Palestinians ‘weren’t there at all’– Netanyahu tells credulous Jordan Peterson

Jordan B. Peterson interviews Benjamin Netanyahu - December 5, 2022 (screenshot of Peterson's YouTube video)

Philip Weiss

Mondoweiss  /  December 14, 2022

Conservative scholar/media star Jordan Peterson turned over a new leaf this fall by touring Israel with the ideologue Ben Shapiro and dining with Benjamin Netanyahu. Now Peterson has published an interview with Netanyahu titled “Does Israel Have a Right to Exist?” in which he allows Netanyahu to rant against Palestinians and misrepresent history:

Israel did not create “a single refugee” in 1948. No, neighboring Arab armies did that by telling the Palestinians to flee. This has always been Jewish land, the bible tells us so. Though before Jews returned to it, it was just a “barren dump” and “wasteland” and “ruin.”

There was no such thing as Palestinians. They were “southern Syrians” till Zionism built a “miracle” in the desert and they emigrated to the land.

Peterson has a large following, and the interview has gotten 800,000 views in eight days. Though happily, many commenters on the video have denounced Peterson for his hospitality to racism and historical fictions.

Here are some of Netanyahu’s Zionist fables. On the refugees:

“Seventy five years ago when the state of Israel was declared, you did not have a single Arab refugee…. In fact the refugees are the result of Arab aggression and not its cause. …. The Palestinian refugees… fled in advance of the advancing armies [from five Arab countries] being promised that they could return in a few days, the Jews would be annihilated and driven into the sea, that didn’t work out, thank god.

The Zionists “did not kick out an existing population with a national consciousness.” Because no one was there, it was barren land.

“The Arabs who had conquered the land [in the 600s] basically left it barren. They never made it their own. It was a barren land. Practically it was an empty land…. The Jews came back in the 19th century to the land of Israel. The result of this return was that we started building farms, factories, places of employment. Arabs from nearby countries started emigrating. And they now became– they call themselves Palestinians. They reconstructed history, they said we’ve been here for centuries. No they haven’t. They weren’t there at all, and they didn’t have a national consciousness….

“It’s not your land, it’s been our land for 3500 years. If you took over somebody’s apartment, kicked them out, dispossessed them, and they never gave up their claim… and you left this barren dump, OK? And the families, the progeny of the people you kicked out came back, rebuilt the house… you cannot come back and tell them, you don’t belong here, we’re going to kick them out.

“Especially since your latecomers who have come to live in part of the house, which is what so-called Palestinians are. We say to them you can live here, we can live here, but it’s our land, it’s our state…”

This is Nakba denial, and hateful to those who respect human rights and history. Netanyahu’s claim that Palestinians are “southern Syrians” is the same line that Sheldon Adelson, his friend and the late Republican donor, used to put out.

Jews have suffered more than anyone else.

“If any people has any right to a state, if any people never gave up their dreams… If any people rebuilt their home from nothing, from barren, wasted land, it’s the Jewish people. To tell them, you who have suffered more than anyone else… you have no right to be there, but the Arabs who are trying to destroy you, they have a right, That is a complete perversion of history…

The land belongs to us.

“The Jews belong to this land, this land belongs to the Jews, the Palestinians are free to live here next to us, among us, but they are not free to demand the dissolution of the Jewish state…

There’s no occupation, Netanyahu says, using biblical terms for the West Bank: “our so- called occupation of the heartland of the Jewish people, Judea and Samaria.”

More ranting about Arabs are not productive:

“We came back to this land to this land that was laid barren by the Arab conquest, brought it back to life, and allowed Arab immigration, what we call now Palestinian immigration, to come back in…

“They did nothing with the land. They built one town. Ramle. That’s it. Hundreds of new sites that we built…. The Arabs did nothing with it… We perform this miracle… it was desert, it was nothing.”

Netanyahu repeats that it’s like being evicted from an apartment and when you come back, there are “no tenants” there.

“They took over my apartment a long time ago…The apartment was left barren and many decades– in this case, centuries later, I come back to this barren mess, this ruin, and I build it up back, I not only improve it, I make my ownership based on improvement, but that nobody else did anything with it. There was no someone else! There practically were no tenants, that’s my argument… “

Peterson never challenges Netanyahu’s lies about Palestinian history and Palestinian refugees. He does not touch on Netanyahu’s corruption trial or Netanyahu’s current plan to take on fascistic coalition partners to gut the Israeli legal system so he won’t go to jail.

So the interview is not so different from PBS News Hour’s Judy Woodruff, interviewing Netanyahu for 11 minutes a few weeks ago and leaving him off the hook on corruption and racism and apartheid charges (“You see a home for the Palestinians in years to come?”).

