Haifa University school of History
The Status of Zionist and Israeli History in Israeli Universities
The Pandora's Box: Ramifications of the Tantura Thesis Scandal
Far beyond its mediocre academic significance, a single MA thesis submitted three years ago to the Department of Middle Eastern History at the University of Haifa opened, as it were, a Pandora's box of issues that for a long time had been swept under the carpet. Consequently, the ramifications of this thesis agitated the Israeli academe. The writer claimed to describe the fate of two Arab villages during Israel's War of Independence in 1948. Relying almost exclusively on oral testimonies of Arabs and Jews, he argued that in one of these villages, Tantura on the Mediterranean coast, soldiers of the IDF's Alexandroni brigade had committed war crimes that had caused the death of 200-250 villagers. The outstanding grade of 97, which the supervisors and readers granted the student, eliminates the possibility that they might have failed to read his work.
This MA thesis would have probably remained anonymous and harmless had it not been discovered by an astute journalist who published its principal arguments and conclusions. He also interviewed some of the Arab witnesses and collected a few supporting and objecting responses of academics. Sensing an opportunity for anti-Israeli propaganda, Arab members of the Knesset promptly demanded a judicial investigation of the alleged war crimes, and the charges were widely discussed on Israeli radio and TV.
Veterans of the Alexandroni brigade sued the author of the thesis for libel. An association of Arab lawyers and Jewish groups of the radical left launched a fund-raising campaign to finance the author's defense. They aimed to turn the legal proceedings into the Nakba ("disaster," the Palestinian term for the 1948 war) trial - besmirching Israel as covering up war crimes and blaming it for the Palestinian sufferings in 1948 and after. However, from the beginning of the court's sessions, serious doubts emerged about the scholarly weight of this thesis and about the integrity and competence of those faculty members who had been involved in the process of writing, supervising and reading it. Far from sponsoring a historical debate on Israel's responsibility for the Nakba, the trial dealt with falsifications and distortions. Under these circumstances, the University of Haifa appointed a commission of experts in Arabic language and Middle Eastern History that found in the thesis several cases of negligence, fabrication, falsification, ignorance and disregard. The fact that they all reflected the same tendency eliminates the chance that these instances were only a matter of incompetence.
Having lost its anonymity, this MA thesis had implications that by far exceeded its merit and extended to an unexpected variety of fields, generating three groups of issues. The first group concerns what really happened in Tantura on the night of 22-23 May 1948, implying by extrapolation the general course of events in that war and their ramifications for the lasting Arab-Israeli conflict until the current Intifada. Basically, such questions have long been a historical problem, at least for Israeli scholars. It is impossible, however, to ignore the actual ideological and political atmosphere that often affects historical judgment.
The libel suit has added legal aspects to the historical, ideological and political arguments. The limits of the questionable catchphrase "academic freedom" have been put to test: What does "academic freedom" really means? Does it include the liberty to libel, defame, fabricate, falsify, neglect, ignore and disregard? A negative answer should have been self-evident. However, reactions to the judicial rulings and to the findings of the university's committee proved that this has not been the case: what some academics regard as libel, falsification and defamation, others consider erudite research at its best.
The legal proceedings have irritated many academics who deny in principle the court's right to interfere in an apparently academic case. On the one hand, the competence of a judge to resolve historical controversy is indeed doubtful. Previous historical libel cases have displayed the incompetence of courts in handling such cases within the framework of the law's procedural limits. On the other hand, it is inconceivable that the law should stop at the gates of the university in matters of libel and defamation precisely as it is unthinkable that universities should enjoy immunity in conducting illegal experiments on animals or human beings even if these tests are carried out for the sake of promoting research and knowledge.
In the second group of issues, this affair has cast a shadow over the standards of teaching and supervision in the academe: the selection and competence of supervisors and lectors; the criteria for evaluating papers and theses; the responsibility of the university for what is taking place under its banner versus the academic freedom of students and teachers; the accountability of professors and the limits imposed on academics by the constitution of the university. Furthermore, the post factum conduct of certain faculty members who were involved in this thesis raises the suspicion that they used the principle of academic freedom for promoting other ends.
The third - and most significant - group of issues concerns the situation of historiography in face of the postmodernist attack on its qualification and competence. Is historiography still a scholarly discipline with principles, research methods, rules of the allowed and the forbidden, as well as conventions of accepted and unaccepted interpretations? Or has postmodernism succeeded in bringing historiography back to the eighteenth century, when the writing of history was a literary genre dealing with the past, and in turning history into a conglomerate of narratives? Other questions in this group concern the authenticity and value of historical sources and the validity of the historian's methods of analyzing and interpreting them. Followers of the new trends have criticized the historicist tradition of relying on authentic documents as the primary historical source material and preach their preference for new methods of research that have been developed in the social sciences such as anthropology, psychology or political sociology. Semiotic and hermeneutic facilities that have been developed in other fields of cultural and social research also stand at the focus of disputes over their aptness for historical research and the proper ways to adopt and use them.
Furthermore, the application of comprehensive theories and relativist historiography to the historical and present realities of the Middle East and the history of Zionism and Israel reveals very little innocence and integrity. Eloquent and complicated theoretical arguments, often formulated in unintelligible language, conceal ulterior motives as well as ideological bias and political manipulations. Past experience has shown that Jewish history contradicts global theories. Jewish historical existence has already challenged Arnold Toynbee's theory of civilizations, Marxist-Leninist theories of nationalism and class solidarity, Edward Said's theory of Orientalism and current theories of colonialism as well.
Zionist Historiography in the Israeli Academe
Questions of academic legitimacy overshadowed Zionist historiography (i.e. the writing of history by Zionist historians and the writing of the history of Zionism, not necessarily by Zionists) from its inception. For almost two generations, Zionist historiography developed and flourished outside the Zionist and Israeli academe. Throughout the 1930s, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem treated with suspicion Zionist historians and wished to avoid the ideological and academic implications connected with studying Zionism on campus. Only in the early 1960s did the study of the Zionist movement and the Yishuv penetrate into the Hebrew University and, subsequently, into its younger sister-universities.
Academic research, and eventually the teaching of the history of the Yishuv, confronted the researchers with those who had made that history. Many heroes of this saga were still alive and held senior leadership posts in various fields of the state's life. Naturally, the younger scholars who embarked on studying this history disputed axioms that had struck roots in the public's consciousness. Furthermore, they had to examine critically a consensus created by official and factional histories that had been written in the previous years outside the universities. These young scholars, and certainly their supervisors, had been educated in the light of this consensus and these axioms. The process of liberation from these traditions - or challenging their myths - has been slow and is yet incomplete.
Gradually, academization has transformed the features of Zionist historiography. Prevailing trends in Western historiography concerning the goals, subject matters and methods of historical research influenced the study of Zionism as well. The contents of Zionist history, previously written in a national-epic and romanticist style in the manner of Ranke or Michelet, were apparently incompatible with the universal and absolute concepts and values that Western historiography increasingly drew from the social sciences. This gap illustrated the precarious status of Zionist historiography in the academic world and emphasized the quandaries of its penetration, consolidation and acceptance.
The Six Day War in 1967 marked a turning point in the development of Zionist historiography. Especially prominent was the embarking on the study of topics that had been almost taboo in the 1950s and the earlier 1960s: Zionism's attitude to the plight of European Jewry before, during and after the Holocaust, and the Jews' relations with the Arab world. These two issues, together with the transition from the melting pot concept to a multicultural society, still play a principal role in Zionist and Israeli historiography.
Ben-Zion Dinur - among many other accomplishments, the sponsor of Yad Vashem - and Yehuda Bauer - one of the leading pioneers of Holocaust research in Israel - separated the history of Zionism and the Yishuv from the Holocaust. In his first book, dealing with Zionist diplomacy during the Second World War, Bauer wrote only one sentence on the Yishuv's attitude to the Holocaust:
The response of the Yishuv (and world Jewry in general) to the news on the extermination of the European Jews is one of the most crucial and awful issues that confront modern Jewish historiography. Certain aspects of this issue have not been clarified yet, to say nothing of being settled.
Several comprehensive histories of the Yishuv that were written during the 1960s and even in the 1970s also evaded the issue of Zionism's attitude to the Holocaust. Noxious weeds soon grew up in this historiographic void, reviving the prewar Orthodox-religious, Bundist, communist and assimilationist anti-Zionist polemics and the domestic arguments between Labor and Revisionist Zionism. Initially, the Israeli academe remained mute in face of these arguments. It was only in the early 1970s that scholarly research of this topic began in earnest, bearing fruit in the mid-1980s. By that time, what had originally been critical and revisionist conclusions appeared almost orthodox and apologetic.
