The patent absurdity of much of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict begs for a satirical treatment. On Wednesday night at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs, Professor Joseph Massad answered the call with an incisive and funny lecture on "the language of Zionism."
No one will be be surprised by the overarching theme of his talk -- Israel as a colonial state, etc. But students told me they were surprised by Massad's approach, a marked contrast, they said, from his normally buttoned-down manner in lecturing.
Sponsored by the Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine, the speech gave an abridged version of the dictionary according to Zionism, backing it up with scholarly facts and quotes galore (always book-ended by the spoken "quote... unquote"). Throughout the speech, Massad built upon his dictionary until he ended with this brief statement of Zionist language:
Colonialism is peace, is security.
Anti-colonialism is war, is terrorism.
The West Bank is half the West Bank.
A Bantustan is a sovereign, independent state.
The Pragmatist is someone who accepts all the above.
The Extremist is someone who rejects it.
The language needs little explanation, save the third point, where Massad presented a critical look at the numbers on the West Bank -- expanding settlements, the growth of annexed Jerusalem (which takes land from the West Bank), the wall, the Jewish-only roads. All this ends up, according to Massad, with the current Israeli/ U.S./ PA discourse on the Wes Bank actually referring to 49 to 53 percent of what was the Jordanian-annexed West Bank in 1950.
The lexicon frames the conflict and distinctions between players are made "between those who accept the language of Zionism and those who don't."
Massad offered the Fatah's PA as an example. PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is fluent in the language. Despite this, Massad points out, the PA's goal of a two-state solution remains an event of ever diminishing likelihood. "Even learning the language of Zionism and speaking it fluently," he said, "it still has not happened."
It was only one of the downers that Massad emphatically stated in his talk ("Unfortunately, there is no Palestinian civil society"). But Massad's talk gave a fresh and engaging perspective to many of the facts, figures and themes of the conflict.
After he finished, the crowd, scattered thinly across SIPA's large auditorium, showed Massad their appreciation with clamorous applause. As for Massad's usual critics-- they were there in the crowd, but none asked questions, perhaps because they did not want to open themselves up to charges of being anti-semantic.
[Editor's note: Another friend of this site, Rick Congress, was also on hand last night, and filed a sharp report on the talk here.]