is THE problem. And as long as its believers do not abandon Zionism and cure themselves of it, the conflict will continue.

Those terrible TERRIBLE Israelis…

No one would mistake Bar-Tal for a serious scholar, but he has been a consistent one. He was obsessed with the evils of Zionism throughout his academic career. Long ago he published a study of 124 textbooks used by Israeli elementary, middle and high schools in Israel from the 1950s through 1970s. He found them "supremacist and racist.” He claimed that Arabs in these books were associated with "primitiveness, inferiority, cruelty, brutality, untrustworthiness, fanaticism, treacherousness and aggressiveness.” 3 They were also described as "murderers,” "rioters,” "deviate,” "cruel,” "immoral,” "unfair,” "robbers,” "killers,” "bloodthirsty" "suspicious,” "unenlightened,” "fatalistic,” "unproductive,” "apathetic,” "tribal,” "vengeful,” "exotic,” "poor,” "sick,” "dirty,” "noisy,” "colored" and "easily inflamed.” The Jews were portrayed as "industrious,” "brave" and determined to cope with the difficulties of improving the country in ways they believe the Arabs are incapable of.” Bar-Tal has never bothered to conduct any study of Arab textbooks or what they say about Jews.

Bar-Tal’s “research” on school stereotypes was seized by the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs,4 which published an interview with the author about the study under the headline "Israeli Textbooks and Children's Literature Promote Racism and Hatred toward Palestinians and Arabs.”.

Bar-Tal told the writer, Maureen Meehan, “This attitude served to justify the return of the Jews, implying that they care enough about the country to turn the swamps and deserts into blossoming farmland; this effectively delegitimizes the Arab claim to the same land,” He also added that “the message was that the Palestinians were primitive and neglected the country and did not cultivate the land.”

In his book, "Stereotypes and Prejudice in Conflict: Representations of Arabs in Israeli Jewish Society" (co-written with Yona Teichman), he maintained that the Middle East conflict is kept alive by the stereotypes that the Israelis hold about the Arabs (but not the other way around!), while providing no evidence of this.5 More tellingly, the book ignores the naked incitements and blood libels that exist in Palestinian schoolbooks, a subject that has been widely discussed during the Oslo process. The Arab revival of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, their embracing Der Sturmer-style propaganda, and their calls for genocide are all absent from their book. The authors also refrain from exposing readers to what is so widespread in the Arab media – the demonization of Jews as those who supposedly spread AIDS by using prostitutes, poison wells, shoot depleted uranium to cause infertility, drink children's blood for Passover, contaminate food, and so on. While not even mentioning Arab cartoons, Bar-Tal and sidekick prefer to ignore the simple fact that Israel is under constant existential threat. Bar-Tal argues that these images are designed merely to raise a sense of fear and insecurity among the Israeli Jews.

With a similar approach in 2007, he analyzed the role of the Gadna “youth corps” (preparatory course for teenagers before joining the army), and after studying its pre-military training described it as "unduly militaristic." The new Gadna program includes training in squad-sized operations, night treks and shooting, designed to prepare young Israeli boys and girls before they become IDF conscripts. However, Bar-Tal said in an interview that "one gets the impression that the program was prepared in the 1950s, in the previous century. It perpetuates a security-minded outlook.” By that he meant something not good. His colleague, Matanya Ben Artzi, a far-leftist professor of mathematics from the Hebrew University, called it a "takeover by the army of the high school" and "wiping out of the values of an entire generation.”6

Gaza? It's not what you think…

Bar-Tal draws a direct line between Haifa, 1948 to Gaza, 2008, raising the suspicion that all his references to the “Zionist dogma" are actually attempts at undermining the legitimacy of Israel. His "pioneering research study,” (dealing with Israeli Jews' memory of the conflict with the Arabs "from its inception to the present,” as he describes it) coincided with the recent battle in Gaza. The sweeping Israeli support for "Operation Cast Lead" discouraged Bar-Tal and convinced him that Israelis are little more than warmongering thugs, and "that this public would exchange the drums of war for the cooing of doves.”

This professor of educational psychology from Tel Aviv University goes on to say that the Jewish memory contains "collective emotions such as fear, hatred and anger, turns into a psycho-social infrastructure of the kind experienced by nations that have been involved in a long-term violent conflict. This infrastructure gives rise to the culture of conflict in which we and the Palestinians are deeply immersed, fanning the flames and preventing progress toward peace.” Bar-Tal claims that, in such a situation, it is hard even to imagine a possibility that the two nations will be capable of overcoming their psychological obstacles without outside help.

