In 2003, Pilgrim Press, a publishing house owned by the United Church of Christ, a mainline Protestant denomination, published Whose Land? Whose Promise? What Christians Are Not Being Told about Israel and the Palestinians. The book was written by Rev. Dr. Gary Burge, an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and New Testament Scholar at Billy Graham’s alma mater – Wheaton College and Graduate School located in Wheaton, Illinois. This book, a reworking of Burge’s first book Who Are God’s People in the Middle East? What Christians are not being told about Israel and the Palestinians, published by Zondervan in 1993, received a sympathetic review from Christian Century, the house organ for mainline Protestantism in the U.S. Christianity Today, which caters to evangelical Christians in the U.S., gave the book an “award of merit” in its 2004 Book Awards.
Rev. Dr. Burge himself enjoys a large measure of credibility and visibility as a commentator about the Arab-Israeli conflict, in part because of the publication of Whose Land? Whose Promise? Burge serves as a member of the advisory board to the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation and as president of Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding. He has addressed numerous mainline and progressive audiences including the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the Presbyterian Church (USA). (When the PC(USA) held a conference in February 2005 to explain and defend the actions of the denomination’s 2004 General Assembly, which passed a divestment resolution targeting Israel, Burge was one of the speakers at the event.) He also spoke at “Challenging Christian Zionism: Theology, Politics, and the Palestine-Israel Conflict,” sponsored by Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.
In the years after its publication, peace and justice activists in mainline churches have invoked Whose Land? Whose Promise? as a reliable source of information about the Arab-Israeli conflict. The book itself is on Methodist and Lutheran booklists intended to inform mainline Protestants about the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Reform Church in America invokes Burge’s research in its criticism of Christian Zionism.
Pauline Coffman, chair of the board for the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at North Park University in Chicago, described the book’s interest to mainliners at a conference on Christian Zionism at the school in 2005:
If you are like me from the mainline church [PCUSA — see note below.] and didn’t know much about Christian Zionism and this Armageddon talk, it’s a good book to hand to one of your relatives and say “You ought to read this book.” It’s a wonderfully and popularly written introduction to the issues written from a personal point of view. [July 1, 2010 Note: The information in the brackets above has been corrected to show Coffman's affiliation with the PC(USA). It previously reported, incorrectly that Coffman was affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.]
David Neff, editor of Christianity Today is another booster of the text, having written a laudatory blurb that appears on the book’s back cover.
Christians must love modern Israel the way Isaiah and Amos loved their people and their land, passionately arguing for national righteousness and weeping over injustice and moral decay. Whose Land? Whose Promise? is an excellent introduction to the complications of geography, and geopolitics that have wounded and weakened both Israelis and Palestinians. But above all this book challenges us to love—and to love concretely.
In May 2007, Hank Hanegraaff, host of Bible Answer Man, a talk show broadcast on religious and conservative radio stations promoted and sold Burge’s book over his website (equip.org) telling his listeners that it was “an incredible book that you need.”
In reality, the book is a compendium of factual errors, misstatements, omissions and distortions that portray the modern state of Israel in an inaccurate manner.
The errors are egregious and numerous. For example:
Rev. Dr. Burge portrayed an essay by well-known commentator Daniel Pipes as offering a message exactly the opposite of what Daniel Pipes actually wrote.
Rev. Dr. Burge attributed a quote to David Ben-Gurion that had been exposed as false and fabricated several years before publication of Whose Land? Whose Promise? (The book the author cites as the source for the quote in question – a work book intended for high school-age students – does not include the quote in question.)
Rev. Dr. Burge falsely stated that Israeli-Arabs are denied membership in Israel’s labor movement, when in fact, one of the books he cites reports that Israeli-Arabs had been allowed full membership in Israel’s largest union – the Histadrut – since 1959.
Rev. Dr. Burge falsely reported that Israeli-Arabs are barred from the service in Israel’s military.
Rev. Dr. Burge falsely reported that Israeli-Arabs are prohibited from joining Israel’s major political parties.
Rev. Dr. Burge mis-characterized UN Resolution 242 as requiring Israeli withdrawal to its “pre-1967 borders” when in fact it does not.
Rev. Dr. Burge portrays Hezbollah as a “resistance organization” when in fact its political agenda and leaders clearly state the organization is dedicated to the destruction of Israel – a fact he omits in his description.
