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Posts

Palestinian voices not heard in media debate on MidEast

The lead article is by Jonathan Cook, followed by Rhania Khalek who helped instigate the row about The Nation; Eric Alterman is third and last is a piece by Philip Weiss and Adam Horowitz, Mondoweiss. Some suggestions of Palestinian and Arab writers are in Notes and links.

Time to turn up the heat on the Nation

By Jonathan Cook,blog
January 16, 2014

Liberals can sound pretty pathetic when their back is to the wall, and liberal Zionists even more so. A case in point is Eric Alterman.

Rania Khalek has initiated important criticisms, amplified by both Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss, that not only establishment media such as the NYT but also the most progressive media in the US, such as the Nation, have effectively marginalised Palestinian and Arab voices on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, preferring to allow Israeli and Jewish voices to dominate.

The Nation’s editors were especially rattled when Naomi Klein agreed on Twitter that the magazine “can and should do much better”.

One editor, Richard Kim, tried to defend the Nation’s record, arguing that it had published 14 pieces by Palestinian writers over the past six years – or just over two a year.

As Ali Abunimah noted:

Kim did not produce a list showing how many articles focusing on Palestine and the Israelis had been written by Israelis or Jewish Americans. If he did, he might have had to point out, for example, that the number of Nation articles written by just two Israelis – Neve Gordon and Bernard Avishai – added up to 34 pieces!

Now Alterman, a Nation regular, has waded in, desperately trying to justify his own privileged place at the Nation commenting on the Middle East – remember it was he who got to critique Max Blumenthal’s superb book Goliath for the magazine with one of the most petulant reviews ever. He is in similar mood about the latest efforts to hold the Nation accountable for its claims to be a progressive magazine on Israel-Palestine.

In his latest column, Alterman casually dismisses criticisms even from the Nation’s editors that in an earlier piece he inaccurately characterised Khalek as arguing that there were “too many Jews” writing in the Nation. He argues that she may not have actually made that claim but his point stands nonetheless. It seems the facts – that Khalek was arguing for better representation of Arab opinion, not suppression of Jewish or Israeli opinion – are irrelevant to Alterman.

He then claims that the Nation includes Jewish and Israeli anti-Zionists, as though this is a rebuttal of Khalek’s argument. It seems we don’t need to know what Palestinians think themselves because, according to Alterman, Jewish anti-Zionists can speak for them.

Next he has the chutzpah to argue that the reason there are so many Jews writing on Israel-Palestine at the Nation is because, well, it sounds like he’s saying it’s because they are more intelligent or articulate than Palestinians. But I wouldn’t want to be as loose with the facts as Alterman is, so let’s do him the courtesy of quoting him:

To complain about too many Jews writing on the Middle East or any other issue is to essentialize a racial/ethnic characteristic and ignore the quality of argument and evidence. … Either the arguments are compelling or not. Either the evidence support them or it does not. The race/ethnicity/gender of the person making an argument is, or ought to be, irrelevant. … This is not politics we are talking about, where representation obviously matters, but the world of argument and ideas, which ought to rise or fall strictly on their moral and intellectual merit.

Hmmm. Is he saying that there are so few Arabs / Palestinians writing about Israel-Palestine because they have no credible arguments, or because they are just too dumb to make a credible case, so Jews need to do it for them? Either way the word “bigot”, liberal or otherwise, springs to mind.

Then he switches to a strawman.

Should The Nation limit the number of African-Americans it publishes on civil rights? Should it limit the number of Latinos it publishes on immigration? Should it limit the number of women it publishes on feminism? Should it limit the number of whites, non-Hispanics and men respectively as well? And what, pray tell, is the difference?

Let’s rephrase those questions to get a different perspective – one that Alterman from his privileged position may have missed: Should The Nation allow white Americans to dominate the coverage of civil rights? Should it allow non-Hispanics to dominate the coverage of immigration? Should it allow men to dominate the coverage of feminism?

