JWR Israel: Dreams, Realities
May 1, 1998 / 5 Iyar, 5758

Did the Arabs voluntarily leave Israel? New state-sponsored documentary seems to suggest maybe not

By Abraham Rabinovich

JERUSALEM --- Israel's communications minister said she refused to let her son to watch the documentary series that state television broadcast this month on the history of Israel.

The anchor of the series resigned on the grounds that he could not accept its presentation of history.

The chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs committee attacked it for lying.

The 22-part series, in short, is a rousing success. Called Tkuma, or rebirth, the television production is the centerpiece of Israel's 50th anniversary celebrations. Under the guidance of a panel of historians, each episode has been compiled by a different director and focusses on a different aspect of Israel's relatively brief but highly eventful history.

Given the sharp political differences in Israel, controvery was inevitable. The passion the series has unleashed is testimony to its success in shunning conventional platitudes in favor of critical appraisal. Despite the fact that unhappiness with the series is voiced principally by the right wing, the current right wing government to its credit has ignored demands that the series be aborted. The production's ratings show it to be one of the most widely viewed series ever to be shown on Israel television.

The most controversial episode so far was one describing the impact of Israel's War of Independence in 1948-9 on the Arab population of the country. The director shunned what used to be the official version of this event --- namely, that the bulk of the Arab population fled the country at the behest of Arab leaders in order to clear the way for the invasion of Arab armies bent on Israel's destruction. That indeed was what happened in many cases but in many others the Arab population was deliberately driven out by advancing Israeli forces. Israel's "new historians" have already established this on the basis of documents and the television production followed their lead.

Tkuma, however, went beyond that by interviewing Arabs who had been uprooted, thus putting a human face on the Arab plight.

Communications Minister Limor Livnat was incensed by the episode and by other parts of the series shown by Israel Television which offer a sympathetic understanding of the Arab point of view alongside that of the Israeli point of view. "The series was supposed to be celebratory, not one that offers explanations for terror," she said. "They are presenting a post-Zionist view about injustice supposedly caused the Palestinians. This undermines the basis of our presence here. State television is behaving like a suicide channel, giving ammunition to our enemies. I don't want my son to continue watching the series."

The anchor of the series, popular singer and actor Yehoram Gaon, resigned after introducing several episodes. "A number of the episodes erode the justice of our being here," he said in explanation. The chairman of the Knesset foreign affairs committee, Uzi Landau, said the series lied in claiming that the late prime minister Menahem Begin had incited Sephardi Jews of eastern origin against Ashkenazi Jew of European origin in order to gain political advantage.

A spokesman for the Labor Party, Yitzhak Ravikhya, attacked the "smear campaign" he said government supporters had launched. "The creators of the series are deserving of a prize for their original and important contribution," he said.

Although there were demands by leading right-wing politicians to halt further screening of the series until the remaining episodes had been reviewed, this has not been done. The only change in the format introduced as a result of the protests is to have the showing of each episode followed by a panel discussion in which both right and left wing opinions are heard.

Despite the controversy, most Israelis are plainly intrigued by the perspective offered by the series on the history of the country. The fact that it can be presented without the sweetners of national myth is a testimony to a not insignificant measure of national maturity.

Abraham Rabinovich is JWR's Israel Correspondent.


4/98: The case of the 2,000 year-old copyright
2/98: Can one word alter the course of history?
1/20/98: Bibi and Yasser, a reluctant match

© 1998, Abraham Rabinovitch