Rev. Dr. Burge portrays the founding of the PLO as an attempt to resolve the problem of Palestinian refugees created by the 1948 war when in fact its founding was motivated by a desire for the destruction of Israel.
In short, Burge’s book is not an honest assessment of Israeli policies, but an inaccurate indictment. The fact that this book was brought to market by a publishing house that bills itself as an “ecumenical endeavor” of the United Church of Christ, a mainline denomination putatively committed to interfaith dialogue, calls into question the judgment of the people responsible for its publication. That the book was accepted and recommended as a primer on the Arab-Israeli conflict despite its egregious errors raises similar questions about church leaders, activists and intellectuals who embraced the book after its publication.
Use of Sources
One of the most troubling aspects about Rev. Dr. Burge’s book is his use of sources
For three crucial citations (on pages, 37, 39, and 40) Rev. Dr. Burge relies on a high school workbook, The Arab-Israeli Conflict, by Tony McAleavy as his reference. This workbook, published by Cambridge University Press in 1998, is part of the “Cambridge History Programme” a group of texts targeted at secondary school students in Great Britain. In other words, it is a book targeted at a juvenile, or young adult audience. (When checking Rev. Dr. Burge’s references, CAMERA obtained a copy of this book from the Children’s Department of the Chelmsford Public Library in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. The library categorized the book as “JNF” or “juvenile non-fiction.”) As would be expected for a workbook of this type, for the most part, it lacks any citations, but typically provides quotes from unnamed publications. It also is devoid of any context needed to assess the full meaning of the quotes in question.
One of the most important principles of research is to use primary sources whenever possible. To be sure, there are times when the use of secondary sources is necessary and legitimate, but this does not allow the use of any secondary source. Rev. Dr. Burge did not make a judicious or responsible choice when using a secondary school work book as a reference.
To make matters worse, Rev. Dr. Burge erroneously attributes a damning quote from David Ben-Gurion to T.M. McAleavy’s book. On page 39 Rev. Dr. Burge writes:
David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister was specific about his strategy. In a letter to his son in 1937 he wrote, “We will expel the Arabs and take their place.”
Rev. Dr. Burge states this quote appears on page 22 of T.M. McAleavy’s book. CAMERA can find no reference to David Ben-Gurion’s letter on page 22, or anywhere else in that book. Interestingly enough, page 22 does cover that section of Israel’s history – a discussion of the refugee problem – where such a quote might appear.
When CAMERA emailed Rev. Dr. Burge about the actual source of this quote. Rev. Dr. Burge stated in an email that he remembered the letter itself and found it “fascinating.” If Rev. Dr. Burge saw the letter himself, then why did he cite a much less credible secondary source? Did Rev. Dr. Burge see the original text, or did he derive it from another secondary source in which it appeared?
These are crucial questions, because after examining the original text, the actual letter in question – some form of which Rev. Dr. Burge has claimed to have seen – Efraim Karsh professor of Mediterranean Studies at the University of London has demonstrated the quote is a fabrication — several years before its appearance in Whose Land? Whose Promise?
One possible source of this book is a book by Benny Morris titled The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949 published by Cambridge University Press in 1987 (and thoroughly discredited by Karsh). (Rev. Dr. Burge cites Morris’s book on pages 41 and 145 of Whose Land? Whose Promise?) The relevant passage from Morris’s book appears on page 25:
Ben-Gurion understood that few, if any, of the Arabs would uproot themselves voluntarily; the compulsory provision would have to be put into effect. “We must expel Arabs and take their places … and if we have to use force—not to dispossess the Arabs of the Negev and Transjordan, but to guarantee our own right to settle in those places – then we have force at our disposal,” he wrote to his son, Amos, contemplating the implementation of the transfer recommendation of the Peel Commission report.
As to his source for this quote, Benny Morris cites Shabtai Teveth, Ben-Gurion and the Palestine Arabs. The text in question appears on page 189. It reads:
In reflecting on the transfer provision of the Peel Commission’s recommendation, Ben-Gurion planned his next step: ‘We must expel Arabs and take their places.’ He did not wish to do so, for ‘all our aspiration is built on the assumption – proven throughout all our activity – that there is enough room for ourselves and the Arabs in Palestine.’ But if the Arabs did not accept that assumption, ‘and if we have to use force – not to dispossess the Arabs of the Negev and Transjordan, but to guarantee our own right to settle in those places – then we have force at our disposal.