Peterson accepts the claptrap surely because he is a Christian Zionist and opposes the American left at every turn, so Netanyahu is a hero. But Peterson offers a rationalization for theft that his own commenters are mocking. There is a “principle of ownership in English common law,” Peterson says, that “if you own territory and you’re doing nothing to it and someone squats on it” and does something productive, that someone gets to keep the land. “You have to do something productive with [territory].. The Jews have actually taken the land and did something with it. … They invited other people to live there… It wasn’t an oppressive regime.” This is high-minded hasbara, or explaining Israel to the world.

In turn, Netanyahu justifies Israeli land theft on the basis of the bible.

“The bible describes how the Jewish people lived on this land, were attached on that land, fought off conquerors sometimes were conquered but stayed on their land… till the 7th century… We were conquered by the Romans, conquered by the Byzantines. They did a lot of bad things to us, but they didn’t really exile us…. The loss of our land actually occurred when the Arab conquest took place in the 7th century. The Arabs burst out from Arabia and they did something that no other conqueror… nobody did before… They actually started taking over the land of the Jewish farmer. They brought in military colonies that took over the land.”

(Military colonies — a wee bit of projection there!)

“So it is under the Arab conquerors that the Jews lost their homeland.. The Arabs were the colonials, the Jews were the natives dispossessed… We were flung to the far corners of the earth, suffered unimaginable suffering because we had no homeland. … We never gave up the dream of coming back to our ancestral homeland.”

This is claptrap. The scholar Shlomo Sand debunks it in his books The Invention of the Jewish People and The Invention of the Land of Israel.

The claim that there was not a single refugee at the time of Israel’s founding is laughable. Consider that the scholar Ibrahim Abu Lughod and his family left Jaffa in May 1948 before the state of Israel was created because they feared for their lives. Hundreds of thousands of other Palestinians took similar actions.

Many fled because of violence by Zionist militias who sought to take over areas coveted by the Jewish state (like Deir Yassin on the road to Jerusalem) outside the boundaries the U.N. had drawn. Many were trucked away from their villages by the Israeli army so as to create a Jewish majority in the new state. Most importantly, at least 700,000 refugees were not permitted by Israel to return once the armistice was achieved in 1949.

How can a serious scholar indulge the racism and cultural supremacy of saying that Palestinians “did nothing” with the land? And does it matter whether the people you kick out of your country have a “national consciousness”? Don’t they still have a right to their homes and villages? Records are clear that over 400 villages were erased by the Zionists. This is dangerous thinking, and it’s a sad reflection on Peterson that he humors it.

Peterson characterizes the Nakba as an intellectual fad. Why has the idea of Palestinians being indigenous and displaced “gained such cachet in the west?” Peterson asks.

Netanyahu is clearly nettled by the rise in consciousness of the Nakba in the west. “Intellectual elites have created a fake history that deracinates Jewish roots,” he says. He seeks to counter the “settler-colonial” critique of Zionism with slogans, of which he’s a master.

We are not the Belgians in the Congo, we are not the Dutch in Indonesia, we are not the British in South Africa. We had been there all the time…. We were kicked out of the Congo and nothing happened in the Congo. Nothing. no other people there, no development, nothing..

He reprises Joan Peters’s argument, in “From Time Immemorial”, fully discredited by Norman Finkelstein, that the Palestinians in Israel in 1947 had emigrated there to get in on the great developments of Zionism.

Netanyahu justifies the pro-Zionist Balfour Declaration by the British in 1917, later endorsed by the U.S.– on a similar basis, the bible and Jewish cultural supremacy.

They [western leaders] basically knew that the land was practically empty.. It made sense both from biblical prognostication and also a humanist view that this evil of history, this injustice of history would be corrected. These Jews who had contributed so much to civilization, and morality and history… [the leaders] concluded knowing the history I describe that is so unknown today on college campuses and among so-called intellectuals that Jews had a right to rebuild their national life in their ancestral land.

Reflect that this is the racist political leader, praised by the Democratic establishment, who successfully demolished the possibility of a two-state solution during his first 15 years in office.

Comments on the video are mostly scathing.

Lion Heart. “A quick summarizing: If your house is empty and you only put a couch there, someone should come and be in your house instead.” Also judging by Benjamin’s logic, natives should be taking America and Canada back and rule. Right?

theobnoxiousweed”: “Netanyahu’s main philosophy of the entitlement for Israel is based on the inherent superiority of the Jewish people. He repeatedly describes the lands around Jerusalem as barren wastelands. A similar philosophy to my ancestors who declared Australia empty a few hundred years back and thought of the inhabitants as having no entitlement to the land they lived on due to their perceived primitive culture.”

Reid Schwantz: “My great great great great great great great great grandfather, the first human on earth possess the whole lands and oceans under the atmosphere where all human live nowadays. inspired by mr. netanyahu, now i’m thinking about to claim it back after 50k years or so.”

Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006