1953 (age 63–64)
Efraim Karsh (Hebrew: אפרים קארש; born 1953) is an Israeli–British historian, the founding director and emeritus professor of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King's College London. Since 2013, he serves as professor of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University (where he also directs the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies). He is also a principal research fellow (and former director) of the Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia-based think tank. He is regarded as a vocal critic of the New Historians, a group of Israeli scholars who have questioned the conventional history of the Arab–Israeli conflict.
Born and raised in Israel to Jewish immigrants to Palestine under the British Mandate, Karsh graduated in Arabic and Modern Middle East History from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and obtained an MA and PhD in International Relations from Tel Aviv University. After acquiring his first academic degree in modern Middle Eastern history, he was a research analyst for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), where he attained the rank of major.
Academic and media career
Karsh has held various academic posts at Harvard and Columbia universities, the Sorbonne, the London School of Economics, Helsinki University, the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies in Washington D.C., and the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. In 1989 he joined King's College London, where he established the Middle East and Mediterranean Studies Program, directing it for 16 years. He has published extensively on Middle Eastern affairs, Soviet foreign policy, and European neutrality, and is a founding editor of the scholarly journal Israel Affairs, and editor of the Middle East Quarterly. He is a regular media commentator, has appeared on all the main radio and television networks in the United Kingdom and the United States, and has contributed articles to leading newspapers, including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times,The Wall Street Journal, The Times (London) and The Daily Telegraph.
In his 2010 book Palestine Betrayed, followed by a 2011 editorial in Haaretz, Karsh articulated his belief that "the tragedy befalling the Palestinian Arabs in 1948 was exclusively of their own making". Karsh writes that many Palestinians fled their homes as the result of pressure from local Arab leaders "and/or the Arab Liberation Army that had entered Palestine prior to the end of the Mandate, whether out of military considerations or in order to prevent them from becoming citizens of the prospective Jewish state." He stated that there is an "overwhelming and incontrovertible body of evidence" to support his position including "intelligence briefs, captured Arab documents, press reports, personal testimonies and memoirs..." Karsh states that "the deliberate depopulation of Arab villages and their transformation into military strongholds" began in December 1947.
Selected book summaries
Empires of the Sand
Karsh's Empires of the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East, 1789–1922 was published in 1999, co-written by his wife Inari Rautsi-Karsh. Daniel Pipes called it a "tour de force that offers a profoundly new understanding of a key issue in modern Middle Eastern history:"
- "Efraim and Inari Karsh review the relations between Europe and the Ottoman empire in the final century-and-a-half of the latter's existence, and in the process nearly reverse the standard historical interpretation. According to that interpretation, from about the time of the French Revolution until World War I, a dynamic, arrogant, imperial Europe imposed its will on a static, humiliated, supine East. This framework is common to nearly every leading historian, almost regardless of era or political disposition.... Here is where the Karshes, a husband-and-wife team, step in. In 'Empires of the Sand,' they characterize the standard account as 'fundamentally misconceived.' Middle Easterners, they assert, 'were not hapless victims of predatory imperial powers but active participants in the restructuring of their region.' Put more directly: 'Twentieth-century Middle Eastern history is essentially the culmination of long-standing indigenous trends, passions, and patterns of behavior rather than an externally imposed dictate. Great-power influences, however potent, have played a secondary role, constituting neither the primary force behind the region's political development nor the main cause of its notorious volatility.' Drawing on a wide range of original sources, and writing in a clearly organized fashion and in fast-paced prose, the Karshes make a very compelling case for their revisionist position, establishing it point by point and in elegant detail."
Richard Bernstein characterized it as "a readable, scholarly re-examination of a long and complicated Middle Eastern history.... The main purpose of this very detailed and broad-shouldered history is to revise many of the standard interpretations that have been given to Middle Eastern history over the last two centuries. Most generally the Karshes dispute the idea that the main events and developments in the region stem from the machinations of the great powers, especially Britain and France. The ‘main impetus behind regional developments,’ they write, was ‘the local actors’ [...] The authors write clearly and authoritatively and with great geographical sweep. Those who do not know much of these events will learn a great deal from this book, while specialists with views differing from the Karshes’ will face a robust challenge to their interpretations.
