On February 2, PBS’s Tavis Smiley hosted Miko Peled on his talk show. Peled is a radical anti-Israel activist who has, in the past, falsely described Israel as an apartheid state, referred to Israeli airport security officers as the “Smiling Gestapo,” and defended terrorists.
On Smiley’s program, Peled:
- called Jewish history a myth,
- called Israel an illegitimate state, saying Jews have no right to self-determination there,
- called the Haganah a terrorist group, but justified terrorism against Israelis, and
- perpetuated falsehoods about Israel, including the ubiquitous water libel.
Yet, his host failed to aggressively challenge his assertions.
When Smiley asked Peled how he responds to allegations that he is antisemitic, Peled responded, in essence, that he can’t be antisemitic, first, because he is Jewish, and second, because he is not racist against African Americans or other racial minorities. Peled then claims that opposing the State of Israel – not its policies, but the State itself – is not antisemitic. In fact, the Obama State Department declared that it is. This, too, is ignored by his host.
Neither Smiley nor a second guest, apparently brought on in an attempt at “balance,” unraveled the falsehoods promoted by Peled. Real journalism requires real facts, not narratives spun by advocates. PBS should do better.
If Tavis Smiley had researched his subject prior to the interview, he would have found that Peled has falsely described Israel as an apartheid state, and called Israeli airport security officers the “Smiling Gestapo.” In the anti-Israel website Electronic Intifada, Peled wrote that “Israel is an illegitimate creation brought about by a union between racism and colonialism,” and that “criticizing Palestinian resistance [i.e., terrorism] is unconscionable.” He has described terrorists serving time in Israeli prisons – some for murder – as “political prisoners.”
The Obama State Department defined antisemitism to include “justifying the killing or harming of Jews (often in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion),” as well as “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis,” and “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist.” Prior to appearing on Smiley’s show, Peled had engaged in all three of these behaviors. Yet, during the program, Smiley failed to aggressively challenge Peled when he continued his open delegitimization of the State of Israel, when he dismissed historical fact as a “mythical narrative,” or when he promoted a narrative that is not based in fact at all.
Peled began the discussion by calling “the return of the Jewish people, the building of a Jewish state after 2,000 years” a mythical narrative. He continued,
Legitimizing the idea that Jews have a right to come from Europe, take over a land that is inhabited by other people, kick those people away and establish their own state there, I don’t see how you legitimize that. But these were different times.
These were times where Europeans thought they could come to the countries of people who are not white and do whatever they wanted, and that’s what really Zionism was about. The idea was for white European Jews to go to go to Palestine that was inhabited by Arabs, which means they’re probably just Bedouins and poor people and who cares, and establish a state for the Jewish people.
There are numerous problems with this statement. First, Peled ignores the ample historical evidence that Jews are in fact indigenous to the land of present-day Israel, and ignores that Jews have maintained a continuous presence in Jerusalem since 1004 BCE. Second, referring to Jews simply as “white Europeans” ignores the history of Jewish oppression in Europe, as well as the fact that many Jewish Israelis arrived in the country as refugees from Arab lands. And, as CAMERA has shown before, “many of those who today identify as Palestinians descend from relatively recent migrations from surrounding territories.”
It’s also inaccurate to generally describe the Arabs living in Mandatory Palestine as having been “kicked away.” While there were some instances in which the Arabs of Palestine were forced from their homes during the 1948 War of Independence, in most cases, those who became refugees fled from actual or anticipated fighting.
In one of his more disturbing comments, Peled refers to the Haganah as a terrorist group. In fact, the Haganah was formed for the defense of the Jewish communities of Mandatory Palestine, after British forces failed to protect those communities from attack. A few minutes later in the interview, however, Peled justifies terrorism when it is committed against Israelis, saying “if they’re Palestinians and they live there and you come and declare that it’s a Jewish state, what are they supposed to do, you know? They’re going to resist. They’re going to fight. You’re going to put them in prison, you’re going to call them terrorists.” Again, Smiley fails to challenge either the inaccurate characterization of the Haganah, or the defense of the murder of civilians.
