21 October 2002

Don’t Like History? Change it!

What is the definition of an Historian? An Historian is someone who researches history and writes about it. The key word here is “researches”. This Historian checks his facts, double checks, and triple checks what he finds in order to be as accurate as possible.

When I was completing my history degree here at Wayne State, I had a professor who made it very clear that you needed at least three independent sources to prove that an event actually occurred. If it couldn’t be verified, it may never have happened.

But wait, there’s a new breed of historians. They call themselves the “new historians”. They find “new” information and tell us all about it. Sounds great! Learn something new every day. Unfortunately, there’s a problem. These “new” historians are notorious for making up facts and using these “new” facts in order to support their political views.

I understand that people and governments use history to support their political views all the time. This isn’t the problem. The problem is when historical “facts” are really embellishments or worse, complete and utter fabrications.

On campus last week we had a “new historian” by the name of Ilan Pappe. Pappe not only had a political agenda, but made up the facts to go with it. Who is Ilan Pappe? He’s a political science professor at Haifa University in Israel. He came to enlighten us about the “fact” that when Israel was created in 1948, there was a systematic attempt to uproot the “native” Arab population living there and destroy their homes.

What made Professor Pappe more believable was that as a Jewish Israeli, he was able to muster his courage and go against accepted documented history with his “facts”.

I have absolutely no interest whether he’s Jewish or Israeli or Greek or Chinese. His nationality gives him no more credibility than any other credential he might be able to create. The truth is, he made up historical “facts” in order to fit his political agenda.

One of Professor Pappe’s students Theodore Katz, wrote his Masters thesis on the accusation that the Alexandroni Brigade massacred 200 unarmed Arabs in the village of Tantura in May 1948. This Masters thesis earned him a 97% by Professor Pappe and a libel suit by the Alexandroni Brigade veterans in January 2000.

During the libel trial it only took two days for Katz to retract his statements. “After checking and re-checking the evidence, it is clear to me now, beyond a doubt, that there is no basis whatsoever to the allegation that the Alexandroni Brigade, or any other fighting unit of the Jewish forces, committed the killing of people in Tantura after the village surrendered.” Within a day, Katz tried to take back his statement, and continue the trial, but the judges refused. The Haifa University also found that Katz had falsified testimony “gravely and severely” in 14 different places in his thesis.

What is important to note is that Katz’s thesis advisor, Professor Pappe determined that Katz’s conclusions were correct even if the facts were not. His decision shows us that historical accuracy is not that important to Professor Pappe. Why bother with real research when you can make up your own?

The Alexandroni Brigade is trying to have Katz’s Masters thesis revoked but is having a hard time because Pappe is fighting for him. The question is, if Pappe is willing to support a thesis which is full of lies and embellishments, why should he be believed at all? What is the point of doing historical research, when according to Pappe, it isn’t necessary to be truthful or accurate?

Professor Pappe, while being brought in as an “expert” in the Middle East is no more than an expert liar.

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