In assessing Morris’s use of Teveth’s text, Karsh writes:
Teveth claimed that Ben-Gurion did not wish to expel the Palestinians since his fundamental article of faith was ‘that there is enough room for ourselves and the Arabs in Palestine’; in Morris’s truncated text, Ben-Gurion wished to do precisely that. Again, Morris has taken liberty with his evidence; this time not by putting his words into other people’s mouths but by deleting key sentences from the original text in a way that turns its real meaning upside down. (Karsh, page 47)
In his preface to Fabricating Israeli History (second revised edition, 2000, page xvii), Karsh reports that Morris himself had not made this error in the Hebrew version of The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem:
While leaving through the book’s English version, I came across a quote from a letter, written by David Ben-Gurion to his son Amos in 1937 stating that ‘we must expel Arabs and take their places.’ Having read the book’s Hebrew edition several years earlier, I recalled the letter as saying something quite different. Indeed, an examination of the Hebrew text confirmed my recollection. It read as follows: “We do not wish, we do not need to expel Arabs and take their place … All our aspiration is built on the assumption … that there is enough room in the country for ourselves and the Arabs. (Ellipses in original.)
All of this then points to Ben-Gurion’s letter to his son. On pages 50 and 51 of Fabricating Israeli History, Karsh reports that the sentence in question was crossed out and rewritten in a slightly different form and in the course of editing the hand-written text, Ben Gurion erased “the critical words ‘do not’ (‘ve-ein’) leaving the sentence ‘as we need’ (anu tsrihim’) rather than as ‘we do not need’ (‘ve-ein anu tshrihim’).” Karsh continues:
As a result a momentary, fleeting typographical oversight has become a pointed weapon in the hands of future detractors, though only if this sentence is taken out of context and presented in a truncated form.
Sadly, this is a pretty good description of Rev. Dr. Burge’s use of the quote in question.
Ultimately, Karsh’s translation of the quote appears to be good enough for Benny Morris, who quotes Ben-Gurion as follows in Righteous Victims, his book on the Arab-Israeli conflict published by Vintage in 1999 and revised in 2001: “We do not want and do not need to expel Arabs and take their places.”
It should be noted, however, that Rev. Dr. Burge’s version of this quote differs from the version that appears in any of the above mentioned sources. Rev. Dr. Burge quotes Ben-Gurion as having written “We will expel the Arabs and take their place” which is a bit different from what Morris and Teveth report: “We must expel Arabs and take their places.”
The version of the quote which Rev. Dr. Burge uses appears in the writings of Jerome Slater, a writer for Tikkun, who reports that his source is Michael Bar-Zohar, author of Facing a Cruel Mirror published in 1990. Regardless of the ultimate source of this quote, it is not accurate.
The problems do not end here. The author also mischaracterized the writing of Daniel Pipes, a well-known commentator on the Middle East. Citing an essay that appeared in the February 2000 issue of Commentary, Rev. Dr. Burge writes:
In an essay published in the journal Commentary, Daniel Pipes describes what he sees as “Israel’s Moment of Truth.” In his mind, Israel has an opportunity to resolve its most basic struggles with the Arabs. But if Israel does not, its own future will be in jeopardy. In a new study of Arab attitudes toward Israel conducted by the American University of Beirut, sixteen hundred (sic) Lebanese, Jordanians, Palestinians, and Syrians were asked about their attitudes toward peace. By a ratio of 69 to 28 (more than 2 to 1), respondents said that they did not want peace with Israel. If a resolution to these attitudes is not discovered, the lines of opposition will harden and peace will slip from reach. The jeopardy for Israel is serious. (Whose Land? Whose Promise? pp. 261-262)
No where in Dr. Pipes’ essay is there any suggestion that the author believes that “Israel has an opportunity to resolve its most basic struggles with the Arabs.” In fact, Dr. Pipes’ essay clearly conveys the opposite. The only people mentioned in Pipes’ essay who believe that Israel had an opportunity for peace are leaders in Israel and the U.S. Pipes writes:
Thanks to Israel’s position of strength, Prime Minister Ehud Barak now speaks confidently of an “end to wars” and of his country’s being finally accepted as a permanent presence by its neighbors. These sentiments are widely echoed both in Israel and in Washington.
Pipes then states, in the very next sentence: “And yet—two trends suggest otherwise. The first has to do with Arab strengths, the second with Israeli weaknesses.” In the remainder of the essay, in which he describes these trends, Pipes makes it perfectly clear that Israel faces threats and challenges to its very existence and that peace is not Israel’s for the making.
