Very far from reality

Demonstration for Palestine in New York/ Image: Mohammed Abubakr


Response to Demétrio Magnoli and Leonardo Avritzer

In response to my article “Al Nakba, an endless tragedy”, posted on the website the earth is round and previously published in the newspaper Folha de S. Paul With the title “Historians see the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948”, Demétrio Magnoli again launches accusations, but proceeds through the unsophisticated route of manufacturing amalgams and misrepresentations.

The historical narrative I exposed about the Nakba Palestine (partial in Leonardo Avritzer's view, which will be revisited below) would be equivalent to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, none other than the “Wisemen of Zion, part 2” (sic). An assertion that places on the same plane a historical debate based on documents and a libel based on purposeful falsifications, intended to justify a murderous and anti-Semitic state policy, that of the Russian tsarist regime.

Certainly, we would not put the amalgamations (including indecent) practiced by a columnist in an important newspaper, and the amalgamations of a head of state in an official tribune, with consequences for the lives (and deaths) of millions of people, in the same flat. But it is still interesting to see a certain methodological similarity. Let's see.

In October 2015, at the 37th World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made reference to the meeting that took place in November 1941 in Germany between Adolf Hitler and the mufti Palestinian (religious leader), Hajj Amin al-Husayni. Benjamin Netanyahu maintained that Hitler did not want to exterminate the Jews, but rather “just” expel them from Europe. According to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Jewish Holocaust was suggested to the leader by the mufti, to prevent the increase in immigration of Jews from Europe for the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine. The relative and retroactive absolution of Hitler and Nazism for the Holocaust came from the most unexpected place.

The German Chancellery reacted, declaring that the responsibility for the Holocaust lay “with the Germans and with Germany” (supporting the controversial thesis of the collective culpability of the German people). The leader of the Israeli labor opposition, in turn, described Benjamin Netanyahu's words as “a dangerous historical distortion, which minimizes the Shoah, the Nazis and the role that Adolf Hitler played in the terrible tragedy to which our people were subjected.” The representative of the Palestinian Authority lamented that “the head of the Israeli government hates his neighbor so much, to the point of being willing to absolve the greatest war criminal in history, Adolf Hitler, of the death of six million Jews during the Holocaust”.

The historian and director of the memorial Yad vashem in Jerusalem, Argentine (and Jewish) researcher Dina Porat, said that Benjamin Netanyahu's statements were not “historically accurate”: “it was not the mufti, even though he had very extreme anti-Jewish positions, which gave Hitler the idea of ​​exterminating the Jews: this idea was long before the two met in November 1941. In a speech at the Reichstag, on January 30, 1939, Hitler had already referred to the extermination of the Jewish race.” Leaving aside the question of who exactly (and when) gave the order to execute the Holocaust, blaming the colonized Palestinians for this fact revealed a political regime (the Israeli one) that had reached a state of delirium.

I met Dina Porat at the congress on the 50th anniversary of the Second World War held at USP. The admirable work on the Jewish Holocaust and the war that he presented there can be found in the volume published on the occasion (Second World War: a Historical Survey, Shaman). The work, worthy of a historian who honors her qualifications, should be read by Demétrio Magnoli. At the time, I was carrying out master's research that resulted in my book Marxism and Judaism (Boitempo). This work was largely based on documentation obtained from the extraordinary remains of the AMIA (Israeli-Argentine Mutual Association) archives, which were exceptionally opened to us by members of the very kind Jewish community of Buenos Aires. The archives had been badly affected, half-destroyed (they were temporarily located in a precarious location in the calle Ayacucho), for the explosion of the brutal anti-Semitic attack against the AMIA, carried out in 1994 (with a death toll of 85 and hundreds of injured, Jews and non-Jews), and which has never been clarified until now by the Argentine government or judiciary.

But let us unfortunately return to Demetrio Magnoli, who does not limit himself to explicit slanderous accusations; No, that is not enough: there are also surreptitious slanders. After equating our work of historical reconstruction of the Nakba with Protocols of the Elders of Zion, accuses us, with the same method, of not “condemning acts of this or that government of Israel, but of irrevocably condemning the Jewish State itself”. This “anti-Israel propaganda” would put us in the same trench as the authors of Protocols, namely, that of supporters of the extermination or submission to segregation or slavery of the Jewish people. The argument, in addition to being deeply offensive, lacks the most elementary originality. It is based on the following amalgams: opposition to the partition of Palestine = opposition to a State of Israel (any); opposition to a confessional State of Israel = defense of the extermination of the Jewish people.

