Category Archives: Indiscriminate quotation (MIQ)

Surprise ! Hitler less than truthful (and then there is Professor Khalidi)

Sixty-nine years ago today, the Nazi armies started their surprise invasion of the Soviet Union. I was a boy of fifteen at the time, and my strongest memory of the day was this: I was wondering what the (American) Stalinists would say to THAT ! Well , right on cue and within hours, they changed their front organization “American Peace Mobilization” (which advocated staying out of the war) to the “American People’s Mobilization” (which demanded and full and energetic participation in the war).

Now, sixty-nine years later, a new detail has captured my interest. Hitler’s proclamation to his people on that June 22 (read on the radio by Goebbels — see the video above) contains the following interesting passage:

As early as 1936, according to the testimony of the American General Wood to a committee of the American House of Representatives, Churchill had said that Germany was becoming too strong again, and that it therefore had to be destroyed.

Let us say, for the sake of argument, that there was indeed an “American General Wood” who testified in Washington in 1936. (In that year Stanley Baldwin was prime minister of Britain, who preceded Neville Chamberlain, who preceded Winston Churchill … but let that pass). What relevance would that have to the Nazi invasion of June 1941 ? It seems that Hitler meant to suggest that this statement from the horse’s mouth, as if “by his own admission,” would prove, in and of itself, the evil intentions of the British empire.

Hitler was not in the habit of supplying supporting footnotes to his declarations, so now I can only guess at the grain of truth that may be involved here. (I have not made a thorough search of all the scholarship on Hitler’s statement). In that period there was indeed a retired Brigadier (one-star) General Robert E. Wood of the US Army, later chairman of Sears, Roebuck and, more importantly, a leader of the America First Committee. So I surmise that Wood may have appeared in Washington in 1936 to speak for his isolationist agenda. What he may or may not have known about Winston Churchill at the time would be anyone’s guess. In any case, his testimony would hardly qualify as reasonable evidence concerning Britain’s war aims five years later.

Now fast-forward to 2009. Israel is engaged in battle with Hamas in Gaza, and a New York professor, Rashid Khalidi, finds that another general, this time an Israeli, had some years before spilled the beans about Israel’s “real” war aims. Here again there are words allegedly from the horse’s mouth, so to speak “by his own admission,” etc. As I pointed out at the time, even if an Israeli general had said years before what Khalid attributed to him now, that would hardly have been proof positive of what Israel tried to do in Gaza. As it turned, Khalidi’s alleged quotation was so completely distorted that what he reported was the contrary of what the general had in fact said. The New York Times, which published Khalidi’s statement to begin with, was forced to publish a retraction. (Khalidi himself, however, never retracted and never explained.)

(Click here to see my series of  posts on the Khalidi affair, giving all the details)

Now, for those folks who specialize in communication with the dead, can we get Mr. Hitler to retract his reference to “General Wood,” or at least explain ? That is not likely, but no less likely than getting Professor Khalidi to do the right thing.

Professor Rashid Khalidi and the Method of Indiscriminate Quotation

Professor Rashid Khalidi
photo by Bryn Mawr Now

Professor Rashid Khalidi is a Middle Eastern expert at Columbia University. At various times of his life he has also been active in various Palestinian causes. His scholarly writings, not always uncontroversial, have earned him an international reputation. Whatever his political commitments, he has always maintained cordial relations with people of other persuasions. His friendly relations with Barack Obama, when both lived in Chicago, have become a matter of public notice. He has an enviable reputation for civility in personal and professional relations; in a recent interview, Professor Khalidi remarked that he has about a thousand Jewish friends.

On January 7, however, he published an op-ed piece in the New York Times that has caused consternation to at least some of his well-wishers. Not only does Khalidi here do what scholarly practice forbids — use indiscriminate quotation as a method of proof — but he also, as we shall see, claims a quotation is genuine when, in fact, it most likely is a forgery.

Khalidi’s piece is entitled “What You Don’t Know About Gaza,” and suggests that Hamas had no part in causing any difficulty in the Gaza situation. Israel’s Gaza operation, according to Khalidi, has no justification at all that he can detect:

This war on the people of Gaza isn’t really about rockets. Nor is it about “restoring Israel’s deterrence,” as the Israeli press might have you believe. Far more revealing are the words of Moshe Yaalon, then the Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff, in 2002: “The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.”

So the war, according to Khalidi, “isn’t really about rockets” but rather, exclusively, about the malice and the evil intentions of Israelis. This strong assertion, it would seem, needs strong evidence.

But what does he offer ? Nothing but a single quotation which, he says, stems from an Israeli general, some seven years ago. He does not tell us how he obtained the text of this alleged statement, nor does he give any information about the circumstances under which it is said to have been made. Nor did he seem to have searched for statements by other influential Israelis that may be relevant. ( Nor does he address himself to the question of a possible relevance of statements by Hamas leaders, who routinely threaten all Jews with death; but that is another matter.) In other words, he did not do what a scholar must do under the circumstances, viz. determine, assuming the statement is genuine, whether it represents Israeli policy today, as he claims it does. I am afraid that Professor Khalidi, to the dismay of those in academia who wish him well, has here abandoned the method of the scholar to embrace the method of the propagandist: the notorious Method of Indiscriminate Quotation (MIQ).

MIQ is bad, and routinely earns graduate students failing marks. The reason that MIQ is so disreputable is that literally anthing can be proven with it: the world is flat, the moon is made of green cheese. But quite often, when lucky, practitioners of MIQ can get away with it in the non-scholarly public because, on its face, the method looks so persuasive. Often its practitioners are even praised by their friends as great researchers, “scrupulously,” as it is sometimes said, “documenting” all kinds of outrageous assertions. Unfortunately, people often do not ask whether quotations are presented with adequate context.

But in this case, Professor Khalidi is not so lucky. It turns out that the quotation on which he has so carelessly relied is most likely wholly specious. We now know, thanks to the excellent detective work of Jason Maoz, that Generally Yaalon apparently never said what Khalidi claims he said. (Please read the whole article by Maoz; just click on his name above.)

Remember, this is what Khalidi claims Yaalon said:

The Palstinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.

Here, according to Maoz, is what Yaalon actually said

I defined it from the beginning of the confrontation: the very deep internalization by the Palestinians that terrorism and violence will not defeat us, will not make us fold. If that deep internalization does not exist at the end of the confrontation, we will have a strategic problem with an existential threat to Israel. If that [lesson] is not burned into the Palestinian and Arab consciousness, there will be no end to their demands of us….

What Yaalon wants Palestinians to understand, deeply, is that Palestinian violence will not defeat Israel. Professor Khalidi turns that into something completely different, viz. a desire by Yaalon to have Palestinians see themselves as defeated. As Maoz shows, other anti-Israel propagandists, before Khalidi, have twisted Yaalon’s words in the same way, and it appears that the distortion is being handed around from one to the other. Perhaps Khalidi sincerely believed in the accuracy of what he was quoting, but that certainly does not explain away his irresponsibility of passing on this deception without checking the sources.

Professors are human, professors sometimes enter the political fray, and yes, professors sometimes discard all scholarly probity when they allow themselves to be propagandists. These are facts, but not facts that can make us happy. I do worry about that campus up on Morningside Heights and other such places (which, by the way, use up a great deal of public money in the form of grants and tax privileges); I worry about what is happening to the ethos of scholarly responsibility.