For example, Pipes continues:
The point cannot be made often or strongly enough that, in their great majority, Arabic speakers do continue to repudiate the idea of peace with Israel. Despite having lost six rounds of war, they seem nothing loath to try again. In one of the most recent in-depth surveys of Arab opinion, conducted by the political scientist Hilal Khashan of the American University of Beirut, 1,600 responded divided equally among Jordanians, Lebanese, Palestinians and Syrians, stated by a ratio of 69 to 28 percent that they personally did not want peace with Israel. By 79 to 18 percent, they rejected the idea of doing business with Israelis even after a total peace. By 80 to 19 percent, they rejected learning about Israel. By 87 to 13 percent, they supported attacks by Islamic groups against Israel. (Emphasis added).
This passage reveals some troubling omissions. While Rev. Dr. Burge accurately reports that by a ratio 69 to 28 (more than 2 to 1) respondents reject peace with Israel, he omits some damning and telling details. Huge majorities of Arabic speakers do not want to learn about Israel, don’t want to do business with Israel, and that by a ratio of almost 7 to 1, they support Islamist attacks against Israel. These statistics indicate that the lines of opposition have already hardened and that peace is not, as Rev. Dr. Burge suggests, in Israel’s “reach.”
Dr. Pipes concludes his essay as follows:
This is not to say that the Jewish state is in immediate danger; it continues to have a strong military and a relatively healthy body politic, and democracies have demonstrated the capacity to right their mistakes at five minutes to midnight. But one shudders to think of what calamity Israel must experience before its people wake up and assume, once again, the grim but inescapable task of facing the implacable enemies around them.
These passages and others in Pipes’ essay indicate that Rev. Dr. Burge has taken Pipes’ assessment that Israelis must wake up and face the “grim inescapable task of facing the implacable enemies around them” and turned it into an essay about Israel’s opportunity for peace. If Rev. Dr. Burge believes that Israel has an opportunity for peace, he should say so in his own voice. Instead, he has used Dr. Pipes as a ventriloquist’s dummy.
Here are some other factual errors in the book:
Rev. Dr. Burge’s description of UN Resolution 242 which appears on page 42 is inaccurate. Rev. Dr. Burge writes:
The United Nations concluded that Israel had no intention of returning to its “pre-1967” borders and in November 1967 demanded that it do so. This U.N. decision – Resolution 242 – is famous and is still cited today as a call for Israel to return conquered lands and set captive people free.
Rev. Dr. Burge asserts that UN Resolution 242 called for Israel to withdraw to its pre-1967 borders, when in fact it intentionally avoids doing so. Instead, the resolution called for a negotiated settlement to the conflict without specifying to what extent Israel should withdraw from the territory it acquired.
The resolution calls for “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” It does not read “from the territories” or “from all territories.” This is not an accident. Lord Caradon, permanent representative of the United Kingdom to the United Nations (1964-1970) and chief drafter of Resolution 242 explained:
From 1971 until 1982, the Palestine Liberation Organization (the PLO) was based in Lebanon and waged numerous conflicts with Israel in an attempt to redress the refugee problem.”
Rev. Dr. Burge’s portrayal of the PLO as an organization founded “in an attempt to redress the refugee problem” is inaccurate. The PLO’s stated goal was Israel’s destruction. The PLO was founded in 1964 – three years before Israel took possession of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during the Six Day War – to “liberate” Palestine. In 1964, the liberation of Palestine meant Israel itself. Article 15 of the PLO’s charter, approved in July 1968 (and subsequently translated into English by the PLO) is explicit in its call for the “elimination of Zionism in Palestine.” The original Arabic is even more decisive, calling for the “liquidation of the Zionist presence.”
On that same page, Rev. Dr. Burge’s description of Hezbollah as a “resistance movement” makes no mention the organization’s explicit desire to destroy Israel – a desire that was stated numerous times before his book’s publication in 2003. “Pandering to Terrorists,” an article written by Rita Katz and Evan Kohlmann and published in 1999 by The Journal of Counterterrorism & Security International, provides some detail:
… Hizballah regards all territory of the state of Israel as “occupied land,” and is thus firmly committed to the aggressive annihilation of Israel. In the February 1985 statement of Hizballah's goals and principles, an entire paragraph is dedicated to “the necessity for the destruction of Israel,” stating unequivocally that “our struggle will end only when [Israel] is obliterated… we recognize no treaty with it, no cease fire, and no peace agreements, whether separate or consolidated.” The platform goes on to emphasize that Hizballah “vigorously condemns all plans for negotiation with Israel, and regards all negotiators as enemies, for the reason that such negotiation is nothing but the recognition of the legitimacy of the Zionist occupation of Palestine.” Hizballah's propaganda has become, if anything, more insistent about the destruction of Israel over the last 15 years.
