The “Objective” and “Neutral” Historian Versus the Provocateur

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

A historian is supposed to stimulate thought. A histo­rian who insists on being neutral, a per­son of footnotes, and does not provoke, is doing a disservice to the profession.

When I think about Germany and about German historians who con­stantly hid behind the ‘neutrality’ and ‘objectivity’ of history, I know where that leads.

Those who are col­orless, who are neither here nor there, in the end collaborate with what exists.

Moshe Zimmermann, emeritus professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

A classic example of the “purely objective” historian is another Israeli, Benny Morris, whose works on the events connected with the founding of Israel are widely known.

Benny Morris (Wikipedia image)

In 2004 Counterpunch published an interview with Benny Morris that opened with this paragraph:

Note: Benny Morris is the dean of Israeli ‘new historians’, who have done so much to create a critical vision of Zionism–its expulsion and continuing oppression of the Palestinians, its pressing need for moral and political atonement. His 1987 book, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, chronicled the Zionist murders, terrorism, and ethnic cleansing that drove 600,000-750,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1948, thus refuting the myth that they fled under the orders of Arab leaders. A second edition of this book is due out this month [= the green cover on the right], chronicling even more massacres, and a previously unsuspected number of rapes and murders of Palestinian women. Thus Morris continues to provide crucial documentation for Palestinians fighting the heritage of Al-Nakba, “The Catastrophe.”

But it was all objectively told and the historian author in fact personally lamented that the expulsion of the Palestinians at that time was left as unfinished business:

But in an astonishing recent Ha’aretz interview, after summarizing his new research, Morris proceeds to argue for the necessity of ethnic cleansing in 1948. He faults David Ben-Gurion for failing to expel all Arab Israelis, and hints that it may be necessary to finish the job in the future. Though he calls himself a left-wing Zionist, he invokes and praises the fascist Vladimir Jabotinsky in calling for an “iron wall” solution to the current crisis. Referring to Sharon’s Security Wall, he says, “Something like a cage has to be built for them. I know that sounds terrible. It is really cruel. But there is no choice. There is a wild animal there that has to be locked up in one way or another.” He calls the conflict between Israelis and Arabs a struggle between civilization and barbarism, and suggests an analogy frequently drawn by Palestinians, though from the other side of the Winchester: “Even the great American democracy could not have been created without the annihilation of the Indians.”

Continue reading “The “Objective” and “Neutral” Historian Versus the Provocateur”