Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Massad Op-Ed Saga In GIFs

On May 14, Professor Joseph Massad published an editorial on Al-Jazeera about Zionism and he was like:

And some readers were like:

Some reactions were stronger than others:

So Al-Jazeera tried to be like:

And by Saturday it was like:

The piece had been removed from the site.  Advocates for free speech were confused like:

Some were incredulous:

And soon they had al-Jazeera on the defensive like:

So yesterday Al-Jazeera was like:

And reposted the article with an explanation walking back their actions like:

Some readers were like:

While others were like:

But ultimately it helps to put everything in perspective:

Monday, May 20, 2013

Massad Is A Dangerous Distraction

A Ramallah-based Ph.D candidate and I engaged recently in a debate over the exact same issues Professor Joseph Massad of Columbia University raised in a now-infamous editorial last week on al-Jazeera.  Our discussion focused on the same topic as Massad's piece: Zionist coordination with the Nazi regime.  To say that such coordination occurred in a limited scope is a matter of plain historical fact.  It is entirely legitimate for my colleague and I to discuss these issues with the basic mutual respect we showed each other.

But Professor Massad shows little respect for his audience or for history.  At a core passage in the piece, he quotes Theodore Herzl's Der Judenstaat as saying, "The unfortunate Jews are now carrying the seeds of anti-Semitism into England."  Massad uses as evidence that Zionism sees anti-Semitism as valid and encouraged it.  He ignores the next paragraph where Herzl describes anti-Semitism in 1800's Europe: "In countries where we have lived for centuries we are still cried down as strangers. and often by those whose ancestors were not yet domiciled in the land where Jews had already had experience of suffering."

Massad's over-generalization in the lengthy piece equates the actions of Jewish Zionists with those of the Nazis.  This is deeply offensive to Jews and supporters of Israel, especially given that the Zionists who worked with the Nazi regime were only a small subset of the diverse global Zionist movement.  This movement also included 50,000 Jewish Americans who rallied for a Nazi boycott under the organization of American Zionist Stephen S. Wise.  

Palestinians like Professor Massad deplore - and rightfully so - efforts to hide IDF participation in the forcible removal of Palestinians from their homes in 1948 or the denial of their struggle for national recognition.  But Massad's argument just creates the same pain on the other side of the conflict.  His piece stokes divisions between sides rather than dealing in a reality in which both Zionist Israelis and anti-Zionist Palestinians must negotiate a final status agreement to avoid mutual destruction.  

After six days of hosting Professor Massad's piece on its website, Al-Jazeera removed the editorial.  Immediately after, accusations flew that al-Jazeera was engaging in "censorship" stoked by "Zionists."  As if the media organization which refers consistently to Israel's capital as "occupied Jerusalem" were concerned primarily with not offending Zionists.  As if the content in the article was not itself highly incendiary and factually incorrect.

The idea that removing an editorial after six days constitutes censorship is ludicrous.  A 15-page Justice Department document on surveillance guidelines with all 15 pages blacked out is censorship.  Trying to ban Harry Potter because it indoctrinates Wicca is censorship.  Al-Jazeera removing an editorial off its own website after running it for six days is not censorship.  The piece is still on other websites and enjoyed wide dissemination.

More concerning, the idea that influential Zionists are responsible for censoring arguments that challenge their beliefs is unsubstantiated.  In the rush to stake out victimhood status, Massad's defenders miss the forest for the trees.  The Massad article is offensive because it accuses Jews of complicity in the creation of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, not because it identifies linkages between the Nazi government and Zionist elements.  The manically articulated arguments to the contrary reek of a conspiracy theory along the lines of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.  

