When billionaire businessman and philanthropist Sheldon Adelson was honored in Jerusalem recently, with Mayor Nir Barkat declaring him an honorary citizen of the holy city, the New York Times bureau chief Jodi Rudoren was one of the reporters in attendance (A Mogul Comes to Lunch, and He Doesn’t Hold His Tongue).
As Rudoren tells it, Adelson “tried to school American reporters on the history of the Middle East” – the emphasis being on “tried,” since Rudoren and her colleagues are apparently much too expert and knowledgeable to be schooled by a mere “conservative casino mogul” who is “close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”
As dessert was served, Adelson “held court, offering his characteristically unvarnished views,” and in Rudoren’s characteristically unvarnished view this is when the day’s most ill-founded and impolitic statements were uttered:
As for the Palestinians, Mr. Adelson said, “They teach their children that Jews are descended from swine and apes, pigs and monkeys.” Then he questioned their existence as a distinct ethnic group, saying they were “southern Syrians” or Egyptians until Yasir Arafat, who was leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, “came along with a pitcher of Kool-Aid and gave it to everybody to drink and sold them the idea of Palestinians.”
These ideas, staples of the far right, are deeply offensive to the Palestinians — perhaps partly the point.
Does Rudoren really believe that these claims are mere staples of the far right, and thus, at least in her view, incorrect and without foundation? If so, she does indeed need to be schooled in both current events and Middle East history.
For there is overwhelming evidence that, for example, programs on official Palestinian television routinely term Jews the “sons of apes and pigs” or the like, and it is amazing that Rudoren is either unaware of this or, perhaps even worse, is aware but is unwilling to acknowledge it.
As for the second point, regarding the relatively recent origins of Palestinian nationalism, perhaps Ms. Rudoren would be surprised to learn that on this score the famous Arab historian George Antonius is on the same page as Adelson. Indeed, in his seminal book The Arab Awakening: The Story of the Arab National Movement (1939), Antonius wrote:
Except where otherwise specified, the term Syria will be used to denote the whole of the country of that name, which is now split up into the mandated territories of (French) Syria and the Lebanon, and (British) Palestine and Transjordan.
That is, according to Antonius, the British Palestine of 1939 was formerly part of a larger Syria, and that therefore the Arabs of British Palestine were actually Syrians, or to be more exact geographically, southern Syrians, just as Adelson said.
About a decade later, during the debate at the United Nations over the disposition of the Palestine Mandate, the Arab Higher Committee represented the interests of the Arab community in Palestine. Testifying on May 9, 1947 one of the AHC’s designated representatives, lawyer and historian Henry Kattan, stated:
Palestine was … part of the province of Syria, but this inclusion did not in any way alter or affect the Arab character of Palestine. Politically the Arabs of Palestine were not independent in the sense of forming a separate political entity. (Quoted in British Rule in Palestine, Bernard Joseph, 1948; see also a paraphrase of Kattan’s testimony in Yearbook of the United Nations, 1946-1947)
So it’s not just the famous historian Antonius that backs up Adelson, it’s also the Arab Higher Committee that in 1947 represented the interests of Palestinian Arabs at the United Nations.
Similarly, in 1946 testifying against partition before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, noted Arab-American historian and Princeton University Professor Philip Hitti said:
There is no such thing as ‘Palestine’ in history, absolutely not…[It is but] a very small tiny spot there on the southern part of the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, surrounded by a vast territory of Arab Muslim lands, beginning with Morocco, continuing through Tunis, Tripoli and Egypt, and going down to Arabia proper, then going up to Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq — one solid Arab-speaking bloc — 50,000,000 people.
(Efraim Karsh, Palestine Betrayed, pp. 39-40 citing Abu Khaldun Sati al-Husri, al-Uruba Awalan (Beirut: Dar al-Ilm li-l-Malain, 1955) pp. 11-13; Hearing before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, Washington D.C., State Department, Jan. 11, 1946, Central Zionist Archives (CZA), V/9960/g, pp. 10-11.)
And it’s not just figures from the 1940’s who hold this position on Palestinian nationalism – in a 1994 interview on Israel’s Channel 2 the Israeli-Arab politician Dr.Azmi Bishara stated:
Well, I don’t think there is a Palestinian nation at all. I think there is an Arab nation, I always thought so and I didn’t change my mind. I don’t think there is a Palestinian nation, I think it’s a Colonial invention Palestinian nation. When were there any Palestinians? Where did it come from? What I think there is an Arab nation, I never turned to be a Palestinian Nationalist, despite of my decisive struggle against the occupation. I think that until the end of the 19th century, Palestine was the South of Great Syria.
The bottom line is that there is quite a lot of support for Adelson’s take on the relatively recent origins of Palestinian nationalism, and, contrary to Rudoren, not from the Jewish “far right” but from Arab intellectuals. (For more examples regarding the origins of Palestinian nationalism click here.)
So when Rudoren refused to be “schooled” by Sheldon Adelson, she was rejecting exactly what she desperately needs. If Rudoren wants to do a better job at covering the Middle East, she should take every opportunity to learn more about the region, even if the teacher happens to be – horrors – a pro-Israel mogul.