In October 1991, during the Madrid Conference, Hizballah radio declared that “as for the peace… it can only be achieved by eliminating Israel from existence and liberating all the territories of usurped Palestine.”
In December 1994, Hizballah's former Secretary General, Shaykh Subhi al-Tufayli, proclaimed that “we shall forever reject Israel's existence… resistance will go on even after Israel's withdrawal… our goal is to destroy the Zionist entity, and in the future there won't be a single Jew or Zionist left in Palestine.”
In March 1996, Hizballah Deputy Secretary General Nayim Qassem stated that “we oppose, and will continue to oppose, the Zionist entity… Israel has no reason to exist, and the solution must be the return of all the Jews to their countries of origin.”
In August 1998, Secretary General Nasrallah called Israel “a cancerous cyst… a germ of corruption… an unnatural presence in the region” that “cannot exist in this region” and “will certainly be eliminated.” Nasrallah continued “the grounds for struggle and holy war against this usurping enemy are strengthening every day, and we think that sooner or later this evil presence will face destruction.”
On July 26, 1999, Nasrallah pledged that “even if the entire world recognizes Israel, even if they threaten to hang us, we cannot recognize this cancer, this racist and terrorist entity.”
This is hardly the agenda of a “resistance group.” Hezbollah has long described itself as intent on Israel’s destruction, not merely Lebanon’s liberation. Rev. Dr. Burge’s portrayal of Hezbollah as a “resistance” organization is emblematic of a larger problem – the tendency of mainline Protestants to unreflectively portray the Palestinian cause as a liberation movement and allow liberation theology to be used as a cover for annihilationist goals embraced by many Palestinian and Arab leaders.
On page 139 Rev. Dr. Burge writes: “Essentially Palestinians within Israel’s borders cannot enter the main systems of Israeli society. The major labor organizations, political parties, and even the military are off limits.” On the following page, he writes “… Palestinians are restricted from joining [the IDF] (for obvious reasons), and thus a whole network of financial benefits are denied to them.”
Rev. Dr. Burge is quite simply wrong on all counts.
Israeli Arabs (i.e. “Palestinians within Israel’s borders) were granted full membership in the Histadtrut, Israel’s largest labor organization in 1959, reports Ian Lustick, author of Arabs in the Jewish State: Israel’s Control of a National Minority, (University of Texas, 1980). Lustick writes:
In 1965 Arabs were permitted to participate actively in the elections to the Histadrut convention, and subsequently the official name of the Histadrut, which had been the General Federation of Jewish Workers in the Land of Israel was changed by omitting the work [sic] “Jewish.” In 1978 there were 130,000 Arab members of the Histadrut, or somewhat less than 10 percent of its total membership. (p. 96)
Interestingly enough, Rev. Dr. Burge invokes this very book on page 138 of Whose Land? Whose Promise? Clearly, Rev. Dr. Burge is familiar with the book in question, but contradicts the facts it provides.
Moreover, the 1991 human rights report for Israel issued by the U.S. Department of State in 1992 includes the following passage:
Israeli workers have freely established organizations of their own choosing. Most unions belong to the General Federation of Labor in Israel (Histadrut), although there is another, much smaller federation also in existence. Histadrut is independent of the Government and political parties, even though a majority of the elected leadership is identified with the Labor Party and there is also a significant Likud minority. Histadrut also has a significant Israeli Arab membership. About 80 percent of the work force, including Israeli Arabs, are members of Histadrut trade unions, and still more are covered by Histadrut social and insurance programs and collective bargaining agreements.
Histadrut members democratically elect national and local officers and officials of its affiliated women's organization, Na'amat, from political party lists. Plant or enterprise committee members are elected individually.
Arabs serve in important leadership posts in the Histadrut. For example Jihad Akel, an Arab living in the Negev served as a Histradrut strike organizer in 1999 and has led several strikes since. On March 24, 1999 the Associated Press reported on an “open-ended strike” that took place two months before general elections on May 17, 1999:
“All we want is to protect the rights of the workers. We’re not the ones who called the elections,” said Histadrut strike organizer Jihad Akel.
