Efraim Karsh

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Efraim Karsh is Director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies; Professor Emeritus of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King’s College London; Professor of Political Science at Bar-Ilan University; Principal Research Fellow (and former Director) of the Middle East Forum (Philadelphia), where he also edits the Middle East Quarterly.

He is a former Israeli military intelligence officer whose expertise and academic reputation was developed largely in officially oriented think-tanks and academic institutions, including one with significant links with the Israeli intelligence services. In recent years his academic impact has declined whilst he has become associated with organisations that have been criticised for their extremist politics and their spreading of misinformation about Muslims and the Middle East.

Institutional affiliations

Professor Karsh was awarded a BA by the Hebrew University, Jerusalem in 1974. He then served as an Intelligence Officer in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) for seven years, where he ‘dealt with superpower involvement in the Middle East rather than with Arab affairs’. During this time he studied an MA at Tel Aviv University (which he completed in 1980).

Professor Karsh left the IDF in 1981 at the rank of Major and in 1982 became Director of Studies in International Relations at Israel’s Open University and an Assistant and Instructor in International Relations at Tel-Aviv University. He was awarded a PhD in political science and international relations by the latter institution in either 1984 or 1985.

Until 1989, Professor Karsh was a senior research associate at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, during which time he was seconded to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London (1985-86). In 1989 he joined King’s College, University of London as a Lecturer and then Reader in the Department of War Studies. He was appointed to the position of Professor of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies in 1996. He has also held a number of fellowships and visiting positions at other institutions over the years.

Since the beginning of his academic career, Professor Karsh has worked at officially oriented think-tanks and academic institutions with close links with military and intelligence services. According to his CV, he began his post-graduate studies whilst a serving Israeli intelligence officer and was awarded his PhD whilst a research associate at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies.

The Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies

The Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies was founded in 1977 by Aharon Yariv, a retired major general and a former head of military intelligence at the Israel Defence Force (IDF). As Professor Nicholas J. Cull notes, prior to establishing the Center for Strategic Studies, Aharon Yariv was the Israeli government’s head of propaganda:

In response to a sense of increasing diplomatic distress over international criticism of Israel’s control of territories conquered in the Six Day War, the government decided to concentrate propaganda efforts in a special official body, the Information Ministry, entrusted to Brig. (res.) Aharon Yariv…

Though it claimed to be committed to the ‘highest academic standards’, the Jaffee Center, by its own account, was not a scholarly institute. Rather its research sought to ‘address the strategic community in Israel and abroad’ and to contribute to ‘Israel’s national security agenda’ and it maintained very close links with the Israeli military and intelligence services. In addition to Aharon Yariv and Ephraim Karsh, the Center employed a number of other former intelligence officers over the years, including Yossi Alpher, Shlomo Brom, Ephraim Kam and Aryeh Shalev. Indeed, so close was the relationship between the Center and Israeli intelligence that the Historical Dictionary of Israeli Intelligence states that it can ‘be considered the academic equivalent to the Military Intelligence (MI) unit of the Israel Defense Forces’.

The Middle East Forum

In 2011, Professor Karsh was appointed director of the Middle East Forum (MEF), a right-wing think-tank that launched the controversial ‘Campus Watch’ and ‘Islamist Watch’ programmes. Karsh is also currently the editor of its flagship publication the Middle East Quarterly.

The MEF was founded by Daniel Pipes, a former scholar of the Middle East who since the mid-1980s has worked largely as a right-wing essayist and activist. Pipes and the MEF have been widely criticised for their campaigns against mainstream Middle Eastern scholarship in Canada and the United States. The Center for American Progress has argued that the MEF, and Pipes, are part of ‘a small, tightly networked group of misinformation experts’ that ‘peddle hate and fear of Muslims and Islam’.

