At her book launch, Olson’s Indian ancestry gives hasbara-ist opening to use U.S. ethnic-cleansing excuse

on 19 Comments

On Thursday night, I went to the book launch event for Pamela Olson’s memoir Fast Times in Palestine at the New School. For quite a while now, I’ve thought Pamela was going to become a star—young, smart, and cool and self-confident with a microphone in her hands. And for the issue of the Mideast, an exotically-unusual background: small town girl from Oklahoma, who would find herself spending several years in Israeli-occupied Palestine in the years after 9/11. The small town girl confronting big worldly, potentially dangerous experience-–whether in the city, or abroad, is one of the most classic of American literary themes—even as there are fewer small towns to come from. One large question would seem to be who will play Olson in the movie version?

But here the subject matter is Israel/Palestine so the usual bets are off. Surprisingly (or perhaps not) the book didn’t get a large publisher, though this is likely far less important with the publishing industry in upheaval. 

The launch drew about a hundred people. Olson read and answered questions posed by a Palestinian-American woman whose name I didn’t get (having arrived a few minutes late.) The book, which has been excerpted here, is a nuanced account of unique experience, and seems perhaps most of all testament to the Palestinian people’s remarkable capacity to endure and struggle against a sophisticated system designed to squeeze the life out of them.

A few interesting points came up in the audience question period. Olson had mentioned her great-grandmother who is an American Indian, and was talking a bit about Oklahoma, and the culture of Christian Zionism. And then a guy in the audience, young, American accent, mentioned that he was from Oklahoma too, and talked of the culture of land grabbing and settlement.

That gave an opening for a hasbara guy, who raised his hand to say that when Americans forcibly dislocated the Cherokees in the 1820’s, Jews had nothing whatever to do with it. He then went to praise Israel’s settlement of post-1948 Jewish refugees from Arab countries (an exodus which Israel hardly discouraged, seeking to bring as many Jews as possible into the country as a national goal) and added that Olson had not said anything the King Hussein’s war against the Palestinians in the Black September period, and why was that? Why hadn’t she written a pro-Israel book after her years on the West Bank? 

I wonder what really motivates these hasbara outbursts. Is going to contending events and interrupting with irrelevant questions job training to acquire a paid position, or is something young right wing Zionists really enjoy doing? Or do they think it’s persuasive? Anyway, he was given a polite answer and we moved on.

But the American Indian parallel is becoming a new anchor of Lkudnik argumentation: what right do you Americans have to lecture us about ethnic cleansing? You would assume that Israelis would recognize the weakness of an argument based on the premise that if evil was done in the past, it’s then totally alright to do it again to someone else, but evidently not.

I had to leave Olson’s event for a dinner before chatting with her, but quickly bought a book to give to my dining partners. I hope many do the same.

About Scott McConnell

Scott McConnell is a founding editor of the American Conservative. The former editorial page editor of The New York Post, he has written for Fortune, The New Criterion, National Review, Commentary and many other publications.

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19 Responses

  1. Elliot
    July 9, 2011, 9:13 am

    But the American Indian parallel is becoming a new anchor of Likudnik argumentation: what right do you Americans have to lecture us about ethnic cleansing?
    This argument is hoary and perennial. I can’t remember when I first heard that one but it was many moons ago. That and slavery, U.S. hypocrisy in international human rights and let us not forget FDR’s failure to allow Jews trying to get out of Nazi Germany to enter the U.S.
    These are all vain attempts to deflect attention away from what Israel is doing to the Palestinians.

  2. ritzl
    July 9, 2011, 10:51 am

    What right? Because we learned from our experience, as has the rest of the world, that manifest destiny and colonialism are abhorrent practices. So I guess our right on the narrow issue of colonialism and ethnic cleansing (we’re still militaristic as hell and don’t much care who or how many we kill) is that of a parent teaching their 2-year old about electrical outlets. You don’t have to stick your finger in one to come to believe/know that that is a bad thing. Of course some people do stick their fingers in electrical outlets. But then maybe a better analogy wrt Israel would be sticking someone else’s finger in the electrical outlet.

    Goldstone said on Moyers, that “the rules have changed since WWII.” Israel longs for/acts as if it were the 19. century, while fully aware of the history. That makes it a choice instead of an ignorance. Doubly wrong.

  3. Nevada Ned
    July 9, 2011, 11:04 am

    I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what Pamela Olson aid.
    She could have replied something like this…
    “You’re making an analogy between the US treatment of the Native Americans and the Israeli treatment of the native Palestinians. The US settlers are like the Israeli Jews, and the Palestinians are like the Native Americans. That’s the analogy that you’re making…Now many people would say that the US treatment of the Native Americans amounted to genocide. The slogan was ‘the only good Indian is a dead Indian’.
    So according to your analogy, the treatment of the Palestinians by Israel is genocide.
    So when you bring up the analogy of the Native Americans,
    you may have said more than you realized!!”

    • Pixel
      July 9, 2011, 11:39 am

      WE need to take control of that dialogue and this should be the strategic approach.

  4. Robert
    July 9, 2011, 11:54 am

    Scott’s points could have been made even sharper than they are:

    The flight of Iraqi Jews, for example, was an organized stampede between Ben Gurion and the Iraqi Government.

