Assault on the USS Liberty - 2
in pursuit of truth

An open letter to my brother

August 9-16, 2004

this page is at

Dear Lawrence,

      We've disagreed about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for probably two years or so. Initially I was in no position to contest statements you made in support of the Israeli government because I was, to my shame, not knowledgeable about the relevant history. By now I think I know enough to challenge the views of the self-proclaimed 'pro-Israel' elements in the U.S., which invariably take the position that, basically, whatever Israel has done that is arguably wrong, it has been forced to do by "the Arabs". In short, always "the Arabs" are to blame. I am convinced that in order to support this distorted view a great deal of false history has been written and widely popularized. I will first deal with the notion of "poor, threatened Israel", the myth about which you wrote me, and then turn to the (by comparison) 'minor' myth regarding the assault on the USS Liberty.

Pro-Israeli government apologetics
The myth of Barak's generosity and Arafat's
intransigence at Camp David

      In your note to me (Apr 4, 2004) you wrote in part,

      "How often do I have to repeat that Arafat essentially 'elected' Sharon when he walked out of Camp David in [July] 2000, WITHOUT coming back with a counter proposal, a proposal which offered him a state consisting of Gaza, roughly 95% of the West Bank and all of the Old City of Jerusalem except for the Jewish quarter."

      You then continue, "Let me quote from [Alan] Dershowitz's book The Case for Israel, page 119…" with a passage that purports to demonstrate that yet again in January 2001, at Bill Clinton's final effort to effect an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, Arafat repeated his earlier rejection of Barak's unprecedentedly generous July offer.

      The supposedly generous offer of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in July 2000, which Yasser Arafat rejected, was in fact no such thing. In her compact, authoritative book, Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948, (Seven Stories Press, New York, 2002) Israeli scholar and bi-weekly Yediot Aharonot columnist Tanya Reinhart gives a clear analysis showing the gulf between the myth of Barak's 'unprecedented generosity' and his real unwillingness to abandon the interminable farcical 'peace process' while continuing the conquest. Chapter II of her book, "The Camp David Negotiations: Myths and Facts", begins as follows:

      "The Camp David Summit of July 2000 has been perceived as a turning point in Israeli-Palestinian relations. The Israeli perspective, shared by both doves and hawks, was that Barak 'broke every imaginable taboo' and offered concessions that no Israeli prime minister offered before, or could possibly offer again in the future. According to this version of the story, Barak offered to return 90 percent of the occupied West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians. All he wanted in return was to annex 10 percent of the land with the big settlement blocs, where 150,000 Israelis already had their home. Regarding the most sensitive issue of Jerusalem, to which Israelis feel particularly attached, he took an enormous risk, agreeing to divide the city and recognize part of it as the capital of the future Palestinian state. However, according to this version of the story, the Palestinian negotiators rejected these generous proposals, and failed even to come up with constructive counterproposals. Thus, they not only missed another historical opportunity, but also betrayed their rooted unwillingness to accept the existence of the Jewish state, or live in peace with it. Hence, according to this version of things, Israel's new war of defense against the Palestinians was inevitable.

      "To date, that version of history is the one that has been adopted by the United States and reinforced by Western media. The power of constant repetition has given it the status of objective truth in many people's minds. The first cracks in the story began to appear a year later when U.S. official Robert Malley's revelations were published. Malley was special assistant for Arab-Israeli affairs to President Bill Clinton from 1998 to 2001 and participated in the Camp David negotiations. He took extensive notes at the time, and after a year of observing the silence of the West regarding Israel's brutality toward the Palestinians, he went public in a series of articles published in the New York Times.
"Many have come to believe that the Palestinians' rejection of the Camp David ideas exposed an underlying rejection of Israel's right to exist. But consider the facts. The Palestinians were arguing for the creation of a Palestinian state based on the June 4, 1967, borders, living alongside Israel. They accepted the notion of Israeli annexation of West Bank territory to accommodate settlement blocs. They accepted the principle of Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem - neighborhoods that were not part of Israel before the Six Day War in 1967. And, while they insisted on recognition of the refugees' right of return, they agreed that it should be implemented in a manner that protected Israel's demographic and security interests by limiting the number of returnees. No other Arab party that has negotiated with Israel-not Anwar el-Sadat's Egypt, not King Hussein's Jordan, let alone Hafez al-Assad's Syria-ever came close to even considering such compromises.[8]"