On Aug. 7, 2007 Ha’aretz reported:
This was the fifth strike for Jihad Akel since he became head of the Histadrut labor federation situation room.
In short, Rev. Dr. Burge’s assertion that labor unions in Israel are “off-limits” to Israeli-Arabs is quite simply false. It was demonstrably false more than a decade before the publication of Rev. Dr. Burge’s book.
Service in the Military
On the issue of Arab service in the military, Rev. Dr. Burge is also wrong. While most of Israel’s Arab citizens are not required to join the IDF, they are allowed to join. Israel’s Druze male citizens over the age of 18 must serve in the IDF. (Druze are ethnically Arab.) Beduins, who are also ethnically Arab, have volunteered and served with distinction in Israel’s army.
Non-Druze and non-Bedouin Arabs are also allowed to enlist in the IDF.
On Aug. 8, 1991 the Jerusalem Post reported “An increasing number of Christian Arabs are volunteering for service in the IDF, government sources revealed yesterday.” The report, published more than a decade before Rev. Dr. Burge’s book was issued, continues:
This brings the number of Christian Arab volunteers in the army to about 400 – the highest number since the establishment of the State, the sources said. They noted that a further 300 had volunteered to join, marking a significant change in previous attitudes toward army duty.
Dr. Alexander Bligh, the prime minister’s advisor on Arab affairs, has put forward a program to integrate Israeli Arabs into all the country’s institutions, including the army. The emphasis, however, is on volunteering, instead of making army service compulsory as is the case for young Druse, as well as Jews.
After completion of army service, they would be entitled to the same rights and privileges as other demobilized soldiers.
Yossi Klein Halevi wrote an article about non-Bedouisn and non-Druze Arabs serving in the IDF for the Aug. 12, 1993 issue of Jerusalem Report. Halevi writes:
Though not subject to the draft, they have volunteered to serve a full three years’ service. Perhaps because the army doesn’t know quite what else to do with them, they’ve been placed in a Beduin unit, which patrols the desert border with Egypt.
They’ve joined the army because they wanted to break out of their villages and into mainstream Israeli society. And, like those young Jewish Israelis who volunteer for combat units, they wanted to prove their manliness. But most of all, they say, they joined simply because they’re good citizens.
On Jan. 15, 2002, one year before the publication of Rev. Dr. Burge’s book, the Jewish Telegraph Agency reported that “Several hundred Muslim and Christian Arabs volunteer for the army, generally seeing it as a source of livelihood or a prudent career step.”
Here are some of the names of Israeli Arabs who have died while serving in the Israeli military:
<>······Abdel Wahab Darousha. Darousha was a 25-year member of the Labor Party before resigning from the party during the First Intifada to form the Arab Democratic Party.
Nawah Mazalha. Mazalha served as Deputy Minister of Health from 1992 to 1996. In 1999 he was appointed Deputy Foreign Minister by Ehud Barak.
Salah Tarif. Tarif served in the Knesset from 1992 until 2002 when he resigned after he was investigated on charges of bribery. He was convicted in 2003.
Moreover, the right of Israeli-Arabs who have encouraged violence against Israel to serve in the Knesset has been protected by the Israeli Supreme Court. In January 2003, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that Azmi Bishara and Ahmad Tibi could run in the elections after the election commission barred their candidacy.
According to a Spring 2002 article published in Middle East Quarterly (founded by Daniel Pipes, who Burge cites in his book), Bishara “called Ariel Sharon ‘the murderer of Sabra and Shatila,’” and “described the Likud leader as worse than Hitler and Mussolini.” The article recounts some of Bishara’s other public statements :
Azmi Bishara – in the Knesset plenum – described some Israeli soldiers as sexual deviants. “I am willing to bet that anyone who writes ‘Born to Kill' on his helmet is at root a sexual deviant,” he said. “I am sure he has a tendency to sexual violence, which he has to express by shooting at small children. He can't do it in a kindergarten, so he does it at a demonstration.” During an interview with Palestinian television from the U.N. Conference against Racism in South Africa, Bishara opined that the Palestinians would ultimately be victorious over “the cruel enemy,” referring to Israel. It is worth recalling that this conference, “a festival of hate” as Foreign Minister Shimon Peres then called it, was hijacked by Arab and Muslim states which – together with international NGOs and human rights groups – attempted to cast Israel as a genocidal state and equate Zionism with racism. A few months later, this MK characterized Israel's presence in the West Bank and Gaza as an “apartheid regime” and launched a global campaign against Israel: “Our goal is to reach the antiapartheid movements that were against South Africa to try to draw them, to attract them, to this struggle.”