- "This is a polemical book whose authors have extended the intemperate and unbalanced rhetoric customarily employed by dogmatic partisans of the Arab Israeli conflict to the normally sedate and measured arena of nineteenth - and early twentieth-century Ottoman history. The book relies mainly on Western published sources and official British documents. But their use of even these sources is limited, since they actually ignore most of nineteenth-century history. Instead, the authors emphasize those episodes they feel support their interpretations.
Richard Bulliet, professor of history at the Middle East Institute of Columbia University wrote that Empires of the Sand is "a tendentious and unreliable piece of scholarship that should have been vetted more thoroughly by the publisher" and asserts that the authors failed to "contribute a dimension of sense and scholarship that raises the debate[s in question] to a higher level." Karsh in response wondered "what credential did Bulliet possess, that a leading journal in the field should ask him to review our book? He is a medievalist who has done no research or writing on the subject. But in his spare time, he propagates the view of the Middle East and its nations as hapless victims of Western imperialism".
Response from Karsh
Karsh states that his book "has incurred the ire of the Arabist establishment" and that "scathing indictments have been made, on the basis of hearsay, without writers taking the trouble to read the book. A leading academic has even urged fellow academics to place negative reviews on the website of a major Internet bookstore, so as to warn potential readers of our book."
Karsh argues that "[the]conventional view – absolving Middle Easterners and blaming the West – is academically unsound and morally reprehensible. It is academically unsound because the facts tell an altogether different story of modern Middle Eastern history, one that has consistently been suppressed because of its incongruity with the politically correct dogmas of the Arabist establishment. And it is morally reprehensible because denying the responsibility of individuals and societies for their actions is patronizing and in the worst tradition of the 'white man's burden' approach, which has dismissed regional players as half-witted creatures, too dim to be accountable for their own fate... Little wonder therefore that Empires of the Sand was more favorably received by Middle Eastern intellectuals, fed up with being talked down to and open to real revisionism of their region's history after suffering decades of condescension from their paternalistic champions in the West."
In 2006 Karsh published Islamic Imperialism: A History, stating that Islam started out as a Great Jihad that lasted over a thousand years, and persisted in the Ottoman Empire right up through World War I, and is still alive today with the jihad against Israel, the 9/11 Attack, al-Qaeda, ISIS, etc.
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Pursuing the myriad problems called up by the evidence Karsh presents to support his case would be pointless. The book is selling ideology, not historical acumen. [...] As a history of Islam, Islamic Imperialism is a travesty, but as ideological preaching, it should please the choir to which it is directed.
The book is timely as well as polemical. Its polemics and its obvious intention to arouse strong responses should not deter readers, since it is a work deserving to be read for its penetrating analyses of the long history of Islam as an expanding and proselytizing faith.
Writing in International Review of Modern Sociology, California State University professor Henry E. Chambers concluded his review with the words: "This politically driven history will lead readers astray and offers a flawed version of the Middle East."
The ingenuity of Karsh’s monograph is that it portrays Islamic imperialism in the same light as all other imperialism—accentuating the utter normalcy of Muslim rulers’ imperialist ventures, goals, and means.[...] By seeking the roots of the current situations in the Middle East within the framework of Middle Eastern history, Karsh provides an invaluable assessment.
Reviewing the German translation of the book in Die Welt Des Islams, Erlangen University professor of history Thomas Philipp wrote:
Imperialismus im Namen Allahs is the book of a knowledgeable historian who follows the fashionable trend of wholesale denigration of Islam and the Arabs, and whose political interests clearly dominate his terminology and historical analysis.