  
Rania Khalek [left] blogs at Dispatches from the underclass. Khalek is a writer and activist with ‘a passion for social justice and independent media’. She lives in Northern Virginia. R, Susan Abulhawa ‘s most recent article can be read here –  Israel is panicking.

The answer is obvious. It would be grossly unfair for a progressive publication to let men dictate the discussion of feminism, or whites dominate the discussion about civil rights. In fact, it would be so patently unprogressive that it should not need to be stated in those cases. So why is it not clear to Alterman in this case?

Next he segues into a baffling and brief discussion about who is a Jew.

How is The Nation to decide how many Jews are too many when Jews themselves cannot agree on who’s Jewish?

But again that is not the point. Khalek and others are not waging a McCarthyite campaign against Jews at the Nation; they are asking for the door to be a little more open to Palestinians and Arabs writing on an issue on which they may have a perspective that needs to be taken into account.

It is time for reform at the Nation and other publications. Alterman and his editors need to starting feeling the heat.


Does The Nation have a problem with Palestinians?

Rania Khalek, Electronic Intifada
December 19, 2013

As the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel gains traction across the United States, progressive media outlets are being forced to acknowledge Israeli apartheid like never before.

While it’s certainly an improvement from just five years ago, when pro-Palestine views were relegated to the most marginal corners of the left, the coverage has still been problematic, most notably for its near-blanket exclusion of Palestinian and Arab voices.

This dynamic was on full display in recent days when a debate erupted at The Nation over the National Council of the American Studies Association’s decision to endorse the academic boycott of Israel. In the end, The Nation published a total of five pieces on the topic.

Four were written by Jewish Americans (Michelle Goldberg, Judith Butler, Alex Lubin and Ari Y. Kelman, and just one by a Palestinian (Omar Barghouti). The Nation hosted a similarly disparate forum last year featuring three Jewish Americans and again just one Palestinian.

 

 
L, Tariq Dana, you can watch/hear his lecture Palestinian Civil Society, What Went Wrong here; R, Sam Bahour

To be fair, the majority of pieces in the latest debate were in favor of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). But that doesn’t excuse the fact that when it comes to Israel and Palestine, The Nation habitually reinforces Israeli apartheid by privileging Jewish voices over Palestinian ones.

It’s highly unlikely that The Nation would ever host a forum on rape culture featuring four men and one woman, or a panel on racism made up of three white people and one African American. Yet somehow, four Jews and one Palestinian qualify as a “diversity of views,” according to its editor and publisher.

It doesn’t help that, based on a review of bloggers and columnists, it appears that The Nation employs no Palestinians or Arabs, and, as far as I could tell, none of their writers identifies as Muslim. Whose fault is that?

Hasbara playbook

It’s also telling that the first to write about the American Studies Association vote at The Nation was Michelle Goldberg, whose piece was filled with so many inaccuracies it required two major corrections and prompted a fiery response from Judith Butler.

Though Goldberg claims to be “ambivalent” about BDS, she expresses far more concern for how a boycott might inconvenience Israeli academics than she does for the brutal consequences of Israeli apartheid on occupied, terrorized and dispossessed Palestinians.

Echoing anti-BDS propaganda taken right out of the hasbara playbook, Goldberg writes: “It’s repellant to contemplate Israeli professors being shut out of conferences or barred from journals for no reason other than their ethnicity, or forced to prove sufficient opposition to the occupation to be part of international intellectual life.”

It takes several paragraphs of similarly unfounded speculation before Goldberg bothers to mention that the boycott applies to Israeli institutions, not individuals, and therefore does not violate academic freedom. Then again, Goldberg’s distaste for BDS should come as no surprise given her ideological attachment to Israel, which she fails to mention in her piece.

Goldberg has spoken openly on more than one occasion about the “inherent contradictions … between Zionism and liberal democracy,” but nevertheless argues that the “continuing existence of Israel is more important than the reconciliation of all of our ideals” (“Michelle Goldberg: ‘Everyone knows’ journalists sacrifice their careers by taking dissenting views on Israel/Palestine,” Mondoweiss, 22 March 2009).

