Ilan Pappé speaks to packed house at Fresno State

Controversial Israeli historian draws opposing viewpoints.

By Ezra Romero - The Fresno BeeFebruary 23, 2012 

While critics passed out fliers outside a Fresno State auditorium, controversial Israeli historian Ilan Pappé talked Thursday evening to a packed audience about his homeland's best chances for peace and security and about the revolutions toppling governments in the Arab world.

By failing to take ownership of the "ethnic cleansing" of traditional Palestinian homelands that created the state of Israel more than 60 years ago, Pappé said, Israel may never reap the benefits of the growing "Arab Spring" movement sweeping through the region.

"If they [Israel] understand that democracy in the Arab world is connected also to the widespread rights of Palestinians, then I think there is a chance for the third generation of the Jews that came in the late 19th century to be accepted as an organic part of the new Middle East," Pappé said in an interview earlier Thursday.

The political movements underway in the Arab world will fundamentally change the relationships between the West and Arab countries, but Western governments should not make the mistake of assuming all revolutions in that region are identical, he said.

His speech at the Leon S. and Pete P. Peters Educational Center, part of the College of Arts and Humanities' Middle East Lecture Series, sparked protests against Fresno State for scheduling the event.

Critics said Fresno State, which is state-funded, should not have hosted Pappé or should have scheduled a panel discussion to give others a chance to rebut his claims.

"He is a fraudulent historian with fraudulent claims about the origin of Israel," said Yishaiya Abosch, a political science professor at Fresno State who distributed fliers outside. "This is the best we can do to make sure the audience gets an alternative view."

Pappé's first visit to Fresno in 2003 also sparked controversy. Since, he has authored a book titled, "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine," endorsed an academic boycott of Israel while at the University of Haifa and left for England after receiving death threats.

Vida Samiian, dean of Fresno State's College of Arts and Humanities, said that despite numerous complaints before the lecture, the event brought a different perspective to campus.

Critics "don't want to hear what they don't agree with and it seems they don't want others to hear what they don't agree with," she said. "There is room for all perspectives to be heard -- that is what freedom of speech is all about."

Pappé said his goal is to provide a more wide-ranging perspective on Israel and the Middle East.

"Every visit to the West Coast or America surprises me again about the ignorance of people and their inaccessibility to different opinions on the conflict, and because the conflict is important to everyone, I would ask them to open up to all sides," he said.

The only way for Israel to advance beyond a state of conflict with its neighbors is to accept responsibility for its past and reshape its goals, Pappé said.

"I think this whole need to reframe the conflict is the way forward," he said. "I am not naive, it won't be easy for both sides to accept it, but I don't think they have a choice because any other attempt to cleanse the other is a mutual-sure destruction for both."

The reporter can be reached at eromero@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6165.

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