      Reference [8] reads: Robert Malley, The New York Times and Ha'aretz, July 10, 2001. After these two pages, Reinhart presents in the chapter's remaining 37 pages a detailed, utterly convincing analysis that shows both the deceptiveness of the Barak government and its 'non-existent offer' to the Palestinian negotiators. Supposedly based on the earlier Beilin-Abu Mazen understandings, Reinhart says (p.24),

      "Now let's look at the facts. Did Barak really offer-at Camp David or in later negotiations-what is attributed to him by the dominant Western view? To begin with, official claims about Barak's offers come with no documentation to substantiate them. As Akiva Eldar, a senior analyst at Ha'aretz, pointed out, 'Hardly anyone has any idea what those understandings are. No one has seen the paper summarizing these understandings, because no such paper exists. Veteran diplomats cannot recall political talks whose content was not put down on paper.'[9]

      "This is also confirmed by Malley's documentation: …"

      Reference [9] reads: Akiva Eldar, "On the Basis of the Nonexistent Camp David Understandings," Ha'aretz, November 16, 2000.

      Regarding the propaganda and the meetings, Reinhart says,

      "Nevertheless, despite this smoke screen, much information that was omitted from the official history was leaked to the Israeli press. These leaks enable us to examine what Barak was actually willing to offer."

      Reinhart then gives her analysis in a sequence of sections:
Point of Departure: The Beilin-Abu Mazen Plan,
What Barak Offered at Camp David,
The Central Settlement Blocs,
The Rest of the West Bank and Gaza, and
The Right of Return.
She concludes the chapter with the terse paragraph,

      "Based on these facts, the myths and illusions of Camp David are more transparent; one can only conclude that at Camp David Barak was neither aiming for reconciliation nor genuinely attempting to move closer to an end of conflict."

      A careful reading of Reinhart's chapter on the Camp David negotiations shows conclusively that the passage you sent me from Alan Dershowitz's, The Case for Israel, which asserts that culpability for the 'failure of Camp David' belongs exclusively to Arafat, is simply false propaganda. The two paragraphs you excerpted for me follow:

      "On January 2, 2001--just weeks before the end of Clinton's term--Bandar (prince Bandar whom Crown Price Abdullah, the acting monarch of Saudi Arabia sent as Arafat had asked for Bandar's help with the negotiations) picked Arafat up at Andrews Air Force Base, went over the Barak proposal, and asked Arafat whether he could ever get 'a better deal.' He also pointedly asked him (Arafat) whether he preferred to deal with Sharon rather than Barak. Arafat agreed, since 'Barak's negotiators are doves.' Bandar then reviewed the history of missed opportunities with Arafat: 'Since 1948, every time we've had something on the table we say no. Then we say yes. When we say yes, it's not on the table any more. Then we have to deal with something less. Isn't it about time we say yes?' Bandar emphasized that the Arabs had always told the Americans that if '[y]ou get us a deal that's O.K. on Jerusalem and we're going, too.' Bandar laid out the options to Arafat: 'Either you take this deal or we go to war. If you take this deal, we will all throw our weight behind you. If you don't take this deal, do you think anybody will go to war for you?'

      "Shortly thereafter, Bandar sternly warned Arafat: 'I hope you remember, sir, what I told you. If we lose this opportunity, it is not going to be a tragedy, it is going to be a crime.' Despite Arafat's promises that he would take the deal if Saudi Arabia and Egypt gave him cover, and despite Egyptian and Saudi assurances and Bandar's threats, Arafat rejected the deal and flew home without offering any counterproposals..."