In June 2001, Bishara's Democratic National Union organized the “festival of freedom and dignity” in honor of the Lebanese Shi‘ites who fought the IDF in south Lebanon. The occasion was marked with a minute of silence in memory of “the martyrs who were killed during the war against the Zionist enemy.” At that Hizbullah victory rally, which took place in the Arab-populated city of Umm al-Fahm, ‘Azmi Bishara said: “Hizbullah has won, and for the first time since 1967, we have tasted the sweet taste of victory.”
This same article also recounts some of Tibi’s public statements and political affiliations:
Arab Movement for Renewal leader MK Ahmad Tibi termed Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Shaul Mofaz a “fascist” who is “responsible for murder,” and called Israel's prime minister “a bloodsucking dictator.”
[Tibi] enjoys the distinction of being listed as an “Israeli affairs advisor” to Arafat in the yearly directory of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA), the closest thing to an official directory of Palestinian officialdom. When Likud MK Michael Kleiner cited this in calling for Tibi's resignation from the Knesset, Tibi explained that it was an old, uncorrected list. Yet Tibi was first listed as an advisor in 1999 (and not in the 1996,1997, and 1998 listings) and his name has appeared since then in the 2000 and 2001 editions.
Rev. Dr. Burge also ignores the influence Arab voters play in Israeli politics. Arab voters were credited with playing a role in Ehud Barak’s defeat of Benjamin Netanyahu in 1999. The refusal of Arab voters to support Ehud Barak in the 2001 election played a substantial role in his loss to Ariel Sharon that year. On Feb. 1, 2001 The Los Angeles Times reported:
For weeks, polls have registered an astonishing crumbling of support among the nation's Arabs, who had a 76% turnout in 1999, with more than 94% of those voters casting ballots for Barak. The polls indicate that between 60% and 80% of the half a million Israeli Arab voters intend to either boycott the election or cast blank ballots. Only between 6% and 20% say they will vote for Barak.
While Israeli-Arabs are a minority in Israeli politics, they do have greater access to political involvement than Rev. Dr. Burge suggests. Benny Morris, a historian whom Rev. Dr. Burge invokes in his book, has stated the following in recent correspondence with CAMERA:
Indeed, Arab representatives in the Knesset, who continuously call for dismantling the Jewish state, support the Hezbollah, etc., enjoy more freedom than many Western democracies give their internal Oppositions. (The U.S. would prosecute and jail Congressmen calling for the overthrow of the U.S. Govt. or the demise of the U.S.) The best comparison would be the treatment of Japanese Americans by the US Govt … and the British Govt. [incarceration] of German emigres in Britain WWII … Israel's Arabs by and large identify with Israel's enemies, the Palestinians. But Israel hasn't jailed or curtailed their freedoms en masse (since 1966 [when Israel lifted its state of martial law]).
Rev. Dr. Burge also complains on page 138 that “For many years no nationwide Palestinian political party that includes the Occupied Territories has been permitted into the system, so Arabs hold only a few Knesset seats (merely 7 percent).”
Again, a quote from Benny Morris is useful:
But Gaza's and the West Bank's population (Arabs) are not Israeli citizens and cannot expect to benefit from the same rights as Israeli citizens so long as the occupation or semi-occupation (more accurately) continues, which itself is a function of the continued state of war between the Hamas-led Palestinians (and their Syrian and other Arab allies) and Israel.
Clearly, Israel remains committed to democracy under some very difficult circumstances, and yet, Rev. Dr. Burge’s factual errors distort the record.
Massacre at Tantura
Rev. Dr. Burge’s portrayal of the controversy surrounding an alleged massacre at Tantura is also marred by omissions and distortions.
On page 110, Rev. Dr. Burge writes that Israel has exhibited an “emerging national culture of self-examination of criticism, which has not been embraced by everyone, however, particularly since the outbreak of violence in 2000. Resistance within the Israeli academy has been firm as well.”
