To the Editor:
Reading Paige Austin’s editorial (“Speaker’s anti-Arab comments negligent,” 1/23) helped me understand the discomfort many people felt with Benny Morris’s speech. Like Austin, I feel that Morris was not sufficiently respectful of the audience. I agree with most of what she says, just not what I perceive to be her aim, the dismissal of the content of Morris’s speech. I feel she was nitpicking, trying to dismiss the content because of issues of tone and trying to dismiss his points just because they may have been exaggerated a bit.
For example, Austin attacks Morris’s claim that Jews were worse off under Muslims than under anyone else and disproves it. I agree that this claim is far-fetched; I can’t even remember him making it. Either way, I believe that Jews were slightly better off under Muslims but still did not have good conditions; they were definitely not treated as equals. And Morris’s main point still stands; that is to say, the speaker’s assertion that a Muslim-majority Palestine would respect Jews just as Jews were always respected under Muslims is misleading and possibly disingenuous.
She attacks his claim that there are no Christians left in the Levant. I don’t know any details about this but I would assume that in truth there are very few Christians left in the Levant; Morris generalized and assumed this number to be insignificant. He should, if so, have been more exact about this, but it doesn’t seem like such a big deal.
Austin talks about the speaker’s claim that all Palestinians are believers and writes that this ignores the fact of Muslim secularism. Yes, again, his claim here was a generalization. But the fact remains that, I think, Muslim secularists are more religious than what we would assume secular means and that Islam is a major factor in this conflict. The Muslim belief that sacred land (Dar al-Islam) can never revert to non-Muslim control, I think, is very strong here and has possibly transferred into nationalist Arab ideology.
Finally, I felt like Austin’s conclusion was another example of pro-Palestinian attempts at boiling everything down to Israeli occupation. She writes: “The liberation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories is not, as one appreciative audience member noted, simply a euphemism for the destruction of Israel, nor is it the irrational whim of a depraved people. It is a legitimate aspiration, recognized as the legal right of the Palestinian people by the United Nations and most countries in the world.”
While “the liberation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories” need not be a euphemism for the destruction of Israel, when coupled with a demand for the return of all refugees of the war of 1948 (and their descendants) to Israel, this is exactly what it is. Moreover, the legitimacy of the Palestinian struggle for autonomy in these territories can in no way hide the fact of widespread Palestinian and Arab desires for Israel’s destruction, desires we can see in official media, textbooks and Friday Mosque speeches produced by entities supposedly friendly to Israel such as the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Jordan.
Ben Bokser ’09
Jan. 24, 2006