Joseph Massad is an Associate Professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University. He is a Palestinian born in Jordan in 1963. In 1998, Massad earned a doctorate at Columbia University where he studied under Edward Said. His most recent book Desiring Arabs (2007), which some consider an extension of Said’s Orientalism, received wide critical acclaim from scholars whose work concerns Arabic culture and history, as well as those whose field is sexual theory.
In 2004 Massad was at the center of a group of Columbia faculty that was accused by mostly Jewish students of what they considered unfair treatment because of the students’ pro-Israel views. Many viewed the campaign against the professors as an attempt, supported by Israel lobby groups, to inhibit political speech critical of Israel. In the end, Massad and the others were exonerated by a university committee.
Despite his own experience of accusations from pro-Israel groups, Massad was one of a group of leftists who were highly critical of the John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt claim that the powerful Israel lobby is able to force the U.S. to adopt a foreign policy which is against its own interests. Massad opined that that lobby simply supports an imperialist U.S. foreign policy which naturally favors Israel.
Above is a lecture he presented at Austin Community College on October 23, 2013. In it Massad details the history of Zionism, which he sees as a racist, colonial-settler movement that has always intended to subdue the indigenous Palestinian population, despite its public pronouncements that Israel desires peace. He argues that in the early 1970s, the United States joined Israel’s war against the Palestinians by initiating talks which led to the Camp David peace treaty and to Egypt’s complete capitulation to Israeli demands of its acceptance of Palestinian defeat.
Massad also accuses the Palestinian Liberation Organization of abandoning the liberation struggle decades ago and acting as collaborators in the Israeli colonial project. He dismisses the two-state solution as a ruse to promote Zionist expansion and control. Massad mocks the reframing of the liberation struggle as a “conflict,” which he insists shows an acceptance of Israeli claims that we are talking about a disagreement rather than the suppression of political and human rights. Despite the perfidy of its leadership who has surrendered, Massad says that the Palestinian people have never given up their struggle for justice.
Massad’s vision is not one that many want to hear. Some probably would say it ignores all positive currents and hopes; that it is too cynical. But given the worsening situation on the ground, the mockery that is passing for negotiations, and the continual expansion of the Israeli settlements, maybe this pessimistic view can teach us something important. A victim’s righteous anger may be difficult to encounter, but especially when it comes from someone as brilliant as Joseph Massad, we ignore it at our own peril.