Efraim Karsh

Efraim Karsh

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Efraim Karsh is professor and head of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King's College London
King's College London
King's College London is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom and a constituent college of the federal University of London. King's has a claim to being the third oldest university in England, having been founded by King George IV and the Duke of Wellington in 1829, and...

, and director of the Philadelphia-based think tank, the Middle East Forum
Middle East Forum
The Middle East Forum is an American conservative think tank founded in 1990 by Daniel Pipes, who also serves as its director. MEF became a 5013 non-profit organization in 1994...

. He is regarded as a vocal critic of the New Historians
New Historians
The New Historians are a loosely-defined group of Israeli historians who have challenged traditional versions of Israeli history, including Israel's role in the Palestinian Exodus in 1948 and Arab willingness to discuss peace. The term was coined in 1988 by one of the leading New Historians, Benny...

, a group of Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

i scholars who have questioned the conventional history of the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Born and raised in Israel, Karsh graduated in Arabic and Modern Middle East History from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and obtained an MA
Master of Arts (postgraduate)
A Master of Arts from the Latin Magister Artium, is a type of Master's degree awarded by universities in many countries. The M.A. is usually contrasted with the M.S. or M.Sc. degrees...

 and PhD
PHD may refer to:*Ph.D., a doctorate of philosophy*Ph.D. , a 1980s British group*PHD finger, a protein sequence*PHD Mountain Software, an outdoor clothing and equipment company*PhD Docbook renderer, an XML renderer...

 in International Relations from Tel Aviv University
Tel Aviv University
Tel Aviv University is a public university located in Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv, Israel. With nearly 30,000 students, TAU is Israel's largest university.-History:...

. After acquiring his first academic degree in modern Middle Eastern history, he was a research analyst for the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), where he attained the rank of major.

Academic and media career

He has held various academic posts at Harvard
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

 and Columbia
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

 universities, the Sorbonne
The Sorbonne is an edifice of the Latin Quarter, in Paris, France, which has been the historical house of the former University of Paris...

, the London School of Economics
London School of Economics
The London School of Economics and Political Science is a public research university specialised in the social sciences located in London, United Kingdom, and a constituent college of the federal University of London...

, Helsinki University, the International Institute for Strategic Studies
International Institute for Strategic Studies
The International Institute for Strategic Studies is a British research institute in the area of international affairs. It describes itself as "the world’s leading authority on political-military conflict"...

 in London, the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies
Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies
The Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars was founded in 1974 to the carry out studies of the Soviet Union , subsequently of post-Soviet Russia and other post-Soviet states....

 in Washington D.C., and the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University
Tel Aviv University
Tel Aviv University is a public university located in Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv, Israel. With nearly 30,000 students, TAU is Israel's largest university.-History:...

. 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
Middle East Quarterly
Middle East Quarterly is a peer reviewed quarterly journal, a publication of the American conservative think tank Middle East Forum founded by Daniel Pipes in 1994. It is devoted to subjects relating to the Middle East and Islam and analyzes the region "explicitly from the viewpoint of American...

. He is a regular media commentator, has appeared on all the main radio and television networks in the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 and the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, 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 a 2011 editorial in Haaretz
Haaretz is Israel's oldest daily newspaper. It was founded in 1918 and is now published in both Hebrew and English in Berliner format. The English edition is published and sold together with the International Herald Tribune. Both Hebrew and English editions can be read on the Internet...

, Karsh articulated his belief that "the tragedy befalling the Palestinian Arabs in 1948
1948 Palestinian exodus
The 1948 Palestinian exodus , also known as the Nakba , occurred when approximately 711,000 to 725,000 Palestinian Arabs left, fled or were expelled from their homes, during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and the Civil War that preceded it. The exact number of refugees is a matter of dispute...

 was exclusively of their own making". Karsh argued that many Palestinians fled their homes as the result of pressure from local Arab leaders "and/or the Arab Liberation Army
Arab Liberation Army
The Arab Liberation Army , also translated as Arab Salvation Army, was an army of volunteers from Arab countries led by Fawzi al-Qawuqji...

 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 claims that "the deliberate depopulation of Arab villages and their transformation into military strongholds" began in December 1947.

Praise and criticism

Howard Sachar
Howard Sachar
Howard Morley Sachar is an American historian. He is Professor Emeritus of History and International Affairs at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and the author of 16 books, as well as numerous articles in scholarly journals, on the subjects of Middle Eastern and Modern European...

 sees Karsh is the "preeminent scholar-spokesman of the Revisionist
Revisionist Zionism
Revisionist Zionism is a nationalist faction within the Zionist movement. It is the founding ideology of the non-religious right in Israel, and was the chief ideological competitor to the dominant socialist Labor Zionism...

 (politically-rightist) Movement in Zionism." Political commentator Daniel Pipes
Daniel Pipes
Daniel Pipes is an American historian, writer, and political commentator. He is the founder and director of the Middle East Forum and its Campus Watch project, and editor of its Middle East Quarterly journal...

 described him as "the preeminent historian of the modern Middle East writing today."

Benny Morris
Benny Morris
Benny Morris is professor of History in the Middle East Studies department of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in the city of Be'er Sheva, Israel...

 called Karsh's article "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." Reviewing Fabricating Israeli History, Morris said that Karsh belabors minor points while ignoring the main pieces of evidence.

