TVO – ‘The Agenda’ with Steve Paikin: “The Arab Spring and Israel”
May 9, 2011
Hussein Ibish, Senior Fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine,
Derek Pensler, Professor of Jewish history, University of Toronto,
Mohammed Fadel, Professor in the Faculty of Law, University of Toronto,
Janice Stein, TVO’s Foreign Affairs analyst and Director of the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto.
Comments by S. Benzimra
Watching this program was a most disappointing experience. The panel was unabashedly biased in favour of the Palestinians and appallingly misinformed in spite of its veneer of academic expertise. Misinformation on that scale has rarely been packed so deliberately in a one-hour program.
There was hardly a statement on the Israeli-Arab question that shouldn’t have been vigorously challenged. But there was no meaningful challenge in this panel, as everyone seemed to be at unison with the prevailing Palestinian narrative and oblivious of the factual evidence. Logical contradictions alternated with glaring errors of omission, patent falsehoods and laughable nonsense. All under the acquiescent nod of the moderator.
Commenting on a posted statement from Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, Professor Mohammed Fadel warned of the futility of signing peace agreements with illegitimate leaders, such as Hosni Mubarak, while the Egyptian population is mostly opposed to such agreements with Israel. Mr. Hussein Ibish also noted that both Palestinian leaders (Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah) are illegitimate since their mandate expired long ago. But these pertinent observations did not deter these two gentlemen and their co-panellists from insisting that Israel should negotiate with the Palestinian leaders; that the U.S. Administration should pressure Israel to pursue such negotiations; and that the recent Hamas-Fatah alliance is, in the words of Ms. Janice Stein, “a major signal…of the moderation” of Hamas. Is this the new political logic that is being taught at the University of Toronto?
The pro-Palestinian one-sidedness was pervasive throughout the program. Mr. Ibish blamed Hamas only for having “misruled” Gaza. But neither he nor any of the other participants paid attention to the thousands of rockets lobbed at Israeli civilians week after week for years.
Prof. Fadel insisted that the key outstanding problem is the “refugees” and that the first step toward its resolution should be Israel’s acknowledgement of its responsibility. It never occurred to anyone to mention a) the countless reports from contemporary British, American and even Arab sources which squarely blamed the Arab leaders for being mainly responsible for the events of 1948 and b) the parallel question of the Jewish refugees fleeing of being expelled from the Arab countries in the post-1948 period and quickly resettled mostly in Israel without any assistance from UN agencies. When the truth is hidden in such a grotesque fashion, how can The Agenda and TVO fulfill their mission of being “a trusted source of interactive educational content that informs, inspires and stimulates curiosity and thought”?
Even worse than hiding incontrovertible truths are the glaring falsehoods which remained unchallenged in this academic panel. Such instances of factual distortions and plain untruths are too numerous to quote extensively. A few examples should suffice:
1. While praising Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s initiative of building “facts in the ground”, Mr. Ibish qualified this action as “lawful”, as opposed to what he called the “unlawful building of settlements.” For Mr. Ibish, it is clear that only Jewish settlements are unlawful – without any mention of the rampant Arab construction carried out without permit – but he will be hard pressed to deny the legality of these Jewish settlements, as it has been confirmed by Professor Julius Stone, Eugene W. Rostow and other top experts in international law who categorically reject the applicability of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention – the sole argument used ad nauseam by the Palestinians and their misinformed supporters.
2. Mr. Ibish perhaps believes that repeating a fashionable lie forcefully makes it true. He said: “The right of return exists; it is not something that can be expunged from international law.” This fantasy has been a staple of Palestinian propaganda but the reality is that there is no such thing as “a right of return” in international law, particularly with regard to the “Palestinian refugees” as they have been defined by UNRWA to include all their descendants from generation to generation ad infinitum. The issue of the 1948 refugees – all refugees – is mentioned in one single article of the non-binding UNGA Resolution 194, which all the Arabs countries rejected in December, 1949, and which clearly does not constitute international law.
3. Mr. Ibish assured the audience that “the PLO position is that the Jews can remain in Palestine but not as settlers.” This does not seem to be Mahmoud Abbas’s position: “I will never allow a single Israeli to live among us on Palestinian land.” (as reported by the Egyptian media on July 28, 2010). This is in line with Article 6 of the PLO Charter: “The Jews who had normally resided in Palestine until the beginning of the Zionist invasion will be considered Palestinians”, which obviously excludes practically all Israeli Jews. I wonder why Mr. Ibish is so determined to whitewash this clear expression of officially sanctioned Palestinian apartheid. Yes, apartheid; call a spade a spade where it belongs.
