Professor George Bisharat compares family loss of absentee Jerusalem rental property to Jewish property seized by Nazis
In L.A. Times Op-Ed, Bisharat compares his family to “survivors of the Nazi Holocaust seeking return of their seized works of art,” but his family left voluntarily for economic opportunity abroad long before Israel was created. They were not victims of Genocide, or even war refugees.
George Bisharat is a retired law professor at UC-Hastings College of Law.
Bisharat just published another in a long line of anti-Israel Op-Eds, this time in the L.A. Times, The case for a democratic one-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians.
The Op-Ed is not particularly noteworthy in most respects. It uses the same specious comparisons of Israel to Apartheid South Africa that are the main talking points of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
It also presents a make-believe wish-upon-a-star fantasy of a state in which a Jewish minority would live happily ever after — despite well over a century of genocidal demands against Jews in the Middle East. Recall that the war against Israel’s independence, long before Israel controlled Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”), was a religious war against the Jews, as noted by historian Benny Morris:
What I discovered in the documentation relating to the war, at least from the Arab side, was that the war had a religious character, that the central element in the war was an imperative to launch jihad. There were other imperatives of course, political and others—but the most important from the enemy’s perspective was the element of the infidels who had the nerve to take control over sacred Muslim lands and the need to uproot them from there. The decisive majority in the Arab world saw the war first and foremost as a holy war ….
As I have documented, the BDS movement is a continuation of the economic war against the Jews because they are Jews, despite the ‘social justice’ repackaging of the anti-Jewish boycotts.
What is noteworthy is that Bisharat seeks to imbue his argument with legitimacy by recounting his family history, particularly his family home in Jerusalem, comparing the loss to Jewish property seized by the Nazis (emphasis added):
…. My family, like survivors of the Nazi Holocaust seeking return of their seized works of art, insists that ownership of our grandfather’s Villa Harun ar-Rashid in West Jerusalem should be restored to us….
So who is Bisharat, and what is the real story with his family home?
I addressed Bisharat’s background and methodology on April 4, 2009, barely six months after the launch of Legal Insurrection, Law Professor Continues His Personal Intifada:
I first learned of George Bisharat when we both were students at Harvard Law School. Bisharat was a year ahead of me. At the time, in 1981-1983, the hot topic was the PLO takeover of Southern Lebanon, rockets being lobbed into Israel, and Israel’s eventual retaliatory invasion of Southern Lebanon. Bisharat was a leader of attempts on the law school campus to delegitimize Israel by aligning the PLO cause with that of other “indigenous” peoples. Through this tactic, Bisharat and others hoped to portray the original indigenous people of Israel, the Jews, as the occupiers.
Bisharat operated mostly behind the scenes. He let other groups, such as the American Indian Law Student Association (led by Glenn Morris, now a confidant of Ward Churchill) lead the way. One of the key achievements of this coalition was inviting a PLO representative to campus, and aligning the Palestinian cause with that of other indigenous peoples. Although supporters of Israel may not have realized it at the time, the seeds of deligitimizing Israel through the operation of law and lawyers were being planted on campuses throughout the world. It isn’t coincidence that academics, particularly in Europe, are at the forefront of the boycott Israel movement.
I hadn’t thought much of Bisharat in the ensuing decades until I saw an article by Bisharat last January arguing that Israel exceeded its right to self defense. This time the issue was not the PLO, but the Hamas takeover of Gaza, the lobbing of rockets into Israel, and the inevitable Israeli retaliatory invasion. Strange how only the names and place had changed since 1982. Palestinians still sought to destroy Israel, to create a provocation, and then to complain when Israel responded in order to gain world sympathy. And once again, George Bisharat was there arguing the case.
I then documented an incident told by Bisharat of alleged discrimination against his father for being Palestinian by a California art gallery owned by Jews, and how the telling of the story by Bisharat was disputed:
This story line of the poor Palestinian immigrant victimized by the American Jewish Lobby is compelling, but at least some people in a position to know claim Bisharat’s story is a lie….