Bar-Tal believes that Israeli-Jewish society is at fault and that it has a significant way to go in "changing its collective memory to become less biased and self serving.” In his opinion many Israeli Jews still believe a Zionist narrative about many issues in the history of the conflict – which he claims is a simplistic memory of the conflict which portrays Israelis in a positive light and the Arabs/Palestinians in a negative one. In other words, holding the Zionist narrative is the source of the problem and if the Israeli citizens do not change their DNA, the conflict will stay with us for ever. Never mind that the Zionist “narrative” is the truth and that the anti-Zionist “narrative” is a collection of lies and distortions.

Bar-Tal finds another link between 1948 and 2008: he thinks that the Israeli public did not mature enough since the establishment of its state and so it is as easy to brainwash it about the Palestinian exodus as it as about the recent military operation in Gaza. In an article published in the virulently anti-Israel Kibush website he accuses his fellow Israelis of "blind patriotism,” holding a "desire for vengeance" and "self-righteousness.”7

The Gaza military operation, he believed, was motivated by "the wish to erase the feeling of failure in the Second Lebanese War during the summer of 2006; they reflect a deep sense of collective victimhood because of the continuous firing of rockets on civilian settlements in the south by the Hamas military organ. This sense of victimhood led to the urge to revenge in order to punish for the harm done and prevent further firing. In addition, they are derived from the continuous dehumanization of the Hamas organization. Finally, they are based on the conviction that Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, allowing Palestinians to live their lives and they instead engage in terror.”

Bar-Tal argues that Middle East reality is much more complex than the "narrative perpetuated by the Israeli political and military establishments, which successfully constructed the beliefs of the Jewish public in Israel.” In his opinion, most Israeli Jews do not know that originally Hamas was founded by the Israeli authorities (a completely false claim) to provide an alternative to the national movement of PLO; or that Hamas is a religious-fundamental movement that also provides welfare, health and educational services to civilians (so did the German Nazi Party); or that Hamas was elected democratically (with the insistence of USA) to lead the government of the Palestinian authority because of Fatah corruption (So what?).

In fact Bar-Tal’s factual errors fail to dislodge his intense sense of superiority to his ignorant fellow countrymen. Does the fact that Hamas also tries to extend its control over Palestinians via civilian services somehow serve to legitimize it as something other than a genocidal terrorist group? Does the fact that Hamas supports the widows of suicide bombers or supplies the mosques with Koran books, makes it some sort of humanitarian NGO? Hamas may have been “democratically” elected in elections with no freedom of speech nor of the press and overflowing with violence, but Bar-Tal fails to mention the fact that the international community refuses to recognize it because of its policy. That includes unwillingness to renounce violence, honor past agreements and recognize Israel.

While claiming that the unilateral disengagement from Gaza was done to delegitimize the Palestinian Authority, Bar-Tal goes on to adopt Palestinian propaganda as is, by saying that "Gaza has been turned into one big prison" since the IDF controls its borders. Just how Israel, which removed not only its soldiers from Gaza but also its civilians, is “imprisoning” Gazans is unclear. What really upsets Bar-Tal is that Israel has the nerve to prevent Gazans from entering Israel and murdering Israelis. And while mentioning in passing the Gazan rocket attacks against Israeli citizens, Bar-Tal asserts that the smuggling tunnels into Gaza through which the weapons were brought were built "mainly to smuggle civil goods that could not be brought to Gaza and not only weapons as the great majority believe.” And Pearl Harbor was bombed because the Japanese desired American fast food.

Indeed one can only marvel at Bar-Tal's skills at producing disinformation when he says that "few of the Israeli Jews recognize that Israel during two years had at least two alternative strategies to prevent further escalation; either to talk with Hamas which is possible and negotiate long-term cease-fire, or take decisive actions of peace..." And if you raise an eyebrow, he will add that "most of the Israeli Jews do not know that it was possible to negotiate continuation of the cease fire with Hamas and do not remember that it was Israel who broke the ceasefire of November 4, 2008, killing 6 Palestinians.”

One wonders if the writer's tendency towards baseless fantasies derives from his wishful thinking. Back in reality, it was Hamas that has declared so often that it would never negotiate with Israel, let alone recognize its right to exist. It was Hamas that refused to prolong the ceasefire agreement, to the dismay of the Palestinian Authority and the fury of Egypt.

But Bar-Tal is adamant. Bar-Tal loves to use the phrase "extremists on both sides,”8 as if Jewish suicide bombers are roaming free on the Israeli side. While admitting that Hamas is not his cup of tea, "as it is a fundamentalist religious organization that practices also terrorism,” he insists that it is not a homogenous movement. As such, "it is possible to hear in it different voices including ones that support negotiation with Israel and acceptance of the two state solution.” Sure, like in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia.