Writing in The Guardian in 2009, Goldberg claims, “history has shown the necessity of the Jewish state, and Israel is the only one there is,” therefore “the end of Zionism would merely be the beginning of a new nightmare.”

In other words, she is willing to at least for now overlook the horrific consequences of Zionism on the indigenous inhabitants of the Holy Land for the sake of maintaining a majority Jewish state.

Invested in Zionism

Goldberg can claim neutrality on BDS and sympathy for Palestinian suffering all she wants, but it won’t change the fact that she is invested in Zionism, an ideology that requires the erasure of Palestinians. With that in mind it becomes clear that her distaste for BDS is likely rooted in her commitment to an indefensible ideology that she admits is at odds with the equality she enjoys in the United States.

Compared to Goldberg’s pseudo-ambivalence, it’s almost refreshing, though still inexcusable, when The Nation publishes anti-BDS rants by writers who are more forthcoming about their intentions.

Last year, Nation staff writer Ben Adler, whose beat consists of “Republican politics and conservative media,” used his column to trash BDS and denounce the Palestinian right of return.

“Calling for a Palestinian ‘right of return,’” complained Adler, “is … calling for the demographic abolition of Israel as a Jewish state” (“The problem with BDS,” 31 March 2012).

He then took to Twitter to double down on his racist framing of Palestinian bodies as “demographic” threats — in what can only be described as the language of a bigot emotionally invested in Israel’s maintenance of ethnic and religious supremacy to the detriment of its indigenous inhabitants. It’s difficult to imagine The Nation, or progressives more generally, tolerating such bigotry against any other minority group. Yet at The Nation, Palestinians are fair game.

Worse still is the continued employment of The Nation columnist Eric Alterman, whose well-documented racist hostility toward Palestinians is regularly praised by right-wing outlets like Commentary and the Washington Free Beacon.

“Acceptable resistance”

There is no shortage of Jewish American writers at The Nation lecturing Palestinians about what constitutes acceptable resistance to Israeli apartheid. The Nation justifies publishing these opinions in the name of diversity. But that certainly wasn’t the case at in the days of South African apartheid.

A search through The Nation’s archives reveals unflinching condemnation of South Africa’s apartheid regime and editorial support for the divestment movement in its earliest days.

In the 16 August 1965 issue, Stanley Meisler (who would later become an LA Times foreign and diplomatic correspondent) refers to South Africa as an “evil” and “neo-Fascist state” (“Our Stake in Apartheid”). Fast forward to 2013, and the magazine is printing Eric Alterman’s tantrum-induced smears of Max Blumenthal for having the audacity to write a book about Israel’s descent into fascism.

In what could just as easily be reprinted today to describe Israel, an 18 June 1983 Nation editorial reads, “It is degrading to regard South Africa in terms of US interests rather than in terms of principles. But the crisis in that country is a challenge to America as a multiracial society with (presumably) a multiracial foreign policy. It is a challenge to any country that spouts fine words about the ‘leadership of the free world’ — however that freedom may be defined” (“By Brute Force”).

An article in the 24 January 1987 issue opens with: “The appalling intransigence of the South African government in the face of worldwide pressure to abandon its apartheid laws, its brutality and violence, its censorship of the press, have combined to elicit a dramatic resurgence of corporate-action campaigns in mainstream America” (“Corporate Accounting: Give Your Dollars a Political Spin”).

That The Nation feels compelled to continue hosting debates on the merits of BDS is troubling given that no such debate existed at the magazine during South Africa’s apartheid regime. The existence of apartheid was not subject to debate then, and it shouldn’t be now.

Mother Jones recently chastised Liz Cheney for a 1988 editorial that argued against divestment from the apartheid regime. Unsurprisingly, much of her argument mirrors those being peddled by anti-BDS writers today.

The Nation should take notice, otherwise decades from now it will be the subject of ridicule for giving a platform to Israel’s apologists.