Smiley gives Peled an opening for the delegitimization of Israel when he asks, “tell me why you no longer believe that a two-state solution is even viable.” Peled responds at some length, but never mentions that Palestinians have turned down Israeli offers to withdraw, allowing them to create their own state, three times since 2000. Instead, he absurdly claims that the fact that people refer to the region as “Judea and Samaria” somehow prevents the establishment of a Palestinian state. In discussing the close proximity in which Jews and Palestinians live in the West Bank, he also relies on the assumption that Jews won’t be able to live in a future Palestinian state, without questioning whether or why, this is so –namely, that they would likely be targeted with violence. Finally, he cites the descendants of Palestinian refugees, without questioning why they are the only refugee group that passes down refugee status from one generation to the next, rather than being resettled in their host countries.
During the interview, Peled says explicitly, “I don’t accept that there’s a need for a Jewish state…. You cannot have a Jewish state in an Arab country unless you are going to infringe upon the rights of the local people. You have to kick them out because they won’t have rights.” Peled – and Smiley – both ignore the fact that two million Arabs live in Israel with full and equal rights. Here, however, Peled does get a little bit of push-back from his host, when Smiley asks, “why are Jews not entitled to their own homeland, to their own state, to their own borders? Why are they not entitled to that?” Peled’s response is telling: “Because Jews have their states. They have American Jews in America. They’ve got French Jews in Germany. You’ve got, you know, Australian Jews in Australia.”
Peled’s claim that Israel is unnecessary because they’ve “got French Jews in Germany,” ignores the fact that for most of the history of European Jewry, Jews were persecuted, culminating in the Holocaust. It ignores that in the Middle East, Jews lived in second-class, or dhimmi, status. It ignores the current flight of French Jews into Israel, to escape anti-Jewish violence there.
Smiley misses those points in his response, in which he asserts “that’s like saying Americans, we shouldn’t have a US of A because there are Americans all around the globe.” His comparison to America is specious. European colonists who came to the US were not indigenous to this land, as Jews are to Israel, and there was no American nation living in exile for 2,000 years.
Finally, Peled repeats the thoroughly-debunked water libel, saying, Palestinians “get 12 hours of water per week,” and implying that this is Israel’s fault. As CAMERA has noted before, the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA) has dispelled this canard:
Water shortages in the Palestinian Authority are the result of Palestinian policies that deliberately waste water and destroy the regional water ecology. The Palestinians refuse to develop their own significant underground water resources, build a seawater desalination plant, fix massive leakage from their municipal water pipes, build sewage treatment plants, irrigate land with treated sewage effluents or modern water-saving devices, or bill their own citizens for consumer water usage, leading to enormous waste.
At the same time, they drill illegally into Israel’s water resources, and send their sewage flowing into the valleys and streams of central Israel. In short, the Palestinian Authority is using water as a weapon against the State of Israel. It is not interested in practical solutions to solve the Palestinian people’s water shortages, but rather perpetuation of the shortages and the besmirching of Israel.
CAMERA’s Tricia Miller has written:
Israel supplies Palestinian communities with water from Israeli wells and has laid hundreds of kilometers of new water mains and connected hundreds of Palestinian villages and towns to the newly built water system. Villages and towns not hooked up to the new system have refused the service for political reasons, believing that acceptance of Israel’s offer of a new water supply would legitimize the “occupation.”
The guest that followed Peled on the program, Rabbi Steve Leder, was presumably intended to give an appearance of balance. Rabbi Leder did disagree with Peled about the need for a two-state solution and for Jewish self-determination, and did note that, according to former US envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations Martin Indyk, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has “checked out.” Rabbi Leder did not, however, debunk any of Peled’s falsehoods and he did not note that the Palestinians have rejected three Israeli peace offers. Thus, many of Peled’s claims went unchallenged.