The Arabs of Palestine interested Zionist scholars mainly as an independent neighboring society, not in the context of their relations with the Yishuv. Comprehensive historical projects as well as monographs on Zionist policies did discuss Jewish-Arab relations, but as a subsidiary subject to the principal topic - the political and military struggle for the implementation of the Zionist enterprise. In this respect, historiography reflected policy. Zionist leaders believed the fate of Zionism would be decided in London, New York and Washington, not in Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus or Nablus. Similarly, the historiographic effort concentrated on Zionist-British relations, and in this framework the Arabs had a minor place. A certain exception to this rule was the historiography sponsored or inspired by Ha-Shomer ha-Tza'ir. Due to their ideological background and belief in the fraternity of nations, historians who belonged to this movement ascribed greater importance to Zionism's relations with the Arab world and their studies deviated earlier from the common presentation of the subject.
Western and Israeli Historiography
Israel Kolatt - a pioneering scholar in the study of the history of the Yishuv - summarized this chapter of the developing Zionist historiography in his meticulous essay "On the Research and Researcher of the History of the Yishuv and the Zionist Movement," which was written in the early 1970s and republished in 1976. Kolatt linked the penetration of Zionist historiography into the universities with a broader change of generations in the Israeli academe and indicated the difficulties that academic research should anticipate in this minefield, which was still a fallow field:
This project of uncovering the past below the heaps of stereotypes, images, memoirs, polemics and phraseology is a huge enterprise… Even harder is the scholar's intellectual need to overcome inherited concepts, criticize his prejudices, experiences, memories, feelings and preferences and regard the research object as a historical phenomenon. The burden of Zionist ideology and apologetics has turned the reassessment of Zionist history into a complex and delicate process.
A generation before the "post-Zionist" controversy, Kolatt forecast the condemnation of Zionism by revisionist historians. He linked their emergence to the Arabs' anti-Zionist propaganda and to the ideas of the contemporary New Left in Europe and in the United States. Kolatt also identified the widening gap between the concepts prevailing in Western universities and the roots of the Israeli phenomenon. Enlightment [Neoruth], progress and liberalism notwithstanding, "[the] complex linkage between [Jewish] religion and nationality, the historical yearning for the Land of Israel and the international features of Jewish existence have been and remain a mystery exposed to libel."
Besides the lasting ideological confrontation between Zionism and its adversaries, Kolatt pointed out the difficulty in reconciling the needs of Zionist historiography with the trends of Western historiography:
As far as the respect for the facts, the unbiased appreciation of the truth and the rejection of utilitarian myths are concerned - we are part of the Western world. However, the character and level of development of the Yishuv's historiography make it difficult to adapt the new methods that have developed in the West to the subjects that stand at the center of Zionist and Yishuv history… Western historiography now gives preference to the critical and cognitive role over the constituent role. The needs of Zionist historiography are different.
A generation later, Kolatt's observations and the accuracy of his predictions on the development of Zionist historiography in face of the pressures exerted by the social sciences, the media and press, the impact of Western historiography and the influence of postmodernist trends appear amazing. At the same time, there is room for reexamination of these observations in the light of recent developments in Western historiography, the study and teaching of Zionist and Israeli history and the transformation of Israeli society.
History in a Polarized Society
Kolatt wrote his article at the peak of the Israelis' euphoria, between the Six Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Those years also witnessed the first cracks in the cohesiveness of Israeli society, but the significance of these signs was yet unclear. By contrast, in the first decade of the twenty-first century Israeli society is in a state of spin. Divided by profound controversies over its identity, source of authority, composition, contents and symbols, this society has lost the balance between authority and accountability, reward and punishment, rights and obligations, success and failure, collective and individual, service and parasitism, goals and results, wealth and poverty, labor and capital, solidarity and competition, reality and virtuality, words and deeds, truth and falsity. Ramifications of this spin are noticeable in the academe as well, and under increasing pressures from the political system and the market forces the universities ponder upon their national mission, social role and academic direction.
Historical debates have mirrored the variation and perplexity of Israeli society. Israeli historiography, too, has entered a state of spin and lost its orientation between professionalism and charlatanism; opposing or competing historical schools and traditions; integrity and opportunism; the self-belittling imitation of the social sciences and the preservation of professional and disciplinary distinctiveness; the apparent need to conform to academic fashions in the West and the adherence to traditional and rational principles; the depth and comprehensiveness of scholarly work and the ambition to take part in public debates on TV, radio and the daily press. Submissiveness to the media has often lowered the standards of historical discussion to the framework, language and time or space limits of talk shows and opinion columns.
On the other hand, this unrest has taken place amidst growing scholarly activity and may well have contributed to its prosperity. In the last five years, the major universities (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Bar-Ilan, Ben-Gurion and Haifa) have held more than 300 undergraduate and postgraduate courses dealing with various aspects of Zionist, Yishuv and Israeli history. Taking into account courses delivered several times throughout this period, the total is 420 classes across the country studying introductory courses or various specific aspects of Zionist and Israeli history. These figures relate only to courses that were held in the framework of historical and interdisciplinary departments. Taking into consideration departments such as sociology, political science and international relations as well as special programs, the real number should be considerably higher.
Having special departments for Land of Israel Studies or State of Israel Studies, Haifa (136 courses) and Ben-Gurion University (130) lead the list, while Tel Aviv (69) and Jerusalem (64) follow and Bar-Ilan closes with only 21 courses. Probably, the gaps stem from the different structures of historical and Jewish studies in the universities. In 1997, the universities offered 68 courses in this area. In 1998, the number rose to 90 and fell to 80 in 1999. In 2000 and 2001, the annual number of courses was 91. Fifteen percent of all the courses (64) were MA seminars.
The variety of topics has been impressive. Using this database, I have divided the 300 individual courses into categories and subjects. The distribution reveals that in the last five years social history has been the largest category with 71 courses (of which I have defined seven courses according to their titles as "sociocultural history," one as social-ideological, three as sociomilitary, eight as sociopolitical, two as socioeconomic history and three as social-colonizatory). Under the category of political history come 54 courses, of which four are political-cultural, 16 political-ideological, eight deal with politics and society, and seven deal with politics and the military.
Zionist and Israeli policies have been the subject matter of 57 courses. Twenty were military-political, dealing mainly with the struggle for statehood and the Arab-Jewish conflict. Forty-four courses focused on the history of the Yishuv's military organizations, the IDF and the Arab-Israeli wars. Zionist ideology has been taught in 44 courses from various aspects: political (ten courses), cultural (two), social (one) and colonizatory (one). In this category I have included also ten courses that concentrate on anti- or post-Zionism. Alongside social history, cultural history is also conspicuously on the ascent, and 42 courses on various cultural issues from identity through literature, films and music to historiography have been taught during the years under examination.
The most neglected field of Zionist and Israeli historiography is the economic history of the Yishuv and Israel (five courses only). The number of general or periodical introductory courses is also low (13), but in certain universities the introductions are part of the general surveys of modern Jewish history. Jewish colonization has been the subject of 18 courses and is apparently on the decline - particularly courses on the kibbutz movement (three only). Eleven courses deal with five Zionist and Israeli leaders: Herzl (one), Weizmann (one), Jabotinsky (one), Ben-Gurion (six) and Dayan (one).
The variety of topics within these categories is large, and many courses can be ascribed to more than a single category or field. Without a parallel database on a previous equal period, it is difficult to definitively indicate changes. Nonetheless, it is possible to discern several issues that have lost their popularity while others, which would not have appeared in this list several years ago, are attracting growing interest. A typical example of the first group is Zionism's relations with Britain (eight courses only). The unsettled and relatively new historical issue of Israeli identity, or identities, has been the topic of 15 courses. Gender (six courses), memory and commemoration (five) and Zionist versus anti-Zionist historiography (eight courses) are other trendy topics occupying a growing part of the courses' list.
Social and cultural problems emanating from the influx of immigrants in the 1950s has been the topic of 13 courses - a figure that testifies to the revived interest in the ethnic aspect of Israeli society. However, it is noteworthy that none of the professors who teach courses of this sample emerged from the social circle of the early 1950s mass immigration. Scholars of this backdrop who specialized in the problems of Israeli society gained prominence in sociology or political science, but historians have remained basically a cast of WASPs (White, Ashkenazi, Sabra, Protectionist). The few exceptions to this rule focus on historical issues other than Zionism or Israel, and only one teaches ethnic relations in Israeli society.
