Exile and the Prophetic: Joseph Massad strikes again

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.

Joseph Massad is at it again.  He never seems to go away.  Good for him!

Massad is a Jordanian-born, Palestinian and a professor at Columbia University.  He gained notoriety in a tenure battle that featured a ferocious below the belt campaign against him. 

Massad is a subversive intellectual.  He takes no prisoners.

I have been writing about him in my new book, Future Prophetic.  There I focus on an explosive essay he published in Al-Ahram on the 60th anniversary of the Nakba in 2008 – “Resisting the Nakba.”  It’s a long essay and I quote his powerful words extensively.  Massad needs to be heard on his own terms. 

I just ran across Massad’s contribution to the 65th anniversary of the Nakba, this time published on Al Jazeera’s website – “The Last of the Semites.” The subtitle is telling: “It is Israel’s claims that it represents and speaks for all Jews that are the most anti-Semitic claims of all.” 

I met Massad briefly in Oslo, Norway at a conferencing analyzing the Oslo Accords on its 15th anniversary.  The conference wasn’t high quality though some of the guests were certainly high profile.  Included were several of those Norwegians who helped negotiate the Accords – they were underwhelming to put it mildly – and Martin Indyk – former American Ambassador to Israel.  He was underwhelming, too. 

I spoke on a panel with Indyk and when I mentioned the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948, he winced.  Or was it a groan.  Anyway, his reaction was immediate.   He doesn’t want to be associated with such a politically charged historical thought.  He hopes his attempts to sell Palestinians down the river will be hidden from view. 

In a private discussion, Indyk spoke softly as if we were on the same team holding a sidebar discussion during a negotiating session.  He whispered how close “we” were to solving the Israel/Palestine issue when he was at the negotiating table. 

I remember thinking that if I were a Palestinian, Indyk would be the last person I’d want helping me out of the ongoing Nakba jam.  As a Jew, if I was in the proverbial foxhole I’d choose Massad as a partner over Indyk any day of the week.  Whatever my disagreements with Massad, I know he’d level with me.

It’s a double humiliation for Palestinians to be “served” by the diplomats who facilitate the endless peace process.  I’m not sure who is worse, the Israelis who have no time for Palestinians or those who pretend to negotiate with their interests at heart.

I heard Massad speak at the conference and was impressed.  Later, I saw him at a restaurant.  I was seated alone, he was with friends.  When I left the restaurant, I walked over to his table and shook his hand.  I thanked him for his words.   

Massad’s 65th anniversary essay differs markedly from his 60th anniversary effort.  His previous essay hardly mentions Jews or Jewish history.  He seemed intent on emphasizing that for Palestinians, Jews are neither here nor there.  The issue for Palestinians is Palestine.  What Jews do with their history is up to them.   Just stop trespassing in Palestine.

The Holocaust reference in Massad’s 60th anniversary piece is limited to the Jewish Councils of Europe that governed the ghettos the Nazis created.  Massad inverts the reference.  He believes that the Jewish Councils collaborated with the Nazis – as the Palestinian Authority collaborates with Israel. 

Massad is on the hunt again this year but this time his focus is on Jews, Jewish history and Zionism before and after the creation of the state of Israel.   His article is broken down into four subheadings which provide a sense of the direction he takes:  Assimilating Jews into European culture; Anti-Semitic chain of pro-Zionist enthusiasts; The pro-Zionist policies of the Nazis; Commitment to white supremacy; Euro-American anti-Jewish tradition.

Massad’s argument is wide-ranging and covers epochs of Jewish history in relation to Europe, the United States, the Arab world and Palestine.  Suffice it to say that Zionism comes off as a fascist force with colonial designs, colonial backings and colonial practices.  The idea of redeeming Zionism from its colonialism is laughable – and criminal.  Here are some other themes:

Anti-Jewishness is Western as is Zionism. 

Zionism is the product of collaboration between Jews who wanted out of Europe – to dominate others –  and the Western powers that wanted Jews out of Europe. 

Nazi policies in relation to Jews aren’t foreign to the West, they continue today – for the Nazis as well as Europeans today its best for Jews to be outside of Europe. 

Israeli and Jewish leadership are in the Nazi boat, capitalizing on Nazi attitudes and displaying their own version. 

The Jewish masses may have been hoodwinked by Zionism but they also benefit from white supremacy and enjoy their elevation to this prized, though criminal status.

On Jews, white supremacy and a continuation of Nazi-like policies toward colonized people, Massad is brutal.  He analyzes and quotes from Aimé Césaire’s seminal work, “Discourse on Colonialism:”

Aimé Césaire understood this process very well. In his famous speech on colonialism, he affirmed that the retrospective view of European Christians about Nazism is that:

It is barbarism, but the supreme barbarism, the crowning barbarism that sums up all the daily barbarisms; that it is Nazism, yes, but that before [Europeans] were its victims, they were its accomplices; and they tolerated that Nazism before it was inflicted on them, that they absolved it, shut their eyes to it, legitimised it, because, until then, it had been applied only to non-European peoples; that they have cultivated that Nazism, that they are responsible for it, and that before engulfing the whole of Western, Christian civilisation in its reddened waters, it oozes, seeps, and trickles from every crack. 

That for Césaire the Nazi wars and holocaust were European colonialism turned inwards is true enough. But since the rehabilitation of Nazism’s victims as white people, Europe and its American accomplice would continue their Nazi policy of visiting horrors on non-white people around the world, on Korea, on Vietnam and Indochina, on Algeria, on Indonesia, on Central and South America, on Central and Southern Africa, on Palestine, on Iran, and on Iraq and Afghanistan. 

“The rehabilitation of Nazism’s victims as white people” – that is, Jews.  Massad doesn’t say this directly but the implication is clear:  Jews becoming white, well, is there much or any difference today between Jews and the Nazis who persecuted them? 

Becoming white and being accepted as such, “visiting horrors on non-white people around the world” becomes routine.  Massad believes this has become the acceptable, even normative Jewishness.

Or is this a specific European- American Jewishness seen from the perspective of the non-Jewish non-white world and the non-white Jewish world?

Harsh thoughts with so many implications it requires much more analysis.  Is Massad overreaching?  Perhaps.  Is Massad wrong?  Even if he is partially right, the Jewish condition is dire. 

Massad closes his essay on the issue of anti-Semitism:

Today, Israel and the Western powers want to elevate anti-Semitism to an international principle around which they seek to establish full consensus. They insist that for there to be peace in the Middle East, Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims must become, like the West, anti-Semites by espousing Zionism and recognising Israel’s anti-Semitic claims. Except for dictatorial Arab regimes and the Palestinian Authority and its cronies, on this 65th anniversary of the anti-Semitic conquest of Palestine by the Zionists, known to Palestinians as the Nakba, the Palestinian people and the few surviving anti-Zionist Jews continue to refuse to heed this international call and incitement to anti-Semitism. They affirm that they are, as the last of the Semites, the heirs of the pre-WWII Jewish and Palestinian struggles against anti-Semitism and its Zionist colonial manifestation. It is their resistance that stands in the way of a complete victory for European anti-Semitism in the Middle East and the world at large.

Well, with Massad we’ve come a long inverted way.  He sees the Jewishness that most Jews celebrate as colonial and – criminal. 

Massad stops short – I think – of a Euro-American Jewish Zionist conspiracy to dominate the world.

Understanding Jewishness at war with the world and with Jewishness itself.  It’s a tough sell.

Massad takes no prisoners.

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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