[Too many Jews at the Nation?] scroll past Chemical spills para

By Eric Alterman, The Nation
January 14, 2014

Some people, including as it happens, my editors, think my last blog was inaccurate when I noted that that Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss complained of “too many Jews” at The Nation, since the authors of these repellent articles were addressing themselves only to Israel/Palestine related issues and were complaining only about the “relative” representation of Jews vs. Palestinians, Muslims, Arabs and others. I don’t mind pointing out that this was the topic at hand but, unlike my editors, I do not find the qualification to be mitigating in the slightest.

I’ve wasted enough of my life responding to the mob of BDS fanatics who either do not understand, or care, for the basic tenets of evidence-based journalism and/or argument so I won’t bother pointing out the lies contained in their posts about me or The Nation. I trust that most readers will already be aware of their respective lack of standards in such matters. With respect to the accuracy of my post, however, I will merely point out the following:

1) I linked to both articles so that any reader could see the quotes for themselves in context.

2) Both sites write pretty much exclusively (and obsessively) about the Middle East so what else could they have been complaining about?

3) Most important: both articles complain about the number of JEWS writing in the Nation on these issues relative to other nationalities. They don’t complain about the number of pro-Zionist or pro-Israel writers (which is a good thing, because The Nation publishes more anti-Israel articles than any other print publication in America, no contest). Both articles specifically target JEWS. Think about it. Jews are as divided about Israel as any group of people on earth. Jews have every imaginable position on the Middle East, including, especially, fanatical hatred of Israel, as more than a few Jewish contributors to The Nation have consistently demonstrated. And yet JEWS are somehow the problem for both Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss.

  

Daoud Kuttab, L and Ali Abuminah

To complain about too many Jews writing on the Middle East or any other issue is to essentialize a racial/ethnic characteristic and ignore the quality of argument and evidence. Should The Nation limit the number of African-Americans it publishes on civil rights? Should it limit the number of Latinos it publishes on immigration? Should it limit the number of women it publishes on feminism? Should it limit the number of whites, non-Hispanics and men respectively as well? And what, pray tell, is the difference? Either the arguments are compelling or not. Either the evidence support them or it does not. The race/ethnicity/gender of the person making an argument is, or ought to be, irrelevant. (And this is to say nothing of the fact that these are hardly static categories as, for instance, both our current president and Chelsea Manning can attest.) This is not politics we are talking about, where representation obviously matters, but the world of argument and ideas, which ought to rise or fall strictly on their moral and intellectual merit.

And to that very point, just what, exactly, is a Jew and who gets to decide? The Reform movement (and Reconstructionist movement as well) accepts patrilineality, and so those with just a Jewish father may consider themselves Jewish. But Conservative and Orthodox Jews do not. How is The Nation to decide how many Jews are too many when Jews themselves cannot agree on who’s Jewish? Christopher Hitchens did not learn of his Jewishness until he was in his forties. Should The Nation have barred him from writing about Israel once he broke the news? (Or does the “Count the Jews” rule not count for anti-Zionists?) In my posts, I suggested the relevance of the Nuremberg Laws. If any of the ignorant (and dishonest) bigots at Electronic Intifada or Mondoweiss have a better idea, I’m all ears.

And if anyone still cares at this point, you can read the original post at the bottom of this one and judge for yourselves.

PS: Salon is about to publish an article on this riveting topic or on a related one. I’m not sure why it rises to that level. I was disappointed when, recently, Salon allowed Max Blumenthal to lie about me, but pleased that they published a correction after he made it clear he could not substantiate his claims. I’m hoping there are no such problems with this one because believe me, I am profoundly sick of this subject.


‘The Nation’ and the privileging of Jewish voices on Israel/Palestine

By Philip Weiss and Adam Horowitz, Mondoweiss
December 23, 2013

An important argument has broken out between the Electronic Intifada and The Nation over the issue of the left privileging Jewish voices on the conflict and not being hospitable to Palestinians.

Three days back, Electronic Intifada published Rania Khalek’s piece, “Does The Nation have a problem with Palestinians?”, saying that the magazine gives Jews and Zionists assignments in disproportion to others and that it is pulling up the rear on Palestinian solidarity, which should be front and center for progressives.

