Israel at 50 - Truth v. Revisionism

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Abraham H. Foxman
National Director
Anti-Defamation League

April 1998

It was only a short piece -- three minutes long or so-- about Israel’s 50th anniversary on the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather on April 23, 1998.

[T]his newscast ...  left a false and highly damaging impression concerning Israel's very creation.

There are those who assert that a 50th anniversary is merely celebratory and media coverage should reflect that. But Israel itself is going through a lot of soul-searching at this time – engaging in political and cultural questions of a profound nature -- so a journalistic approach which is not simply celebratory is understandable. What happened on this newscast, however, was an outrage and a matter that must be responded to because it left a false and highly damaging impression concerning Israel's very creation.

Politcally Driven Reporting

The reporting noted that Israel’s view of itself has been challenged by new historians who claim, for example, that Arabs who fled during the War of Independence were expelled rather than left on their own accord. Indeed, there are Israeli historians revising the nation’s historical perspective. What the report failed to do, however, was to indicate that these historians represent a minority view; that the majority of Israeli scholars reject the extreme negative portrayals of Israel’s birth. Every element of the report worked toward the conclusion that the revisionists were telling the "truth", while anyone who took a different approach was simply protecting Israel’s image for political reasons.

Students in a Tel Aviv school talked about how they had been taught lies by the educational system and how important it was that they are now learning the real facts. Palestinians said that, of course, they had been telling the real story for decades and only now – 50 year later – are some in Israel finally coming around. The correspondent himself refers to the "truth" of the new historiography. Finally, we see the one figure in the story who disagrees with the "new" assessment, an Israeli Minister whose words basically confirm the thrust of the piece -- Israel is still at war must therefore hold on to its myths; nyone who disagrees is merely covering up for purposes of national solidarity against the claims of the Palestinians.

What is so damaging and unfair is the framing of the story, because the millions of viewers who saw it could move to the further conclusion that from now on anytime they hear a story of Israel’s founding in heroic terms, it is a mere cover-up. Such thinking could have political consequences of a profound nature were it to take hold, because if Israel’s creation was out of sin, then solutions must reflect atonement by Israel.

Ideology Replacing Truth

Justifiable as it is to make adjustments to history based on new evidence, the basics of the events of the 1947-8 remain in place despite the work of revisionists. It was the Arab states, not Israel, that rejected the United Nations partition of Palestine into two states, one Arab, one Jewish. It was 5 Arab countries that invaded Israel upon its independence.
It was the Arab states, not Israel, that rejected the United Nations partition ... [and] 5 Arab countries that invaded Israel upon its independence.
Thousands of Palestinians fled the fighting -- some left simply because of the ravages of war; others hoped to avoid the conflict and return once the Arab states defeated and occupied the new Jewish state; still others were expelled in some locations. While it is a legitimate historical task to identify these cases, it is clear that had the Arabs not gone to war with Israel there would be no refugee problem in the first place.

Remarkably, many Israelis, not only scholars, are ready to take a hard look at the truth, despite the fact that Israel still confronted by neighbors who are not ready to make peace and by terrorists who are ready to kill their citizens. But truth in no way resembles the ideological onslaught depicted by this "news" report. The basic facts of Israel’s creation are such that Israelis and others have every reason to be proud.

In the final analysis, because the American people have a fundamental identification with and sympathy for Israel and truth will win out, despite the CBS report and the disservice it did to the network’s reputation for quality journalism.

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