      I remember writing you, Lawrence, about the article by Alexander Cockburn that pointed to repeated overt plagairism by Dershowitz in his book, The Case for Israel. Of course, this didn't imply that Dershowitz's assertions in the excerpt you sent me were false. A plagairist, like a liar, can say things that are true. But it casts doubt on the person's truthfulness and reliability. In this case particularly, since the plagairized material came from Joan Peters's 1984 book, From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine, which had, by the time Dershowitz plagairized it, been thoroughly exposed as a mammoth fraud. Cockburn's article, titled "Will Lawrence Summers Take Action? Alan Dershowitz, Plagiarist", was in the September 26, 2003 issue of Counterpunch at Lawrence Summers is the president of Harvard University, where Alan Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law.

      I also recall saying that the final demolition of Joan Peters's fraud was by Yehoshua Porath. He is Professor Emeritus of Middle East History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He specializes in the history of the Palestinian nationalist movement and related issues. His review of From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine was in the New York Review of Books, Volume 32, Number 21 & 22, January 16, 1986. It is at, titled, "Mrs. Peters's Palestine." At that time I had not yet read it, but subsequently did. Indeed he does demolish Peters's book.

The myth of Israel's "mistaken"
assault on the USS Liberty

      On July 1, 2004 I posted the article "Rockets, Napalm, Torpedoes & Lies: Israel's attack on the USS Liberty," by Jeffrey St. Claire, at Shortly afterwards two responses called my attention to and strongly recommended the book by Michael Oren, Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East. Both correspondents rejected St. Claire's view of the events, believing instead the contrary account by Oren. Since then I've become more confident that St. Claire's account is essentially correct, and have concluded that Oren is not to be trusted.

      Initially, I had simply read St. Claire's Counterpunch article in the book, The Politics of Anti-Semitism (edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Claire) and was outraged at the savage Israeli attack and U.S. complicity in covering it up. But it had no references, and before posting it I wanted to be sure it was accurate. I wrote Jim Ennes, one of the survivors of the Israeli attack, who replied (June 16, 2004) "St.Clair is mostly correct. I've interspersed some comments below." Reassured by Ennes, the USS Liberty website ( , and the page about Ennes on the site (, I posted St. Claire's article with the comments by Ennes as footnotes (or rather endnotes).

      Then, after being challenged by my correspondents, I got a copy of Oren's Six Days of War and read his account of the attack on the USS Liberty. Either St. Claire's account or Oren's account had to be untrue. I had to try to find out which one to believe. Looking again at the USS Liberty site, I found a page ( headed "Who Says the Liberty Attack was Deliberate?" with an impressive list containing 51 entries, one of which read: "Norman Finkelstein, PhD, author, professor of political science, DePaul University. (In a review of Six Days of War by Michael Oren.) 'Oren...frequently descends to vulgar propaganda. Deeming the Israeli combined air and naval assault on the USS Liberty ... an accident, Oren rehashes official Israeli tales and embellishes them with his own whoppers.' (Journal of Palestine Studies, Spring, 2003, p85)." I got a copy of Finkelstein's essay. Subsequently I wrote in an e-mail (July 20) that Oren's

"treatment strongly suggests, if it doesn't actually imply, that a complex combination of mistakes, on the parts of both Israel and the U.S., is the correct explanation. But on the USS Liberty Memorial website I found a list of people who were convinced the attack was deliberate. One of them is Norman G. Finkelstein, who has a Review Essay of Oren's book tellingly titled, "Abba Eban with Footnotes." It's in the Spring 2003 issue of the Journal of Palestine Studies. Finkelstein seems to effectively shred Oren's supposedly detached, even-handed account of the June '67 war. I want to do a follow-up posting on the Attack on the USS Liberty, so I've been rereading both Oren's account and Finkelstein's (more general) critique of Oren's entire book. I did read somewhere that after James Ennes's account of the attack was published (he is a survivor) he was contacted by an Israeli who said that he was the pilot of one of the planes (I think it was one of the Mystère jets) and that when he saw that the ship was American he radioed his command station and told them. He was told to attack, refused, flew back to his base and was promptly arrested for disobeying the order. I carefully searched Oren's account for any reference to this - there is none. I'll look again in Finkelstein and on the Liberty Memorial website. If I can pin that down with certainty, and if that information was available before Oren wrote his book, then I'll be sure Oren deserves the contempt with which Finkelstein regards his account."