Actual relations between secular and religious Israelis are probably the reason for a growing number (twenty) of courses that focus on the history of relations between Zionism and Jewish statehood on the one hand and Jewish religion on the other hand. This variety includes courses on state and religion, religious Zionism, the Orthodox opposition to Zionism and the Orthodox community in the Yishuv society and during the early years of statehood.
This impressive activity notwithstanding, the status of Zionist and Israeli history in the universities has suffered from the general decline of the humanities. This decay has been quantitative - reflected by numbers of students - as well as qualitative. Many students come from a social backdrop that was not part of the Zionist experience in the pre- or early statehood years. In the peripheral universities and colleges, the percentage of non-Jewish students (Arab, Druze, Bedouin) studying in the historical departments is growing. Some of these students consider the Zionist experience hostile, discriminating or oppressing. Furthermore, many students do not turn to the humanities because of curiosity or interest, but because admittance is easier. Students who take courses in Zionist and Israeli history, Jews and non-Jews alike, are deeply involved in the subject matter, yet at the beginning of their studies they lack basic information. This combination of involvement and insufficient knowledge presents special difficulty in classrooms. The history of the Yishuv and the early years of Israeli history are the story of an ideological, committed and mobilized society. Most present students - and some of their younger teachers as well - are the products of a highly competitive and individualistic culture. Their ability to comprehend the past in its own terms is doubtful as well as their capacity to grasp the Zeitgeist of the twentieth century's first two thirds.
Historiography as a Discipline
An even more significant threat to the status of historiography in general, and Jewish, Zionist and Israeli historiography in particular, stems from the postmodernist and relativist trends that to a large extent dominate current Western historiography. Twenty-five years ago, Kolatt indicated some of these fashions in his above-mentioned essay and pointed to their menacing potential. Yet, he did not appreciate the destructive effects of these developments on traditional historiography to their full extent. Kolatt devoted a considerable part of his essay to the precarious situation of historiography between the humanities and the social sciences, and to the proper training of the historian. While concurring with most of his observations, I would like to elaborate on some and add a few of my own.
Historiography has acquired a special niche between the humanities and the social sciences. Its uniqueness derives from the simultaneous and balanced handling of both the text and its various contexts. The linguistic, artistic and literary disciplines concentrate on particular texts. Philosophers and social scientists embark on the wider context by speculating, generalizing, modeling and theorizing. At the same time, historiography aspires to maintain a proper dynamic equilibrium between the context and the text. Historical interpretation cannot be detached from the relevant source material (or "texts"), and at the same time a purely philological and textual interpretation of sources would be historically meaningless if offered out of the proper chronological, geographic, political, ideological, social, genealogical, psychological as well as many other contexts.
Asking students what are the historian's primary tools, I usually get the prompt and wrong answer: "source materials!" However, among the various intellectual faculties that serve the scholarly work of the historian, the sources - despite their importance - are not the first and foremost. The fundamental precondition is broad education and vast historical knowledge. If the unique essence of historiography is preserving equilibrium between text and context, the extensive infrastructure of general learning, and particularly historical erudition, is essential to comprehending the source material. Moreover, this education and knowledge prevent the historian from being misled by his sources - written as well as oral - and enable him to treat them critically. Broad education affects the historian's associative thinking and thereby his ability to establish relevant links between thoughts, events, people, organizations and institutions, and to place them in their true contextual frameworks.
Linguistic skills are the next essential prerequisite, serving the textual aspects of the historian's role. Mastery of languages and an understanding of their semantics and etymology - enabling thereby the textual and philological analysis of documents - are among the historian's most significant professional tools. This is particularly true in the case of a revived and rapidly developing language such as modern Hebrew. Another must of writing history requires familiarity with the geographic arena of the research. Lack of such acquaintance may lead to funny pitfalls and even to misunderstanding and misinterpretation of documents. It reminds me of a certain Ph.D. thesis written in England about the Palestinian Arab revolt in 1936-39. The author referred several times to "the rivers." Since in Palestine there is only one river worthy of this definition, the Jordan, I wondered what the author had in mind. Finally it came to me that he meant Rutenberg's electricity plant in a place called in Hebrew Naharayim, literally - two rivers. Certainly, this person had little knowledge of Hebrew and none of the Holy Land's geography.
To be meaningful, the historian also needs the proficiency of conceptualizing his findings and showing his ability to see the wood, not only the trees. Furthermore, he must be a fluent writer if he wants to reach any substantial audience. In the wake of all these properties come the self-evident tools - the source materials: documents, newspapers, journals, books, memoirs, oral testimonies, statistical data, pictures, films, posters, advertisements, etc. Yet, the historian's use of these facilities is subject to a set of agreed though unwritten rules, on which I shall dwell below.
Until recently, most scholars in the historical departments of the Israeli universities were educated in the historicist tradition that had emerged in the late nineteenth century in Europe and Britain. Those who studied in Israel are the third and fourth generations of the "Jerusalem School" that the teachers (Ben-Zion Dinur, Itzhak [Fritz] Baer, Israel Halperin, etc.) of our own teachers (Ya'acob Katz, Shmuel Ettinger, Hayim Hilel Ben-Sasson, Yehuda Bauer, etc.) had founded. This school was a variant of historicism, shaped for the study and teaching of Jewish history. Similar equivalents developed in the departments of world and Middle Eastern histories.
From the beginning, historicism has exacerbated criticism and opposition from various sides. It has been attacked by Marxists, by the New Historians who emerged in America in the 1930s and by the school of the Annales in France. The meaning of the concept has been blurred by different and varying usages. Nevertheless, it has remained a central historiographic trend. For some unknown [to me, at least] reason, present opponents of historicism erroneously call it "positivism" and historicists have become "positivist" historians. Originally, however, positivism was a short-lived historiographic school that emerged in the middle and second half of the nineteenth century and soon disappeared into oblivion. Its followers - such as Henry Thomas Buckle - strove to turn historiography into "human sciences" in a sense similar to "natural sciences." They attempted to discover "laws of history" similar or parallel to the laws of nature - in other words: to predict the future on the basis of the past - and soon had to admit their failure. Increasing the confusion, a different usage of the concept historicism has been introduced by Karl Popper to denote determinist religious or philosophical overall interpretations of history - both cyclical and dialectical - from Herodotus and Plato to Hegel and Marx. Criticizing the total philosophies of history, Popper denies the existence of any "meaning of history" that divine laws or rational rules can define or interpret. However, this usage of the term historicism has nothing to do with the historiographic movement bearing this name that I discuss here.
A significant contribution of this historicism was the postulation that studying the past requires special principles, rules and methods of research - albeit, a scholarly discipline - that were different from those of other sciences. This methodology is essential for the study of past phenomena in all fields, including those that apparently belong to other disciplines. Hence, to study economic history one should be primarily historian and not necessarily an economist. The research and teaching of legal and constitutional history demands primarily historical, not legalistic, training and education, and the study of military history demands a historian, not a warlord. This statement does not mean that military historians do not need experience and understanding of military matters or that economic historians are exempt from knowing economics. It claims, however, that the primary tools of the researcher of any past phenomenon are historiographic.
By applying this postulation, historical research has expanded into a variety of new fields, and the innovative school of the Annales has extended its limits further. However, this basic historicist supposition also provoked plenty of disapproval because of its far-reaching ambition to explain all facets of human activity as well as their development and transformation throughout the ages. The critics of historicism have argued that this pretense to dynamic comprehensiveness is beyond human capacity.
A second axiom - dating back to Leopold Ranke, the forerunner of historicism - assumes the existence of historical truth and maintains that the historian's duty is to look for this hidden truth and to describe history "as it really was." Even if the historian is unable to uncover the historical truth completely and definitively (as even historicists now admit), he should try to approach it as far as possible. Heaps of futile polemics based on abstract theories and argumentations have already accumulated around this controversial surmise. On the one hand, history - namely the events of which it consists - could and can take place in a single way only, otherwise it contradicts the laws of nature. A certain person could either be killed in a battle or slaughtered afterwards, but not both because he could not die twice. The number of Arab casualties in Tantura (or Deir Yassin) could be either 80 or 250 but not both numbers, and so forth. On the other hand, those who are involved in making history or witness it by doing, writing, filming, observing or listening - and later serve as sources for its reconstruction, interpretation and learning - perceive and interpret what they did, saw or heard in an endless variety of ways and versions. Scholars who study history on the basis of this source material later add their own subjective and contradictory input of analysis and interpretation to this diversity.
