The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Tuesday, April 16, 2002  


Mona Charen this week put her fingers to the keyboard, the one she has pre-programmed to spew out the half-truths, rigid orthodoxy, and intemperate accusations which we all have memorized by now. With the push of just one or two buttons out come such shopworn observations as: "Since the Holocaust happened on European soil, how cleansing to believe that the Jews are now the guilty parties, which is why the Nazi analogy crops up with nauseating regularity vis-a-vis the Israelis, probably more often than it is invoked against anyone else."

Charen feeds us the usual diet. She stifles dissent: Protesting Israeli policies is evidence of anti-Semitism. She engages in spurious exaggeration: "Synagogues are burning all over France." [Ed.: Emphasis added.] She groundlessly incites paranoia: President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell "are undermining the Israelis."

But Charen goes a step further -- actually she takes a great big flying leap into dangerous and disreputable territory.

According to Charen, "a one-stop shopping book" [sic] puts to rest all of the "myths," "propaganda," and "lies" that Arabs have spread worldwide.

The must-have tome? From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine, by Joan Peters.

Charen can't even get off the ground with laying out the ideological genesis of From Time Immemorial. Charen writes, "Joan Peters set out to write a sympathetic history of the Palestinian 'struggle.' [Ed.: Note the scare quotes.] "Her research soon persuaded her that nearly everything she thought she knew about the Arab-Jewish conflict in the Middle East was wrong. Her meticulously researched book, From Time Immemorial, was published in 1984 but is still in print."

It's interesting that Charen says the book is "still in print," thereby sending hundreds of unsuspecting Washington Times readers to their local bookstore demanding a copy of this important work. Truth be told, From Time Immemorial is no longer in print as a simple search of the web sites of the major booksellers reveals. The Rittenhouse Review, however, has a copy in its library that we would be happy to sell for the right price.

We suppose it's possible that Charen is unaware that Peters's book has been thoroughly and utterly discredited.

From Time Immemorial was lauded upon publication, but some of the critics who wrote favorable reviews backed away from their praise as Peters's legions of errors and manipulations become more widely known. The nasty, dismissive, and one-sided argumentative tone of the book left a sour taste even among those sympathetic to her conclusions. No respected (or respectable) historian takes the book seriously. Frankly, it is largely viewed with varying degrees of embarrassment. From Time Immemorial has rarely been cited to buttress the Israeli case in any publication since at least 1986. We can't recall even Commentary speaking kindly of the book after the magazine's initial glowing review.

Or could it be that Charen is fully aware that From Time Immemorial has been discredited? The timing of Charen's attempt to resurrect the book is convenient at best, suspicious at worst.

We wonder whether Charen is hoping the controversy surrounding the book has been forgotten and that a new audience can be found to blindly accept the tendentious arguments, misguided use of source material, and dubious conclusions that make up From Time Immemorial. If so, this is intellectual dishonesty of the highest order.

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