To buttress his depiction of intransigence in the Israeli academy Burge writes:
In 1998, an M.A. student at the University of Haifa completed a well-researched thesis that uncovered an Israeli atrocity in the Arab village of Tantura during May 22-23, 1948, in which Israeli soldiers massacred 250 Arabs. He interviewed Jews and Arabs who claimed to be eyewitnesses and published the results in 2000.The Israeli army unit that committed the crime sued Katz, and today the case is still pending in court. Ilan Pappe´ teaches in the political science department of that university, has examined the thesis carefully and affirmed its truthfulness. According to Pappe´, the affair has created a tremendous legal and academic storm in Israel. (page 110)
It should be noted however, that while Ilan Pappé (to whom Katz dedicated his thesis) found the document truthful, an internal committee at Haifa University discovered that it contained “fabricated quotes purporting to come from veterans (The Times Higher Education Supplement, Aug. 3, 2001).” According to the report:
Amatzia Bar-Am, head of the Jewish-Arab Centre at the university and a member of the committee appointed to investigate, said: “We looked at a sample of the dissertation. Each one of us took three or four interviewees. We looked at 28 percent of all cases in which massacre or mass murder were mentioned. We were dealing with only one chapter – “Tantura”. (sic) We can say nothing about whether there were mass murders or whether the rest of the work was good or bad.
“Mr Katz sometimes quoted people as saying things they did not say. One source is his cassettes; the other source is his notes. There are cases where the recording and the notes are the same, but the dissertation says something else. The way he poured interviews into the thesis was wrong. When someone is saying something in an interview, you can paraphrase. If you choose to quote, you have to do it word for word.”
On Nov. 18, 2001, the Graduate School Council at the University of Haifa concluded that “there are substantive defects in the work” and that “the thesis cannot be accepted in its current form.” The book was removed from the shelves of the University of Haifa and the council requested that other university libraries follow suit. Katz was allowed to rewrite and re-submit his work, and he did. His re-submitted thesis was sent to five reviewers, three of whom gave Katz a failing grade, effectively blocking his ability to proceed for his Ph.D.
Moreover, the case filed against Katz by the soldiers in question was not as Rev. Dr. Burge reported in 2003, “still pending.” Katz’s final appeal was rejected by the Israeli Supreme Court on November 6, 2001 – two calendar years before Whose Land? Whose Promise? was published in 2003.
It should also be noted that the initial trial against Katz (which began in Dec. 2000) was halted after he agreed to print an apology in two Israeli papers. An excerpt of this apology was included in the Ilan Pappé article cited by Rev. Dr. Burge, but it is not mentioned in Whose Land? Whose Promise? Soon after agreeing to issue the apology, Katz reneged on his promise and filed an appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court, which issued its ruling in November 2001.
The overall impact of Burge’s omission of readily available information about the fabricated quotes and the university’s decision to reject Katz’s thesis is to portray it as merely a consequence of Israel’s political environment when in fact the case involved substantive and legitimate issues regarding the quality of Katz’s work, the existence of a massacre, and the reputation of the soldiers in question. His failure to report that the case was resolved in 2001 – two years before the book was published – lends a false air of unsettled controversy regarding the case. Troublingly, Burge writes, without qualification, of “the army unit that committed the crime” when there is no credible evidence or judicial judgment that such a crime took place.
Contradiction Regarding Jewish Self-Determination
Rev. Dr. Burge offers contradictory statements about the Jewish right of self-determination in his book. He appears to affirm this right in his preface where he writes:
We need to make an unequivocal statement affirming Israel’s right to exist as a nation in the region. Israeli anxiety about the rejection, about the denial of its own legitimacy, is profound and grounded in the reality of both Christian and Arab rejection of the right to Jewish self-expression in a sovereign Israel. (Page xvii)
Nevertheless, what Rev. Dr. Burge affirms in his preface, he denies on page 258 where he writes:
Evangelicals opposed to the secular nationalism of Israel are not discriminating against the Jews as a people. On the contrary, evangelical critics are expressing dissatisfaction with the behavior of a nation that ought to know better-a nation whose possession of the Scriptures ought to give it more light.
This is an explicit refusal to allow Jews living in Israel the right to embrace “secular nationalism,” a movement embraced by dozens of nations throughout the world. Rev. Dr. Burge refuses to allow Israel the right to embrace this cause because of its “possession of the Scriptures.” In this passage, it appears that Rev. Dr. Burge insists that the Jews of Israel must be a people of God whether they wish to be or not.
Two important questions raised by Whose Land? Whose Promise? are whether Israelis are entitled to have people speak about their state in a fair and factual manner and whether or not Jews have the “right to be ordinary.” These questions are at the root of Christian discourse about the Arab-Israeli conflict.
By Dexter Van Zile