The principal purpose of historiographic methodology is, therefore, to reduce to the utmost the gap between the objective occurrence of the historical event and the contexts in which it took place on the one hand, and its representation through the subjective perceptions of witnesses and scholars on the other hand. This reduction brings us closer to the historical truth, but the process of approaching it is probably infinitesimal in the mathematic sense of calculus and will never end.
Striving to verge on the historical truth is often confused with "objectivity." Truth, however, is not necessarily objective in the sense of being neutral, impartial or detached. Historians should not pretend to be "objective" in their handling of testimonies, evidence, claims or traditions if and when they conflict and contradict each other. The historian's goal is to uncover the source material, select, analyze and evaluate it professionally and eventually approach the truth that may well contradict the views of one side in a conflict or more, and sometimes even his own beliefs. Of course, at his point of departure the historian should be free of bias and prejudice. However, he may adopt a point of view and take a position when he has learnt the evidence and concluded the process. His final test is not how far he succeeded in avoiding taking sides, but how professional, methodical, meticulous and thorough were the gathering, analysis and presentation of the source material and the degree to which his conclusions stemmed from the evidence at his disposal.
Truly, this enterprise is an enormous intellectual effort, demanding longer time, painstaking work on details, careful analysis of ever more documents and other source materials, an open mind, and a sensitive heart capable of displaying empathy and using it for nearing the truth. I submit that despite the many requirements and obstacles in fulfilling them, this demand is a feasible endeavor that no true historian is free from undertaking.
Sometimes, the campaign that relativists wage against "objective" history and/or the existence of historical truth seems an excuse to dodge this exacting commitment and make life easier by repudiating the very necessity of approximating the historical truth. Arbitrarily denying its existence, they confuse such truth with nonexistent "objectivity." Asserting that everything - knowledge included - is a question of power relations, they imply that there is no use in seeking "objective" historical truth. In any case the winner, or the stronger, dictates his subjective "truth" and this truthfulness will change only if and when the power relations change. However, I maintain that the historiographic application of Michel Foucault's theory of knowledge and power essentially serves postmodernist historians to exonerate their unwillingness to invest the effort necessary for seeking the truth while simultaneously neutralizing the subjective impact of power on it. In applying his theory, Foucault's less sophisticated partisans have gone far beyond what he originally meant.
Historiography differs from other scientific disciplines, as well as from journalism and the writing of fiction, which may also deal with the past. A historical study striving to move towards the truth and comprehend it demands that the researcher examine his topic in the framework of the terms, concepts, semantics and values of the researched era and society, and not of those of his own times and environment. Unlike the jurist, the anthropologist or the philosopher, the historian ought to abandon temporarily the terminology, values and ethics of his own age and plunge into the past and different world of his subject matter. He should learn and appreciate that world from the inside and then "return" to his time and surroundings and translate his findings, their essence and his conclusions into a "language" - terminology and semantics - intelligible to his audience.
This demand, to partially strip oneself of one's own individuality and enter into that of one's research object, is not an easy one. Prior to embarking on a research project, the scholar should be aware of this prerequisite and confident of his ability to fulfill it in that specific case. Thus, for example, a nonbeliever coming from a secular social, educational and family background may find it difficult, if not unfeasible, to detach himself from his established world view, a detachment essential for studying the history of any community of believers. Moreover, having successfully done so, the researcher should then penetrate into the spiritual world, symbols, concepts, terminology, power relations, internal codes and values of a religious society and comprehend them from the inside. Finally, he has to translate them as they are (and not as he would like them to be) into a modern language that will be both intelligible to his audience and preserve the original meanings. In other words, historians who choose to research topics at variance with their own personal views are obliged to greater sensitivity and efforts in distinguishing between findings and positions, and to greater effort in displaying empathy to their research objects. As a matter of course, the search for the truth binds the historian when he studies his own folks as well. He should be equally careful to avoid the pitfall of turning into a propagandist of his world view, gender, sexual identity, nation, ideological movement, political party or any other entity with which he identifies and, sometimes, even of his friends and family. The obligation of treating everything - including one's own favorites - skeptically and critically binds the historian in all directions, 360 degrees around.
The adoption of anthropological, sociological, sociopolitical or psychological concepts and research methods by historians has indeed extended the perspective of historical research and enriched its capacities. At the same time, however, indiscriminate imitation of these methods has increased and complicated the hurdles at the historian's doorstep. For example, the formulation of a preliminary basic hypothesis is a key point of the social sciences' methodology and is ever more adopted in historical research as well. The social scientist begins the procedure of research by formulating a central hypothesis. Then, he examines it throughout the process of studying and ultimately verifies or rejects his preliminary guesses. Applying this procedure, however, the historian is misled to speculate. History deals with what actually happened and not with the endless number of possible events that for various reasons did not take place. The question "what would have happened if…?" may be very attractive and challenging, but it should remain outside the historian's vocabulary. To a large extent, a hypothetical research question is of a speculative nature. As such, it may determine the outcomes and conclusions of the study by dictating in advance the scope, direction and trend of seeking and selecting the source material. The alternative to a preliminary and speculative hypothesis should be a broad but clear definition of the research topic, scope, parameters, possible contexts and relevant source material. The questions then would emerge during the process of examining the source material while the gathering of documents would not be the known-in-advance consequence of a predefined theory.
The duty to suspend judgment, all the more so hindsight or moral judgment, entails other restrictions on the historian's freedom of action that singles him out in comparison with other disciplines. The historian's roles are to describe, to interpret, to analyze and to conclude - but not to judge. His wider perspective and post factum knowledge of what his heroes could not know because his past was their future, commands the historian to be extremely cautious while appraising his objects and drawing his conclusions. Retroactive activism is the prerogative of politicians, not historians.
Numbers and statistics fascinate many historians, particularly those who specialize in economic, demographic and social history. In certain cases they are relevant also to political and military historians. Numerical figures seem to possess an absolute value and unequivocal nature that are so much absent in words. Like any other text, however, numbers do have terminology and semantics, partly open and partly hidden between the columns and rows of the statistical tables and the numerical results of censuses, polls, balances, surveys, reports, summaries of data tables, etc. Moreover, the statistical tools that serve well the economist, the demographer, the political scientist or the sociologist, and are accepted by them without undue questions about the way they were produced, may often prove insufficient and sometimes even misleading to the historian. As any other text, numbers and tables require a skeptical and analytical approach. They are subject to the usual questions of who produced them, by which methods, for what purpose, what could be the open or ulterior motives behind their production, what was the author's access to the data, under what definitions the columns fell and why, and many others.
Giving in to the fashionable catchphrase "interdisciplinary research," historians may confuse "interdisciplinary" with "nondisciplinary." The first means combining research methods from different disciplines that supplement each other for attaining a common research goal, while adhering to the disciplinary principles of all involved disciplines. The second term refers to ignoring or blurring disciplinary principles in the name of some higher and nonexistent framework, "postmodernism," for example.
Imitation of social sciences' modern methods of teaching is also dubious from the standpoint of training historians. In the social and educational sciences the learning process partly functions through methods of self-experiencing, such as group dynamics, psychodrama, role-play, etc. At the beginning of my teaching career, I enthusiastically tried some of these methods on my students only to learn the lesson that previous knowledge and understanding - in the old manner of reading and rehearsing a topic as a preparation for discussing it - was an essential precondition and not an alternative obsolete way of learning. The use of modern technology for purposes of illustration - so popular in school-instruction and in American universities - is also hardly recommended. Where would the students acquire the faculty of abstract thinking if not in their academic studies? The audiovisual technology is important to the extent that it represents history, but not in illustrating it. By adhering to audiovisual illustrations, we may find ourselves teaching virtual history as we are driven by the TV and film industry into living virtual reality. On the other hand, the history departments of the universities in Israel make too little use, or no use at all, of more important illustrative facilities at their disposal. The history of the Yishuv and Israeli history took place mostly in that country, and all significant sites are within reach. Yet, excursions for learning purposes are few, and most students have not been trained in the use of old maps and air photographs as significant historical sources to political, military, urban, demographic, economic and even social histories.
