This article provides a brief survey of the major works of the so-called New Israeli Historians. It attempts to explain what distinguishes them from mainstream Israeli scholars and considers the extent to which their writings constitute a unified school of thought. The article makes it clear that there are indeed various gradations of dissent. For one, Benny Morris, while basing himself on archival material that reveals unsavory aspects of Israel’s history, nevertheless remains faithful to the Zionist ideal. At the other end of the spectrum Ilan Pappé is far less interested in the veracity of his sources and is far more concerned to denigrate the entire Zionist enterprise by falsely accusing Israel of ethnic cleansing.
Ever since the 1948 Palestinian Nakba a bitter controversy has raged over its causes and circumstances. While the Palestinian refugees have maintained that they were driven into flight, Israeli historians claimed that the refugees either left of their own accord, or were ordered to do so by their own leaders. This essay explores the emergence of an Israeli revisionist historiography in the late 1980s which challenged the official Zionist narrative of 1948. Today the ‘new historians’ are bitterly divided and at each other’s throats. The essay assesses the impact of the ‘new historians’ on history writing and power relations in Palestine-Israel, situating the phenomenon within the wider debates on knowledge and power. It locates ‘new history’ discourse within the multiple crises of Zionism and the recurring patterns of critical liberal Zionist writing. It further argues that, although the terms of the debate in Western academia have been altered under the impact of this development, both the ‘new history’ narrative and ‘Post-Zionism’ have remained marginal in Israel. Rather than developing a post-colonial discourse or decolonising methodologies, the ‘new historians’ have reflected contradictory currents within the Israeli settler colonial society. Also, ominously, their most influential author, Benny Morris, has reframed the ‘new history’ narrative within a neo-colonialist discourse and the ‘clash of civilisations’ thesis. Justifying old and neo-colonialist ideas on ‘transfer’ and ethnic cleansing, Morris (echoing calls by neo-Zionist Israeli politicians) threatens the Palestinians with another Nakba.
In the 1980s and 1990s, a group of historians and sociologists revolutionized the study of Israeli history. These scholars, often called collectively the Post-Zionists, sought to undermine "the founding myths of Israel". The Post-Zionist paradigm has made important and lasting contributions to the understanding of Israeli history, but no historiographical trend is permanent. In the last decade, a new generation of scholars, sometimes called "the third wave in Israeli historiography", or "the Post-Post-Zionists", has produced works that differ in many respects from those of the previous generation. This generation studies new subjects, utilizes new types of sources and new writing styles, asks new questions about Israeli society, and its attitude to Zionism is often more empathic than that of the previous generation. The article analyzes some aspects of the new paradigm, which can be seen as a local, Israeli, manifestation of a more general approach—the new cultural history—that appeared outside Israel in the 1970s.