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by Petra Marquardt-Bigman


Over the past year, Antony Lerman has published quite a few articles[1] defending anti-Zionist views against the charge that they often serve as a cover-up for antisemitism. If his articles include any biographical information, Lerman is usually presented as (former) director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research in London; he has also been described as a "leading Jewish thinker." Of course, anyone who writes "as a Jew"[2] and single-mindedly focuses on whatever is wrong with Israel and Zionism can count on having an appreciative audience that can't get enough of this message - particularly if it comes with regular complaints about how unfair it is to suspect people of anti-Semitism simply because they feel that the world would be a better place if Israel didn't exist.

In one of his recent pieces, Lerman turns to politics and peace, arguing that there is something "surreal" about the debate whether the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be resolved by establishing two states for two people or one bi-national state. He believes that "Israel-Palestine is already a de facto single state,"[3] but he claims that he makes this assertion only to "concentrate minds everywhere on achieving a two-state arrangement." At the same time, however, he indicates that he himself hopes for "the eventual evolution of a federal version" of one single bi-national state "as a way of guaranteeing the human rights of Israelis and Palestinians in the long term."

In laying out his case, Lerman argues that "Israeli control of the area of the pre-1967 state, the West Bank and Gaza" has created an "illiberal one-state" in which Israel denies the Palestinians their human rights. By claiming that Israel controls a territory from which last year alone some 3000 rockets and mortars were launched against Israeli towns and villages, Lerman squarely positions himself in the "facts-don't-matter" camp. That's of course not the way he sees it: he devotes much space and care to presenting his evidence for "the encircling and overlapping forms of control and restriction Israel has created" - what he doesn't mention is that many of these measures are due to legitimate Israeli security concerns.

But for the "facts-don't-matter" camp, there simply can't be any threat to Israeli security: Ahmadinejad is just talking and anyway gets translated wrongly; anti-Semitism in the Arab and Muslim world doesn't really exist and whenever it gets too obvious to deny it, it is only an entirely understandable reaction to Israel; Hamas doesn't really mean what they say in their charter and if they do, their nostalgia for the good old days without Israel is only human; thousands of rockets and mortars targeting Israeli civilians are just homemade fire-crackers meant to signal understandable frustration, and there is no such thing as Palestinian terrorism because whatever the Palestinians do is legitimate resistance against a cruel and inhuman occupation.

Whether explicitly stated or only implied, the premise is always that any threat Israel might face is of Israel's own making. Well, if you think about it, there is some profound truth here: if Israel didn't exist, it wouldn't face any threats...

But while it may be tempting to ridicule the "facts-don't-matter" camp, it's worthwhile to think about the question what their "Israel-is-to-blame" line of argument ultimately boils down to. As far as I can see, it leads to a view of the Middle East conflict in which only Israel has the power of agency - all other parties to the conflict are reduced to reacting. The parallels to the "Jews-control-the-world" motif so popular among anti-Semites the world over are hard to overlook.

In Lerman's piece, this take is reflected in a presentation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that features the Palestinians only in the role of Israel's victims. For him, the "illiberal one-state" that he decries is an outcome of Israeli intransigence toward the Palestinians. What Lerman conveniently ignores is that Palestinians have often acknowledged that the two-state solution is a concept that they are reluctant to accept. Here is just one quote from somebody who ought to know:

statehood as such is a relatively recent addition to Palestinian aspirations. The main Palestinian impetus after [...] 1948 was that of 'return'; it was more about reversing the loss of Arab land and patrimony, than the fulfillment of classical post-colonial self-determination, via statehood. [...] It was only after [...1967] that a new Palestinian national identity began to take shape. At its core was the notion of the armed struggle as a galvanizing force. Armed struggle, according to Fatah, restored Palestinian dignity and gave the Palestinians a say in determining their future. Statehood and state building had no real place in this scheme. Indeed, the first tentative proposals to establish a state [...] were rejected as defeatist and a betrayal of the national cause."

