New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, former editor at the Wall Street Journal and former editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post, was in the news last December after claiming in a NYT column that Ashkenazi Jews have superior intelligence (“The Secrets of Jewish Genius“).
This proved such an embarrassment that even Fox News picked up on the racism. The NYT responded to the outrage only disingenuously: it removed reference to a 2005 paper Stephens had cited “that advanced a genetic hypothesis for the basis of intelligence among Ashkenazi Jews”, but only because “after publication [it was] learned that one of the paper’s authors … promoted racist views”. Blame was transferred from the passage itself, which had caused no concern, onto Stephens’ and his editors’ alleged ignorance of one of its authors.
All such pretenses of ethnic or racial superiority ultimately have to do with Israel in this context. And so, in contrast to fudging his claims of Ashkenazi genetic supremacy, Stephens has stood by his 2017 reference to “the disease of the Arab mind”.
His January 30 piece, “Every Time Palestinians Say ‘No,’ They Lose“, about the Trump “peace plan” for Palestine (full document here) is no less premised on racist invention, beginning with its history lesson on why Palestinians “lose when they say ‘no’.”
[The Palestinians] rejected the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan, which would have created a Palestinian state on a much larger footprint than the one that was left after Israel’s war of independence.
Yes, the Palestinians did reject Resolution 181 — which, in my view, was simply the 1947 version of the Trump-Kushner peace plan. But yes, if implemented that plan would indeed have created a Palestinian state about twice the size of the post-1948 spoils occupied by Jordan and Egypt, and since 1967 by Israel.
What the reader is led to believe, however, is myth: the insinuation is that had Palestinian negotiators endorsed 181, the prescribed Palestinian state would have come to be. The historical record is clear: nothing the Palestinians could have done would have seen their half of the deal fulfilled. Zionist negotiators never had any intention of abiding by any resolution that “gave” them anything less than an ethnocracy in all of historic Palestine. The Jewish Agency had worked feverishly for years to defeat any coming Partition, went into overdrive as it feigned acceptance within the UN’s walls, and began abrogating 181 even before its ink was dry.
Today’s so-called “conflict” is simply that unfinished business.
Conspicuously missing from Stephens’ narrative is the most obvious question: Why did Israel seize so much Palestinian land in 1947-49, even before any Arab resistance? And why, having done so, didn’t Israel simply return to its legal borders, as both the Armistice and Israel’s admission to the UN required it to do? Was that, too, due to Palestinian intransigence?
Stephen says the next time “the Arab side” (as he puts it) said No was the 1967 war when, he writes, Jordan “refused Israel’s entreaties not to attack”, resulting “in the end of Jordanian rule in the West Bank”. The assertion is that the 1967 war began on the eastern front because of a Jordanian attack against Israel, despite the latter’s “entreaties” for peace.
To untangle this fiction: Israel remained the belligerent power after 1948, as it refused to return to its borders, blocked the return of the refugees, and continued to ethnically cleanse more non-Jews. It conducted frequent military incursions into Gaza and the West Bank, some resulting in massacres. There were of course frequent “incursions” by Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank into “Israel” — but “incursions” and “Israel” are in quotes because the land on the Israeli side of the Armistice Line was occupied Palestinian land, not Israeli, according to the very Resolution Israel claims as its international endorsement. The Palestinian “infiltrators” (as they were called) were infiltrating into their own land.
Some of the “infiltrators” did actually enter the Israeli side of Partition; but most did so because, again, they legally lived there. They were attempting to do nothing more than return to their own homes, orchards, businesses, and family, which they had every right to do, reaffirmed by the UN — but were killed on sight or imprisoned for the attempt. Fast-forward to today, and Israeli shoots dead anyone who even approaches the Armistice Line in a symbolic attempt to return home from their Gaza internment camp.
Actual violence against Israeli civilians by Palestinians was rare, and however unjustified, was provoked by years of far worse Israeli state violence, compounding the more than three-quarter of a million Palestinians who remained displaced by Israel, now living in squalor.
Stephens simply selects Jordanian cross-Armistice violence close to 1967 and invents it as the reason Israel launched the 1967 war. Israel attacked in 1967 to expand its territory but, as has always been the case, couched it in the guise of self-defense. (The Trump plan refers to any Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, past, present, or future, as a “security footprint”.)