For proponents of the censorship conspiracy, playing the victim of discourse policing is a cowardly defense.  It is not anti-semitic to point out linkages between Zionists and Nazis.  But it is blatantly anti-semitic to extend this evidence to the conclusion to claim that Jews were complicit in the forces of their own destruction and are trying to censor this "truth."  Professor Massad's tinfoil hat-wearing defenders are without a shred of justification to stand on.  And in the blame-shifting and rhetorical house of mirrors they construct, real people suffer.  Israelis and Palestinians gain no benefit from the circle jerking of ideologues.  Rather, they benefit from careful historical examination and the confrontation of history as a basis for a sustainable future.

Ultimately, Professor Massad's piece is little more than a dangerous distraction from the real and important work ahead.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Summary Of The Syria Sh** Show

Israel is the Middle East's only liberal democracy.  It strikes Syria, but not for liberal reasons.  Syria, which technically has been at war with Israel for 40 years, declares war on Israel.  The Israeli strike targets weapons and is condemned by Iran.  Iran condemns the strike on weapons it denies trafficking in the first place.  Although this trafficking has been going on for years, the Arab League condemns the Israeli strike as a "violation of an Arab state's sovereignty."  Egypt, a country which is prosecuting those expressing dissent, condemns Israel for violating "international principles."  

Or as it's known in the Middle East: Sunday morning.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Preconditions And Key Conditions: Distinction Without A Difference

Prime Minister Netanyahu reiterated today that Israel has no preconditions for peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.  However, he indicated that Palestinian recognition of a Jewish State would be necessary to "finish negotiations."  Such recognition is highly unlikely, since Palestinians understand recognition of Israel as a Jewish State to be a denial of the historic Arab Muslim presence in what is today Israel.

The statement raises the important issue of preconditions in Middle East peace talks.  Israel has been keen to highlight its willingness to sit down "tomorrrow" with Palestinian negotiators to discuss final status issues.  For their part, the Palestinian leadership have listed preconditions.  Chief among these is asking Israel stop settlement building entirely - a position which President Obama has regarded with dismay as of late.

After a brief Twitter exchange with Professor Brent Sasley today, Prime Minister Netanyahu's Spokesman Ofir Gendelman took the time to clarify for me that for Israel's part, Palestinian recognition of a Jewish State is not a precondition.  Rather, it is a "key component in ending the conflict."  Yet in a practical sense, this terminology is a distinction without a difference.

Let's say you have a good friend who has recently decided to become vegan.  A precondition is telling her, "You can only come for dinner tonight if you will agree to have chicken soup."  A key condition is "You can come for dinner tonight but keep in mind that I'm making chicken soup."  In both cases, knowing the friend has chosen to be vegan, the outcome will be the same.  Whether it's framed as the former or the latter makes no practical difference.

Critically, you have every right to serve whatever you like in your own home.  And Israel as the Jewish State has every right to ask for recognition as such.  But if it behooves you to see your friend, maybe you should just watch a movie instead.  That doesn't mean you have to stop making chicken soup for dinner.  You just have to not let it get in the way of seeing your friend since that is the outcome that really matters to you.  In other words, focusing on the outcome versus the principle allows you to get the best outcome possible.

Outcome-based negotiation will be critical for Israelis and Palestinians to make progress.  Standing on principle is both justified great for politics.  But it devastates the lives of those who suffer the consequences of political conflict in the Middle East.  Palestinians and Israelis - and the U.S. for that matter - have all stood on principle historically, and no final status agreement has been set in place as a result.  Changing the status quo in the region requires changing our collective approach to negotiations.

Official Palestinian recognition of Israel's Jewish nature is important - very important.  But it is not more important than the well-being of innocent civilians in Sderot who run into bomb shelters with 15 seconds' notice.  It is not more important than the lives of IDF soldiers who put their lives on the line on behalf of the State.  And it is not more important than the shared desire among Israelis to see the next generation come of age in a region free of the violence and conflict.  In an emergency like this one, triage is the best strategy.  Even an imperfect peace agreement is better than this status quo.  And focusing on problems which are both critical and treatable is the best way for a Jewish, democratic, secure state of Israel to ensure its national well-being.