According to former MEF board member Jerry Sorkin, the MEF began to adopt a particularly extreme and pro-Israel position after the September 11th attacks. In 2002 it launched Campus Watch, an organisation described by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt as a ‘transparent attempt to blacklist and intimidate scholars’. Daniel Pipes has labelled more than a hundred American scholars as ‘apologists for suicide bombings and militant Islam’. The US scholar Juan Cole has accused him of ‘smearing and bullying people with whom he disagrees’ and of having spied on, threatened and lied about scholars on the Middle East. Professor Cole describes Pipes as a propagandist and an extremist who has supported ‘aggressive annexationist policies’ and ‘brutal murders and repression’ ‘to the hilt’. He also claims that Pipes has misrepresents Palestinians politics and specifically Palestinian attitudes towards Israel. According to Eyal Press, a journalist with The Nation, Pipes has a habit of ‘lifting quotes out of context’.

Professor Karsh has edited Daniel Pipe’s Middle East Quarterly since 2010, having first written for the journal in 1996. Karsh’s immediate predecessor as editor of the journal was Denis MacEoin, an author of crime thrillers and ghost stories with a background in religious studies. MacEoin, who remains a Senior Editor of the journal, emerged as a right-wing activist in 2007 after authoring a controversial report for the British think-tank, Policy Exchange. The report, titled The Hijacking of British Islam, claimed to ‘demonstrate unequivocally that separatist and hate literature, written and disseminated in the name of Islam, is widely available in the UK.’ The BBC subsequently uncovered evidence that the evidence in the report had been fabricated. After a mosque named in the report denied issuing one of the receipts for the ‘hate literature’, the BBC examined all the receipts that had been passed to them by Policy Exchange. Its expert identified concerns about five of the receipts. According to BBC Newsnight’s then editor Peter Barron:

  • 1. In all five cases the mosques involved said the receipts did not belong to them.
  • 2. The expert analysis showed that all five had been printed on an inkjet printer - suggesting they were created on a PC.
  • 3. The analysis found ‘strong evidence’ that two of the receipts were written by the same person.
  • 4. The analysis found that one of the receipts had been written out while resting on another receipt said to be from a mosque 40 miles away.

In addition to his role at Middle East Forum, MacEoin now runs a blog entitled ‘A Liberal Defence of Israel’ and is involved with pro-Israel advocacy in the UK.

The MEF is connected to other organisations involved in pro-Israel advocacy, and in spreading misinformation on Islam and Muslims, via its donor networks. An investigation by RightWeb found that the funding for the MEF comes primarily from pro-Israel organisations and other right-wing outfits. A number of its key donors support other alarmist outfits also identified by the Center for American Progress as part of ‘the Islamaphobia Network in America’. It found that between 2001 and 2009 the Middle East Forum received grants from six of the seven largest donors to anti-Muslim groups, meaning that it shared donors with all eight of the key anti-Muslim organisations identified by the authors of the report. In addition, the Middle East Forum has itself provided research grants to other allegedly Islamophobic organisations detailed in this report, including the David Horowitz Freedom Center, the Center for Security Policy, the Investigative Project on Terrorism, MEMRI and NGO Monitor.

Bibliographical analysis

Professor Karsh is a prolific author. He refers in his CV to his own ‘vast scholarly output – 15 authored books, 15 edited volumes, 5 monographs, over 100 academic articles, and some 60 op-ed pieces’. A bibliographical analysis of his scholarly output however indicates a notable decline in citation by other scholars over the decade to 2013, whilst an examination of the themes of his writing suggests a shift away from conservative scholarship, towards far-right, pro-Israel, political activism.

The academic indexing service, ISI Web of Knowledge, as of 2013 contained a total of 99 articles authored or co-authored by Professor Karsh dating back to 1985 (roughly half of which were published in magazines and other non-peer reviewed publications). Together, these 99 articles were cited a total of 43 times in other articles indexed by ISI Web of Knowledge (38 times excluding self-citations).

