Feb

18

LectureHop: Right to be Racist edition

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On Friday, lecture hopper extraordinaire Josh Mathew took the walk down to St. Mary‘s Episcopal church in Harlem to hear two scholars duke it out on the question of Israel and Palestine.

kjhAfter making my way past the numerous activists handing out fliers condemning the war in Iraq and the U.S.’s conceivable Iranian escapades, I grabbed a seat in one of the old wooden pews of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on 126th in Harlem.

After recognizing a few familiar faces amongst this unusual congregation, I saw sitting up at the altar Dr. Joseph Massad, Associate Professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University, and his cospeaker Dr. Tanya Reinhart, Professor of Linguistics at Tel Aviv University and the University of Utrecht.

Massad and Reinhart’s co-lecture “Channeling Israeli Apartheid” capped off Israel Apartheid Week’s series of lectures, which focused on topics like divestment, marriage laws, and the media.

Although Massad’s lecture began with an acknowledgment of Israel’s “substantive and psychological” desire for peace, he soon added that Israel has simply requested that the world recognize its “right to be a racist state.” Followed by a round of laughter, the phrase became the central rhetorical device of Massad’s speech, serving as the semi-sarcastic tagline to many of his sentences. Massad criticized all existing solutions proposed to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as having accepted Israel’s racist nature, racist laws, and system of apartheid. For example, after the 1993 Oslo Accords, the late President of the Palestinian National Authority Yasser Arafat recognized Israel’s “need to be a racist,” and following Arafat’s death, his successor Mahmoud Abbas has also been persuaded to recognize this “right to be racist.” In his conclusion, Massad, rejecting the proposed two-state plan, and recommended a “decolonized, binational state” as the only acceptable solution.

While Reinhart focused more on the anti-apartheid model of resistance, her lecture lacked Massad’s organization.  While initially criticizing international demands on the Palestinians to renounce violence and recognize past accords, Reinhart eventually lauded the South African model of anti-apartheid resistance through divestment and sanctions.  She considered it the preferable, nonviolent alternative to wiping Israel off the map, the plan Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has endorsed.

I raised an eyebrow at Reinhart’s faith that this anti-apartheid model had ushered in an age of “equality and dignity” for all South African citizens, whites included.  Even Massad later countered that Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress were only able to bring about an end to white political domination by surrendering to American demands and accepting continued economic apartheid.

Following the two speeches was a question and answer session during which Massad explained his use of the term “right to be racist.”  Expressing distaste for racial theory, Massad questioned the genetic links between 19th century European Jews and the ancient Israelite kingdom.  He instead argued that notions of Semitic identity were actually the result of European gentile racism that sought to paint Ashkenazi Jews as foreigners.  Citing the example of Germans who trace their ancestry back to the Aryans/Teutons of northern India, Massad noted that even if such a genetic link existed, no one would agree to the Deutschland’s colonization of the South Asian subcontinent.

In his closing statement, Massad’s vehement opposition to an Israeli ethnic state served as a more general criticism of ethnic national identities.  However, while Massad posited that this “right to be racist” was a result of perceived Jewish exceptionalism, I wondered what was exceptional about this perceived right considering the global hegemony of ethnonationalism.  While I share Massad’s demand for purely civic nationalism, states’ de jure and de facto glorification of specific religions, dialects, races, cultures, etc. marginalize his view into the realm of idealism.

The lecture ended with a short argument between the two professors about the merits of a one- and two-state solutions; however, as expressed earlier, they both believed a continuation of Israel’s policies was, as Reinhart stated, “suicidal” for Israel and that “saving Palestinians is saving Israel.”

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23 Comments

  1. Sprinkle  

    I can't wait for Saudi Arabia Apartheid Week.

  2. 'Civic Nationalism'?

    And just how do you propose abolishing religion and ethnicity in this world? Seriously - inquiring minds want to know.

    Also, how can one possibly compare the Jewish people's 2000-year-old cultural and religious connection to Israel and Jerusalem (as well as their uninterrupted settlement thereof) with the batty 19th-century racial theories of a few eugenics-minded Germans?

    • Jimbo

      No on is proposing ending religion and ethnicity.

      What Massad, Reinhart and any sane individual is proposing though is separating these archaic concepts from the structure of a state in a process called "secularization".

      This is what is happening in most countries of the world, where nationality and citizenship are no longer associated with whatever god you believe/don't believe in.

      If something like that where to happen in Israel, there would be no conflict, it would just be a secular democratic state where citizens can worship whatever the f*ck they want.

      If you don't support that in Israel, then you should also not support it in America, and you should join Pat Robertson, Gerry Falwell, and Ted Haggart in calling for America to become a Christian nation where only Christians can own land and have full rights.

      • Sprinkles  

        Bit of an over-simplification there, Jimbo. Oh wait, did I say "bit?" I meant "massive."

