Joseph Massad reads from the Zionist dictionary

on 36 Comments

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.]

36 Responses

  1. Richard Witty
    April 29, 2010, 9:55 pm

    “Colonialism”. The new very very bad word.

    What is colonialism exactly? What does it mean in fact?

    Is it a relevant descriptor of injustice in fact?

    Or, is it something that everyone does, like driving?

    • Shingo
      April 29, 2010, 10:17 pm

      “Or, is it something that everyone does, like driving?”

      It is something that racists imperialists do, though racists imperialists have been known to drive.  In recent weeks, you seem to be sharing more and more of your appetite of ethnic cleansing.

    • Sumud
      April 30, 2010, 12:37 am

      Was that supposed to be profound?

      link to

      You should know RW, I feel excluded by your maximalist metaphor, you see – I live inner city and don’t drive, using PT, bike and feet instead.

    • hughsansom
      April 30, 2010, 2:44 am

      “Colonialism” is hardly the new bad word. The Indians (of India) and many others (including Jews in the Mandate of Palestine) cited Britains rhetoric against Nazi Germany to oppose British colonialism around the world.

      Nor is colonialism something “everyone does.” The last time any Muslim state engaged in anything like colonialism was arguably when the Moors were in Spain. (The Ottomans controlled much of the Middle East 100 years ago, but they certainly didn’t colonize.) Colonialism is a markedly Western European phenomenon, attempted ineffectually by the Japanese, arguably today by the Chinese in Tibet, but otherwise almost exclusively by the nations descended from European powers, like the US … and Israel. As Joe Sacco recognizes vividly in Palestine (and many others do in many other sources), the colonial Zionism is an Ashkenazi movement. Sephardic Jews didn’t need to establish colonies in the Middle East — they were already there, and the existed in comparative peace with their Muslim cousins (and I mean cousins literally). The European founders of Israel embraced exactly the principles endorsed by other colonial leaders in the Americas, Asia, Africa, including the Lockean notion that we still seem claimed today that “mixing one’s labor” with the land makes it yours.

    • Citizen
      April 30, 2010, 9:21 am

      Who is Richard Witty?
      What does he mean in fact?
      Is he a relevant discriptor of injustice in fact?
      Or, is he simply driving on an apartheid road?

    • Don
      April 30, 2010, 10:13 am

      Richard, colonialism is not difficult to understand, if you would take the time to read just one book, Frantz Fannon’s “Wretched of the Earth”.

      And skip any reviews., wiki’s etc. It is a highly personal book. And quite
      extraordinary. And it will chill your blood. Or should.

      • Richard Witty
        April 30, 2010, 10:24 am

        I read it, a long time ago though, when I was one of the converted.

    • Chaos4700
      April 30, 2010, 10:22 am

      What, you aren’t happy with just attacking commentators, now you have to engage in an all-out assault on semantics?

      • Richard Witty
        April 30, 2010, 10:25 am

        What does colonialism mean, Chaos?

      • Chaos4700
        April 30, 2010, 10:28 am
      • Richard Witty
        April 30, 2010, 12:34 pm

        I’m trying to understand if it is a word that you and others use for a distinct meaning, or if it just means “real bad”.

        I don’t understand why you don’t define it, even how you understand it.

  2. Avi
    April 29, 2010, 11:49 pm

    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.

    The farce known as the Palestinian Authority and its leadership are no less pathetic than the positions they hold.

    Given that the Oslo Accords are null and void at this point, given the fact that Israeli occupation forces continue to raid homes in, supposedly, sovereign Palestinian Authority areas, the PA might as well dissolve and break up. But, the corrupt elite likes the status, the luxury, the comfort.

    Unfortunately, what the PA has always been is a mere Arabic speaker to relay Israel’s orders to the Palestinian public. At this point, Fayaad and Abbas are merely the “public face” of Israeli military occupation, the “spokespeople”.

    They should quit wasting the Palestinians’ time, money and taxes, pack up their lemonade stand of a government and go home. Let grassroots Palestinian organizations lead the way. Let the Palestinians who have sacrificed so much back in charge, not the corrupt puppet junta that is currently at the top at the mercy and discretion of the Israeli government.

  3. thankgodimatheist
    April 30, 2010, 2:58 am

    The Pragmatist is someone who accepts all the above.
    The Extremist is someone who rejects it.
    Massa’d forgot “maximalist”. It’s been quite in use recently..By “moderate” and “liberal” Zionists on this blog.

  4. Cliff
    April 30, 2010, 4:13 am

    Dick Witty in especially pathetic form tonite.

    Anyway, here’s an insightful excerpt from Rick’s blog:

    According to the Zionist dictionary colonialism is defined as peace, while resistance to colonialism is terrorism. Thus, when Israel expands its West Bank colonies (known as “settlements” in the Israeli lexicon — something that sounds peaceful, calming and, well, settled) it is practicing peace.

