Peter Buchsbaum

Truth in Teaching?

A woman carries a white flag with a group of Palestinians fleeing Gaza City to the southern Gaza Strip on Salah al-Din street in Bureij, November 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Mohammed Dahman)
A woman carries a white flag with a group of Palestinians fleeing Gaza City to the southern Gaza Strip on Salah al-Din street in Bureij, November 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Mohammed Dahman)

Is the antisemitic virulence on some campuses encouraged by teachers who provide inaccurate and biased accounts of the history of Zionism and the creation of Israel in 1948?

In a recent column in The New York Times, editorialist Michelle Goldberg unfortunately continues the Times’ penchant for repeating falsehoods related to the Gaza war. At the end of her column she quotes, apparently approvingly, someone she calls a preeminent historian of Palestinian history at Columbia who says that there is no defense for ethnic cleansing by Israelis in 1948. Such comments by a teacher called preeminent is not only false but is also likely to inspire hatred. Imagine being Jewish and Zionist in a class taught by such a professor.

No honest teacher could say what this supposedly preeminent instructor said. And no alert columnist should approve such a source.

The war that led to 750,000 Arabs leaving or being pushed from Israel was started when 5 Arab armies invaded Israel after partition was approved by the UN. No invasion, no Nakba, no refugees. All would have been avoided if the UN had been respected. So, the cause of the conflict was not Israel.

Second, the Arabs had made it clear their objective was to rid the land of Jews. Where they prevailed, in the Etzion Bloc and the Old City, they did just that. Just as they had in their pogrom against the Jews of Hebron in the1920’s. Clearly the Jews of Tel Aviv, Haifa, and all of Jerusalem were at risk of expulsion. So, the Israelis were faced with the threat of extermination which they had to take seriously, especially when some local Arabs took up arms against them.

Third, the Arab practice of ridding their lands of Jews resulting in the expulsion of over 850,000 Mizrachi Jews from Arab lands, a number, as Sir Martin Gilbert points out, larger than the number of Arabs who left Israel. Any rational teacher of the history of this period would have to consider that Israel had to accommodate these refugees who became Israeli citizens even while its Arab neighbors were herding Palestinians permanently into camps as non-citizens.

Fourth, there have been and remain over a million Arabs in Israel. After 1948, Israelis could not even visit the Kotel and the West Bank became Judenrein, which it had not been. This gross violation of the basic rights of Jews to worship at their holy site gets the silent treatment from this Columbia professor and his fellows.

One does not have to believe that everything Israel did in 1948 was right to conclude that Goldberg’s source is not qualified by reason of gross bias to teach the history of that period to Columbia students. Nor is it a stretch to fear that such antisemitic comments by teachers contribute to the discomfort of Jewish students in places like Columbia or to the aggressive conduct of groups like Students for Justice in Palestine.

At a time when tempers are inflamed, professors, of all people, should response to nuance, not to false absolutes. Let’s hope the path forward accepts complexity, at the very least.

About the Author
Peter Buchsbaum is a graduate of Cornell University and Harvard Law School. He clerked for Joseph Weintraub, Chief Justice of NJ and served as a Judge of the NJ Superior Court from 2004 to 2013 after a career as prominent municipal land use lawyer. Peter has been listed in Who's Who in America for over 25 years. Today, he sits on the WUPJ North American Advisory Board and Co-chairs its Legacy Committee Chairs. He has been an officer of Har Sinai Temple in Pennington, NJ; and he is a co-founder of J-PLAN (the Jewish Pluralism Legal Action Network), which advocates for marriage equality in Israel.