The Onslaught of Postmodern Relativism
Since the 1970s, almost each of the above-mentioned principles has been subject to attacks that denied its validity. Some prominent critics had practiced research in intellectual (Foucault) or medieval (Hayden White) history before relinquishing their research in favor of theorizing. However, the criticism of historiography comes mainly from scholars outside the discipline. Partly, the disapproval of historiographic principles has emanated from political correctness, but principally it has represented interdisciplinary polemics. There are few postmodernist or relativist practicing historians who have been radical to the point of negating altogether the existence of historical truth and the historian's duty to approach it. Usually, the critics are theoreticians. Philosophers such as Karl Popper censure the pretensions of historians, and social scientists - particularly political scientists - are annoyed by the doubts that historical research, based on archival material, cast on their theories and findings. Often, the conclusions of the social scientists dealing with the near past are based on incomplete source material of dubious value such as newspapers, interviews and memoirs. Therefore, the opening of archives usually brings about a revision or rejection of their theories.
Contrary to the earlier and constructive historical relativism of Charles Beard or Raymond Aron in the 1930s and 1940s, present relativist theories are quite harmful - and not to historiography alone. Stemming from postmodernism, these theories deny or ignore any rules, principles, codes and obligations. The escape from authority might be acceptable - and even productive - in art. However, this freedom is highly problematic in literary research, where it concerns the issue of the text's ownership: does it belong to the writer or to the reader? Such chaos is destructive in science and dangerous in the practical political, military and social life. Postmodern relativism brings historiography back to the eighteenth century and reduces it to the status of a literary genre - an endless collection of narratives that in the absence of an agreed basis to assess them all carry equal weight. As stories, we appreciate narratives by literary, not historical standards. According to the relativist credo, there is no technique to measure the truthfulness, validity, accuracy and reliability of narratives in a way that makes it possible to determine their historical value in terms of accuracy or truthfulness. Hence, the dominant criteria are their eloquence, fluency, beauty, sensitivity, empathy, ability to create identification and arouse the reader's sympathy, political correctness, conformity with prevailing trends, and other historically irrelevant parameters.
In recent years, these postmodern theories - casting doubts on the very existence of facts and truths, and repudiating the validity of any rules or principles - have won over large segments of Western historiography. Concepts such as "narrative", "discourse" and their derivatives have acquired a dominant position in Western historical writing. Consequently, these theories and concepts have gained considerable influence also in Israeli universities whose faculty members are influenced by and dependent on American academic institutions - and to a lesser degree on British, French and German universities and institutes as well - for postdoctoral scholarships, visiting positions on sabbaticals, invitations to conferences and publications in refereed journals - so essential for their promotion. This dependence encourages opportunism, and at least in the matter of promotion the universities can and, in my opinion, should change their policy. In the case of Zionist and Israeli history, scientific expertise, competence and authority have concentrated primarily in Israel, so dependence on foreign advice is less essential.
In Israeli historiography, the new trends have focused on three major fields of Zionist ideological and political history: Its attitude to the Arabs, to the Holocaust and to the new immigrants who arrived in Israel after statehood. This combination assaults the justification of Zionism and Jewish statehood in three systems of relations: between Israel and its surroundings; Israel and its People, as well as Israel and its own allegedly discriminated citizens.
So far, the first of these issues - the history of the Arab-Jewish conflict - has been the most popular and complex. I know too little about the historiography of conflicts in the Balkans and the Caucasus to make any comparison. However, historians writing about other wars and conflicts during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries can now detach themselves to the necessary degree from the objects of their studies because these encounters - such as the two World Wars, the Korea and Vietnam Wars and even the Cold War are over. Historians studying these wars and their repercussions are free of the enmity between Nazis and Communists, Britons and "Huns" or Americans and Japanese or Chinese. Hence, their writing and teaching are relatively relieved of the past's tensions and passions. By contrast, a historian writing on the Arab-Jewish conflict deals with a persisting confrontation. None of the problems involving Jews and Arabs that emerged before, during and after the War of Independence in 1948 have been solved. Every word on that war, or on the subsequent major military confrontations and endless skirmishing along and inside Israel's borders - written in a book or article and spoken in class or conference - may have actual ramifications and is often interpreted and discussed outside its historical context and in terms of the continuing struggle at the present time. In this sense, the historiography of the Arab-Jewish conflict is as unparalleled and unprecedented as the conflict itself.
Already during the 1970s, the academic circles in the West changed their attitude to Israel. The same Palestinian slogans that had made no impression between the World Wars and in the aftermath of 1948 gained popularity against the new backdrop of Europe's postcolonial guilt feelings. Arab donations and other forms of funding encouraged this process, which expanded also to American universities. Early signs that the transforming attitude in Western universities towards the Arab-Jewish conflict had penetrated Israeli historiography appeared in the late 1980s, with the emergence of the so-called "new historians." Their principal contribution to the study of the Arab-Israeli conflict has been the diversion of the focus of historical attention from Israel's accomplishments to the Palestinians' ordeal. They portrayed the Palestinians as the hapless objects of violence and oppression (Israeli), collusion (Israeli-Transjordanian) and treacherous diplomacy (British and Arab). Some of them have described the Israelis as intransigent, merciless and unnecessarily wicked usurpers who cynically used the Holocaust to gain the world's support for Jewish statehood at the expense of the Palestinians' rights to their country.
The emergence of this group has not brought about a scholarly breakthrough, neither in revealing new horizons nor in methodological originality. Benny Morris can be defined as historicist, strictly adhering to archival sources and belittling the significance of oral history and memoirs. Posing as a radical relativist, Ilan Papp? has recently demonstrated, during the debate on the Tantura affair, that under cover of his academic position he is merely grinding several personal and political axes. Avi Shlaim allows himself an immense freedom of interpretation that far exceeds his documentary basis. Characterizing the new historians, Anita Shapira has stressed the differences that have made any generalization difficult, if not impossible. She has suggested age (biological and scholarly) as a common denominator, but even this explanation is unsatisfactory: there are substantial age differences among them, while several "new historians" or sociologists are not much younger, if at all, than their colleagues who do not proclaim this title.
This self-proclaimed title "new historians" - implying possession of objectivity and openmindedness that was not the province of "old" historians, alleged to harbor partisanship and involvement - has been particularly irritating. The revisionist historians have indeed generated a questionable revision of the accepted standards of presenting the war of 1948 and its aftermath, but their (different) methodological approaches, practical performance and analysis have been open to criticism no less than those of their predecessors. Supposing the revisionists' posture to be impartial and free from ideological bias is equally unwarranted. Papp? and Shlaim have rendered the Palestinians' charge that Israel was "conceived in sin" a valuable service by sketching the Palestinians of 1948 and after as innocent victims of others' conspiracies and atrocities. This simplicity appears unconvincing to anyone familiar with the sources - unless the reader is utterly prejudiced. In his recent writings Papp? has relinquished the academic mask, joining the Palestinian propagandists openly and wholeheartedly.
When revisionist historians (and sociologists) appeared on the stage in the 1980s, they were outsiders attacking the historiographic and sociological "establishment" of the Israeli universities. At present, most of them belong to the academic "establishment" in Israel and abroad, and hold university positions and tenure. Thus, the polemics between "old" and "new" historians has expanded from research and writing to teaching and supervising. The scandal of Tantura may well be a forerunner of a wider trend in the forthcoming years.
Confronting Palestinian Historiography
After several decades of separate and independent development, the present fashion of positive discrimination in treating the "other" has confronted Israeli historiography with its Arab and Palestinian counterpart. During the 1950s and 1960s, Israeli early historiography and fiction exalted the War of Independence as a miracle, reminiscent of ancient models such as David and Goliath or the Maccabees. The writers described the war as the triumph of few over many, the weak successfully challenging the strong, the right cause winning against the wrong one. To amplify the heroic achievement, they blamed Britain for covertly directing the Palestinian onslaught on the Yishuv and the Arab states' invasion of Israel. Several Israeli scholars have devoted their careers to studying the Arab side of the conflict. However, very little parallel interest in the Jewish perspective has developed among their Arab colleagues.
Arab narratives of the war and its consequences - usually polemic or apologetic memoirs and rarely scholarly research - have concentrated on assigning guilt rather than on analyzing events and processes. Since it was inconceivable that the tiny Yishuv could inflict this defeat on the Arabs single-handedly, it was essential to mitigate the disaster by suggesting accomplices. The Arabs accused Britain of betraying them; blamed the United States for supporting its Zionist prot?g? and finally vilified King Abdullah of Transjordan, who was the only Arab ruler that benefited from the general debacle.
