As longtime readers know, I have an interest in the perpetrators of political hoaxes. One of my heroes is Leo Taxil, the grandest leg-yanker of 'em all. ("Hero" may be the wrong word; he was more of a lovable rascal.)
Although good old Leo was in it mostly for the lulz (and the francs), most political hoaxers have had more troubling motives. The most notorious forgery in history is a literary obscenity called The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion
, the original intent of which seems to have been the manipulation of Czar Nicholas II.
In 1984, a pro-Zionist counterpart to the Protocols forgery appeared: From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine
by Joan Peters (real name: Joan Caro
). Her recent death
has renewed interest in her important contribution to the genre of historical deception.
This book propounds the absurd argument that the land of Israel was largely empty before the Jews migrated to the area, and that the Palestinians now trapped in Gaza and the West Bank were actually Johnny-come-lately Arab immigrants who showed up in the 20th century. This outrageous falsehood is still promulgated in many quarters -- for example, in the cyber-pages of The Jerusalem Post
Peters’ 1984 book, From Time Immemorial, began as a sort of defense of the Palestinian view that Jews wrenched Palestine from peace-loving Arab farmers. As her research advanced, Peters discovered quite a different narrative, namely that Arabs had begun mass immigration to the region in the late 19th century, on the heels of Jewish immigration. It seems jobs started to become plentiful.
Pure bullshit. No truly independent scholar believes this nonsense
The scholar who did more than anyone else to demolish Peters' hallucinatory narrative was Norman Finkelstein, who painstakingly went through all of Peters' citations and found that she consistently misread and selectively quoted her sources. Wikipedia
offers a good summary of Finkelstein's critique. Finkelstein:
The periodicals in which From Time Immemorial had already been favorably reviewed refused to run any critical correspondence (e.g. The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly, Commentary). Periodicals that had yet to review the book rejected a manuscript on the subject as of little or no consequence (e.g. The Village Voice, Dissent, The New York Review of Books). Not a single national newspaper or columnist contacted found newsworthy that a best-selling, effusively praised 'study' of the Middle East conflict was a threadbare hoax."
In the video embedded above, Finkelstein tells the story in an a very engaging fashion. But it is important to note that he was hardly the sole critic...
Reviewing the book for the November 28, 1985 issue of The New York Times, Israeli historian Yehoshua Porath described the book as a "sheer forgery," stating, "In Israel, at least, the book was almost universally dismissed as sheer rubbish except maybe as a propaganda weapon." In 1986, Porath repeated his views in The New York Review of Books, and published a negative review that cites many inaccuracies.
Porath's review may be found here
. His final paragraph:
I am reluctant to bore the reader and myself with further examples of Mrs. Peters’s highly tendentious use—or neglect—of the available source material. Much more important is her misunderstanding of basic historical processes and her failure to appreciate the central importance of natural population increase as compared to migratory movements. Readers of her book should be warned not to accept its factual claims without checking their sources. Judging by the interest that the book aroused and the prestige of some who have endorsed it, I thought it would present some new interpretation of the historical facts. I found none. Everyone familiar with the writing of the extreme nationalists of Zeev Jabotinsky’s Revisionist party (the forerunner of the Herut party) would immediately recognize the tired and discredited arguments in Mrs. Peters’s book. I had mistakenly thought them long forgotten. It is a pity that they have been given new life.
For some interesting backstory on this controversy, see this piece by Noam Chomsky
. (That link goes to an interview available on YouTube which I'm too tired to look up.) Even though scholars have demolished the veracity of From Time Immemorial
, and even though Daniel Pipes and Elie Weisel came to admit, grudgingly, that something was deeply wrong with this book, obvious pro-Israel trolls have planted laudatory reviews of Peters' work on Amazon. These plaudits are worth a read, especially the ones that are totally over-the-top.