Benny Morris: A Man Everyone Can Love to hate

Benny Morris has a new book out where he examines the rise of the one-state solution in the discourse around the Israel-Palestine conflict. I review it here.

The review has much of what i would want to say about Morris. But I think it’s important to emphasize two things.

One is that Morris is clearly racist in his approach. While he’s certainly willing to be critical, even cynical about Israeli leaders, he seems to approach every statement by an Arab leader as being a lie until proven otherwise.

The second, however, is that despite this serious problem, Morris’ work has been groundbreaking and, though inconsistent, very important. This current book was foreshadowed at the end of his previous one, 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War. That book, which spiralled downward at the end, was perhaps Morris’ best and is widely seen as the best book yet written on the 1947-49 war (a view i tend to agree with).

Morris is, in many ways, the antithesis of Ilan Pappe. The latter embraces the futility of objectivity and writes

Benny Morris

Benny Morris

unabashedly from a particular point of view. The former strives to be objective and, while he often falls short like the rest of us, he often does overcome his own baises and produce important work that doesn’t necessarily support his own personal views.

That’s why it’s important to recognize the two Benny Morrises. One is a very poor polemicist whose racism often seeps through. The other is an excellent researcher who is often successful at getting beyond his own biases and prejudices and whose work merits the most serious attention.

Benny Morris is an enigma, but you can’t deal with one side of him without the other. His work should not be dismissed because of his views, but his work should also not give credence to his more base views. And, it should also be noted, that being an excellent historian doesn’t necessarily mean one is a good political analyst.

More in my review, published here.

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2 Responses to “Benny Morris: A Man Everyone Can Love to hate”

  1. godlessjew Says:

    Some excellent points.

    Yale University Press has done quite a number with Morris’ new book. Both the title and the claim that Morris “arrives at a new way of thinking about the discord, injecting a ray of hope in a region where it is most sorely needed” are ridiculously misleading and irresponsible ways of marketing this book (Morris’ novel “peace plan” takes up 4 out of 200 pages),

    My real disappointment with this book is not only in the author’s interpretation of history (which you allude to), or with his lack of vision for peace, but also in the quality of scholarship. Morris is a top-notch historian. Maybe Israel’s best. But this book is full of exaggerations, unfounded claims, and manipulative language.

    To give but one example. Morris describes the beginning of the second intifadah as follows:

    “On 28 September the Likud’s new leader, Ariel Sharon, guarded by dozens of policemen, visited the Temple Mount for twenty-four minutes in what many Arabs regarded a provocation (though he made no statement and did not enter the mosques). Muslim crowds gathered in Jerusalem and began pelting the police with stones. The following day, a Friday, tens of thousands gathered on the Temple Mount for prayers and large-scale riots erupted. The rioting quickly spread to the West Bank and Gaza, and Israeli and Palestinian security men exchanged fire. Palestinian broadcasters and leaders invoked Jihad. The Second Intifada had begun.”

    Now what is wrong with this picture?

    1) Notice the play with numbers – exaggerated or minimized in Israel’s favor. Sharon is guarded by “dozens” of policemen. Actually, one thousands. The visit lasts “twenty-four minutes” (here Morris found it necessary to be precise). Finally on Friday, “tens of thousands” come to pray and riot.

    2) “Though he made no statement”: Actually right after he departed from the Temple Mount Sharon spoke to reporters and said, “I came here as one who believes in coexistence between Jews and Arabs. I believe that we can build and develop together. This was a peaceful visit. Is it an instigation for Israeli Jews to come to the Jewish people’s holiest site?”

    3) Sin of omission: “The following day, a Friday, tens of thousands gathered on the Temple Mount for prayers and large-scale riots erupted. The rioting quickly spread to the West Bank and Gaza, and Israeli and Palestinian security men exchanged fire.” What is missing here? Oh yeah, on Friday Israeli security forces used rubber-coated metal bullets and live ammunition to disperse the demonstrators, killing 4 persons and injuring about 200. But curiously Morris forgets to mention this.

    4) Finally, who are these “Palestinian broadcasters and leaders” who are invoking Jihad? Morris does not say or source (something that happens a lot in this book. )

  2. Danny Says:

    Morris also neglected to mention the roadside bomb that went off the day before Sharon’s visit and the murder of a border policeman by his Palestinian “colleague” and the bomb that went off later on the 28th but i guess it is ok to neglect THOSE events.

    Morris also apparently neglects to mention – like you did in your response – that the “demonstrators” also seriously injured around 20 policemen and random Jews including one who bleeding face was broadcast all over the world as a “Palestinian” who had been brutally beaten up by the police. Again strangely in your push for precision you seem to have neglected this side too.

    Barghouti is on record having decided to use this event to “liberate” Jerusalem. If you really want sources – and i suspect you couldn’t actually care less – look in the back of “The Seventh War” by two of your Ha’aretz colleagues.

    Morris is indeed the anti-thesis of Pappe. Pappe is simply a fraud, a liar who just fabricates “evidence” to back up his point of view, at worst with Morris he has tendentious interpretations of evidence and occasionally is wrong – for instance like when he stated that Israel should have accepted and offered to negotiate with the Arabs over the Saudi peace plan when that is exactly what both Sharon in 2002 and Olmert later agreed to do.

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