Boston University historian and Professor Emeritus of Political Science Howard Zinn is the author of more than twenty books, most notably A People’s History of the United States (1980). Painting America as a nation whose chief contributions to humanity consist of repression, racism, imperialism, and genocide, this Marxist tract ranks among the best-selling history books of all time. A devoted admirer of Mao’s China (which he calls “the closest thing, in the long history of that ancient country, to a people’s government”) and Castro’s Cuba (which he says “had no bloody record of suppression”), Zinn takes a much darker view not only of America, but also of America’s closest ally in the Middle East, Israel.
According to Zinn, Israel’s creation in 1948 “meant the dispossession of the Arab majority that lived on that land,” and led to “the occupation and subjugation of several million Palestinians” — a situation that “we would today call ‘ethnic cleansing.’”
Zinn recalls that “after the Six-Day War of 1967 and Israel’s occupation of territories seized in that war (the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, the Sinai peninsula),” although he himself is a Jew he nonetheless “began to see Israel not simply as a beleaguered little nation surrounded by hostile Arab states, but as an expansionist power.” The fact that the new territories Israel gained not as the result of its own aggression, but in a war of self-defense against a massive invasion by the armies of three Arab states — Egypt, Syria and Jordan — that were seeking to annihilate it did not factor into Zinn’s new view of the Middle East.
With regard to the ongoing Mideast conflict today, Zinn places most of the blame for what he terms “the cycle of violence” on Israel’s allegedly provocative and unjustified use of disproportionate force: “a rock-throwing [Palestinian] intifada met by [Israeli] over-reaction in the form of broken bones and destroyed homes; [Palestinian] suicide bombers killing innocent Jews followed by [Israeli] bombings which killed ten times as many innocent Arabs.”
According to Zinn, Israeli society is filled with deep-seated “xenophobia, militarism, [and] expansionism.” He seeks Jewish precedents to buttress his hardcore anti Israel views:
“Some of the wisest Jews of our time — Einstein, Martin Buber — warned of the consequences of a Jewish state. Einstein wrote, at the very inception of Israel: ‘My awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power, no matter how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain….’”
In this confused formulation, by upholding its right to exist as a Jewish homeland in the face of genocidal enemies, Israel somehow compromises its “essence.”
Zinn laments that “in the occupied territories … a million and more Palestinians live under a cruel military occupation, while our [U.S.] government supplies Israel with high-tech weapons.” His objection to U.S. aid to Israel has motivated him to endorse divestment campaigns aimed at companies that contribute in any way to Israel’s efforts to curb the violence of Palestinian terrorists — or as Zinn sees them, freedom fighters.
In February of this year, when Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts became the first American college or university to divest its financial holdings in U.S.-based companies because of their alleged role in promoting Israeli injustices against Palestinians, Zinn endorsed the measure along with such figures as Noam Chomsky (who has called Israel “virtually a U.S. military base” founded “on the principle of discrimination”); Rashid Khalidi (who contends that Israel’s very existence is “at the expense of the Palestinians” and “fails to meet the most important requirement: justice”); Rep. Cynthia McKinney (who once quipped that “the Israeli occupation of all territories must end, including Congress”); and Ilan Pappe (who has openly expressed support for the Palestinian terror group Hamas “in its resistance against the Israeli occupation”).
Just last month, Zinn was one of 59 clients of the multi-billion-dollar financial services and retirement firm TIAA-CREF (Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association, College Retirement Equities Fund) to sign a letter calling on the Fund to divest the $257,000 in stocks it held in the company Africa-Israel. Zinn objected to Africa-Israel’s role in funding the construction of Israeli settlements located in disputed territories in or near the West Bank. He was again joined in signing the letter by professors Noam Chomsky; George Bisharat (who complains that greedy Zionists “stole Palestine” from its rightful owners); Joel Beinin (who says that the first Palestinian Intifada of 1988-92 was actually “a strike for peace”); and Juan Cole (who says Israelis “insist on occupying a people whom they do not wish to absorb, but only to steal from”).
Zinn’s view of the Middle East conflict is part of his view of his own profession as an “engaged” historian who wants his writing and his teaching of history “to be a part of social struggle”; a “political act” by someone who is “a part of history and not just a recorder and teacher.”
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