“Hitler was used as a tool. It was Zionism that wanted the Holocaust,” stated an Iraqi audience member at a June 5 pre-release film screening of 1948: Creation and Catastrophe at Washington, DC’s anti-Israel Jerusalem Fund. Despite protests from a small audience of about 30, his statement paralleled the radicalism of 1948, a movie shown in a Jerusalem Fund film series cosponsored by Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS).
Director Andy Trimlett and his co-producer Ahlam Muhtaseb, a communications professor at California State University-San Bernardino, led the screening of their film concerning Israel’s 1948 independence war. In this Jerusalem Fund-funded film, Trimlett narrates an anti-Zionist screed describing how Arabs were “replaced by outsiders from Europe and Russia” as Jews resettled their ancestral homeland in the Holy Land. For him, the Jewish national movement is merely another Western imperialism: “Europeans had been colonizing land across the globe for centuries and Zionism would follow in that tradition.”
1948 is effectively a video vision of the revisionist thesis promulgated by Israel’s “New Historians” and others that the fledgling state of Israel engaged in pre-planned ethnic cleansing of Arabs during the 1948 war. Trimlett introduces the theme of Arab displacement by Zionists early in the film by stating that “in the 1920s thousands of Arabs became homeless after Zionists purchased their land from out under them by making deals with wealthy landlords.” This misleading statement overlooks that Zionist settlement with its economic capital and modern technology actually stimulated the Palestine Mandate’s Arab population growth through immigration and health improvements.
1948 uncritically presents New Historian Ilan Pappé, author of the book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, the film thesis’ locus classicus. Yet his fellow New Historian Benny Morris and film expert has previously documented that “[a]t best, Ilan Pappe must be one of the world’s sloppiest historians; at worst, one of the most dishonest.” He is in particular not above the fabrication of historical “evidence,” either by himself or his ideological acolytes.
Critical Israeli historians like Efraim Karsh have debunked Pappé and “Morris’s Reign of Error” in his thesis that Zionist leaders long before 1948 sought to transfer Arab populations out of any future Jewish state. Karsh has analyzed that the overwhelming majority of the at most 600,000 1948 Arab refugees either fled fighting or obeyed Arab authorities in their intention to evacuate temporarily a Jewish state slated for destruction by invading Arab armies. Indeed, one 1948 veteran interviewed in the film, Mordechai Bar-On, has previously stated that most 1948 Arab refugees fled by their own volition.
According to one reviewer, Pappé “precisely inverts the historical record and turns a coordinated Arab attempt at ethnically cleansing Palestine of its Jews into a Jewish attempt at ethnically cleansing Arabs.” Following the Palestine Mandate’s anti-Jewish violence, the 1948 war conjoined historic Islamic antisemitism and the aftershocks of the World War II Nazi-Islamic alliance with Arab leaders like Jerusalem’s notorious grand mufti, Hajj Amin al-Husseini. As one observer has noted, from the “1930s to the leaders of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood today, dehumanization of Jews and public incitement of genocide have become rhetorical staples of Palestinian and Arab society.”
A particular film focus is the April 9, 1948, taking of the Arab village Deir Yassin by Jewish forces, long claimed by Israel’s opponents as a Jewish massacre of Arab civilians. Yet historical analysisconvincingly shows that some 120 Arab casualties at Deir Yassin resulted from hard fighting in taking this strategic village. Meanwhile former Palestinian officials have admitted fabricating Deir Yassin atrocities.
Investigation into the film’s “phenomenal group of advisers” reveals a deeply troubling source for 1948’s Deir Yassin presentation, namely Matthew C. Hogan, whom Trimlett recognized in the screening audience. Hogan coauthored with former Hobart and William Smith Colleges economics professor Daniel A. McGowan an online publication at the website of Deir Yassin Remembered (DYR), where the latter is the executive director. DYR dedicated a monument to Deir Yassin in Geneva, New York, in 2003 on McGowan’s property.
None other than the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a leftist attack organization known for its opposition to “Islamophobia,” declared DYR in 2017 a Holocaust denial organization. In 2006, McGowan visited the notorious Holocaust denier Ernst Zündel in a German prison, where he was serving a sentence for violating German Holocaust denial laws. Zündel “is neither a monster nor a heretic. He is a man with strong convictions and the courage to express them,” McGowan enthused about this “political prisoner of Zionists.”
