Toronto Holocaust Museum

“In war, the first casualty is truth.”

The famous aphorism attributed to the ancient Greek dramatist Aeschylus applies to British Columbia, where, obscured by political correctness, a war with truth has just been fought.

As usual these days, truth lost.

In a Jan. 30 Zoom panel discussion, NDP politician Selina Robinson, the highest ranking Jewish office holder in B.C., claimed 18- to 34-year-olds “have no idea about the Holocaust, they don’t even think it happened,” adding that Israel was offered to Jews who were misplaced and displaced from their homes:

“They don’t understand that it was a crappy piece of land with nothing on it. You know, there were several hundred thousand people but other than that, it didn’t produce an economy. It couldn’t grow things it didn’t have anything on it.”

Immediately, the long knives were unsheathed and pointed at Robinson by Middle East activists and her former leftist political allies.                                                                                                 

And so, B.C. Premier David Eby orchestrated the Feb. 5 resignation of Robinson from her post as minister of post-secondary education, proof that when cornered, politicians generally eat their young.

Robinson’s remarks have been called horrific, flippant, disrespectful, racist, and hurtful.

But none of these slurs prove her poorly articulated statement distorted the truth, let alone constituted blatant lies. Since Robinson repudiated the form rather than the content of her remarks, it’s worth reviewing whether they have any historical accuracy.

For centuries before Zionist-inspired immigration to what’s now Israel began in 1882, Palestine was a sparsely populated, poorly cultivated, and widely-neglected expanse of eroded hills, sandy deserts and malarial marshes.

When Mark Twain visited in 1867, for example, he described it as: a “desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds — a silent mournful expanse.”

“A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action… We never saw a human being on the whole route… There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of the worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”

This sounds very much like “a crappy piece of land with nothing on it.”

Around the same time, Lewis French, the British director of development, wrote of Palestine: “We found it inhabited by fellahin (agricultural workers and landless peasant farmers) who lived in mud hovels and suffered severely from the prevalent malaria.”

“Large areas … were uncultivated… The fellahin, if not themselves cattle thieves, were always ready to harbor these and other criminals. The individual plots … changed hands annually. There was little public security, and the fellahin’s lot was an alternation of pillage and blackmail by their neighbors, the Bedouin.”

This sounds like a region mired in crime and poverty.

The rise of antisemitism and Nazism in Germany saw a dramatic increase in aliyahs (return of Zionism-motivated Jews to their ancestral homeland) between 1932 and 1939 alone, Palestine absorbed 247,000 newcomers, nearly half of all Jewish emigration from Europe, a clue to the ability of the area to absorb this number of new people.

The Jewish population increased by 470,000 between the First World War and Second World War, while the non-Jewish population rose by 588,000. In fact, the permanent Arab population increased by 120% between 1922 and 1947 to more than 1.3 million, thanks largely to the effects of Jewish immigration.

The Arab population also grew because of the improved living conditions created by the Jews as they drained malarial swamps and brought improved sanitation and health care to the region. For example, the Muslim infant mortality rate fell from 201 per thousand in 1925 to 94 per thousand in 1945, and life expectancy rose from 37 years in 1926 to 49 in 1943.

Overall, on the eve of Israel’s statehood in 1948, the Arab residents of the West Bank and Gaza were better off than they had ever been in the millennia-long history of the region.

All this quickly changed. The violent rejection of Israeli independence by neighbouring Arab countries saw 10 wars against the Jewish state, including the one started on October 7.

Unfortunately, none of this history matters because, as Aeschylus said, truth is always the first casualty of war. 

What Robinson’s removal suggests, apart from the double standard always applied to Jewish issues, is when as far as the Palestine cause is concerned, only the disregard of factual evidence, blind social justice, and the callous disposal of colleagues can save politicians, especially so-called progressive ones, from the same unhappy fate.

Hymie Rubenstein, a retired professor of anthropology, the University of Manitoba, is editor of REAL Israel & Palestine Report and REAL Indigenous Report.


  • Hymie Rubenstein

    Hymie Rubenstein is a retired professor of anthropology at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada who is now engaged in debunking the many myths about Canada’s Indigenous peoples.