There’s been a simmering to-do over advertisements at various Metro-North train stops in the New York City suburbs featuring the above image. (I mean, et tu, Scarsdale?) Predictably, someone (in this case, The Algemeiner’s Dovid Efune) called it “anti-Semitic,” because, y’know, criticizing Israel means you hate Jews; and, predictably, Mondoweiss has struck back, extrapolating from one source to conclude that the “Jewish community” feels the ad is anti-Semitic.
Look at the ad a bit more closely, though. It’s not anti-Semitic. But it’s more than a little problematic. It attempts to make a political argument—it concerns Palestinian sovereignty—yet completely ignores politics whenever it’s convenient for it to make its anti-Israel point. It tells the story of a zero-sum contest in which the Jews/Israelis—yes: the ad, too, makes that conflation—start with almost no land and end up with nearly all the land, while the Palestinians start with nearly all the land and end up with almost none of it. But while it is true that hundreds of thousands of Arabs lost their homes due to war and expulsion, the story the ad tells is extremely disingenuous, implying that Israel took land from Palestinians when the reality is that the Palestinians, whose history is tragic, were as much sold out by Arab powers as anything else. Israel is not nearly as at fault as the ad claims.
Where to begin? With the first map. In 1946, there was no “Jewish land” and “Palestinian land.” In fact, both Jews and Palestinians (I’m not sure if Arabs living in Palestine in 1946 would have considered themselves members of an exclusive Palestinian nationality, but never mind) lived throughout the land; the suggestion that Jerusalem, for example, was almost purely “Palestinian land” and not “Jewish land” is fantasy. But what’s more important is that politically there was no such thing as Jewish land and Palestinian land: there was Mandatory Palestine, ruled by Great Britain. The first map implies that the Palestinians started with all this land. It wasn’t their land; it was Britain’s.
Map 2 is accurate! No complaints, except that the massive tilt of Map 1 toward the Palestinians makes the partition plan look less fair than it was. Moreover, there is of course no mention that the future Israelis accepted it while the Arab states rejected it. But, quibbles!
Map 3 is the most damagingly dishonest. The white is indeed Israel. But the green is not Palestinian land: it is Jordanian land (in the case of the West Bank and East Jerusalem) and Egyptian land (in the case of Gaza). The map can’t be suggesting that this is an illustration purely of where people lived; after all, Arab Israelis—Palestinians—lived in Israel proper then, as they do today. Rather, it’s an illustration of political sovereignty that then distorts—lies about—who had political sovereignty.
Map 4 is not hugely objectionable, although it is revealing. You could actually make the entire thing white, what with Gaza under blockade and the Palestinian Authority’s sovereignty in even Area A of the West Bank pretty questionable. But the ad-makers know that the Palestinians look more dispossessed if they have a tiny bit of land than none. (Also, it doesn’t include the Golan! But whatever.)
“Note the conflation of the ‘Jewish community’ with Zionism,” Philip Weiss writes. But Efune isn’t the only one inappropriately conflating very different things.
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.