The articles indexed by ISI Web of Knowledge between 1985 and 1990 (Professor Karsh’s first five years of academic publishing) overwhelmingly appeared in publications affiliated with foreign policy think-tanks, rather than scholarly journals. Of the thirteen articles indexed by ISI Web of Knowledge from this period, three were published in World Today and four in International Affairs, both of which are associated with the UK think-tank Chatham House (and only the latter of which is a peer reviewed publication). Two indexed articles were published in the German foreign policy magazine Europa-Archiv, one in the Middle East Journal, which is published by the Middle East Institute, and one in the peer reviewed scholarly Journal of Peace Research. Another two indexed articles were published in Orbis, the journal of the hawkish US Foreign Policy Research Institute. At that time, Daniel Pipes was the director of the US Foreign Policy Research Institute (out of which his Middle East Forum later emerged) as well as the editor of Orbis.

These early articles – which were largely strategic analyses of superpower rivalry in the Middle East – along with a number of other scholarly and non-scholarly articles published in the 1990s, remain Professor Karsh’s most cited body of work. Books are not included in ISI Web of Knowledge’s databases, but their scholarly impact can be gauged by Google Scholar, according to which Professor Karsh’s two most cited publications are The Gulf conflict, 1990-1991: Diplomacy and war in the new world order, a 1993 book co-authored with his King’s College colleague Lawrence Freedman, and Saddam Hussein: A political biography, a 1991 book co-authored with his partner Inari Rautsi.

As already noted, since the 1990s, Professor Karsh’s academic impact (as gauged by the citation of his articles in ISI Web of Knowledge’s databases) has declined significantly. For a decade now his work has appeared largely in non-scholarly publications and has been very rarely cited by other scholars. Figure 1 displays the total citations of articles authored or co-authored by Professor Karsh (indexed by ISI Web of Knowledge) by their year of publication.

--Figure 1 -- Citations for articles by Professor Karsh

As shown in the graph, though Professor Karsh’s articles authored between the mid-80s and mid-90s have been fairly widely cited, indexed articles authored in the decade to 2013 have been cited only three times in total. These three citations are of two articles; one co-authored article published in the scholarly Journal of Contemporary History in 2004, and another published in Israel Affairs – a scholarly journal founded and edited by Professor Karsh (where Daniel Pipes is also a member of the editorial board).

In addition to those two cited articles, Professor Karsh has authored a further 23 indexed articles since 2003 which have not been cited by any other indexed articles in ISI Web of Knowledge’s databases. These include fifteen articles in the political magazine Commentary – which has described itself as ‘the intellectual home of the neoconservative movement’ – and another four in Karsh’s Israel Affairs journal.

This overall decline in academic impact has been contemporaneous with Professor Karsh’s increased engagement in right-wing activism, culminating in his appointment as director of the Middle East Forum in 2011.

Selective and misleading use of evidence

Professor Karsh’s affiliation with controversial right-wing pressure groups appears to have stemmed from his outspoken criticisms of Israel’s ‘new historians’ – a term used to describe a number of Israeli scholars who from the mid-1980s began to question key aspects of official Israeli history.

In 1996 – by which time he had by his own account ‘[given] up political history’ – Professor Karsh wrote several highly critical reviews of work produced by ‘new historians’ Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim and Ilan Pappé. Responding to an article by Professor Karsh published in Daniel Pipes' Middle East Quarterly, Avi Shlaim accused him of distortion and misrepresentation and of making claims ‘without any basis in fact’. Similarly, Benny Morris referred to Professor Karsh’s article as ‘a mélange of distortions, half-truths, and plain lies’. More recently, Morris has described Professor Karsh as ‘completely politically motivated, often unscholarly, and, in large part, propagandistic’.

Karsh’s criticisms of the ‘new historians’, and his defence of official Israeli history, led to the publication in 1997 of his third most cited work (according to Google Scholar), Fabricating Israeli History, which was republished in 2000. Reviewing the book on its original publication, Ian Lustick, founder and former President of the Association for Israel Studies, wrote:

[H]owever likely readers are to be impressed by the intensity of Karsh’s pristine faith in Zionism, they are sure to be stunned by the malevolence of his writing and confused by the erratic, sloppy nature of his analysis. Errors, inconsistencies and over-interpretation there may be in some of the new Israeli histories, but nothing in them can match the howlers, contradictions and distortions contain in this volume.