He tells the reader that the Trump plan “offers [the Palestinians] a sovereign state”. No, it offers no such thing. It sets a series of Israeli-imposed conditions that if, according to Israel’s judgement, Palestinians meet them over the four next years, Israel may discuss such a possible “state”, but a state only in name. It would have some internal window-dressings of a state, but with no more actual sovereignty than the Palestinian Authority has now.
He alleges this state-that’s-not-a-state would feature “mostly contiguous territory”. Forget the thirty mile (!) tunnel needed to connect Gaza and the West Bank. Even within the West Bank, the Trump plan stretches the definition of “contiguous” to a farce.
Stephens goes on to boast that the Palestinians would get “$50 billion in economic assistance” — further dehumanization of the victims as people expected to barter their freedom, and with no mention of Israel’s seven decades crippling the Palestinian economy and stealing its natural, touristic, taxation, and commercial resources — nor indeed of the wholesale theft of Palestinian assets in 1948. But it is interesting to note that among the parcels “given” to the Palestinians in the Trump plan is a manufacturing zone surrounded by Israel and the Egyptian border. Surely, it would be conspiratorial to suspect that this prescribed manufacturing zone, completely unconnected to any other part of Palestine, is envisioned as a sweatshop for Israel?
To be sure, Palestinians must first prove themselves worthy of this make-believe state being dangled like a carrot in the murky future. “Anti-Jewish bigotry in school curriculums” must stop, “legitimate political authority” must be restored in Gaza, and “terrorist militias” must be dismantled. But Stephens is nonetheless spot-on when he claims that P.A. President Abbas has not been serving the interests of Palestinians:
If Abbas — now in the 16th year of his elected four-year term of office — really had Palestinian interests at heart, he would step down. So would Hamas’s cruel and cynical leaders in Gaza.
Israel and the US, and before them the British, have all along blocked Palestinians from running their own affairs, up through and including the 2006 election for a government with no sovereign power, and in which Israel and the United States dictated who may run, who may win, and what they may do. But Stephens twists the theft of Palestinian sovereignty to prove that the natives are not yet up to the task of governing themselves, a vestige of the days of colonial self-justification.
Abbas’s failing is the opposite of what Stephens alleges: his Palestinian Authority has merely served as the subcontractor for Israel. Where would Israel be today without the choreographed dance of the PA pretending to “stand up to Israel” as it does its bidding, and of Gaza serving as Israel’s ever-present Gog and Magog and weapons testing ground?
Not once did Stephens, or the Trump plan, or indeed Oslo, consider what the Palestinians are legally and morally entitled to. Concepts of equality and justice — the possibility of simply removing the shackles — never enter Stephens’ parlance. When Palestinians refuse to nod “yes” to injustice, we further tighten the noose. They had better go along with the next charade, or we will tighten it yet more. “The best thing the Arab world could do for itself is learn from Israel, not demonize it,” Stephens concludes, his amorphous “Arab world” itself code.
A “master” promulgates racist fictions against a people in order to justify their enslavement, and when confronted with cries for freedom heard around the world, decides what form of pseudo “freedom” they may have and how high they must jump to beg for it. Before he even gets to historical fiction, Stephens’s starting point is one humanity should have left behind long ago.
More in Mondoweiss on Bret Stephens:
On Bret Stephens’ hate speech
Bret Stephens’s greatest hits
Palestinians can have human rights when they start winning Nobel Prizes — Bret Stephens
Bret Stephens equates anti-Zionists with white nationalists in the ‘New York Times’
Times super-Zionist Bret Stephens commits fallacy and falsehood, on Jerusalem
Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss can’t wait to call you an anti-Semite in ‘The New York Times’
In a NY synagogue, Roger Cohen demolishes neoconservative Bret Stephens
NYT’s Bret Stephens says US Jews won’t abandon Israel because Israelis are ‘hot’
Trump’s America is fascist, says Bret Stephens, but Netanyahu’s Israel smells like a rose
Bret Stephens echoes Stephen Douglas, defending Israel’s new law in ‘NYT’