A typical obsession of Arab historiography has been the question of justice and unfairness. Arab scholars have scarcely endeavored to find out what really happened, when, how and why. In place of this, they have elaborated on whose case was right and whose arguments were illegitimate. Hence, Arab scholars ascribe excessive significance to official documents of judicial and declarative character, such as UN resolutions, and disregard the huge corpus of the archival source material on the war. A partial exception to this rule - despite its apologetic character - is Arif al-Arif's six volumes of the war's history that were written in the 1950s. Unfortunately, this work has not been translated and is inaccessible to a wider Israeli audience. Recent Arab works on the conflict are more sophisticated and use the fashionable jargon of Western universities, but none of them approximates al-Arif's thoroughness, self-critical method and accuracy. Nur Masalha, as well as Walid and Rashid Khalidi, sometimes refer to the works of Israeli scholars, but their choice is highly selective and tendentious and usually confined to works in English edition. An interesting question is what would be the findings of Arab "new historians" should they ever emerge in the Arab countries and among the Palestinians.
Representing "the other," Palestinian historiography is now thought by certain Israeli historians to deserve treatment on an equal basis with Israeli historiography of the conflict. Having tried in vain to organize common discussions, I am afraid, however, that there is no common ground yet for such a parley. Any serious discussion of the evidence (or lack of it) behind the Palestinian "narrative" without accepting it in advance is promptly rejected. Objections rely on the argument that the demand itself is arrogant and reflects an "Orientalist" attitude. Arab historiography, as well as some Israeli revisionist historians and sociologists, draw heavily on Edward Said's theory that denies the possibility for a person born into one culture to understand intimately and profoundly "the other" culture. Coming from Said - an Egyptian claiming to be a Palestinian refugee who teaches English literature in an American university and has built his career on a Polish sailor by the name of Joseph Conrad who became a British writer - this argument appears peculiar, to say the least.
The Colonialist Paradigm of Zionism
Following in Said's footsteps, Palestinian scholars as well as some Israeli revisionist sociologists, jurists, geographers and historians, attempt to prove the colonialist nature of Zionism and all the more so of post-1967 Israel. Deriving from current theories on colonialism, this claim relies on very little historical evidence, which usually shows the opposite, and mainly on tendentious interpretation that confuses past and present and serves primarily as a propagandist and ideological weapon in the persisting Arab-Jewish conflict.
The association of Zionism with colonialism did not begin with "new" historians, sociologists or geographers. It is as old as the conflict, dating back to the first Palestinian congress in Jerusalem at the beginning of 1919, if not earlier - as Rashid Khalidi has recently shown. Presented simply, the essence of Zionism is indeed immigration and colonization - pure colonialism in the manner of the Spanish Conquistadors, the pioneer settlers in North America and a long succession of Europeans who occupied, immigrated to and settled in America, Southeast Asia, Australia and Africa. Similarly, Zionism was temporarily assisted by an imperialist power, Britain, though for more complex reasons than plain imperialist interests. Here, however, the similarity ends and when the colonialist paradigm confronts reality it fails to explain adequately the Zionist phenomenon.
Unlike the Conquistadors and their successors, the Jewish immigrants who came to Eretz Yisrael since the 1880s did not come armed to their teeth to take over the country by force from its natives. If we try a semiotic approach, until 1948 the Hebrew word Kibbush (occupation, conquest) related to wilderness, manual labor, grazing and at most to guarding Jewish settlements. Military terms such as gdud (battalion) or plugah (company) also related to labor and not to military units. Economic theories of colonialism and sociological theories of migration movements are also invalid or insufficient when applied to the Zionist experience. Palestine differed from the typical countries of emigration primarily because it was underdeveloped and poor. Contrary to their European contemporaries and predecessors who had emigrated to countries rich in natural resources and poor in manpower to exploit them, the Jewish immigrants came to a country that was too poor even to support its indigenous population. Natives of Palestine - Jews and Arabs, Christians and Muslims - emigrated at the end of the Ottoman period to America and Australia. Zionist ideology and import of Jewish private and national capital compensated for the lack of natural resources and accelerated modernization. Ideology - excluding the missionary that did not exist in Zionism - and import of capital were two factors that were totally absent in any other colonial movement. The imperialist powers usually exploited the colonies for the benefit of the mother country and did not invest beyond the necessities of exploitation.
Until 1948 - with no parallel among colonial movements - the Zionists bought, and did not conquer, lands in Palestine. The list of sellers included all the prominent clans of the Palestinian elite - al-Husayni, Nashashibi, Abd al-Hadi, al-Alami, Tabari, al-Shawa, Shuqairi and many others - who despite their radical political postures could not stand the temptation of the rising land prices in Palestine as result of the Jews' influx. Palestinian and "new" Israeli historians usually blame foreign landowners, such as the Sursuq family of Beirut, for the eviction of the Palestinian tenants and conceal the role of the resident elite families who led the Palestinian national movement. After statehood, state land was requisitioned and private lands were sometimes expropriated. Yet, the state compensated private owners and buying of tracts from individual Arabs continued. By the same token, during the Mandate period and the early years of statehood Jewish immigrants competed with the (Arab) natives in the market of urban and rural manual labor - a competition inconceivable in colonial countries.
Cultural examination also excludes Zionism from the colonialist paradigm. In contrast to the colonial stereotype, the Jews that immigrated to Eretz Yisrael severed their affiliation to their countries of origin and their cultures. Instead, they revived an ancient language and on the basis of Hebrew created a totally new culture that spread into all spheres. Furthermore, colonialist emigrants all over the world either escaped from a gloomy present or sought a lucrative future. Jews who immigrated to Eretz Yisrael shared these incentives, but were driven primarily by a unique motivation that distinguished them from all other colonial movements: reviving an ancient heritage.
This should be enough to refute the identification of Zionism with colonialism. However, this seemingly historical argument has significant ramifications for the present. Palestinian argumentation has always adopted the paradigm of a national-liberation movement (Palestinian) struggling against a colonial power (Zionism). After almost all other national-liberation movements have achieved their goals and ejected colonialism long ago, the Palestinians - who have enjoyed far greater international support - are still treading in the same place. This fact alone should have brought Palestinian intellectuals and their Western and Israeli allies to reexamine their traditional paradigm. However, by cultivating the Zionist-colonialist prototype, Israeli academics continuously provide the Palestinians with the excuse to dodge such reexamination and encourage them to proceed along a road that apparently leads to a dead end.
The Holocaust and Jewish Identity
The second major field of Zionist historiography since the 1970s has been the Zionist movement's and the Yishuv's actions during the Holocaust and their attitude to the plight of European Jewry before the Second World War and of the surviving remnant in its wake. An initially subsidiary field that gradually became a major issue has been the impact of the Holocaust on Israeli society, identity and even politics. In recent years, however, the issue of Zionism and the Holocaust has somewhat lost its central place in contemporary historical debates. Apparently, the issue has exhausted itself, or the critics of the Zionist movement's demeanor such as the psycholinguist Yosef Grodzinsky have failed to present a convincing and attractive case to sustain a serious public debate.
While Zionist leaders or the Yishuv were minor players during World War II, and could hardly do more than they did, the question of their attitude to and treatment of the surviving remnant after the war has been a domestic Zionist issue and has left no room for excuses. Tom Segev and, particularly, Idith Zertal have accused the Zionist leadership of manipulating the survivors for advancing Zionist political goals and of ignoring the survivors' sufferings. Zertal's book is an example of the damage caused by the formerly mentioned fashionable trends: good and well-written research spoiled by superfluous meditations, inarticulate jargon and baseless interpretations.
Having become a main pillar of Israeli distinctiveness, the Holocaust has been mobilized by critics of Israel to serve their campaign. In an anti-historical hindsight judgment that projects upon the past the concepts, values and realities of the present, they attribute to the leaders of the "state in the making" the values, powers and capabilities of the present Jewish state. Furthermore, they appraise the conduct and attitude of Ben-Gurion and his colleagues in the framework of our own rather the contemporary terms.