While making Holocaust denial apologetics, McGowan is no fan of America’s “servitude to Israel,” which he blames for jihad terrorism against the United States such as Al Qaeda’s September 11, 2001, attacks. In addition to being the “sword and shield in the quest to build a Jewish state,” the Holocaust “was an important neo-conservative tool to drive the United States into Iraq.” DYR has correspondingly posted several billboards in southeastern Michigan declaring “America First, Not Israel.” In Michigan as well, DYR Board of Advisers member Henry Herskovitz has led protests since 2003 every Saturday against an Ann Arbor synagogue with signs such as “End Jewish Supremacism in Palestine.”
More troubling film associations concern Alison Weir, the script consultant for Trimlett’s media organization Alternate Focus, listed at 1948’s website as a film “fiscal sponsor.” As the Anti-Defamation League and others have shown, Weir is an anti-Semitic hater of Israel who has promoted old and new blood libels against Jews and appeared on white supremacist, Holocaust-denying radio shows. In the summer of 2015, such behavior finally went too far even for the anti-Israel US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation (USCEIO, now the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, USCPR), which ended her USCEIO coalition membership.
Simultaneously, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), a radical anti-Zionist Jewish organization involved with USCPR in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, also announced an end to its involvement with Weir. Yet JVP’s Cleveland, Ohio, chapter shortly thereafter cosponsored a December 2015 event with her, while 1948’s film credits thank JVP alongside a listing of the Jerusalem Fund as a funder. JVP’s relation with her is perhaps not surprising given that both JVP Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson and another JVP leader have given interviews to the anti-Semitic American Free Press.
1948 co-producer Muhtaseb hardly provides any balance, as she is a supporter of BDS against Israel’s “pariah state” with its “unending list of well-documented racist policies and crimes against humanity.” She is also a member of the anti-Semitic Al Awda organization that seeks Israel’s destruction through a so-called Palestinian “right of return” that would flood the Jewish state with millions of the 1948 Arab refugees’ descendants. 1948 associate producer Ami Asher is likewise an activist in the radical Israeli organization Zochrot, which also demands a Palestinian “right of return.”
1948’s producers reflect their anti-Israel stridency in their choice of film subjects, such as Columbia University academic Rashid Khalidi. Gerald Green, a veteran of the British Palestine Mandate’s Palestine Police Force (PPF), who has previously stated that the PPF “was 95 percent, at least, very pro-Arab,” calls Arab militia leader Abd Al-Qader al-Husseini a “freedom fighter.” The film does not mention that Husseini, like his grand mufti uncle, spent World War II collaborating with the Nazis.
“If Isreal [sic] is not EVIL, what is???” Mazen El-Khairy, a Palestinian 1948 refugee now resident in Canada who appears in the film, has written in an online article comment. “Zionism is an ideological and colonialist project implemented through a racist apartheid state…It has nothing to do with Judaism nor true Jewish values,” he wrote in a 2014 introduction to an uploaded video of a 2012 interview. Therein he cites the discredited thesis that European Jews have no ancestry in Israel but merely descend from Jewish converts and speculates that, like him, “there are lots of people who don’t believe the official story” on 9/11.
Morris, Pappé, Bar On, and the New Historian Avi Schlaim receive no contrasting views from the other Israelis in 1948. The 1948 veteran Josef Ben Eliezer has previously written about how he has abandoned Zionism and life in Israel itself (see the Christmas 2008 issue of Cornerstone from the anti-Israel Friends of Sabeel—North America). His fellow female veteran Hava Keller, who appears both in the film and a Zochrot video, has supported various sanctions against Israel.
Such voices give 1948 a stark, skewed picture of Palestinian victims suffering from ongoing Israeli aggression since Israel’s independence. “To know the stories of these ruined towns and villages is to understand the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict,” Trimlett narrates while the film shows the remains of abandoned Arab villages. Considering his involvement at the town of Lydda in one of the few instances where Israeli forces expelled Arab populations, Holocaust survivor Ben Eliezer declares that “we started to do the same thing people have done to us as Jews.” San Diego State University Professor Farid Abdel-Nour concludes 1948 by asking, “If the establishment of the state of Israel was a historic wrong, then the question now arises, how does one redress this wrong?”
Wittingly or not, the screening audience had only praise for 1948 as Jerusalem Fund Program & Communications Manager Samirah AlKassim celebrated the organization’s first film sponsorship. CCAS Events Coordinator Azza Altiraifi, who has previously condemned “Israeli occupation and apartheid,” lauded on Facebook 1948’s “brilliantly executed historical account.” She criticized other Facebook comments that “baselessly dismissed this film as being ‘anti-semitic’ propaganda.” By contrast, more objective observers should worry about how boundless hatred for Israel includes the most radical of anti-Semites.