I don’t know if George Bisharat invented the story of his father’s victimization to advance his agenda. But it is interesting that at the time of his article, the two parties to the alleged conversation both were dead. So it was Bisharat’s second-hand, 26-year-delayed recollection which formed the basis for creating a family history of victimization at the hands of American Jews. If you read Bisharat’s numerous articles, you will see that such personal recollections form a key part of his narrative of Palestinian victimization.
Getting back to that home in Jerusalem which Bisharat compares to Jewish property seized by the Nazis, I also previously examined the claim, and found it to be less than the story telling suggested. The family history showed that, had the Bisharats been Jewish, they would be labeled by people like George Bisharat as settlers.
I wrote on March 28, 2010, What If Palestinians Were Settlers?
Bisharat regularly and for decades has played upon his family history as forming his narrative of Israel’s lack of legitimacy, and his call for a single state encompassing what now is Israel, the West Bank and Gaza (emphasis mine):
…[M]emory can provide a blueprint for the future — a vision of a solution to seek, or an outcome to avoid. My Palestinian father grew up in Jerusalem before Israel was founded and the Palestinians expelled, when Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in peace and mutual respect. Recalling that past provides a vision for an alternative future — one involving equal rights and tolerance, rather than the domination of one ethno-religious group over others.
The loss of the family home in Jerusalem (in a section within Israel’s pre-1967 borders) is a particularly important part of Bisharat’s narrative. Here is Bisharat’s recollection of his 1977 visit to Jerusalem to his ancestral home:
When I went to Jerusalem in 1977, I had only a photograph of the home, and a general description of its location from my grandmother. It was summer, hot and dusty, and I paced back and forth through the neighborhood inspecting each of the houses, occasionally asking for directions. All the street names had been changed to those of Zionist leaders and figures from Jewish history, and the hospital that my grandmother had described as a landmark apparently no longer existed. As I was resting against a wall in the shade, I saw a home that resembled Papa’s. As I hurried across the street, I could just make out the name in the tile: Villa Harun ar-Rashid. I guess Golda’s sandblasters had been a little rushed.
TENSION AND FEAR. I was immediately flooded with emotion — anger, sadness, and most of all — tension, tinged with fear. I walked through the garden toward the front staircase, putting my hand on the stone banister, as I knew Papa and my own father must have done countless times. I rang the bell.
After a long wait, an elderly woman opened the door. I explained my visit by saying that my grandfather had built the home, displayed my American passport, and asked if I could briefly see the interior. Virtually her first words were: “The family (meaning my family) never lived here.”
Bisharat visited again with his family in 2000 (emphasis mine):
In 2000, we made this same pilgrimage as a family. As we stood across the street, I recounted the story of Golda Meir’s defacement of the tiles to my son and daughter. I was overcome. Instantly my little son embraced my leg, then my daughter hugged my waist, and finally my wife my upper body, and briefly, we stood there huddled together, tears streaking all our faces….
The front door swung open and a man smilingly offered: “May I help you?” …. But when I said that my father’s family had lived in the home, he was incredulous. This time, I was not surprised as he protested, still congenially: “But the family never lived here.” He had gleaned this from a newspaper article, he maintained. Repeatedly, he insisted, it seemed a half dozen times: “The family never lived here.”
Of course, the family did live there, notwithstanding the denials, justifications, and obfuscations we have faced. So did hundreds of thousands of other Palestinians “live there.” The keys to their homes there still adorn the walls of apartments, houses, rooms, and refugee hovels throughout the world. We have not disappeared, nor have we forgotten, our existence a reminder that one people’s liberation was founded on another’s dispossession….
Recently I found my daughter lingering over photos of my father as a boy in his Jerusalem home. I know now that she and my son both are heirs of the truth about Villa Harun ar-Rashid.
But as I noted at the time, the family history was not really as Bisharat suggested, based on a review of Bisharat’s own published documentation of that family history:
Bisharat’s family narrative, while moving, is at best exaggerated. In fact, Bisharat’s family was not indigenous to Jerusalem or any part of what now is Israel, and his grandfather did not grow up in Jerusalem.
