My father recently asked me if I would meet an old friend of his who was visiting Israel. “But before you agree,” he warned, “you must read some of his anti-Israel articles.”
“Don’t worry,” I answered. “I’d much rather counter criticism and help shape someone’s perspective than speak to those who support us unconditionally.”
Prof. William A. Cook was my father’s teacher at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, in the 1960s. He is now professor of English at the University of La Verne in California, and has spent many years researching and writing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The titles of his books, such as The Rape of Palestine: Hope Destroyed, Justice Denied, and The Plight of the Palestinians: A Long History of Destruction, indicate where he stands.
His biography, on the official webpage of the department of English, refers to Israel as the 51st state of the US, and calls it “an apartheid state determined to destroy the Palestinian people.”
After reading some of his articles, I changed my mind, and declined the offer to meet. His views were so radical that I assumed there was nothing I could say to influence them.
But he surprised me by writing a long email in which he expressed disappointment at my decision, and conveyed a sincere wish to be enlightened “beyond the scholarship of research” by my long service in the IDF.
We met in Tel Aviv and spoke for three hours. It was an intriguing discussion, for Bill is extremely intelligent, knowledgeable and eloquent. He was also very friendly and willing to hear what I had to say.
But the things he said made my blood run cold and my stomach turn.
It was not a debate over nuances of policy, but a portrayal of Israel as an evil entity, conceived in sin in 1947 and engaged in atrocities ever since. It was not only his criticism of Israel’s actions that shocked me, but the attribution of malicious intent, and even mental madness, to the people of Israel.
What surprised me was that most of the foundations on which his views were constructed are factually baseless or warped.
What I heard was a multitude of false allegations, misunderstandings and things taken out of context or blown way out of proportion.
According to Cook, the massacre carried out by the Christian Phalange in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in 1982 was “orchestrated by Israel.”
Another tragic incident taken by Cook as proof of Israeli brutality is the 1996 mistaken shelling of a UNIFIL compound near Qana, Lebanon. Many civilians were killed when Israel retaliated toward the positions of Hezbollah, which had deliberately fired from a nearby location. He thinks we did it on purpose.
The allegation of a massacre having taken place during the Battle of Jenin in 2002 has long since been refuted by international organizations. But Bill Cook still talks of “the Jenin massacre” as if it were a fact.
The 2010 raid on the Turkish MV Mavi Marmara is described by him as a “brutal attack” by Israeli commandos. He himself subsequently traveled to Lebanon in order to board another flotilla, which never did set sail due to diplomatic intervention. Cook then wrote this about Israel: “a people willing to forgo all morals and principles to achieve ultimate power, the soulless human without conscience or remorse, the walking dead.”
Fighting Hamas in Gaza is described by him as “pointless aggression, unleashed against an innocent, defenseless people.”
There is no relevant context, no real cause and effect – only Israeli brutality.
The widely criticized book Torat Hamelech (“The King’s Torah”), which summarizes theoretical Jewish law in times of war, to him is proof that the IDF teaches its soldiers that they may kill any non-Jew on sight. I know, it sounds insane, but he heard about the book, saw an article about a certain IDF unit that had the book thrown out of its synagogue, and pieced it all together.
I find it deeply troubling that something as foolish and insignificant as this can be taken as a reflection of Israel.
He has every crazy, libelous story backed up by “facts” and “data,” and he really believes it all. I looked at him as he passionately fired away his allegations, and in a way pitied him for being so immersed in his fictional world.
At the same time I was deeply saddened at the realization of how warped and dangerous anti-Israeli bias can be.
He was perplexed when I told him that I have Arab friends, and when I referred to Israeli Arabs as my fellow citizens. When I said that most Israelis want to live in peace, side by side with our Palestinian neighbors, he furrowed his eyebrows in disbelief.
Perhaps I did not fit his image of “those who have no conscience, no remorse, and no soul,” as he once wrote. In his eyes, all Israelis hate the Arabs, and Israel is a tyrannical regime committed to a “systematic genocide.”
To him, Jews are a foreign colonial power, which has stolen the land from its “rightful owners” – the “indigenous people of Palestine.”
He even believes that the kingdoms of David and Solomon “were and are but myths.”
He refers to the British Mandate-era Jewish militant organizations (Izl/the Irgun and Lehi/the Stern Group) as “terrorist organizations,” but relates to Hamas as oppressed freedom fighters merely expressing their grievances. I could not extract from him any condemnation of suicide bombers blowing up buses and malls.
The IDF, to him, is a brutal army, and every tragic incident involving harm to civilians in combat zones is evidence of a deliberate attack according to Israel’s “ethnic cleansing” plan. He didn’t believe me that, from my experience, no other army in the world goes to such lengths to safeguard the lives of civilians.
His world is black and white. Good Palestinians, evil Israelis.
Cook explains that the Jewish murderers of the Arab teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir last summer are not considered extremists in Israel, since “racism has been so thoroughly mainstreamed” here. Sickening.
Anti-Semitism? Not a trace. Bill has Jewish friends and colleagues, and even the fact that he spent a day touring Israel with my kippa-wearing father, says a lot about how he feels toward and around Jews. It is only the Zionist “terrorist state” which he detests, and he skillfully vilifies, demonizes and delegitimizes it whenever he can.
It was an incredible lesson for me to see how someone can make something his life’s work, and end up with a completely distorted understanding of it. Bill came here searching for historic archives to prove Israel’s immorality, yet refused to accept my own living-history testimony as to our ethics and values.
Genocide? Apartheid? Certainly anybody who has spent time in Israel knows that there is no systematic process to destroy the Palestinians, and people can say “apartheid” till they are blue in the face, but there exists no form of racial segregation to support such a claim.
I did not write this article in order to criticize Professor Cook. But after getting to know his mindset, I felt a need to share my awakening to the fact that not much has changed since the blood libels blaming Jews for killing Christian children for their blood. Ankara’s mayor has just claimed that Israel masterminded the terror attacks in Paris.
Based on my realization of the depths anti-Israel bias can reach, I am naturally concerned about the “preliminary examination” launched by the International Criminal Court, following preposterous Palestinian allegations of Israeli war crimes.
From attributing to Israel vicious intentions and barbaric acts, to denying the Holocaust, the Holy Temple, and even historic Jewish existence in the Land of Israel – the rewriting of history and inventing false narratives have become dangerous weapons in the campaign to delegitimize Israel.
But facts matter. History matters.
I believe that there is no basis for negotiating with the Palestinians unless there is a modicum of truth in their perception of history, and of the facts on the ground. The international community must understand that emboldening the campaign of deception and fabrication neither promotes the Palestinian cause, nor furthers reconciliation and peace.The writer is a former pilot in the IAF and founder of Cross-Cultural Strategies Ltd.