This is taken from an article by Ahmad Samih Khalidi,[4] an Oxford scholar who served as an advisor to the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid-Washington peace talks in 1991-1993. The title of Khalidi's article "Thanks, but no thanks" accurately reflects his unambiguous rejection of the two-state solution because it "does not offer the equitable and fair solution the Palestinian people deserve." Tellingly, the same article was also published[5] under the title "Why a Palestinian 'State' is a Punitive Construct."

Anyone who would like to think that Khalidi speaks only for himself is mistaken: there are countless statements by Palestinians that confirm Khalidi's historical account and agree with the view that a genuine two-state solution that reflects the formula "two states for two people," i.e. one Jewish and one Arab state, is anything but popular among Palestinians. The recent issue of the Palestine-Israel Journal demonstrates the continued Palestinian ambivalence[6] all too well by offering two views on the "right of return."

One piece is written by a well-known activist who has devoted much of his life to the effort to turn back the clock to 1947; the other piece presents a cautious case for compromise, but ends with the acknowledgement[7] that the Palestinians have yet to make the choice "between the pragmatists and their endeavors to achieve a political solution on the basis of two states for two peoples and their opponents who insist on exercising the absolute right of return."

Obviously, no amount of evidence showing the Palestinian reluctance to really embrace a genuine two-state solution would prompt the faithful of the "facts-don't-matter" camp to revise their Manichean view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, Lerman's apparent inability to see the Palestinians as anything but victims of Israeli intransigence is particularly revealing given the fact that his recent output includes a long piece entitled "Must Jews always see themselves as victims?"[8]

It's yet another piece where facts don't matter much - and that's why Lerman can claim confidently that it is the "Jewish public" that "does not want to be confused with the facts." Maybe he would benefit from reading a recent Foreign Policy piece[9] that traces the evolution of the views of Israeli historian Benny Morris, who is described there as "a one-man microcosm of what many Israeli Jews of the Labor-Zionist strain have undergone in the past decade." I certainly have no quarrel with this assessment.

But Lerman laments that his fellow Jews are trapped in a "lachrymose conception of Jewish history" that depicts Jews as the eternal victims, preventing them from realizing that the Jewish state has become a brutal victimizer whose cruel inhumanity inevitably triggers outbursts of antisemitism. That is of course another central motif of the "facts-don't-matter" school of thought: for them, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is just one big morality play about good and evil - it's the narrative of the victim-turned-victimizer that interests them.

No matter how often Palestinians will acknowledge that, more than a state of their own, they seek an imaginary "justice" that a two-state solution will not satisfy, the "facts-don't-matter" fans won't stop for a moment to ponder if it is really only Israeli intransigence that has prevented the realization of the two-state solution.

But those like Lerman who argue that a "one-state solution" would somehow be the best "way of guaranteeing the human rights of Israelis and Palestinians in the long term" betray that they believe the Palestinians are entitled to veto the Jewish right to self-determination in Israel: in their view, the cause of "human rights" ultimately requires that the Jewish state - even in its pre-1967 borders - ceases to exist so that a bi-national state can emerge. If Lerman wasn't so busy defending anti-Zionism and writing about how dangerous and counterproductive it is to exaggerate the threat of anti-Semitism, he might have the time to explain why it is not anti-Semitic when the Jews are denied a right that others are encouraged to take for granted.


[1] the_facts_don_t_matter



[4] usa.israel


[6] back-present-debating-right-return%20




Petra Marquardt-Bigman is a freelance writer and researcher with a Ph.D. in contemporary history. She is based in Israel, and her current work focuses on the Mideast conflict. She has a blog, The Warped Mirror, at the Jerusalem Post's Blogcentral site, and also contributes occasionally to the Guardian and other publications. This article appeared May 04, 2009 on the Warped Mirror website and is archived at


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