Exile and the Prophetic: Disappearing Massad, disappearing Palestine

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

Al Jazeera pulled Joseph Massad’s article – “The Last of the Anti-Semites” – from their website yesterday.   They caved, it seems, to Jewish pressures and perhaps the profit motive, future licensing and alike.  I leave that analysis for others.

The fall out is likely to escalate at Columbia University where Massad teaches.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Congressional hearings are in the mix.  Massad touched the third rail of American innocence.  Could Israel – and “white” Jews – really be what Massad say they are?

Massad’s article is disappearing.  Like disappearing Palestine, it will reappear.  Neither are going away.

As I wrote in my two recent posts that refer to Massad, he’s a tough cookie.  Massad lacks restraint on issues that touch on the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  He either doesn’t understand or doesn’t want to understand the nuanced, ever-moving red lines that Jewish and Palestinian intellectuals and activists – at least in the European- American discourse – have agreed to respect. 

Massad’s rhetoric is far removed from that of the late Edward Said.  Massad’s notion of Israel as the ultimate victory of the last anti-Semites – which for Massad includes Zionist Jews as anti-Semites – moves far beyond Said’s claim of being the last cosmopolitan Jew.  Said’s reference was a lament. The macho-nationalism of the contemporary Jewish establishments in America and Israel had taken over the Jewish tradition.  Massad isn’t lamenting anything except his people’s dwindling prospects.

I wonder, though, if they are tied together, noting the deepening crisis of Palestinian life.  Where would Said be today on these issues? 

No matter how tough the going gets, Palestinian intellectuals and activists have agreed that questioning initial Jewish motives in settling Palestine and discussions about Zionist-Nazi connections, then and now, are off limits.  Palestinians have also agreed to police anti-Semitism wherever it rears its ugly head.

When I heard Massad in Oslo on the 15th anniversary of the Oslo Accords, I thought the lid was about to come off the Israel/Palestine discourse agreements.  Subsequent conferences on the One-State option I spoke at, though conducted with a great and dignified restraint, confirmed my view.

My sense is that the lid some Palestinians want to come off relates as much to the Palestinian Authority and the Arab governments as it does to Jews and Israel.  Read Massad carefully.  Though his criticism of the Palestinian Authority and Arab governments are often one-liners, they’re tough ones.  It’s bound to ruffle feathers. 

This could be another reason for Massad’s disappearing article.  With the recent Arab League land swap agreement, it seems that the Arab countries are all-in on Israel being integrated into the Middle East military security structure.  What they don’t need are Palestinian intellectuals and activists messing with their political alliances, especially those sponsored by the United States.  Al Jazeera is policing its own.

If you remember, Said was merciless on the Palestinian Authority and the Arab governments after the Oslo Accords were signed.  As his health deteriorated, Said went ballistic.  Again, the differences between Massad and Said are instructive here.  Is Massad the inheritor of Said’s mantle in these changing times?

Massad and other Palestinian intellectuals and activists want to prevent the Palestinian Authority and the Arab governments from signing away their birthright.  Hitting at Jews and Jewish history, making Jewishness invisible in the movement to free Palestinians, is partly a strategic ploy to regain traction in the context of an agreed upon disappearing Palestine.

Whatever their ultimate objective, the lid, somewhat ajar, remains in place.  Is Massad taking another swing at it?

I am much closer to Said whom I knew as a friend.  Massad’s historical rendering of Zionism, the various faces of Nazism and who is and isn’t a Semite are over the top.  On Jewish history, Massad is simplistic.  His generalizations are too sweeping. In the end there’s little room for Jews of European and American background to breathe Jewish without being implicated in atrocity. 

Having pointed to these flaws, however, take a look at those who are up in arms about him.  These analysts and officials primary aim is to bury crimes against the Palestinian people in the name of peace that doesn’t include justice.  Talk about simplistic analysis!

Years ago I lectured in Scotland. In the question and answer period, a young Palestinian woman rose up and thanked me for my presentation. She asked what she was to do with her grandparents’ village near Tel Aviv.   Her grandparents, along with the rest of her family, were stuck in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon.  They wanted to return home.

The young woman clearly violated the red lines of respectable discourse.  Yet her innocence betrayed her.  She had just arrived in Europe and hadn’t read the Israel/Palestine discourse rule book.  She didn’t know what she could and couldn’t say. 

The rules of engagement have been muted for too long.  Sure everyone gets to hear what they rather not hear.  Tough.  There’s too much suffering on the ground to keep our polite white gloves on.

 Massad’s words should be heard as a broadside about his people’s suffering that all the red lines in the world have failed to address. 

Let Massad speak unfettered.  Let the chips fall where they may. 

While we’re listening, follow the money, security and political alliances trail.  You might end up in a different place than Massad’s accusers want you to be.

About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is retired Director and Professor of Jewish Studies at Baylor University and author of The Heartbeat of the Prophetic which can be found at Amazon and www.newdiasporabooks.com

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