    The acts of aggression come when the Palestinians, mistakenly seeing the places where they and their ancestors have lived for centuries — if not longer — as their rightful home, resist, and thereby practice terrorism. This terrorism requires the Zionist state to practice self-defense to safeguard their security.

  5. Nevada Ned
    April 30, 2010, 6:03 am

    Another point about colonialism:

    Israeli Jews and Palestinians are not equal. They confront each other as colonizer and colonized.

    And colonialism and racism are Siamese twins. Israel’s racist treatment of the Palestinians is quite typical of a colonial society. While much of the rhetoric about Israel (from both supporters and opponents) has claimed that Israel is unique, in fact it’s fairly typical, of colonial societies.

    What is an unusual case is that in the US white racism (even vehement racism) has not been accompanied by a call for a separate white homeland. And before the 1960’s, public expression of racist sentiment was quite respectable in the US. After the 1960’s open support of racism was no longer respectable, although of course the practice continued.

    • lareineblanche
      April 30, 2010, 11:15 am

      I’ve heard this is termed neocolonialism, without trying to be too pretentious.
      A less open, more subtle form of domination, but no less real for the victims. It’s usually enforced through economic policies. It’s harder to prove, though.
      For example, Mouloud will have a harder time finding a job than his counterpart, Joe Smith, even though he has the same qualifications.

  6. Mooser
    April 30, 2010, 9:41 am

    “While much of the rhetoric about Israel (from both supporters and opponents) has claimed that Israel is unique, in fact it’s fairly typical, of colonial societies.”

    Thanks, Ned, my view exactly. Naturally, Israeli puts a Jewish gloss on colonialism. Which is the strangest and most pathetic thing I’ve ever seen, but let it go.

  7. Richard Witty
    April 30, 2010, 10:26 am

    So, what is colonialism, specifically?

  8. eee
    April 30, 2010, 10:56 am

    Are Israelis colonizing Jaffa and Haifa and Lod?
    Are the Americans colonialists also? After all, they took all the land from the Native Americans.
    Are Australians colonialists?
    Are Canadians colonialists?
    After how many generations does a person being born on a land stop being a colonizer and becomes a native?

    • Chaos4700
      April 30, 2010, 10:59 am

      Did you miss the whole post-WW2 period where the entire world collectively decided to end the practice of empire building because that practice in and of itself has become a threat to human survival?

      Why do you keep wanting to go back to the days when white people were doling out pox-ridden blankets to inconveniently placed native populations?

    • lareineblanche
      April 30, 2010, 11:40 am

      After how many generations does a person being born on a land stop being a colonizer and becomes a native?

      I think that’s a good question to ask. We’ve been over this before.
      Somewhere in the middle of the 20th century, we decided that it’s illegal, pure and simple, to acquire land by agression. That’s it. In a strange way, the settler movement is a leftover from a past time.
      When is it no longer possible to reverse the process? I think the tentacles of colonial settlers in the WB are just hoping to gradually become “natives”, and as time goes by, it will become more and more difficult to question their legitimacy. It will eventually become a “given”, even though at the start the land was taken. It will seem inevitable, even though it is still reversible. We’re in the middle of that right now. There is legislation and resolutions on this (I’m not savy enough to cite any of it here), but the rule of law doesn’t hold much sway for those holding the guns. I said I wasn’t going to talk to you anymore, but I think you’re progressing! They upgraded you!
      Am I making sense to you, or not?

      • eee
        April 30, 2010, 11:44 am

        I do not know yet if you are making sense. I need an answer to the following question:
        Are Israelis colonizing Jaffa and Haifa and Lod? Are Israelis colonialists inside the green line?

      • sherbrsi
        April 30, 2010, 11:48 am

        I do not know yet if you are making sense.

        More proof that you are only interested in discussion where you get to hear only what you want to hear.

        Sort of like your love for the US as long as it keeps giving Israel money, but when it promotes its own interests, you start talking about “Andrew Jackson the ethnic cleanser.”

      • lareineblanche
        April 30, 2010, 12:19 pm

        I do not know yet if you are making sense – lol
        That’s my fault then.
        Are Israelis colonizing Jaffa and Haifa and Lod?
        According to international law, no. We’ve changed the subject here.

      • Chu
        April 30, 2010, 12:28 pm

        Why don’t you man up and say this is wrong and I will work to change it? It could be your 12 step process, eee.

      • demize
        April 30, 2010, 8:58 pm

        They sure weren’t colonising Lodz. In fact they should think about returning, in droves if possible.

    • Chu
      April 30, 2010, 12:23 pm

      Oh, I get it. Everyone else did it, but since the world hates Jews they are being singled out. It’s a global conspiracy against Israel.

  9. demize
    April 30, 2010, 9:00 pm

    Colonizing. Godammit >;<

  10. demize
    April 30, 2010, 9:03 pm

    BTW. OT. Did anybody catch the full page “scare ad” in the NY.Times today? The logos of the sponsoring orgs.are quite telling.

Leave a Reply