The political scientist Ian Lustick
Ian Lustick
Ian Steven Lustick is an American political scientist and specialist on the modern history and politics of the Middle East.Lustick completed his Ph.D...

 said Karsh's writing in Fabricating Israeli History was malevolent and his analysis, erratic and sloppy.

Yezid Sayigh
Yezid Sayigh
Yezid Sayigh, Baltimore, Maryland. Sayigh is Professor of Middle East Studies in the Department of War Studies at King's College London, member of the Academic Board of the Gulf Research Center and member of the Board of Trustees of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research...

, 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".

Empires of the Sand

Anthony Toth published a review of Karsh's Empires of the Sand in the Journal of Palestine Studies
Journal of Palestine Studies
The Journal of Palestine Studies is an academic journal established in 1971. It is published and distributed by University of California Press on behalf of the Institute for Palestine Studies. The current editor is Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University....

. Toth wrote: "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 Bernstein
Richard Bernstein
Richard Bernstein is an American journalist, columnist, and author. He writes the Letter from America column for The International Herald Tribune...

 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
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 and France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan 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.

Richard Bulliet
Richard Bulliet
Richard W. Bulliet is a professor of history at Columbia University who specializes in the history of Islamic society and institutions, the history of technology, and the history of the role of animals in human society.-Early life and education:...

, 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."

Islamic Imperialism

In his review of Islamic Imperialism, Amir Taheri
Amir Taheri
Amir Taheri is an Iranian-born conservative author based in Europe. His writings focus on the Middle East affairs and topics related to Islamist terrorism. He gained international fame as the man behind the 2006 Iranian sumptuary law controversy.-Career:Taheri's biography at Benador Associates...

 praised Karsh: "Anyone interested in the debate about the place of Islam in the modern world should read this book...Karsh offers a new approach. He rejects the condescending approach of the apologists and the hateful passion of the Islamophobes
Islamophobia describes prejudice against, hatred or irrational fear of Islam or MuslimsThe term dates back to the late 1980s or early 1990s, but came into common usage after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States....

. Instead he presents Islam as a rival for Western civilisation in what is, after all, a contest for shaping of mankind. Karsh does not hide whose side he is on in this contest. Muslim readers would respect him because, while he designates Islam as an adversary, he respects them."

But Taheri does criticize Karsh's take on Islamic philosophy: "[Karsh] speaks of 'Islam's wholesale incorporation of Hellenistic culture and science', something that did not happen, and sees it as the genesis of Islamic politics and jurisprudence. He also states that Islam was attractive to people it conquered because in it 'ethnic and tribal origins counted for nothing'. But three of the Prophet's immediate successors were his fathers-in-law while the fourth was his son-in-law."

Robert Fulford said of Islamic Imperialism: "Only a shrewd and talented revisionist, a professor with curiosity and nerve, could take on the clichés of Middle East scholarship and insist that they be reconsidered. That describes Efraim Karsh, a much-published and much-admired professor at the University of London. His new book deserves serious consideration by anyone who cares about this debate."

Fulford also notes Karsh's criticism of Bernard Lewis
Bernard Lewis
Bernard Lewis, FBA is a British-American historian, scholar in Oriental studies, and political commentator. He is the Cleveland E. Dodge Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University...

' What Went Wrong? (2002) in the book: "Bernard Lewis...misses the point, Karsh implies. The warlike stance of Islamists
Islamism also , lit., "Political Islam" is set of ideologies holding that Islam is not only a religion but also a political system. Islamism is a controversial term, and definitions of it sometimes vary...

 is not a riposte to Western imperialism. It's indigenous, deeply rooted in Muslim culture
Muslim culture
Islamic culture is a term primarily used in secular academia to describe the cultural practices common to historically Islamic peoples. As the religion of Islam originated in 7th century Arabia, the early forms of Muslim culture were predominantly Arab...

, and the most significant product of the Islamic belief that politics and religion are one. Karsh finds, in Islamic writing and practice, a profound impulse to expand Muslim power and eventually rule all countries."


  • Palestine Betrayed (Yale University Press, 2010);
  • Islamic Imperialism: A History (Yale University Press, 2006);
  • La Guerre D'Oslo (Les Editions de Passy, 2005; with Yoel Fishman);
  • Arafat’s War (Grove, 2003);
  • Rethinking the Middle East (Cass, 2003);
  • The Arab-Israeli Conflict. The Palestine 1948 War (Oxford, Osprey, 2002);
  • The Iran-Iraq War (Oxford, Osprey, 2002);
  • Empires of the Sand: The Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East, 1789–1922 (Harvard University Press, 1999; with *Inari Karsh);
  • Fabricating Israeli History: The "New Historians" (Cass, 1997; second edition 1999);
  • The Gulf Conflict 1990–1991: Diplomacy and War in The New World Order (Princeton University Press, 1993; with *Lawrence Freedman
    Lawrence Freedman
    Sir Lawrence David Freedman, KCMG, CBE, PC, FBA, FKC is Professor of War Studies at King's College London, and was a foreign policy adviser to Tony Blair...

  • Saddam Hussein: A Political Biography (The Free Press, 1991; with Inari Rautsi-Karsh);
  • 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).



  • Sky News, Efraim Karsh debates 1948 with Ilan Pappe on Sky News