The Nation then responded with a piece by its executive editor, Richard Kim, titled “On The Nation and Palestinians,” saying that The Nation has published many Palestinian voices and that if it performs a balancing act, it is only reflecting the American liberal scene, which includes people who oppose the boycott movement, BDS.

Khalek began her piece by noting that the American Studies Association vote in favor of academic boycott of Israel is forcing the left to get its act together at last on the Israel/Palestine issue.

While it’s certainly an improvement from just five years ago, when pro-Palestine views were relegated to the most marginal corners of the left, the coverage has still been problematic, most notably for its near-blanket exclusion of Palestinian and Arab voices.

Khalek cites The Nation‘s imbalance in its forum on BDS (which we noted last week) and levels this charge:

The Nation habitually reinforces Israeli apartheid by privileging Jewish voices over Palestinian ones.

Kim responds that if Khalek had asked him, he

would have directed her to at least fourteen articles on Palestine by ten different Palestinian or Palestinian-American writers that we have published since the beginning of 2008 alone.

our archive in this regard is a rich and varied one. It includes contributions by some of the most prominent Palestinian activists, scholars and journalists in the world, including the founders of ISM and BDS.

Kim points out that The Nation has done a lot to expose the occupation (including a piece we often link, by a liberal Zionist describing the West Bank as “apartheid on steroids”).

Of course, the lib-left media broadly suffer from the racism that Khalek identifies. How many Palestinians appear on MSNBC? The Nation is a lightning rod for Khalek’s criticism because of the presence there of an ardent Zionist, Eric Alterman, who obviously has a constituency inside The Nation‘s liberal Jewish New York community. Khalek is withering on this point:

Worse still is the continued employment of The Nation columnist Eric Alterman, whose well-documented racist hostility toward Palestinians is regularly praised by right-wing outlets like Commentary and the Washington Free Beacon.

Kim never refers to Alterman, but he acknowledges the presence of Zionists inside the left. American liberals now need “to wrestle” with the Palestinian call for solidarity, he says diplomatically, and points out that the Park Slope coop voted against boycott. The Nation‘s forums

were weighted towards an American audience—because those were the moral agents being asked to make a choice. Should they have included more Palestinian voices? That is a perfectly fair—and quite interesting—subject for discussion.

Khalek is particularly biting when she compares the Nation’s support for the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa to its dithering re the BDS movement.

There is no shortage of Jewish American writers at The Nation lecturing Palestinians about what constitutes acceptable resistance to Israeli apartheid. The Nation justifies publishing these opinions in the name of diversity. But that certainly wasn’t the case at in the days of South African apartheid.

A search through The Nation’s archives reveals unflinching condemnation of South Africa’s apartheid regime and editorial support for the divestment movement in its earliest days.

In the 16 August 1965 issue, Stanley Meisler (who would later become an LA Times foreign and diplomatic correspondent) refers to South Africa as an “evil” and “neo-Fascist state” (“Our Stake in Apartheid”). Fast forward to 2013, and the magazine is printing Eric Alterman’s tantrum-induced smears of Max Blumenthal for having the audacity to write a book about Israel’s descent into fascism….

An article in the 24 January 1987 issue opens with: “The appalling intransigence of the South African government in the face of worldwide pressure to abandon its apartheid laws, its brutality and violence, its censorship of the press, have combined to elicit a dramatic resurgence of corporate-action campaigns in mainstream America” (“Corporate Accounting: Give Your Dollars a Political Spin”).

That The Nation feels compelled to continue hosting debates on the merits of BDS is troubling given that no such debate existed at the magazine during South Africa’s apartheid regime. The existence of apartheid was not subject to debate then, and it shouldn’t be now.

This is an important battle. That Khalek drew Kim’s response is a positive reflection on The Nation‘s sense of responsibility on this urgent question, a sign that The Nation understands it can’t be AWOL on Palestine. (Phil thinks Alterman is going the way of Chris Hitchens, out of the left community over a central issue).