Reviewing the book in History: Reviews of New Books, history professor William E. Watson from Immaculata University writes that "book destined to become a seminal study on the history of radical Islam"
Karsh's 2010 book Palestine Betrayed is about the Nakba ("catastrophe" in Arabic), "the expulsion and dispossession of hundreds of thousands [of] Palestinians from their homes and land in 1948." (The Electronic Intifada Website). According to Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes:
- "With his customary in-depth archival research — in this case, relying on masses of recently declassified documents from the period of British rule and of the first Arab–Israeli war, 1917–49 — clear presentation, and meticulous historical sensibility, Karsh argues the opposite case: that Palestinians decided their own destiny and bear near-total responsibility for becoming refugees."
In Karsh's words:
- "Far from being the hapless victims of a predatory Zionist assault, it was Palestinian Arab leaders who, from the early 1920s onward, and very much against the wishes of their own constituents, launched a relentless campaign to obliterate the Jewish national revival which culminated in the violent attempt to abort the U.N. partition resolution... There was nothing inevitable about the Palestinian–Jewish confrontation, let alone the Arab–Israeli conflict."
According to Pipes: "Yet more counterintuitively, Karsh shows that his understanding was the conventional, indeed the undisputed interpretation in the late 1940s. Only with the passage of time did 'Palestinians and their Western supporters gradually rewr[i]te their national narrative,' thereby making Israel into the unique culprit, the one excoriated in the United Nations, university classrooms, and editorials. Karsh successfully makes his case by establishing two main points: that (1) the Jewish-Zionist-Israeli side perpetually sought to find a compromise while the Palestinian-Arab-Muslim side rejected nearly all deals; and (2) Arab intransigence and violence caused the self-inflicted 'catastrophe.'"
Praise and criticism
Author David Rodman opined, "Karsh stitches together a seemingly irrefutable case for the validity of the traditionalist narrative, possibly bringing to an end once and for all the New Historian phenomenon as a sustainable historiographical project."
New Historians leader Benny Morris called Karsh's Fabricating Israeli History "a mélange of distortions, half-truths, and plain lies that vividly demonstrates his profound ignorance of both the source material... and the history of the Zionist-Arab conflict," titling his article "Undeserving of a Reply". Morris adds that Karsh belabors minor points while ignoring the main pieces of evidence.
Yezid Sayigh, professor of Middle East studies, wrote that Karsh "is simply not what he makes himself out to be, a trained historian (nor political/social scientist)." Karsh accused Sayigh of a "misleading misrepresentation of my scholarly background" and retorted that Sayigh's remarks were "not a scholarly debate on facts and theses but a character assassination couched in high pseudo-academic rhetoric".
- Palestine Betrayed (Yale University Press, 2010). read online
- Islamic Imperialism: A History (Yale University Press, 2006). read online
- La Guerre D'Oslo (Les Editions de Passy, 2005; with Joel S. Fishman). read online
- Arafat’s War: The Man and His Battle for Israeli Conquest (Grove, 2003). read online
- Rethinking the Middle East (Cass, 2003). read online
- The Arab-Israeli Conflict. The Palestine War 1948 (Oxford, Osprey, 2002) - republished under the new title The Arab-Israeli Conflict. The 1948 War (Rosen Publishing Group, 2008). read online
- The Iran-Iraq War, 1980-1988 (Oxford, Osprey, 2002). read online
- Empires of the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East, 1789–1922 (Harvard University Press, 1999; with Inari Rautsi-Karsh) read online
- Fabricating Israeli History: The "New Historians" (Cass, 1997; 2nd ed. 2000) read online
- The Gulf Conflict 1990–1991: Diplomacy and War in The New World Order (Princeton University Press, 1993; with Lawrence Freedman);
- Saddam Hussein: A Political Biography (The Free Press, 1991; with Inari Rautsi-Karsh). read online
- Soviet Policy towards Syria Since 1970 (Macmillan & St. Martin's Press, 1991).
- Neutrality and Small States (Routledge, 1988).
- The Soviet Union and Syria: The Asad Years (Routledge for the Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1988).
- The Cautious Bear: Soviet Military Engagement in Middle East Wars in the Post 1967 Era (Westview, 1985).
