In rereading Norman Finkelstein’s book, Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, I noticed that in the furor that occured in the mid-80s over the false issue of Whether there were even Palestinians in Palestine when Israel was born, an important part was played by the great former New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis.
Not to get too deep into the issue, but in 1984 Joan Peters published From Time Immemorial, which claimed that most Palestinians had immigrated into Palestine once the Jewish immigrants got things rolling there. She based her "analysis" on British Mandatory records of in- and out-migration. A couple of scholars, notably Norman Finkelstein and Yehoshuah Porath, defenestrated Peters’s claims. They looked at the same records and showed that she had misrepresented numbers, gotten numbers wrong. All to serve a highly tendentious argument, that there were no Palestinians, or few of them.
Finkelstein says there was a struggle to get the word out. Joan Peters’s book was a Jewish bestseller, endorsed by Saul Bellow and Barbara Tuchman. Finkelstein had trouble publishing his own findings. Ultimately Alex Cockburn wrote about them in the Nation, though, and that did some good; and Porath published in the New York Review of Books.
And then in the middle of it all, Anthony Lewis wrote a noble column: "There Were No Indians." He called the lie a lie in the center of mainstream-intellectual culture, the Op-Ed page of the Times.
One of the tragedies of Bill Kristol’s ascension to be a Times Op-Ed columnist, besides the grant of immunity awarded by the paper that printed the Pentagon Papers after the Vietnam debacle, the fact that he is now getting to wash his hands in the font on 43d Street rather than be grilled for an investigative series on the front page about the neoconservative ideas that gave rise to the Iraq war, is that, There is no Anthony Lewis now.
It was a tragedy when Clarence Thomas, an angry emotionally-convoluted second rater, got the Thurgood Marshall seat on the Supreme Court; Thomas couldn’t hold a candle to Marshall, and had nothing like Marshall’s amazing achievement. And though there is no such thing as a Jewish seat on the Times Op-Ed page (No it is the exceptions who are not Jewish), it is a shame that There is no voice on that page who comes out for Palestinian human rights, as Lewis did on a fairly regular basis. I believe that Nicholas Kristof has it in him, and may have made some evenhanded noises about the cycle of violence in Israel/Palestine, but he seems timid on this score. And Lewis held that ground at a time when it was extremely unpopular. Being in Boston may have made things easier for him, but I imagine he lost friends over the issue. Now it is the Prague spring for criticism of Israel in this country, and the Times Op-Ed page has no representative of this important dissident point of view regarding a central element of our Middle East policy….Some day our society will wake up from this freeze.