It is bracing it is to read Khalek counting the Jewish writers. Any reader of this site knows we think this is difficult but necessary work, scrutinizing Jewish privilege. This tweet from Ali Abunimah tells the story:

.@Ali_Gharib @thenation has published 14 articles by all Palestinians in 6 years. It’s published 25 just by Neve Gordon and Bernard Avishai

— Ali Abunimah (@AliAbunimah) December 22, 2013

At times we have done the same sort of counting vis-a-vis the Council on Foreign Relations, the State Department, NPR and so on. This issue isn’t unique to The Nation, if anything the numbers reflect the broader cultural bias against Palestinians and Arabs more generally. Pointing this out doesn’t make us anti-Semites; it means we believe in diversity, and broadening the perspectives through which this issue and the region is understood. More and more media seem to understand the need for diversity here, including Huffington Post.

We are somewhat enmeshed in this controversy. We have been privileged as Jewish voices at The Nation–and also casualties of the organization’s timidity on the issue. We were invited to write cover articles for the magazine on the BDS movement and shifting American Jewish views on the conflict and we were also shown the door at the Nation Institute (our past fiscal sponsor) because our stance against Israeli apartheid made some uncomfortable. Still we maintain active friendships with the magazine, and our publisher Scott Roth is a Nation partner. As an institution, The Nation still struggles over these issues and Electronic Intifada is right to force the question. As Naomi Klein, another Nation friend, points out:

Love u @RichardKimNYC and @thenation but @RaniaKhalek is right: the double standards r glaring. We can and should do much better.

— Naomi Klein (@NaomiAKlein) December 22, 2013

The Nation should view Khalek’s critique as an opportunity to lead by introducing the left-liberal community to the Palestinians who are charting the way towards freedom, equality and justice in Israel/Palestine. Rather than reflecting American cultural bias against Palestinians, The Nation should challenge it. This is their chance.


Notes and links

Palestinian and Arab writers on Middle East politics

There is no shortage of Palestinian/Arab writers who can and have written cogently on the Middle East (and much else) whose work is available in English. Here we list a few, most of whom have written articles which we have reposted on this website.

Susan Abulhawa, Ali Abuminah, Nadia Abu-Zahra, Ziad AbuZayyad, Khaled Alashqar, Khalid Amayreh, Suad Amiry, Hanan Ashrawi, Sam Bahour, Hazem Balousha, Mustapha Barghouti, Ramzy Baroud, Musa Budeiri, Tariq Dana, Adel Darwish, Haidar Eid, Noura Erekat, Asmaa al-Ghoul, Manuel Hassassian, Rima Hassouneh, Shazia Iftkhar, Huda Imam, Rasha Abou Jalal, Rania Khalek, Dr Ahmed Khalidi, Professor Rashid Khalidi, Ghassan Khatib, Osamah Khalil, Hind Khoury, Daoud Kuttab, Riad Malki, Nur Masalha, Joseph Massad, Faysal Mikdadi, Karma Nabulsi, Rima Najjar, Prof Sari Nusseibeh, Afif Safieh, Steven Salaita, Walid Salem, Malik Samara, Rosemary Sayigh, Yezid Sayigh, Raja Shehada, Nadim Shehadi, Abbas Shiblak, Adhaf Soueif, Salim Tamari, Sandra Tamari, Camille al-Tawil, Rami Zurayk

Their work can be found in online publications such a Electronic Intifada, Al Jazeera, Al Monitor, Al Ahram, AL Akhbar, +972, Palestine Chronicle.

Several publications rarely provide bylines, such as Ma’an news and Al Shabaka.

There are also many Palestinian/Arab intellectuals who have written at greater length for an audience which is expected to well-informed about the history and discourse of the area as well as the various theories used in order to analyse it. We have not included them here but they can be found in journals such as

Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture
Journal of Palestine Studies, pay for or read in a library

Category:Palestinian journalists  Wikipedia’s very out-of-date list.

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