I haven’t heard the word used before, so here goes my version: Ziosplaining would be the efforts of Zionists of so-called moderate stripe, who are endlessly pained by reality, to explain to Palestinians (and the world) that they have no choice but to support the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Moreover, as these Zionists implore Palestinians to understand, they seek to convey how deep their own suffering at being occupiers runs—if only, if only, that is, those rightless, stateless Palestinians could understand how much grief it gives the Israeli occupiers to do what they have no choice but to do (build illegal settlements on stolen land, imprison vast numbers of the population, detain without charge (including children), engage in ethnic cleansing, kill with impunity, etc.). If only the Palestinians could grasp the essential goodness and justness of the occupiers and accept life under occupation, then perhaps everyone could at last live happily ever after.
Thus, we have this latest effort in the genre, Yossi Klein Halevi’s Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor. That neighbor, by the way, is the author’s imaginary neighbor—the only one possible for such an exercise, because few and far between would be the Palestinians who wouldn’t gag at this patronizing effort to have their situation “explained” to them.
If you’ve been “‘splained” to in any context, you know what I’m talking about.
Now I hadn’t even heard of Klein Halevi’s latest book until seeing the review entitled “A Palestinian Responds to His Israeli Neighbor” by Raja Shehadeh in yesterday’s New York Times. Shehadeh, for your information, is not an imaginary construct at all but is, rather, a renowned flesh-and-blood Palestinian “neighbor” who takes seriously Klein Halevi’s challenge to respond. And Klein Halevi has proposed, I’ve read, even to publish a second book, a collection of responses to Letters from Palestinians.
Could it be that Klein Halevi’s book is not actually addressed to Palestinians at all, as it purports to be, but is, instead, just the latest of politically “moderate” feel-good apologias for the occupation aimed at Jews who are not quite comfortable with occupation and apartheid and need some balm to soothe their nagging cognitive dissonance? If that’s so, then I guess one could argue that the Times, in inviting a Palestinian “neighbor” to respond to Klein Halevi in a review, is a “hit job,” as the critic Liel Leibovitz charges in the Tablet. After all, the paper could have invited one of the moderate-sounding, slightly uncomfortable Israeli or American Jewish defenders of the occupation to offer instead just the perfect balance of loving, conscience-easing critique (“tough love” is the term often used). There’s an endless pool of Ziosplainers out there to ‘splain why it (the occupation) is really not so bad—and therefore, if only the Palestinians could be a little more generous . . .
Shehadeh writes in his “Dear Yossi” letter that the goal of the book is admirable, but that:
reading your words, I wonder how aware you are of what our feelings are on the other side. Though you do at least acknowledge that there is a Palestinian “counterstory,” one of “invasion, occupation and expulsion,” a history of “dislocation” and “humiliating defeats,” the sentiment you most express, again and again in your letters, is how deeply we, the Palestinians, misunderstand you. It is our ignorance of your history and religion and attachment to the land that you seek to correct here.
Over the years I myself have made serious attempts to come closer to my Israeli neighbors, to form friendships and appreciate their worldviews, and many of my books have been translated and published in Israel. Yet in reading your letters I couldn’t help feeling condescended to — an unfortunate reaction since I am, I believe, your intended interlocutor. In one of your letters you wonder how your people can “empower” mine. But it seems the wrong question when all most of us wish is for Israel to withdraw from the territories it has occupied and leave us to go on with our lives.
It also doesn’t help that while claiming a new understanding of and sensitivity to our plight, you rehearse old and discredited narratives, . . .
Your letters seem like an intellectual exercise, which is a privilege that you enjoy but we do not. “If you were in my place, neighbor, what would you do?” you ask. But we are not in your place. . . .
[P]erhaps the problem with your letters is that they don’t read as if they are seeking an answer, hoping for that Palestinian neighbor — me — to respond, but instead seem like lectures, half a conversation with a partner who is expected to stay quiet and listen.
It’s true that I am writing having not read the book itself but only two articles about the book—Shehadeh and Leibovitz’s critique. But I feel confident enough in my knowledge of the situation in Israel/Palestine to be able to comment.
Therefore, in the interests of offering up a fuller picture, here is the link to Liel Leibovitz at the Tablet: “The New York Times’ Hit-Job on a Pro-Israel Book Is a New Low.” It’s the perfect opportunity for Leibovitz to engage in his own Ziosplaining disquisition.
Leibovitz directs his rage at the Times for publishing such a “malicious review” with its “noxious premise” against Klein Halevi’s “soulful and nuanced book,” this “moving and eminently deserving book.” Indeed, I see that Leibovitz explicitly resents in Shehadeh’s critique of Klein Halevi’s book the perceived crime of “mansplaining.” Per my own thought, as I’ve said, the problem, far from being misperceived, is just the latest case of out-and-out Ziosplaining.
In conclusion, permit me to repeat myself. As I see it, Leibovitz is essentially asking: Why on earth did the Times invite a Palestinian to respond to Klein Halevi’s “letter to a Palestinian neighbor” when it could have invited—why not?—perhaps, I surmise, even this very Liel Leibovitz or at least an Israeli in the consensus to write the Ziosplaining review of the latest Ziosplaining book? Alternatively, he might complain, did the Times even try to find that “good” Palestinian who would write the review that lavished praise on this “eminently deserving” book?