A new study by Israeli academics from Tel Aviv University and Columbia University’s Teacher’s College finds that Israelis in ever greater numbers are questioning their own modern national creation narrative. For example, it has always been a cherished notion that Israel was created in 1948 with no Jewish violence or force that drove Arab inhabitants from their homes. It has been a sacrosanct notion that the Arabs fled of their own volition largely because they were exhorted to do so via radio and other media reports.
In the past few decades, the New Historians have begun chipping away at such cherished notions. Today, 47% of Israeli Jews believe that expulsion was either a major, or primary cause of the flight of nearly 700,000 former Arab residents. 41% continue to believe the old notion that Israeli Palestinians left voluntarily.
46% believe both sides are equally responsible for continuation of the conflict, while 43% primarily blame the Palestinians.
In some areas, Israelis continue to believe a questionable narrative spun for partisan political purposes by various Israeli leaders. 56% blame Yasser Arafat for walking away from Israel’s “very generous” offer at Camp David, while only 25% blame both sides equally for the failure of the talks. Books by Clayton Swisher and Aaron David Miller decisively debunk the former notion.
60% of Israelis believe that the 1947 UN partition plan offered Arabs a greater share of land than Jews. In fact, the plan offered Palestinians only 44% of the land while they were 2/3 of the population at the time.
58% believe that Israel participated in the 1956 Suez war because it had little or no alternative to stop Arab attacks against it, while only 19% believe the correct answer, that Israel entered the war either partly or entirely to gain Egyptian territory.
38% believe the false notion that there were no Arab peace initiatives prior to the 1973 war, or that any peace initiative was rejected by the Arabs.
47% believe Israel’s goal in the 1982 Lebanon war was solely or in large part to repel terror attacks, while 40% believe correctly that Sharon’s sole or primary goal was to create a new regional order.
47% believe that Palestinian terror is solely or primarily motivated by the inherently violent nature of the Arabs, while only 9% believe it is solely or largely due to Israel’s actions (i.e. the Occupation)
41% believe the first Intifada was fueled solely or primarily by innate hatred of Israel. Only 13% believe it was motivated solely or primarily by opposition to the Occupation.
51% blame the Palestinians primarily or solely for the failure of the Oslo accords. Only 28% believe both sides are equally responsible.
Only 8% believe that Egypt fully implemented the Sinai peace agreement with Israel.
62% believe Israel’s level of “purity of arms” during the entire conflict has been “high” or “very high.”
Despite this retention of old myths in the collective national memory, the survey’s lead researcher is encouraged:
“Typically, societies involved in intractable conflicts like the Israeli-Arab/Palestinian conflict adopt a collective memory of the conflict that is biased to a large degree and self-serving, as is part of the Zionist narrative,” says Nets-Zehngut. “If such study had been conducted between the 1950s and the 1970s, surely a much higher percentage of Israeli Jews would have held the Zionist narrative. The fact that we found this memory of the conflict to be somewhat critical (even though the conflict is still going on) is encouraging. It suggests that the Israeli-Jewish society has changed to become more critical, open and self-reflective, allowing it to adopt less biased narratives.”
The report’s co-author took a less sanguine approach to the data:
However, Daniel Bar-Tal believes that the Israeli-Jewish society still has a significant way to go in changing its collective memory to become less biased and self serving. Many Israeli Jews still believe a Zionist narrative of many issues in the history of the conflict – a simplistic memory of the conflict which portrays Israel in a positive light and the Arabs/Palestinians in a negative one. “Holding such a Zionist narrative serves as an obstacle to peace since it promotes negative emotions, mistrust, de-legitimization and negative stereotypes of Arabs and Palestinians,” Bar-Tal said.
The elderly and religious Jews were found to be constrained most by traditional Zionist myths. These same individuals tended to be most suspicious of Arab motives and least willing to believe peaceful resolution of the conflict was possible. Those who were particularly sensitive to issues of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust also tended to be the strongest supporters of the Zionist narrative. Such persecution has played a determinative role in Israel’s conduct during the conflict and has, in fact, helped fuel it.
H/t Sol Salbe and John Dickerson.