    Second, the Native Americans received Citizenship in the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.

  5. Mooser
    July 9, 2011, 12:51 pm

    “I wonder what really motivates these hasbara outbursts. Is going to contending events and interrupting with irrelevant questions job training to acquire a paid position, or is something young right wing Zionists really enjoy doing? Or do they think it’s persuasive?”

    It’s how they get the Ziocaine flowing. The gratification they get outweighs any other consideration.

  6. MHughes976
    July 9, 2011, 12:52 pm

    I think that 100 is rather good, esp. without a ‘big publisher’ – I’m not at all surprised at their absence.
    I still hope something can be done over here in the UK, where so far the only access to the book is through Kindle. I’m sure we too could rally a decent number at a launch, but that I suppose is where a big publisher would have come in handy.

  7. mudder
    July 9, 2011, 12:55 pm

    My great-grandfather participated in the Oklahoma Land Run of 1893 to get his new lot in Cherokee land. I like almost all Americans today, feel that a great injustice was done to the Native Americans. Comparing Palestinians to Native Americans can only help the Palestinian cause.

    • MRW
      July 9, 2011, 6:37 pm

      15-25 million people. 500 nations.

      • mudder
        July 10, 2011, 10:39 pm

        indeed. thx

  8. Chaos4700
    July 9, 2011, 1:59 pm

    What motivates these people is they hate brown people.

    It’s really decidedly uncomplicated.

    • MRW
      July 9, 2011, 6:36 pm

      Which is also what’s behind the right-wing American and right-wing US Jewish support for the wall separating the US and Mexico: brown people. The Pew Center has the quotes. All those John Tanton groups that he founded, both overtly and covertly, and funded, overtly and covertly. Steinlight worked for one of them. Steinlight being Lou Dobbs’ main go-to guy:
      “Open Borders Threaten Jewish Clout” –
      link to

      That’s why Haim Saban bought one of the big Spanish networks six months after this article appeared.

  9. Les
    July 9, 2011, 3:44 pm

    It is my understanding that in the US, today’s school children are taught that what the settlers did to the Indians was wrong and justice is still due the Indians especially because of the legacy of the problems ethnic cleansing has caused.

    • mudder
      July 10, 2011, 10:47 pm

      At least in public schools this is true. In parochial schools, however, the teaching may be more, er, parochial.

  10. MRW
    July 9, 2011, 6:27 pm

    Let me repeat the idea of watching this video where David Stannard goes after Benny Morris and Christopher Hitchens:

    “American Holocaust: The Destruction of America’s Native Peoples”
    link to

  11. talknic
    July 10, 2011, 3:20 am

    The hoary olde Hasbara fails at every turn.

    Lie once and you need to either lie forever or admit the first lie.

    Israel seems to have chosen the former.

    Israel’s leaders and institutions are brazen… Peres …. Netinyahu ….. Lieberman ……. the Israeli Land Fund It is endemic. A prerequisite in justifying Israel’s actions for the past 63 years.

    Along with other countries who once rampantly colonized, the US was instrumental in formulating laws and the UN Charter that now expressly forbid the acquisition of territory by war/force. The Laws forbidding the acquisition of territory by war were i n force BEFORE Israel was declared. In fact the US observed them by holding a referendum of the MEXICAN citizens of all the Mexican territories annexed to the USA mid 1800’s.

    It is because of the grim colonialist past of the US, the UK, France et al, that the UN Charter and International Laws we now have are in place. (in place before Israel was declared). Likewise a lot of Humanitarian Law and conventions reflect the need to prevent another Holocaust. Israel obliged itself to uphold all Customary International Law and the UN Charter in their entirety and the conventions it has ratified.

    The US has stopped colonizing, Israel has not.

  12. Doz
    July 10, 2011, 8:41 am

    The American Indian parallel argument has had some interesting supporters in the past. In this 1977 interview watch Pic Botha, the South African Foreign Minister, making the same argument to the CBC’s Barbara Frum: link to

    Mr. Botha and his Canadian ambassador were also fond of pointing out that South Africa was Africa’s only democracy and the West’s principal bulwark against the spread of communism in Africa. They accused Canadians of focusing too much attention on South Africa and not enough on African dictatorships like Uganda. They argued that blacks in South Africa were much better off that blacks in other nearby countries.

  13. talknic
    July 10, 2011, 1:30 pm

    It’s a wacky argument…

    “Pull over driver!”

    “No. Other people sped before there was a law against speeding!”

    “Uh huh….’scuse me ……. [pssst..hey Sam, bring a straight jacket]”

    Maybe they mean if the US was to revert back to the Indians and the British restore Australia to the Aboriginals, Israel would then adhere to International Law and the UN Charter??? WOW!!! Where do we all sign?

    It’s the finest straw, disregarding completely the law as it stands today.

    According to the word of the Israeli Government, Israel obliged itself to uphold the UN Charter in it’s entirety and; to adhere to Customary International Law. These are Israel’s basic legal obligations today, regardless of what other folk are doing. It is a part of the Charter Israel agreed to uphold.

  14. Jelperman
    July 10, 2011, 2:57 pm

    This reminds me of a poster in 1991:

    “James Baker lives in Occupied Texas!”

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