        If it were that easy to eliminate conflict in Israel, they would have done it ages ago.

      • So...er...

        I have a problem, in that I don't believe in human rights aside from than the right to life and the right to emigration.

        I'm really not one to tell you that your god is wrong, nor are you to tell me that mine is. Those wishing to voluntarily live in theocratic states with like-minded individuals should be permitted to do so. Freedom of Worship is a great thing in America, but it's by no means hypocritical of me to support it (and the US Constitution) while supporting the Jewish character of the Israeli state and the Muslim character of Saudi Arabia. If you'd like to fight for secularization of the modern state, I encourage you to do so, but please don't unfairly target some states for your critiques while ignoring others - I have to hope you're brighter than that.

    • Josh  

      Like "Jimbo" said, the suggestion wasn't "abolishing religion and ethnicity in this world" but rather removing them from the public sphere. On top of that, I didn't propose a plan to carry out that process; in fact, I suggested that Massad's point was "idealistic" because I believe the creation of such pure civic nationalism is so improbable.

      In terms of the example of the German/Aryan/Indian connection: first, I personally did not cite the example; Massad did. Second, he was specifically referring to racial theory, which, for better or for worse (Massad believes for worse), invokes an understanding of genetics or "blood" connections. You asked how a religious/cultural connection could be compared to a connection proposed by German eugenics, but neither Massad nor I ever suggested such a comparison be made. I believe he was questioning the validity of a blood connections (in general), often invoked by ethnonationalists when making claims to specific territories. If a right to the land was based purely on a religious/cultural connection (sans blood), groups of Jews like the Bnei Menashe in India would be able to gain access to Israel without extensive investigation aimed at proving that they are in fact a lost tribe of Israel. Again, I’m not criticizing genetic connections; I’m clarifying Massad’s point, whether you accept it or not.

  3. i wanna vomit  

    "For example, after the 1993 Oslo Accords, the late President of the Palestinian National Authority Yasser Arafat recognized Israel's 'need to be a racist,' and following Arafat's death, his successor Mahmoud Abbas has also been persuaded to recognize this 'right to be racist.'"

    So the Palestinians should never negotiate with or make concessions to Israel ever, for any reason? By that logic, Arafat's prime leadership flaw was in his inability to kill enough Israeli Jews to drive his point home, while Abbas's is his inability to sanction the killing of any Jews whatsoever. Massad is allegedly a "Middle East Scholar"--surely he realizes that the absence of negotiation is necessarily the continuation of a state of violence and war.

    I really can't believe my school is paying this asshole.

    • massad thinks  

      That no one should recognize Israel's right to exist *as a Jewish state*, because he views that (reasonably) as intrinsically racist. Hardly the same as saying "no negotiations, ever".

      • Sprinkles  

        Strangely enough, I don't think Massad would say that Arab countries shouldn't have the right to exist as Muslim states. Because, well, we all know where he stands.

        • Kyle  

          Putting words in people's mouths and speculating about what they "would say" is a great way to debate, oh yessirree!

        • err

          i wonder if you do know "where he stands" - Massad is not a Muslim, and I very much doubt that he would support an Islamic state in an Arab country, since he is perfectly aware of the consequences of this for Christian minorities. He supports civic, secular nationhood, as several other posters have pointed out.

          If you get round to reading any of his work, you will discover that his first book is exactly an attempt to deconstruct the origins of Jordanian nationality; just as he examined the origins of Israeli Jewish nationality in this lecture.

  4. let's recap:

    "Massad criticized ALL EXISTING SOLUTIONS proposed to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as having accepted Israel's racist nature, racist laws, and system of apartheid. For example, after the 1993 Oslo Accords, the late President of the Palestinian National Authority Yasser Arafat recognized Israel's 'need to be a racist,' and following Arafat's death, his successor Mahmoud Abbas has also been persuaded to recognize this 'right to be racist.'"

    If I weren't sick to my stomach right now I'd laugh at the suggestion that the Oslo Accords resulted in any material recognition of Israel's right to exist. In fact, the accords failed because the Palestinian leadership did the exact opposite of recognizing Israel--it turned to a blind eye to terrorist and militia groups while using anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sermons, textbooks, television programs and newspaper articles to engender the militant nationalism that culminated in the failed uprising at the beginning of this decade. In calling the Oslo accords a failure, Massad is calling into question the legitimacy of the entire recognition/security guarantees for land/autonomy framework, which has dictated just about every negotiation between Oslo and today. Massad would replace that with an unconditional-end-of-Israel-as-a-Jewish-state for peace framework that the Israeli side would never in a million years accept (because really, what country in its right mind would negotiate its own destruction? On top of which, what kind of Modern Middle Eastern Studies professor would expect any country to negotiate its own destruction?)