      Ennes replied that same day, saying "It is true that I was contacted by an Israeli named Evan Tov who said he was the lead pilot and told the story you describe. I have not been able to find this person again. More recently a retired Israeli general named Spector has claimed that HE was the lead pilot and claims he thought we were Egyptian. I don't know which one is lying. Oren is but a propagandist."

      In his review essay, "Abba Eban with Footnotes", Finkelstein provides endnotes with a good deal of referential material to substantiate his negative assessment of Oren's book. The essay looked pretty solid to me, but I still wanted to be more certain, because that was the first thing by Finkelstein I had read. I was able to get a copy of his Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict (second edition, 2003), which I've now read cover to cover, including the copious, informative footnotes. It is a masterful work, clearly based on a stunning amount of detailed archival research and thorough familiarity with the relevant literature. Carefully composed by - I'm now certain - a totally honest historian, it is an excellent source of understanding of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Of course its scope is the broad panorama of more than a century of struggle, in which the assault on the USS Liberty is not even mentioned, except in the Appendix, which is a reprint of his critical essay on Oren's book. But it afforded me the confidence I needed to be sure his criticism of Oren's book is warranted.

      Interesting perhaps is the fact that two people, one a New York Jewish-American woman, the other a Boston-area Iranian-American man, had each heard that Finkelstein is "controversial" (each of these two generally alert and well-informed persons used that word), but knew nothing else about him when I inquired. This might be seen as additional confirmation of Finkelstein's truthfulness. His work is undoubtedly controversial, but whatever the sources of my friends' limited knowledge about him were, they apparently were not prepared to claim he was fraudulent, just "controversial." The use of that term to label someone, without providing clarifying backup information, is simply a cowardly way of planting doubts about the individual's veracity.

      I also got assurance later, i.e. additional confirmation, that Finkelstein is solid, and thus that his criticism of Oren's Six Days of War is trustworthy. It came quite by chance via an e-mail contact on the Science for the People discussion list. Manuel Garcia wrote to tell me of an article of his on the Swans website ( While there, I came upon an excellent review of The Politics of Anti-Semitism by the site editor, Gilles d'Aymery I asked Aymery "how much confidence [he has] in St. Clair's piece, i.e. do you find it convincing?" He wrote back, "In regard to Jeffrey St. Clair's essay on the USS Liberty, I found his summary credible and consistent overall with the analysis made by Stephen Green in his book,Taking Sides."

      I sent a note of thanks to Gilles d'Aymery, which I Cc'd to Manuel Garcia. Garcia shot back "Chomsky has given a ringing endorsement of Finkelstein. See Like Finkelstein, I, too, got a Princeton Ph.D. … What I have finally realized about places like Princeton (and JFK's Harvard, and Kerry/Bush's Yale, and Hoover Institute's Stanford) is that they maintain superb academic standards, BUT they are devoted to fulfilling the "staffing" needs of the imperial system. That is to say, they work to produce very intelligent, morally compromised people who will manage the power structure. … Finkelstein is in the minority of Ivy League students who absorb the tremendous education available -- not just facts but training in how to use the mind -- and yet apply their skill in a socially responsible way (he's truthful). He had it figured out decades before I did." Garcia is one of the regular commentators on the Swans website. Well worth reading.

      Of course I immediately read Chomsky's statement about Finkelstein that Garcia steered me to. Dynamite! That was August 10. I located a copy of Stephen Green's 1984 book Taking Sides: America's Secret Relations with a Militant Israel and read the immediately relevant chapters: 8. America Chooses Sides, and 9. "Remember the Liberty…." Also, I bought a copy of Chomsky's Understanding Power, from which the informative statement about Finkelstein was excerpted.

      So, Lawrence, I still have lots to read, but am confident that I am much closer to understanding the reality of Israel than those American Jews who mistakenly believe that by defending the government of the Jewish State they are defending the Jewish People of Israel. Yesterday I bought another copy of Norman Finkelstein's Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, this one for you. I mailed it this morning.
Love to all,

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Last update of this page: August 25, 2004