While the issue of the Yishuv and the Holocaust has become less attractive to scholars and new research in this field has dwindled, the problem continues to play a significant role in public debates in Israel and abroad. As the Holocaust has become a basic component of postmodern Jewish identity, Israelis and Jews outside Israel argue about its essence and lessons. Are they primarily universal or uniquely Jewish? humanist or nationalist? Striving to participate in and expected to contribute to this public debate, Israeli historians were drawn into the polemics. Sixty years after assimilated, emancipated, socialist and Orthodox religious Jews perished in the extermination camps, the axiom that the Holocaust was the ultimate proof justifying the Zionist solution to the modern Jewish Question could not be taken for granted as it had been hitherto. Zionism's prewar ideological adversaries, who had apparently disappeared into oblivion after the Holocaust, have reemerged under the fashionable mask of "post-Zionism" - religious, leftist-liberal or assimilationist. Both in Israel and elsewhere, they have severely disapproved of Zionist "monopolization" of the Holocaust and condemned the emphasis that Zionist leaders and historians have laid on its uniqueness.
Two elements have been prominent in this condemnation of the Zionist approach. One, dating back to Hannah Arendt in the 1950s, has portrayed the Holocaust as a crime against humanity rather than against the Jews. In terms of the Jews' relations with non-Jews, it was a German-Jewish - not European-Jewish or world-Jewish issue. The second refers to the Holocaust as one of several genocides that took place in the twentieth century, beginning with the persecution of the Armenians by the Turks in World War I and ending with the wars in Cambodia, Bosnia or Chechnya. The first element is conspicuous to every visitor at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, where French, Dutch, Romanian, Hungarian, Croat, Slovak, Polish, Lithuanian and Ukrainian satellites, anti-Semites and collaborators hardly exist. This evasion, typical of a bestselling study such as Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners as well, is easy to understand. Living in a country with large communities of East European ethnic origin, most American Jews and Jewish historians feel more confident within the limited concept of the Holocaust. Israeli historiography, however, cannot and should not be content with this narrow interpretation and should continue to emphasize the crisis of emancipation and integration as well as that of the traditional Jewish society.
The second element is even more crucial. Treating the Holocaust as genocide among others and denying its uniqueness continues the assimilationist approach of concealing or blurring any Jewish distinctiveness. The genocide concept contradicts the widely accepted periodization of the Holocaust, placing it between 1933 and 1945. How many Jews were mass-murdered - or what genocide took place - in 1935, 1938 or even 1940? Indeed, the Holocaust was genocide, but it was much more than mass killing. It is precisely this increment that relativist historians in Israel and elsewhere strive to repudiate by comparing the Holocaust with other atrocities under the trendy slogans of "comparative" and "interdisciplinary" studies.
This comparative tactic has been particularly far-fetched when applied to Israel's attitude to the Palestinians since 1948, and particularly after 1967. The radical left in Israel and abroad introduced this link into its daily jargon as early as the 1970s, deriving from Yeshayahu Leibowicz's catchphrase "Judeo-Nazis" and similar pearls. Israeli historians joined this barrage for the first time in the summer of 1982, when Israel Gutman went on a sit-down strike at the entrance to Yad Vashem in protest against the war in Lebanon. Moshe Zimmerman's language while attacking Jewish settlers in Judea and Samaria, calling their youth Hitler Jugend and comparing the Bible with Mein Campf, was another landmark in promoting an apparent analogy between Israel's policies towards the Palestinians and the Nazis' persecution of the Jews.
Papp? has been most extreme in making the link between the fate of the Palestinians and the Holocaust. Ignoring the pre-1948 phase of the Arab-Jewish conflict in order to avoid dealing with Palestinian violent opposition to Zionism and massacres of non-Zionist Jews in Hebron and Safed, he argues that the Palestinians have been victims of the Holocaust as the Jews were. Although Papp? does not adopt completely Said's assertion that Palestinian suffering has priority over the Jews' ordeal during the Holocaust, his apparently evenhanded treatment, degrading the Holocaust by the very comparison to a few isolated atrocities in the midst of mutual fighting in 1948 and after, is very close to a denial of the Holocaust. Similarly, Ilan Gur-Zeev defines the Zionist claim for uniqueness of the Holocaust as "immoral" because it denies others' (particularly the Palestinians') holocausts and genocides. Despite their differences, Gur-Zeev joins Papp? in a highly tortuous attempt to show that the Jews have transferred to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to them. The ulterior motive behind these allegations has been to introduce the idea that the world, which under the impact of the Holocaust had deprived the Palestinians of their homeland to compensate the Jews, should now make up for its historical fault.
From "Melting Pot" to Multicultural Society
Research of the third key issue of Israeli history - the absorption and integration of the mass immigration that arrived in the country during the 1950s and shaped the post-Yishuv Israeli society - is still at an early stage. Sociologists such as Shmuel Eisenstadt, Moshe Lissak, Rivka Bar-Yosef and Reuben Cahana wrote several works in the 1960s and 1970s describing and analyzing the absorption of new immigrants and their integration into the veteran mainstream society. In recent years, a school of "new" or "critical" sociologists assaulted the older generation, blaming their teachers for concealing the ulterior motives behind the processes of immigration and absorption, and ignoring the cultural repression of the new immigrants. Revolting against the older generation, the "new sociologists" have turned the focus of sociological research from the mainstream of Israeli society to its peripheral groups, and accused the veteran nucleus of the Yishuv society of all possible crimes, from deliberate discrimination towards Jews to militarism towards Arabs. They have even suggested extending the colonialist paradigm of Zionism (see above) to its handling of Jews coming from Islamic countries.
Sociologists are not committed to historiographic methods of research and are entitled to their own professional views and conclusions. Their findings, however, are not "history," and the allegations about the absorption of the mass immigration are no exception. The outcomes of the few historical studies that have dealt with the same period and issues deny categorically any allegation of deliberate conspiracy against the new immigrants, whether survivors of the Holocaust or Jews from Islamic countries. These relatively new studies describe many mistakes that were done at the time, albeit innocently and under extremely dire conditions that those "critical" sociologists incline to ignore.
In historical perspective, the "melting pot" concept may appear a fiasco at the present moment, when "multicultural" is the winning catchword. However, the present quandaries of Israeli society prove very little about the past and nothing about its future. The multicultural characteristics are not the outcome of any failure of absorption but stem from various other processes that Israeli society has undergone in the last two decades: decreasing external pressure, additional immigration, influx of foreign laborers, strengthening of minorities and widening economic gaps.
History in Schools
Against the backdrop of this extensive and transforming research activity, the school system too has changed its programs and updated the syllabus of Zionist and Israeli history. Several prominent historians have been involved in shaping the policies of the state's Ministry of Education on teaching history as permanent advisers or members of ad hoc committees. As could be anticipated, the penetration of revisionist polemics into the universities has been followed by the intrusion of revisionism into the school system, where the teachers and pupils are far less equipped for the encounter than university colleagues and students.
Public attention to the way Israeli history has been taught in schools has focused mainly on the approval and contents of new textbooks. The controversial books, however, are just the tip of the iceberg of more fundamental changes. The issue of teaching history in school and the involvement of historians from the academe in monitoring the school syllabus deserve wider consideration, which is impossible in the framework of the present article. Briefly, the academic advisers of the Ministry of Education strove to integrate Jewish and world history in a joint syllabus and in the same textbooks. Nonetheless, the utility and necessity of this merger are highly questionable. This amalgamation may indeed be appropriate in universities, whose task is to train their students in the disciplines that they choose to study. Precisely in Israel, however, each university maintains three or four history departments practicing the same discipline, while everywhere else History is a single department embracing all histories.
Unable to unite the history departments of the universities, some historians attempted to make the experiment in the lower educational system. They ignored, however, the profound difference between teaching history in school and in the university. Although the name "history" is identical, the purposes are almost opposite. While the school systems should bequeath the present generation's pictures of the past to the next generation, the role of academic research and teaching is to review, reexamine and reconstruct these pictures.
The fierce discussions on the various historical pictures and interpretations take place mainly within the secular state education, which is indeed approaching disintegration. Unlike the university, however, the school should educate its pupils and has nothing to do with their disciplinary training. Everywhere in the world, the emphasis in the school system is laid on the national history. World history is taught as essential background to American, British, French, Italian or Polish histories respectively. The dubious Israeli innovation of concealing the national history by wrapping it inside an envelope of world history should be rapidly revised.
History and Memory
One aspect, however, of the debate over history in schools does belong to the comprehensive discussion of historical revisionism in Israel. This aspect is usually referred to as the shaping of "collective" memory. The school system fulfills a central role in forming this "collective memory" through various channels, from lessons in classes (not only history lessons) to excursions, ceremonies and celebrations.