Reviewing the second edition of the book, Professor Karsh’s King’s College colleague, the British-Israeli political scientist Ahron Bregman, wrote:

Fabricating Israeli History, even in this new edition, is part of a disappearing school of thought, while a new generation of Israeli historians – open minded enough to look at all the evidence – is emerging.

Professor Bregman’s reference to ‘all the evidence’ (his emphasis) is significant since Professor Karsh has been repeatedly criticised for focusing on sources which support his argument, whilst failing to engage with the full range of evidence.

In a sympathetic review of his most recent book, Palestine Betrayed, Colin Shindler, Professor of Israeli Studies at SOAS, noted that Professor Karsh uses ‘selective quotation’ to argue that Palestinians are dedicated to an ‘eternal struggle’ against Israel.

Reviewing Professor Karsh’s 1999 book, Empires of the Sand (co-authored with his wife Inari Karsh), Charles D. Smith, noted the authors’ ‘extreme selectivity in citing their sources’, their ‘[failure] to consult key sources’ and their tendency to ‘[distort] the meaning and context of evidence they use.’ Professor Smith noted that

They extract sentences out of context, or juxtapose documents that conflict with each other, to buttress their case, with no indication that their material as a whole often points in a different direction.

He continued:

It is difficult to know how much of the misrepresentation in this book is deliberate or due to incompetence, but it is clear that material has been arranged to create impressions at odds with the full documentary evidence.

At least one example however, according to Professor Smith, pointed to a ‘deliberate selectivity of sources to obscure what occurred.’ He concluded that the book was ‘essentially a work of propaganda, but still of use to students who wished to see how scholars could misrepresent sources.’

Professor Karsh has also been accused of misrepresentation by the media watchdog group, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). In 2010 Professor Karsh authored a New York Times opinion piece in which he sought to refute the ‘conventional wisdom that the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a prerequisite to peace and stability in the Middle East. Since Arabs and Muslims are so passionate about the Palestine problem’. The ‘poll’ around which the piece was based was in fact not a scientific poll at all, but a website readers survey, whilst its wording referred not to Palestine or Palestinians but to respondents’ ‘level of interest in the “Middle East peace process”’. FAIR commented that:

Karsh’s claim that the Arab public is presently ‘apathetic’ about the plight of Palestinians rests on an unreliable Internet poll, and on excluding other polling that would suggest precisely the opposite. According to the Zogby/University of Maryland poll of Arab public opinion (5/09), 76 percent of respondents put ‘the Palestinian issue’ as either the ‘most important’ issue or as one of their ‘top 3 priorities.’

It concluded that Karsh had ‘erroneously treated an unscientific website poll as if it were a meaningful survey of public opinion, and misrepresented even its findings’. Funding In 1990/1, Professor Karsh’s research received support from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the UK’s main funding body for social sciences, and he subsequently received some funding from the British Academy. Since 2003, however, his research has been supported by private foundations.

In 2007-10, he received a $260,000 grant (by far the largest he has ever received) from the Hertog Foundation for a book on the origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Hertog Foundation is the philanthropic foundation of the neoconservative businessman, Roger Hertog. It supports a number of right-wing, alarmist groups and extremist pro-Israel organisations. In recent years the Hertog Foundation has supported the Middle East Forum; the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which is used as a source by a number of proposed experts in this case; Commentary magazine, where Professor Karsh is a regular contributor; the Anti-Defamation League, an organisation notorious for smearing critics of Israel as anti-Semites; the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think-tank spun off from the leading US pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC; the Institute for Zionist Strategies, an Israeli organisation known for attacking Israeli academics; and the Centre for Security Policy. Two other notable grant recipients are the Central Fund of Israel and the Israel Independence Fund, both of which support far-right Israeli settlement organisations.


Though Professor Karsh is an accredited scholar, he has no particular expertise in Palestinian politics or society. Moreover, his scholarly impact has declined significantly as he has become closely affiliated with individuals and organisations criticised for spreading propaganda and misinformation. His writings, which have been funded by right-wing foundations, have been widely criticised as propagandistic and unscholarly, and he has been accused of misinterpreting information and quoting out of context. He cannot be considered a trustworthy source of independent expertise.