I emerged from Jeff Halper’s January 14 talk at McGill deeply disappointed at how acceptable it has become to distort and misrepresent facts when the purpose is to denigrate Israel. I wasn’t expecting to agree with much of what was said at the Halper event, but – call me crazy – I wasn’t expecting to be subjected to a barrage of unabashed misrepresentations, either. Let me provide a few examples of what I mean.
Halper’s address stuck to one consistent and dismally dishonest theme. His overall approach consisted of projecting the political positions of the Israeli right-wing fringe onto the country as a whole. He presented the notion of the historical “Land of Israel” as if there existed an Israeli consensus in favour of maintaining control over its entirety. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Here’s a working estimate: of the 120 representatives in the Israeli Knesset (Parliament), approximately nine to 20 stand for ideological attachment to the concept of the “Land of Israel.” Some 70 are either willing or eager to make territorial concessions, of varying extent. The remaining number of representatives, perhaps about 35, may or may not favour territorial concessions, depending on various contingent factors. And yet Halper, addressing an audience who, we must assume, is less familiar than he with Israeli politics, depicts the right-wing fringe as representative of the entire country. This is the stuff of calumny; it is simply untrue. The fact – as has been widely covered in the international media – is that Israeli governments of the left, the right, and the centre have been negotiating territorial withdrawal with the Palestinians since 1991 and thus obviously cannot have been guided by the ideological concept of the “Land of Israel.”
Halper stated that “in Israel we don’t talk about ‘Palestinians’ – only about ‘Arabs.’” To call them Palestinians would legitimize them, he explained. He was referring to the Arab citizens of Israel, who indeed are generally, though not exclusively, conceived of inside and outside of Israel as “Israeli Arabs.”
And yet Halper, by leaving his statement unqualified, blithely allowed his audience to conclude that he was referring to the Palestinians at large rather than only to Arab citizens of Israel. The fact is that just about every part of Israeli society, even most of the right-wing fringe with which he would like to identify Israel as a whole, refers to the Palestinians, be they in the West Bank, Gaza, or any other place outside of Israel, as “Palestinians.” Yet Halper chose to imply that Israel is some sort of strange place, in denial and disconnection from the world, where the very term “Palestinian” does not exist. Once again, especially when presented to an audience not likely to have travelled to Israel, this is the stuff of calumny.
Halper had the effrontery, as part of a most unenlightening discussion as to whether or not Israel is a “Western” country, to say that Israel appears to be superficially Western because Israelis are “kinda white.” Never mind the various loathsome, illogical, and even nonsensical aspects of such a statement: it is about as accurate as saying that Americans are white. It constitutes yet another example of the cheesy attitude evinced by Halper throughout his talk: he pandered to the lowest instincts of a hapless audience.
Oliver Moore is a Law IV student. Send your kinda whiteness to email@example.com.