(October 20, 2021 / JNS) Some readers may know I write and edit the print and online editions of Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict, which rebuts misinformation about Israel. I first co-edited the book with Joel Himelfarb while at AIPAC in 1992, carrying on the legacy began by AIPAC’s founder I.L. Kenen who wrote the first edition as a special survey in Near East Report (the newsletter he also started) exactly 57 years ago in October 1964. NER had paid subscribers but was also distributed free on college campuses, “which were flooded with pro-Arab propaganda.”
In that first edition, Kenen quoted John Kennedy:
This myth—with which you are all too familiar—is the assertion that it is Zionism which has been the unsettling and fevered infection in the Middle East, the belief that without Israel there would somehow be a natural harmony throughout the Middle East and Arab world. Quite apart from the values and hopes which the State of Israel enshrines—and the past injuries which it redeems—it twists reality to suggest that it is the democratic tendency of Israel which has injected discord and dissension into the Near East. Even by the coldest calculations, the removal of Israel would not alter the basic crisis in the area (Feb. 9, 1958).
What follows are eight pages of Arab claims and Kenen’s responses. Do these myths sound familiar?
- Palestine belonged to the Arabs.
- Zionists were the aggressors.
- Israel drove the Arabs out.
- Arab refugees should be repatriated to Israel.
- There are 1.2 million refugees.
- Israel mistreats its Arab citizens.
- The United States gave Israel too much aid.
The myths kept coming.
In 1970, Myths and Facts Background to the Conflict was published as a separate 72-page pamphlet with a cover that boasted of “more than 175,000 copies sold!” and a price of 50 cents. In the introduction, Kenen noted, “Propaganda is a major weapon to weaken the support for Israel in the political and diplomatic arena. The truth offers no barrier to Arab propagandists. They rewrite history. They create and glamorize a ‘Palestine Arab nation’ which, they contend, was exiled by an aggressive Israel.”
He noted the propagandists, “invent links between Israel and unpopular powers and causes in order to impugn her foreign policy and posture,” what is now popularly known as intersectionality. “The attack against Israel’s friends,” he added, “is aimed chiefly at Zionism, since every well-equipped propagandist needs an ‘ism’ for an enemy. They smear it as ‘racist’ and ‘reactionary.’”
That edition was published after the 1967 Six-Day War, and Kenen noted “an upsurge in Arab propaganda, an increase in expenditure, more sophisticated argument and glossier paper.” Old myths were revived, he said, “embellished by new clichés.”
At root, Israel’s right to exist was still questioned and he let Israeli statesman Abba Eban answer one of the myths we hear today:
There is no greater fallacy than to regard Israel as a “colonial” phenomenon. No state in the world expresses the concept of nationhood more intensely than Israel. It is the only state which bears the same name, speaks the same tongue, upholds the same faith, inhabits the same land as it did 3,000 years ago (Foreign Affairs, 1965).
The one new propaganda line was “De-Zionization.” Kenen said prior to the war, “Arabs spoke boldly of the liquidation of the state of Israel,” but afterwards “sought to win opinion by a seemingly more moderate line.” The objective was now “politicide,” that is, “they will not destroy Israel; they will cause her to disappear.” The Palestinians claimed they had no quarrel with Jews, only Zionism.
On the question of peace, Kenen quoted Abba Eban’s statement to the United Nations on Oct. 8, 1968:
Within the framework of peace we are willing to replace the ceasefire lines by permanent secure and recognized boundaries between Israel and each of the neighboring Arab states, and to carry out the disposition of force in full accord with the boundaries agreed under the final peace.
He also noted that Sir B.H. Liddell Hart, who he described as a “world-famous military authority,” advised Israel not to withdraw from any territory:
In the present political turbulence, it is most important for Israel’s security that she should remain in control of the whole, or almost the whole of the area she has conquered … that the Israelis will be able to withstand any pressure to give up this “security area,” and that there will be no British or American pressure, even well-meaning pressure, to give it up in the supposed hope of conciliating her enemies.
Kenen published his last version before he retired in 1974 (among his helpers was a then-unknown Wolf Blitzer). Still 50 cents, it had expanded to 94 pages and incorporated myths related to the 1973 Yom Kippur War and Soviet Jewry.
Blitzer took over as editor in 1976. In the foreword, he noted the “vast mythology” propagandists had developed around “Israel’s right to exist, her future boundaries, the status of Jerusalem, the problem of the Palestinian Arab refugees and the refusal of the Arab states to negotiate with Israel.” He acknowledged that “there is still insufficient evidence that the Arab states are in fact ready to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state” and lamented that “Palestinian Arabs have been exploited by terrorists who call for Palestinian self-determination while denying the same right to Israel.” The publication’s goal, he said, was “to establish that most of the Arab claims are based on spurious myths rather than realities.” Responding to the myths now required 128 pages. Ironically, Blitzer is a star in a medium that helps perpetuate myths.
Alan Tigay and Lenny Davis edited subsequent pocket-size editions that grew to more than 300 pages. While M&F was always based on impeccable research, I introduced citations in the 1992 edition to give the publication a more academic grounding. The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise took over the publication in 2001 and the most recent print edition—now the size of a conventional paperback—came out in 2017. It is 398 pages, and people often ask why it’s so long. The answer is that myths proliferate every year. Chapters had to be added for Israel’s recent wars and operations, media bias and the BDS campaign to delegitimize Israel. New myths emerge nearly every week, which is why I now respond to them online in the Jewish Virtual Library and a weekly email.
In the preface to the print edition, I noted how things have changed since those earlier editions. “The conflict was primarily between Israel and the Arab states for at least thirty years. … Today, however, the Arab-Israeli conflict no longer exists. … Israel is now threatened almost exclusively by radical Muslims from Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon and, especially, Iran. These Muslims, as opposed to most living in the Middle East, are not interested in a political agreement; they seek the elimination of the Jewish state.”
When I was a college student, like most today, I heard a lot of anti-Israel propaganda but did not know the truth. AIPAC used to send every student member a copy of Myths and Facts, which had become the “bible” for pro-Israel activists. When I got my copy, I found the answers to questions I had about Israel. It helped stimulate greater interest in Israel and launch my writing career, as I now had facts on which to base op-eds in the school newspaper and to respond to the anti-Israel professor who taught my course on the Middle East. I became motivated to go to Israel for the first time in 1980 (and return every year except 2020 because of COVID), to pursue a doctorate and to write my dissertation on the domestic influences on U.S. Middle East policy, which became my first book, The Water’s Edge and Beyond.
Sadly, AIPAC and Jewish organizations no longer distribute Myths and Facts on campus. The book should be part of every Jewish day-school curriculum, given by synagogues and parents to students heading to college, and disseminated by Hillels and other campus organizations.
Like Kenen, I also quote John Kennedy. In a commencement speech at Yale in 1962 he said:
The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie—deliberate, contrived and dishonest—but the myth—persistent, persuasive and repeated.
When he published his “survey,” Kenen knew facts are the best weapons we have to ensure that truth triumphs over fiction. Almost six decades later, Myths and Facts remains one of the best tools for students and other activists to understand the issues and to find the responses they need to respond to anti-Israel propaganda.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including “The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews” and “After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.”
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