Former USAID staffer vs. Israel: Fabrications and falsehoods

Anti-Israel extremists continue to use the lie of Deir Yassin to bash Zionism and the Jewish state.

An Irgun parade in 1948. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
An Irgun parade in 1948. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Moshe Phillips
Moshe Phillips is a commentator on Jewish affairs whose writings appear regularly in the American and Israeli press.  

A former USAID executive used a recent column on the D.C.-based news website The Hill to attempt to revive a long discredited claim of war crimes against a Zionist militia from more than 70 years ago. How could someone who harbors such plain to see hostility against Israel be selected for a position in which he was involved in funding projects in the Middle East? How much damage to Israel could be caused by such a person?

David Harden’s Oct. 26 op-ed was largely an effort to comment on who should win the race for the White House and was unrelated to Zionist history. Harden went specifically out of his way to spread the lie that Zionists committed war crimes in the 1940s. His obvious biases here leave one wondering if he was motivated by a desire for revenge over the ending of USAID efforts in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority-controlled areas in January 2019. Harden wrote in September in The Hill that “Donald Trump does not value USAID, but a Biden administration could re-vision USAID.”

In this latest piece Harden wrote: “the Irgun … led the Deir Yassin massacre which slaughtered 107 Palestinian Arabs in a village outside of the Holy City.”

The problem: While it is true that Arab and pro-Arab sources have for many years alleged there was a massacre in Deir Yassin (just as they later alleged many Israeli Army massacres), there is no evidence that it actually happened.

There were many Arab civilian casualties in the battle of Deir Yassin, but this was because the Arab military forces there employed the time-honored tactic of using Arab residents as human shields. The Jewish forces at Deir Yassin were the pre-State Zionist militias the Irgun Zvai Leumi and LEHI (widely remembered outside of Israel as the Stern Group).

The Zionist militias left one exit from the village open and pleaded with the residents, through a loudspeaker, to leave. Many did. But many others were forced to stay in their homes by Arab soldiers. As a result, some civilians were killed in the inevitable house-to-house fighting that ensued.

As an aside, it is well worth noting that there were no “Israeli troops” at Deir Yassin as there was no State of Israel when the battle was fought. The Irgun and the Stern Group attacked Deir Yassin because it was where snipers who targeted Jewish civilians in western suburban Jerusalem neighborhoods were based, and the British authorities were doing nothing to stop them.

Embarrassed by the large number of casualties, the leadership of the Jewish Agency—the then Labor Zionist-controlled Jewish quasi-government in pre-Israel Palestine—decided to accuse their political rivals, the Irgun and Stern Group, of massacring Arabs in Deir Yassin. But in 1969, the Israeli Labor government’s Foreign Ministry—Abba Eban was foreign minister at the time—recanted the allegation, describing the massacre claim as “a big lie” and “a fairy tale.”

Israeli historian Uri Millstein, in his definitive four-volume history of the 1948 war, interviewed Yisrael Netah, an officer of SHAI, the Haganah (Labor Zionist) intelligence service, who was working undercover, disguised as a Palestinian Arab. Sitting in a cafe not far from the battle zone, Netah encountered Arabs who had just fled from Deir Yassin. Hoping to spread fear among the enemy, Netah drew a political cartoon depicting Jews committing atrocities, claiming that 600 women and 400 children were slaughtered in Deir Yassin. (According to the British census of 1945, only 610 residents were in the entire village, by the way.) “I exaggerated on purpose to frighten the Arabs,” recalled Netah. “I sent the drawing to the newspapers, through the Arab HQ in Jerusalem. … My drawing was published in an Arab paper.”

The Deir Yassin “massacre” lie was put to rest, once and for all, with the publication last year of the book Deir Yassin: The End of the Myth, by Professor Eliezer Tauber, a former Dean of the Faculty of Jewish Studies at Bar-Ilan University. He meticulously reviewed every piece of evidence and interviewed the last remaining eyewitnesses. Tauber concluded that while a small number of civilians were inadvertently harmed—as was inevitable, given the battlefield conditions and the Arab forces’ actions—“basically, there was no massacre in Deir Yassin.”

Anti-Israel extremists continue to use the lie of Deir Yassin to bash Israel and Zionism. Harden’s article is only the latest example of this. As the Bible states, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

Maybe it’s just a coincidence that extreme critics of Israel and Zionism like Harden keep popping up on the staffs of various agencies that are charged with implementing U.S. policy in the Middle East. Or it may indicate something about the mindset of many career bureaucrats within U.S. government-funded entities like USAID. Either way, the fact that there is a history of hiring detractors of Israel and Zionism in these positions represents a very disturbing use of the American public’s tax dollars.

Moshe Phillips is national director of Herut North America’s U.S. division. More information is available at: www.herutna.org.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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