4. No one in the panel seemed puzzled by the preposterous assertion of Jimmy Carter who, on May 3, 2011, wrote in the Washington Post that the PLO Charter was “altered” in the fifth year of the Oslo process (that is, around 1998), thus shedding all its bellicose anti-Israel rhetoric. The PLO Charter, written in 1964 and amended in 1968, has never been altered ever since for lacking the required majority of two-thirds of the members of the Palestinian National Council (as stipulated in Art.33 of the Charter). The PLO Charter still contains many telling passages attesting to its “peaceful objectives”, such as:
“Article 9: Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine. This it is the overall strategy, not merely a tactical phase”;
“Article 15: The liberation of Palestine, from an Arab viewpoint, is a national (qawmi) duty and it attempts to repel the Zionist and imperialist aggression against the Arab homeland, and aims at the elimination of Zionism in Palestine”;
“Article 19: The partition of Palestine in 1947 and the establishment of the state of Israel are entirely illegal, regardless of the passage of time…”;
“Article 20: The Balfour Declaration, the Mandate for Palestine, and everything that has been based upon them, are deemed null and void. Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history and the true conception of what constitutes statehood…”;
“Article 22: Zionism is…racist and fanatic in its nature, aggressive, expansionist, and colonial in its aims, and fascist in its methods…”.
That former President Carter persists in disfiguring reality is nothing new. What is unacceptable is that none of the panellists challenged his assertion.
5. In the same vein of historical revisionism, Mr. Ibish characterized as “silly” Yossi Klein-Halevy’s contention that the avowed objective of the Arabs in 1948 was the extermination of the Jews of Palestine. Mr. Ibish maintained that this is not “the standard rhetoric.” Actually, these calls for annihilation of the Jewish communities have been amply documented since the 1920s and they regularly filled the Arab press, the sermons of the Mufti and the Arab radio broadcasts up to the eve of the Six Day War when Cairo Radio promised “the extermination of the Zionist existence” (May 18, 1967); President Nasser confirmed that “the basic objective will be to destroy Israel” (May 22, 1967); and PLO’s head Ahmed Shukairy confidently estimated that “no Israeli will survive” (June 2, 1967).
Needless to say, these same objectives are clearly spelled out in the present Hamas Charter, but the collective heads of the four panellists were deeply buried in the sand.
All of the above pales in comparison to the importance of the fundamental issue which no one had the courage (or the ability) to address: the legal rights of Israel in what was the geographical region of Palestine, as they have been recognized and entrenched in international law in 1920 at the San Remo Conference. Not only was this matter totally ignored by the panel, but Professor Mohammed Fadel had the audacity to point to “the legitimacy deficit” of Israel. I will just remind him of the declaration issued in 1925 by the British High Commissioner of Palestine: “The Balfour Declaration was endorsed at the time by several of the Allied Governments. It was reaffirmed by the conference of the Principal Allied Powers at San Remo in 1920. It was subsequently endorsed by unanimous resolutions by both houses of the Congress of the United States; it was embodied in the Mandate for Palestine approved by the League of Nations in 1922; it was declared in a formal statement of policy issued by the Colonial Secretary in the same year, ‘not to be susceptible of change’… The policy was fixed and internationally guaranteed.” It was most regrettable that Professor Derek Penslar – a professor of Jewish history and an expert on Zionism and the state of Israel – did not see it fit to raise his voice and remind everyone of these factual truths.
Finally, a laughable nonsense: Columbia Professor Rashid Khalidi appeared in a short video clip and claimed that what Gazans are seeking is “individual and collective dignity.” I had to listen to this incongruity twice to make sure I heard it right. Professor Khalidi should know that dignity is not a due. Dignity is earned. The Gazans and the other Arabs who chose to call themselves “Palestinians” have done nothing to earn it. Launching rockets at civilian centres, violating agreements, glorifying terrorists, teaching hatred in their schools and mosques, and indulging in doublespeak will not earn them dignity. It would only earn them a deserved opprobrium if the civilized world media were not that subservient to political correctness and moral relativism.
Salomon Benzimra, P.Eng.