Reexamining Israel's History

By Angela French
Special to the Mitzpeh

Israel's liberal policy to open its archives 15 years ago has led New Historians to reexamine the country's history and suggest it was crafted as a "master narrative" by key players and government officials.

"History makers were not satisfied with their roles, they wanted to write it as well," Tome Segev said in a seminar Tuesday.

Segev, an award winning author and journalist, and Madeline Zilf, a historian and author, spoke at the University of Maryland on Post-Zionism and Israel's New Historians.

Traditional book history is different than documented archives; officials used different speech in closed meetings than in public and dictated what they wanted people to know.

For example, information found in history books on the 1948 war came from an official volume of the Israeli History of Defense. Textbook history was all based on official Israeli documents.

When the archives became accessible, the public gained access to a wide range of official records including documents from the Prime Minister's office, to Jewish industries, to diaries.

Historians started examining records and saw a different view of themselves than ever before, which began the process rewriting history.

The collected experience of these New Historians "shows our history is less noble and positive than before," Segev said.

He said that Israel now feels mature and secure enough to reevaluate its history and is becoming Americanized.

In support, Segev gave an example of an Israeli Arab couple who wanted to buy a house on land reserved for Jews.

Taking the case to the Supreme Court, the judge, one of the two most influential people in Israel, ruled in favor of the couple and even drew a comparison between the Arabs in Israel to African Americans in the United States.

During the question answer session at the lecture, one audience member incited a disagreement between the speakers asking, "How do New Historians impact American-Jewish policymaking?"

"There has been some reflection of this new history in newspapers and will be bigger given the terrorism of September 11," Zilf said.

Segev, however disagreed stating, "New ideas are filtering through in public opinion and being very well received in America and widespread in other countries."

New journalists in Israel are more influenced by new ideas and do not buy the old Zionist clichés anymore in America.

Professor Marsha Rozenblit, a modern Jewish history professor and director of the Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Maryland, said, "the seminar was interesting, thought provoking and wonderful."