The Zionist extreme right, which is now in the government of Israel, has defended the same argument for a century. Which has also been fought for a century by the best representatives of Judaism, from the most varied political and ideological currents, from Albert Einstein to, currently, Noam Chomsky and the signatories of the manifestos A Dangerous Confusion e Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism, including Naomi Klein, Tony Kushner, Judith Butler, Ilana Glazer, Abbi Jacobson, Hari Nef and James Schamus, among others.

If opposition to a confessional State, that is, the defense of state secularism (the only possible basis for a democracy), were equivalent to an exterminatory intention, it would be possible to conclude, for example, that the Spanish republicans were in favor of the extermination of all Christians of their country, despite the presence of very many Christians among them. The same could be said about the republican defenders of secular education in XNUMXth century France, the latter victorious, which has something to do with the public University where Magnoli, we believe, graduated, and where Leonardo Avritzer teaches. A little respect for ancestors is necessary.

When it comes to history, which he obviously doesn't know, Demétrio Magnoli refers to Leonardo Avritzer. This colleague disagrees with my article due to the fact that, in his opinion, the origin of the Palestinian tragedy would be “more complex” and would be located, at least in large part, in the Arab opposition to the partition of Palestine, which would be legitimate and legal because adopted by the UN in 1947. A UN with a quarter of its current members, as most countries in the world were still colonies, as was, in fact, Palestine, in the form of a British Mandate. The same UN, in 1975 and with many more members, “determined that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination”, we suppose with the opposition (current, of course, and perfectly legitimate) of Leonardo Avritzer.

With or without the UN, the Zionist leadership would not have had, for Leonardo Avritzer, any plan to expel the Palestinians. For this claim, Leonardo Avritzer relies on the 1987 work of Benny Morris, but strangely completely omits Ilan Pappe's later research. He had read Palestine's ethnic cleansing, Avritzer would know that Pappe is perplexed by the position of traditional Israeli historians and Benny Morris, who were “very far from reality” in portraying the Haifa case as “an example of Zionist goodwill towards the local Palestinian population” ( p. 58), despite a certain demonstration of sympathy for the Palestinians by the mayor of Haifa. But it was not he who determined the course of events.

Another Israeli author strangely ignored by Leonardo Avritzer is Avi Shlaim, for whom “the evidence presented in the body of [Benny Morris'] book suggests a much greater degree of Israeli responsibility than that implied by Benny Morris in his conclusion” (1995, p 296.) In other words, the criticism made of Benny Morris is that his conclusions were far from the historical evidence presented in his own research.

But Benny Morris, it is now known, was not concerned with assigning responsibility for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. On the contrary: for him, Ben Gurion “made a serious historical mistake in 1948… If Ben Gurion had carried out a great expulsion and cleansed the entire country – the entire land of Israel up to the Jordan River… this place would be calmer and would know less suffering.” ” (Interview with Ari Shavit in Haaretz). In other words, Leonardo Avritzer's preferred source is the same one that defends the total ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the expulsion of all natives, colonized subalterns, whose lives are worthless, nor their historians, who are belittled, as Leonardo Avritzer did when referring to consider the work of the great Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi as something “obscure” (!)

We see a growing tendency among the Zionist right and extreme right to admit with great ease that Nakba it was intentional, but unfortunately it was incomplete in 1948. In this way, they envision the possibility that new waves of Palestinians will be expelled, whether from the West Bank, Jerusalem, or Israel itself. In other words, it is a new discursive elaboration in favor of the continuity of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. In the words of the notorious writer Elias Khoury, this would be a “new Israeli Zionist history”, for which “the atrocities of 1948 are read in a theological key that justifies ethnic cleansing as a necessity to avoid a new Shoah” (p. 264).

Leonardo Avritzer argues that the Palestinian “exodus” only began in April 1948. This is also a (false) claim that recurs in sources of official Israeli history, and has already been contested by much of the “new Israeli historiography”. In March-April, attacks by Zionist militias did indeed become more intense, but they did not begin on this date. Just remember that from December to March 1948, 250 Palestinians were expelled. Entire neighborhoods in the Arab portions of Jerusalem, Jaffa, in addition to the aforementioned Haifa, were emptied in the first three months of 1948. There were several episodes that led the Palestinian population to abandon the city, until in April 1948 only four thousand of the 75 were left. thousand original Palestinian inhabitants of Haifa. In other words, April marks the intensification and practically the end of the ethnic cleansing of Haifa, not its beginning.

