Nestler begins his Wespeak (“The Public Relations War,” January 30, 2009, Volume CXLV, Volume 1) by claiming Israel is fighting against biased world opinion in support of Arabs and backed by “the majority of Europe and the United Nations.” Perhaps that’s because Israel has violated countless UN resolutions [1], and is a regular violator of human rights in the Occupied Territories. A cursory look at any international human rights organization’s reports, or Israel’s own B’Tselem would reveal this. The frequent corollary is that too much focus is put on Israel (revealing an alleged “new anti-Semitism”). Israel claims to be a legitimate democracy. Democracies are unfortunately subject to this kind of intense scrutiny, especially when they coat their massacres in a language of self-righteousness.

Nestler then proceeds to make a series of mischaracterizations of the conflict, and sometimes completely fraudulent statements. I’ll just go down the list (the following are not direct quotes): “(Arab) Palestinians are not a people.” So perhaps every Palestinian from Edward Said to Hanan Ashrawi to refugees in Lebanon is laboring under some sort of collective self-delusion. Next time I’m near Israel, I’ll be sure to stop by the refugee camps and tell the Palestinians that Matt Nestler of Wesleyan University has in fact demonstrated that Palestinians are not a people and that they should all go home. To add insult to injury, Nestler then takes this line of reasoning (“Palestinians aren’t a people”) to deny their legitimate right to self-determination. This is not a game of territorial addition; these are people’s homes and lives, and currently the Palestinians are living under occupation, as refugees, or in Diaspora.

Nestler then claims that Jews before 1948 were also called Palestinians. The question now is, so what? Many indigenous Jews coexisted with Palestinians although by the 1920s and 1930s, as the intentions of new European settlers to create a Jewish state became clear, the situation was more precarious. There’s a leap in the argument from “Jewish Palestinians and Arab Palestinians lived together” to “Jews supported Britain and Palestinians supported Nazis.” This was not the reason for later conflict (colonial/settler politics and the Balfour Declaration had more to do with it); furthermore, and this is no justification for people like Amin al-Husseini’s support to the Nazis, colonial peoples under the British Empire were generally inclined to support the other side. For example, Subhas Chandra Bose in India supported the Japanese.

Finally, Nestler makes the painstaking argument that because Arabs have killed and maimed each other, what Israel is doing isn’t so strange. Occupation does normalize violence. That, however, doesn’t make it right. Nestler’s appears a juvenile argument to make (“Well, they did it too!”). I apologize; I’m simplifying Nestler’s argument: Israel in fact has been comparatively humane! As if there was any way to “humanely” subject a people to occupation.

Also, what is this “existential threat?” The claim is repeated so often that it almost makes one forget that Israel has nearly 200 nuclear warheads, one of the best armies in the world (thanks, in large part, to US taxpayer money), and that their current “threat” are Palestinians armed with rocks and homemade rockets. This supposed threat will never disappear until Israel recognizes that it expelled 750,000 people from their homes in 1948 [2], and that these people and their descendants won’t just die or “go away.” Nestler provides the reader with a story about an international campaign of deception, neglecting to mention the rhetoric of “human shields” and “counter-insurgency” that justifies “collateral damage” (or massacre) [3]. To talk about an “intentional campaign of deception to influence world opinion in the Palestinians’ favor” is downright nauseating when one contemplates the nearly 1,300 Palestinians killed in the recent carnage. Israel is not the victim; its relationship with the Palestinians is based on an extreme asymmetry of power. Hamas is a mere response. The structure of occupation and US-sanctioned massacre is the main cause of conflict.

[1] See for specifics.

[2] A contentious debate continues to rage as to whether transfer, expulsion and/or ethnic cleansing occurred when Israel was first created (see Benny Morris, Nur Masalha, Avi Shlaim, et al.). Regardless, the simple fact is that Israel has denied the Palestinians from returning (see the “Right of Return,” al-Awda coalition).

[3] For information on Israel’s own propaganda campaign see:, wherein the Israeli army blew up a group of people carrying oxygen canisters and then claimed they were carrying rockets. Or when Israel bombed a UN school and used old footage (from 2007) to try and prove that it was being used by Hamas militants:


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