History Turned Upside Down: The Roots of Palestinian Fascism and the Myth of Israeli Aggression
by David Meir-Levi
(New York: Encounter Books, 2007), Pp. xiii, 131.

Reviewed by George L. Simpson, Jr., Ph.D., Professor of History, High Point University

Is Israel the victim of a concerted vilification campaign waged against it by genocidal and totalitarian movements? This is the question that David Meir-Levi seeks to address in his provocative and polemical work, History Turned Upside Down: The Roots of Palestinian Fascism and the Myth of Israeli Aggression.

Meir-Levi contends that the contemporary Arab-Israeli dispute is not a modern, political phenomenon, but rather is an existential one that dates back to the Arab-Islamic conquest. He asserts that the traditional, Islamic anti-Semitism of the Middle East has undergone a transformation under the influence of Nazi, and then Communist, ideology to create today’s radical genocidal movements. The author shows that groups such as Hamas and al-Qaeda are the progeny of this historical process, and insists that they are dedicated not merely to the destruction of the Zionist state, but the complete annihilation of its Jewish inhabitants as well.

The conciseness and clarity of the author’s style and presentation do much to recommend this book to the general reader. Meir-Levi is generally persuasive as he addresses a number of contentious issues. His linkage of the rabid variety of anti-Semitism that is today emanating from the region with Nazi ideology and Communist intrigue is compelling.

Similarly, the reader will recognize the validity of the argument that propaganda consistently misrepresents the past as well as the present nature of the Arab-Israeli dispute. Take for instance, the issue of the dispossession of the indigenous Arab population of its land. This complex question involves and implicates absentee Ottoman landowners, local Palestinian notables and the cynical policies of the Arab states as well as those of Palestinian leaders from Haj Amin al-Husayni to Yasir Arafat. These factors have played a pivotal role in creating and perpetuating the undeniable hardships endured by hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians. Yet, much of the propaganda surrounding the issue negates these factors. Furthermore, the pathological nature of the more militant Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda is indisputable. Hyperbole that equates Israeli administration in the territories captured in 1967 with the Nazi occupation during the Second World War or that likens the recent construction of the separation fence with South African apartheid is indeed a perversion of reality as Meir-Levi declares.

Yet, the briefness and stridency with which Meir-Levi makes some of his points militates against the overall effectiveness of this work as do issues involving his use of sources. Each major topic is such that one could write a book about it. With such a short amount of space to treat complex issues, the author often gives short shrift to interpretations other than his own. One thus finds works by Israeli revisionists, or “New Historians,” in the bibliography as well as those by Edward Said and others, but these do little to inform the narrative. In addition, there are quotes in the text that lack attribution and controversial assertions that need citation. While some of the online sources that Meir-Levi uses are excellent, one would prefer that the author corroborate some of these with more scholarly documentation.

There are a couple of other noteworthy shortcomings of this work that arise from the broad brushstrokes that the author uses. While anti-Semitism is rife in the contemporary Arab-Muslim world, the region is not as monolithic as one may conclude after reading this book. Moreover, it might have been a “short step” to go from traditional Judeophobia to genocidal anti-Semitism as the author asserts in his preface, but one is left to ask why it took more than a thousand years to take it. There is similarly a tendency to conflate Sunni and Shi’a Islamism in these pages, and the reader would like to see the author distinguish more clearly between them. Similarly, while there are certainly many commonalities between Hamas and Fatah as this study emphasizes, they also have some fundamental differences. One cannot understand the current internecine strife between them without a more nuanced interpretation than Meir-Levi presents. Finally, the author’s treatment of Israel as victim leaves something to be desired. While one may be quite sympathetic to Israel’s position in its conflict with the Arabs, one might also be more critical of some of its policies such as the construction of settlements or treatment of its Arab minority.

In conclusion, even though the reader may well agree with the overall thrust of this work he or she would do well to treat it critically. There is much to recommend within the text, and the author certainly presents some excellent insights into the Arab-Israeli dispute. On the other hand, its detractors will be many, and they will have some legitimate debating points. One is left to conclude that this somehow will not be the last word on the complex and protracted conflict.