Mysteriously and perhaps clinically, Bar-Tal hears voices that do not reach the ears of others. He thinks that Israeli society is too embedded in the conflict to be exposed to voices of peace reaching out to it from Gaza, those same imaginary voices he hears. By the same token, he alleges, even the blame for the failure of the Camp David summit should be placed, fairly and squarely, on the Jews’ shoulders. And even if Arafat had his faults, it is Israel that supposedly is holding almost all the cards to resolve the conflict, since it "occupies the land, holds Eastern Jerusalem, controls the life of the Palestinians, controls the resources of the West Bank, expands constantly the Jewish settlements on the West Bank, exercises preventive and punishing violent acts according to its own will and has almost unconditional backing of the superpower.”

Watch out! McCarthyism!

One might assume that, despite these views, it is still possible for honest people to conduct debate with “academics” like Bar-Tal. One would be wrong. What Bar-Tal wants is to monopolize the entire public arena of debate for people holding his own views. And he wants to achieve this by gagging others. He seeks to silence his opponents. He wants the exclusive right to smear those with whom he disagrees, while denying people of other ideologies the freedom to express them.

It so happened that after publishing his "interim report" about his "collective memory" survey, the good Professor Daniel Bar-Tal had the audacity to send a letter to his colleagues, in which he warned them of a witchunt against them. He was referring to "the growing monitoring activities of NGOs that follow what they call "anti-Israeli" publications and other academic events by the Israelis.” He also alerted them to "the participation in our social sciences' network of individuals who use unaccepted language to delegitimize academia staff and activities that they oppose politically.” Finally, he demanded that university officials take disciplinary sanctions against faculty members who cooperate with “monitoring groups” that expose political bias among Israeli academic radicals.

Bar-Tal demanded censorship, so "that these two examples should not be tolerated in our society as they signal McCarthyism and other ugly trends that should not appear in democratic societies.”

Bar-Tal has no interest in honest debate. He proposed the following proposals for censorship and suppression of points of view with which he disagrees:

I quote:

1. The social science network should not publish messages that use derogative language with the purpose to delegitimize individuals and groups that act within the framework of the law and academic norms.

2. We should condemn the use of such language as well as monitoring activities of the academia in Israel or elsewhere.

3. We should bring to light acts that aim at monitoring and limiting free and opened academic activities in the Israeli and the international mass media.

4. We should demand that formal academic bodies such as Senates of the Universities, VERA (forum of university presidents) and the Academy of Science condemn these types of activities.

If we will not act to stop these and other similar activities, but play the role of passive bystanders, they may hurt eventually each of us, destroy the Israeli Academia, and hurt the society.” End of quote.

So Daniel Bar-Tal demands freedom of expression for himself while demanding that it be denied to others. He does not like his own biases and pseudo-research to be monitored or exposed or criticized. He thinks that freedom of speech should be limited to critics of Zionism and Israel, but not allowed for critics of those critics.

In fact, he behaves exactly as a juvenile who fails to win some argument and then insists that his opponent be punished. Otherwise, why does he seek the intervention of the academic institutions and call on them to discipline critics of critics? And what does he mean by stating that these NGO's "destroy Israeli academia?” Doesn’t amateurish pseudo-research destroy Israeli academia?

And who should be considered more guilty of trying to destroy Israeli academia than those who call for an international academic boycott against the country's universities?  But those are the sorts of measures that do not trouble Professor Bar-Tal.

--------------------------------

Footnotes

1. That study is funded by a grant awarded by the IRPA (International Peace Research Association) Foundation to Nets-Zehngut, who came up with the idea to research this topic. It was conducted among a representative sample of 500 Israeli Jews through Dialog, an Israeli center for public opinion research. The questions in the survey examined the collective memory regarding 25 major issues associated with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, ranging from the late 19th century to the beginning of the 21at centaury. Press Release issued by Teachers College in New York on 6 April 2009.
2. For more information, visit the college’s Web site at www.tc.columbia.edu. Learn
3. The damaging report found its way into the digital dictionary Wikipedia under "Israeli Textbook Controversy.”
4. Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. September 1999. Pages 19-20.
5. Daniel Bar-Tal and Yona Teichman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005
6. (Ha'aretz, 1.1.2007)
7. Kibush.co.il, (January 31, 2009).
8. CounterPunch, 22 April, 2002.

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Op-Ed articles appearing on IsraCampus.Org.il are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinion of IsraCampus.Org.il