- "Arafat Lives", Commentary, January 2005, pp. 33–40. Reprinted in Ha-Umma (Hebrew)
- Azzam's Genocidal Threat
- "Israel's Arabs v. Israel", Commentary, December 2003, pp. 21–27]
- What Occupation?
- Benny Morris and the Reign of Error
- Benny Morris' Reign of Error, Revisited, a review essay on Morris' revised edition of his book on the Palestinian refugee exodus.
- Dear Diary: Juan Cole's Bad Blog
- "Were the Palestinians Expelled?"
- "European Misreading of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Finnish Foreign Minister Tuomioja – A Case Study"
- The Unbearable Lightness of my Critics
- Beirut Bob, a review by Karsh of Robert Fisk's The Great War for Civilisation.
- Sky News, Efraim Karsh debates 1948 with Ilan Pappe on Sky News
- Professor Efraim Karsh, King's College London Research Portal
- Middle East Forum List of Staff
- Curriculum Vitae of Efraim Karsh
- Reclaiming a Historical Truth, Haaretz
- Daniel Pipes' review of 'Empires of the Sand'
- New York Times, 1 December 1999, p8.
- Anthony B. Toth, "History as Ideology", a review of Empires of the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East, 1789–1923, Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 31, No. 2. (Winter, 2002), pp. 85–86.
- Richard W Bulliett. The Middle East Journal. Washington: Autumn 2000. Vol. 54, Iss. 4; p. 667–8
- "The Unbearable Lightness of My Critics", Karsh, Efraim. Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2002.
- Bulliet, Richard W. (2008). "Review: Islamic Imperialism: A History by Efraim Karsh". International Journal of Middle East Studies. 40 (3): 485–486. JSTOR 40205968. (Subscription required (. ))
- Tignor, Robert L. (2007-02-07). "Islamic Imperialism: A History. By Efraim Karsh (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2006) 276 pp. $45.00". The Journal of Interdisciplinary History. 37 (4): 668–670. ISSN 0022-1953. doi:10.1162/jinh.2007.37.4.668.
- Chambers, Henry E. (2008). "Review: Islamic Imperialism by Efraim Karsh". Review of Modern Sociology. 34 (2): 315–317. JSTOR 41421690. (Subscription required (. ))
- Gross, Mary T. (2007-04-01). "Islamic Imperialism: a History: Efraim Karsh". Digest of Middle East Studies. 16 (1): 165–167. ISSN 1949-3606. doi:10.1111/j.1949-3606.2007.tb00085.x.
- Philipp, Thomas (2009). "Review: Imperialismus im Namen Allahs: von Muhammad bis Osama bin Laden by Efraim Karsh". Die Welt Des Islams. New Series. 49 (1): 134–136. JSTOR 27798287. (Subscription required (. ))
Imperialismus im Namen Allahs ist das Buch eines kenntnisreichen Historikers, der dem modischen Trend der pauschalisierenden Verunglimpfung des Islams und der Araber folgt und dessen politische Interessen seine Terminologie und Geschichtsanalyse deutlich dominieren.
- Watson, William E. (2006-07-01). "Islamic Imperialism: A History". History: Reviews of New Books. 34 (4): 135–135. ISSN 0361-2759. doi:10.1080/03612759.2006.10526973.
- Sachar, Howard. "Palestine Betrayed Reviews". Yale University Press. Retrieved 6 June 2011.
- Rodman, David (Summer 2010). "Review of Palestine Betrayed". The Middle East Quarterly. Retrieved 2014-08-11.
- Morris, 1996, "Undeserving of a Reply", The Middle East Quarterly
- Benny Morris, "Refabricating 1948", review of Fabricating Israeli History: The "New Historians." by Efraim Karsh, Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 27, No. 2. (Winter, 1998), pp. 81–95.
- I. Lustick, 1997, 'Israeli History: Who is Fabricating What?', Survival, 39(3), p.156–166
- I. Lustick, 1997, Survival, 39(4), p.197–198