Ilan Pappé defends the existence of a plan for ethnic cleansing, but, since Leonardo Avritzer strangely decides to completely ignore the work of one of the main Israeli historians, and belittle the writings of one of the most important Palestinian historians, Walid Khalidi, let's assume for a moment that it is possible to leave historiography aside to undertake a brief exercise of free reasoning. This would tell us that to expel and expropriate a people (or the majority of them) from their land, no plan is necessary. Intention and means are enough, and the Zionist leadership had or obtained these, as countless historical records demonstrate.

Adel Manna, a Palestinian author, prefers to refrain from discussing whether the Dalet Plan was a mere war plan or a plan for ethnic cleansing as defended by Ilan Pappé. Adel Manna says that what matters is that the vast majority of Palestinians in Haifa and Galilee were terrorized, massacred, incited by Zionist militias to flee even before the first Arab-Israeli war began, and that they were prevented from returning. Their houses, lands, belongings, all their assets, were expropriated as demonstrated by the voluminous work of Michael Fischbach, Records of Dispossession.

Leonardo Avritzer states, in support of his thesis, that “the Palestinian exodus led to strong protests by left-wing parties in Israel, especially by Mapam, which had ties to the former Soviet Union”. The term “exodus” (wrongly) supposes a voluntary exile; Leonardo Avritzer should take into account that Exodus was the name of a ship coming from Marseille in 1947, transporting 4.500 Jewish survivors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, who were by no means voluntary exiles. O Exodus it was intercepted and authoritatively returned to Haifa by British warships, preventing them from accessing Palestinian territory.

Leonardo Avritzer's argument, in fact, testifies against his thesis: why would Mapam protest vehemently if a mass Palestinian exile operation were not underway? Mapam's protest, on the other hand, was not a mere formality. The violence committed against the Palestinian population was of such caliber that a party leader, Aharon Zisling, declared in November 1948 at the Israeli Council of Ministers: “Now some Jews behave like Nazis and my whole being trembles” (sic) .

The discussion about the causes of Nakba is, in fact, complex, and also involves the conduct of Arab leaders and governments in the period, a theme brilliantly developed by Eugene Rogan and Avi Shlaim in The war for Palestine. It notably involves the conduct of Great Britain and the great emerging powers of the Second World War, the USA and the USSR. Leonardo Avritzer does not elaborate on this analysis, nor can he be required to do so in the space of a brief article. But he ignores that my article constitutes the reconstruction of a historical debate, and decides to criticize a supposed lack of complexity by listing scattered episodes. However, it can be said that it is Arvitzer's right to criticize the “lack of complexity” of my article, which means saying that it would be “simple” or “simplistic”. But Demétrio Magnoli should not transform “simplistic” into “biased”, because the opposite of “complex” is not “biased”. We hope that Leonardo Avritzer, academically, disavows its instrumentalization by a biased and little gifted candidate disciple.  

And, since Demétrio Magnoli states that “(my) article [about 1948!] is about the current war”, it would have been good if, in their articles, the critic and the slanderer, had a word about what the site Palestine Today summed it up like this: “A $100 missile, launched by a $20 million plane, traveling at a cost of $13 an hour, to kill people living on less than a dollar a day in the Gaza Strip. It's not war, it's genocide”, an opinion shared by Luís Moreno Ocampo, first Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (International Criminal Court), and by the Israeli historian and director of the Master's program in Holocaust and Genocide studies at Stockton University, Raz Segal, who on October 2023, XNUMX published an article in the magazine Jewish Currents, stating that the ongoing attack constitutes “a classic case of genocide”.

Shalom e assalamu aleikum (in any order, as it does not change the result).

*Arlene Clemesha is a professor of contemporary Arab history at the University of São Paulo (DLO-USP). Author, among other books, of Marxism and Judaism: history of a difficult relationship (Boitempo) []

Originally published in the newspaper Folha de S. Paul.


Adel Manna. Nakba and Survival: The story of Palestinians who remained in Haifa and Galilee. University of California Press, 2022.

Ari Shavit. Survival of the Fittest. Interview with Benny Morris. Haaretz, January 8, 2004. Available at

Avi Shlaim. The Debate about 1948. International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 27, No. 3, 1995, p. 287-304.

Eugene Rogan and Avi Shlaim. The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948. Cambridge: CambridgeUniversityPress, 2007.

Ilan Pappe. The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Oxford: Oneworld, 2007 (2nd Ed.).

Khoury, Elias. Rethinking the Nakba, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 38, No. 2, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2012, pp. 250-266.

Michael Fischbach, Records of Dispossession. Palestinian refugee property and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press/Columbia University Press, 2004.

Raz Segal. A textbook case of genocide. Jewish Currents, October 13, 2023.

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