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Martin Kramer on the Middle East
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Commentary and analysis on the Middle East, Israel, and more.
Commentary and analysis on the Middle East, Israel, and more.

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David Rutz at the Washington Free Beacon has written a very thorough, blow-by-blow account of my campaign against the New York Times and Max Fisher over their stubborn retailing of a Ben-Gurion fable. I didn’t expect the stodgy old Gray Lady to make a correction, but I did want to impart a skepticism, first, about convenient stories that seem too good to be true, and second, about the self-regulating capacity of giants like the Times. A small case study in journalistic hubris.

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I originally thought that New York Times news columnist Max Fisher had taken his tall tale of Ben-Gurion’s July 1967 “prophecy” from Arthur Hertzberg. Actually, Fisher took it most directly from… Fisher. Turns out he used almost exactly the same lede in an article he wrote for Vox in 2015. Is that okay? NYT tell me. And I ask how Ben-Gurion wound up writing this: “If Jews want to settle on the West Bank, they should be able to do so.”

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The other day, I took Max Fisher and the New York Times to task for running a fable I'd previously debunked. (The one about Ben-Gurion warning, in July 1967, that the "occupation" would lead to Israel's "self-destruction.") The NYT has responded by standing by its story, but as I show here, they botched their "fact check" at the Ben-Gurion archives. I guess when you have $1.7 billion in revenue, you never have to say you're sorry or wrong. Amazingly, this isn't the first time the NYT has printed this very fable. To find out who preceded Fisher, read to the end of my piece.

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The key to understanding Bernard Lewis? The year 1940, his most “vividly remembered,” the year of freedom’s greatest peril. I explain in this presentation, made last week, at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, at an event entitled “Bernard Lewis: Appreciating a Scholar of Consequence.” This is my part, at bit.ly/lewiskramer. The full proceedings: bit.ly/lewistwi

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Nothing gives a historian greater satisfaction than correcting a persistent error. And nothing is more frustrating than the resurrection of that error even after it’s been corrected. Especially if it suddenly surfaces on the front page of the New York Times. I explain at the link.

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Thursday evening, Tel Aviv U and the Moshe Dayan Center sponsored a memorial tribute to the late Bernard Lewis. In this photo, a lineup of the speakers. Left to right: Professors Shimon Shamir, Amy Singer, Amnon Cohen, Joseph Klafter (president of TAU), Asher Susser, myself, Uzi Rabi (director, Dayan Center), Miriam Shefer, and Eyal Zisser. Not shown: Itamar Rabinovich. Fine remarks by all. At this link, I’ve collected my writings on Lewis, including my most recent one at Foreign Affairs: http://bit.ly/krameronlewis
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On Thursday evening, Tel Aviv U and the Dayan Center will host an evening devoted to the late Bernard Lewis. I’ll be speaking there, alongside Amnon Cohen, Itamar Rabinovich, Shimon Shamir, Miri Shefer-Mossensohn, Amy Singer, and Asher Susser. There will be discussions of Lewis and Ottoman studies, his work on Jews and Islam, the Orientalism debate, and more. Language: Hebrew. If you wish to attend, please register in advance.
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Now that the obituaries of Bernard Lewis are done, it’s time for assessments. I’ve done one for the website of Foreign Affairs. Was Lewis an Orientalist or a pioneer historian? Did he believe in the “clash of civilizations” or their encounter? And did he approach the Arabs with contempt or in good faith? At the link.

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Today is a century since Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann and the Emir Faisal, leader of the Arab Revolt, posed for this iconic photograph near Aqaba (June 4, 1918). Weizmann, at British urging, was seeking to allay Arab fears about Zionism. This was their first meeting; there would be later ones, and even a stillborn agreement. But the photo itself deserves more research. According to Weizmann, it was Faisal’s idea: “Our conversation lasted over two hours, and before I left he suggested that we be photographed together.” Who took the shot? (I’m guessing it was the British officer in attendance, Col. P.C. Joyce.) Whose idea was the headdress? And under what circumstances was the photo first published? I’m looking into it, but welcome comments. Only 60 years later did another Arab leader agree to a photo-op with a Zionist one: Sadat and Begin.
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I’m informed that Princeton U flew the university flag at half-mast these past few days, in respect for the memory of Bernard Lewis, who joined its faculty in 1974 and served there until his retirement. The article at the link is from the Princeton website. It quotes Abraham Udovitch, who brought Bernard to Princeton; and also quotes me, on what it was like to have Bernard as a teacher. Udovitch deserves the credit for bringing Lewis and Charles Issawi to Princeton. Their arrival, he rightly says, “transformed the Department of Near Eastern Studies into the preeminent department of the time.” We students also knew it, and basked in the privilege.
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