Rather, Bisharat’s family members were immigrants to Jerusalem who lived in Villa Harun ar-Rashid for just a few years in the late 1920s and early 1930s before renting it out as absentee landlords and then leaving for greener pastures abroad.
I base this statement on Bisharat’s own documentation of his family history which appeared not in any of the Western newspapers in which he recounts his moving family narrative, but in an article he published in 2007 in the Palestinian Jerusalem Quarterly.
Everything I am about to recount about Bisharat’s family history is taken from Bisharat’s own documentation of his family history:
- Bisharat’s grandfather was from what now is Jordan: “My grandfather, whom we all called ‘Papa’, was born in 1893 in as-Salt, now in Jordan, although then a part of an Ottoman district called the Belqa’, that straddled the Jordan River.”
- Bisharat’s great grandparents were from Nablus, now under Palestinian Authority control, not Jerusulem or any part of what now is Israel: “[Bisharat’s grandfather] Ibrahim, and two uncles, Salti and Saliba, had settled there [as-Salt] only 15 years or so before , having migrated eastward from Rafidia, a village adjacent to Nablus.”
- Bisharat’s grandfather went to Jerusalem to study: “My grandfather, Hanna Ibrahim Bisharat, was the fourth of Ibrahim and Fida’s seven children. At some point in his youth, Papa came to the attention of Father Maurice Gisler, a Swiss missionary and archaeologist, perhaps during one of the latter’s digs around Madaba, near Um al-Kundum. Gisler apparently recognized something special in my grandfather, and invited him to come to Jerusalem to study….”
- Bisharat’s grandfather left Jerusalem in 1908: “Hanna studied in the Schneller’s Boys School (also known as the ‘Bishop Gobat’ school) in Jerusalem, gaining fluency in English and French to complement his native Arabic and Turkish. Around 1908 he was sent, under Father Gisler’s auspices, to an institute outside Freiberg, Switzerland to study agricultural engineering.”
- Bisharat’s family lived in the Jerusalem home which is the subject of his narrative only a few years beginning in the late 1920s: “My family lived in the Talbiyeh home for several years, during which several of my uncles were born.”
- Bisharat’s family vacated the Jerusalem home for financial reasons, not Zionist occupation: “Facing dire financial straits in the early thirties, my grandparents moved out of Villa Harun ar-Rashid for more modest accommodations on the Bethlehem road, and rented their home to officers of the British Royal Air Force.”
- Bisharat’s family left British-controlled Palestine before Israel’s War of Independence, and left behind their rental property: “My family’s intended-to-be-temporary dispersal from Palestine preceded, and was essentially unrelated to, the 1947-1949 war. As I have already indicated, it was business and education that took my relatives from Palestine.”
While Bisharat’s family may have lost title to the rental property they owned in Jerusalem (similar to the homes lost by Jews who fled Arab countries), Bisharat’s family was not indigenous to Jerusalem, and had a short history in Jerusalem.
Bisharat, in the L.A. Times Op-ed, hyperlinks to the Jerusalem Quarterly article posted within an article at the Institute for Palestine Studies, but to get to the Jerusalem Quarterly article you have to click on a google drive download. What’s the chance most readers of the Op-ed clicked over, then downloaded the article, then read through the detailed history? Instead, when readers clicked on “Villa Harun ar-Rashid” they would get this visual of the family in front of the home:
That visual may not be false, but it’s not the story either.
I doubt it’s by accident that Bisharat used the inapplicable Nazi comparison. Comparing Israelis to Nazis is Holocaust inversion, and widely recognized as anti-Semitic. Such arguments are not new, but they are entering the mainstream, as witnessed by Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s recent comments.
This was a family home for just a few years, and was turned into an absentee rental property when the family voluntarily left many years before Israel’s War of Independence for better economic opportunities. They were not victims of Genocide or even war refugees. That hardly is the equivalent of the Nazis seizing Jewish property during the Holocaust, and it’s unseemly that Bisharat made the comparison.DONATE
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