    Massad, as an alleged expert on the modern Middle East is aware of this, and aware that the only possible alternative to the Oslo process is a state of protracted warfare. When the Israeli right speaks out against the "peace process" it is by default arguing for what will always be that process's only alternative: terrorism, settlement, war. When a professor at YOUR University makes the exact same argument--that a state of endless war is preferable to a moderate solution that promises only partial satisfaction for every party involved (keeping in mind that during Oslo Israel made material concessions in exchange for vague promises of recognition, stability and security)--he proves himself no better than the settlers in Efrat or Kiryat Arba.

    Which is why I reiterate: I can't believe my school cuts this asshole a fat check every year.

  5. Mr. Strawman  

    "When a professor at YOUR University makes the exact same argument--that a state of endless war is preferable to a moderate solution that promises only partial satisfaction for every party involved..."

    Um...What the fuck? Is this the only way you can address what he said, just plain making shit up that he didn't say?

  6. miss this part?

    In calling the Oslo accords a failure, Massad is calling into question the legitimacy of the entire recognition/security guarantees for land/autonomy framework, which has dictated just about every negotiation between Oslo and today. Massad would replace that with an unconditional-end-of-Israel-as-a-Jewish-state for peace framework that the Israeli side would never in a million years accept.

    • Could  

      please explain what you mean by land/autonomy framework?

      Also, you still haven't proven that Massad directly supports or possibly even enjoys protracted warfare. If I interpreted him correctly, he supports civic nationalism. You argue that the Israeli government will never agree to that. Therefore, he supports violence?

      There are many who support the dismantling of ethnonationalism, who, while their goal is seemingly improbable, do not subscribe to belligerence.

  7. think about this

    realistically. The Oslo accords, and every other subsequent attempt at a negotiated agreement (Oslo 2, the Camp David accords, the Roadmap) attempted to grant the Palestinians self-government and territorial control in exchange for the recognition of Israel's right to exist, as well the security that such a recognition would imply. The Oslo agreement, for instance, resulted in the creation of Palestinian autonomous zones (Jericho, Ramallah etc.) in which the newly-created PA would have full control over security, governance etc. Oslo was such a big deal (and is still such a big deal) because it included two massive Israeli concessions: 1) that a "greater Israel" was an unrealistic goal that would have to be abandoned and 2) that Palestinian self-governance and self-rule would be a political reality and a fact of life, just as Israel would have to be a political reality and a fact of life for Palestinians.

    For Israeli extremists, this land/autonomy for peace exchange looked like state suicide. For Palestinian extremists, it was the abandonment of the generational dream of either throwing Israel's Jews into the sea or subsuming them through a majority-Arab binational state.

    So while Massad may have been defending civic nationalism or some other abstraction, in reality opposition to the Oslo process on the basis of its recognizing the right of a Jewish state to exist in Palestine cannot be anything but an endorsement of the methods so far used to produce a result more agreeable to extremists like Massad (keeping in mind that during this lecture Massad apparently chided Arafat for not being extreme or anti-Zionist enough). Read his argument critically and it's basically a euphemistic argument for militant nationalism, which has been for both Palestinians and Israelis the only alternative to a negotiated peace.

  8. SprinklesII  

    Your extrapolation comes from the ass region and is usually in the form of empty, snide one or two-liners with no evidence to back them up at all...and on top of that, the attitude that this suffices because you're defending Israel and all this is oh-so-obvious.

  9. Ephraim

    People like Massad argue on the level of gashmius or physicality. Thus, his argument is, essentially, that the Jews have no right to be in Israel because they aren't the correct "race". This is racism, plain and simple. It's a pretty big

  10. Karl

    Why does Dr. Massad not begin to denationalize Arabs?
    It is just funny to read about Israeli apartheid, when considering that there is no law forbidding in Israel a Jewish woman to marry a Non-Jew.
    Ask any Moslem cleric if a Muslim woman is permitted to marry a Christian, Budhist, Hindu, Jew or Atheist and he will tell you, that it is forbidden. In Arab countries many Muslim women have been killed by their own family, just because they fell in love with a Christian.
    So Dr. Massad should try to change this state of affairs in Arab-Muslim society, before he accuses a democratic country like Israel to be racist.

    • err

      err... Marriage laws in Israel are left to religious communities - Jews governed by Jewish law, Muslims by Islamic etc. So, Jews cannot marry non-Jews in Israel. Mixed-religion couples usually go to Cyprus to get married.

  11. HappySysiphus

    Marginalize me to the "Realm of Idealism," but a system of laws that takes into account one's race, AT ALL, is backward and flawed beyond any defence.

  12. Ge89rt

    "an Islamic state in an Arab country"


    Massad's unforgivable hypocrisy is summed up there with that double truth. 1) there are "Arab" countries (and so they are racist, but he covers that up) and they are all Islamic. So dismantle Saudi Arabia, Syria, UAE, Iraq, and all the rest of those Arab bastard states and leave Israel alone.

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