Daniel Gutwein has defined the revisionist criticism of Zionist and Israeli historiography as "privatization of the collective memory" - a phenomenon that he rightly perceives in a broader framework of privatization processes that Israeli society has been undergoing. However, the definitions of the collective and, consequently, what exactly its shared memory is, are obscure. Is the collective Israeli - including Arabs, Jews, Bedouins and other non-Jews? Is it Jewish - excluding minorities but consisting of non-Israeli Jews as well? What about those who joined the collective later, such as younger people and new immigrants? Is collective memory an aggregate of private recollections or is it detached from individual remembering and has an independent essence? Who decides which memory is "collective" and which is not - the government? The media? The academe?
I know of no convincing answers to any of these questions. Historiography has not yet solved satisfactorily the problems emanating from individual memory - the proper handling of oral testimonies. Psychological research, too, has so far focused mainly on quantitative parameters of memory - how much people remember and for how long. Only recently, psychologists have resumed a systematic study of memory's qualitative properties such as accuracy, bias, foreign impacts, autosuggestion and many others. The outcomes of these studies are not encouraging as far as the links between memory and truth or accuracy is concerned. The problem of oral testimonies aggravates as historical research expands into micro-history - the recording and study of undocumented objects such as small settlements or military units, or of societies, tribes, clans and families having mainly oral traditions, or sometimes, clandestine activities that because of secrecy or security considerations were not documented. In these novel fields, individual memories and oral traditions are the principal sources and there are very little - if at all - other types of sources to compare and verify the stories. The practitioners and theoreticians of oral history speak of it in literary-narrativist rather than historical terms. They regard their practice as an independent discipline and place it in the areas of anthropology, folklore and literature rather than historiography.
Nonetheless, the phrase "collective memory" has become a common usage even when it is not clearly defined and should be treated accordingly. Apparently, its closest relative is the old and familiar "myth." Originally, myths were stories told by the ancestors to explain mystifying natural phenomena. Later, myths were concocted to support temporal or secular claims for status, power, jurisdiction, and so forth (i.e. medieval myths such as the presents of Emperor Constantine and King P?pin to the Church). Modern myths are what the undefined collective believes - or is led to believe - happened in its past. Usually, modern myths are instructive - seeking to teach lessons - and polemic or apologetic - excusing or explicating. Zionist and Israeli myths are no exception. Like other nations' myths they, too, cover up failures or exonerate fiascoes. True success and triumph speak for themselves and do not require myths.
Various agents shape the myths and propagate them: persons involved in the making of history who try to affect the way they will be remembered; chroniclers, biographers, poets, dramatists, journalists; writers of fiction; filmmakers; school curricula and teachers; radio and TV producers, etc. Recently, the Internet has become a significant facility of creating and disseminating old and new myths and its role in the empire of information will probably continue to grow in the future. When historians are breaking long-established myths, the role of creating them has become unpopular. Hence, instead of cultivating myths these agents now "shape collective memory."
The question, however, is what myths, alias collective memories, have to do with history. Postmodernist historians and thinkers assert that historiography is just another one of the many agencies that produce collective memory, shape and change it, and historians are, therefore agents of collective memories. This opinion is compatible with the postmodernists' general approach that reduces history to a collection of narratives. Regarding historiography as a scientific discipline I submit, however, that the historian is not - and should not be - a mediator echoing individual or collective memories. His task is precisely the opposite: to distrust, scrutinize and criticize the memories, not to endorse and repeat them.
History is not equivalent to memory - neither on the individual nor on the "collective" level. However, lack of access to official and personal archival material compels Israeli and other historians to rely on sources such as memoirs, oral testimonies, coverage by the media, fiction and arts. These categories of sources are valid for describing the manner in which events have been memorized, remembered, commemorated, conceived or represented, but they hardly tell how they happened. In a secular and individualist age such as ours, they may also contribute to an understanding of the way identities have been shaped. Yet, the affiliation between history and identity has not been explained satisfactorily. As much as history can contribute to the shaping of identity, people also escape from their history in the course of shaping a different or new identity.
Consequently, the research and study of the history of memory have been rapidly expanding. A growing number of scholars study the roots and development of Israeli myths, images and stereotypes. They research the background from which the myths emerged, the reasons for their emergence, the motives behind and methods of their cultivation. The study of myths belongs to cultural history. Significant as it is, this work should not be confused with researching the events - political, diplomatic, military or social. The virtual history, or history of the representation of history - through fiction, poetry, art, films or other popular methods - is not a substitute for the real history of people, nations, organizations, institutions, societies, ideas and other features of the human activity throughout the ages. Sharl De Koster's Till Eulenspiegel, or Henryk Sienkiewicz's Pan Zagloba are virtual fictions, yet the Netherlands' struggle for independence and the Poles' wars of the mid-seventeenth century were real - and different.
In recent years, the means of disseminating information about and knowledge of the past have undergone profound changes. In the eyes of the public, books and articles, even popular, have ceased to be the principal channels of learning what happened, how and why. Watching audiovisual media such as films and TV documentary programs and surfing the Web are gradually replacing reading books and listening to lectures as the main avenues for gaining information and digesting it. In these respects, Israeli historiography lags far behind. We have no History Channel on TV as in America. The universities' Academic Channel is still poor and experimental, and the history of Zionism and Israel does not occupy a significant role in its programs. Even the flagship documentary series on the history of Zionism - Yigal Losin's Amud ha-esh (Pillar of fire) - is far from being free of shortcomings. Its equivalent on the history of Israel - the series Tkumah (Rebirth) - has been a spectacular fiasco to which, unfortunately, I was partner. The number of good and balanced documentary historical films on Zionist and Israeli history is abysmally small. My experience in Tkumah taught me that producers and directors ignore historical advice, and their attitude towards the historical issues - almost without exception - causes revisionist historians to look nearly orthodox.
The situation of Israeli historiography on the Internet is even worse. Preparation of computerized courses accessible through the Web is still in its inception. A few research institutes and university departments have websites, but excluding the Ben-Gurion Institute and archives in Sde Boker they are poor and primitive. While the PRO in London enables users to read on its website the list of documents in a file throughout 1,000 years of British and Imperial history, the Ben-Gurion archives are the only archives in Israel accessible through the Web. Most painful is the total lack of reliable and authoritative websites that provide information on Zionist and Israeli history, and on the historical background of current events in particular.
So far, the historical perspective of studying the history of Israel has been confined to the period ending more or less with the Sinai Campaign in 1956. Limitations and delays in opening significant archival material in the state and IDF archives have hampered research even in this restricted area beyond the necessary limits dictated by the continuation of the Israeli-Arab conflict. However, forerunners of the historical study of later issues such as the Lavon Affair and Ben-Gurion's retirement have already appeared. Scholarly works dealing with the road to the Six Day War and the background of the Yom Kippur War are already under way. In view of the excitement that critical examination of the first - and relatively consensual - decade (1948-1958) of Israeli history has exacerbated, it is easy to imagine the repercussions of a similar scrutiny of the second and third decades (1958-1978) - a period in which every measure, policy or expression has been controversial and a matter for public debate from the beginning, and whose events are masked by an ever-growing mass of irresponsible media coverage. However, precisely for this reason, the continuous debating from the events themselves to the time of their historical study may reduce the shock when historians publish the findings of their research.
The main quandary in tackling the anticipated disputes is not agreement or disagreement among historians or between them and colleagues of other disciplines. Harmony is no less dangerous than rivalry, and arguments may well increase scholarship. Israeli historiography, however, has already lost its joint disciplinary basis, in other words - its common language. It is impossible to conduct a reasonable and constructive debate without shared terminology, principles and ethics. These prerequisites have apparently disappeared in the heat of the recent destructive polemics on the history of the first decade.
I end where I began: the Tantura affair. What would have happened if a scandal like this had taken place in chemistry or in sociology? If major discrepancies had been found between the experiment and the chemist's published conclusions or the questionnaires and the sociologist's deductions - all the more so if the researcher had intentionally falsified the results - their academic colleagues would have unanimously condemn them as charlatans and expelled them from their ranks. In the Tantura case, Israeli historians have split: some - myself included - maintain that this has been an unprecedented disgrace, and others - such as Papp? or Kays Firro - retort that this is a new zenith of scholarship. To restore the status of Israeli historiography, we should primarily determine what historical scholarship is and what it has in common with other types of knowledge. Furthermore, we should shape the specific criteria by which we decide whether a historical work qualifies as a bona fide piece of knowledge - or as a piece of propaganda and historical fiction.
****SEE END-NOTES AT ORIGINAL ARTICLE