We’ll Meet Again

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Out with the new, in with the old, as Bwog correspondent Armin Rosen reports on the good old-fashioned crazy Israel-Palestine debate.

Between farcical stage-rushings, dictatorial  speaking engagements, gay porn-star conservatives, bizarrely poor choices for class day speakers and Ann Coulter it’s been a truly historic year for unintentional black comedy at 116th and Broadway. Columbians, as if collectively unsatisfied with usual comedic fodder, have been turned serious debates on things like immigration and nuclear madmen into something out of a Coen brothers’ film. And luckily for the blogging set, it is a trend that is continuing unabated.

    Tonight’s tableau: a PhD candidate hurling an f-bomb at one of the world’s foremost experts on Zionism at Lionpac’s “Is Zionism Racism?” talk on the fourth floor of Kraft. On its own, it might seem lame —Saifdean Ammous’s use of the best fuckin’ word in the English language was incidental, passing, gratuitous and not particularly venomous as far as uses of the word go. That it happened amidst a very tense back-and-forth with pro-Zionist Tel Aviv University professor Anita Shapira might make it understandable, perhaps even excusable. 

    What’s funny is the complete breakdown of rational communication that this moment represented: Shapira, an older-looking Israeli of Polish extraction and somewhat weak English could not conceptualize her homeland as fundamentally, indelibly racist, while Ammous, a young and perhaps justifiably embittered Palestinian with remarkable command of our mother tongue could not conceive otherwise. “I don’t know what to say” was Shapira’s common refrain. I feel for her—why try justifying what your scholarship, personal experience and national identification tells you needs no justifying to a person who would never in a million years be able to rationally process your side of the argument? Ammous, in the meanwhile, used words like “racist and “apartheid,” and I feel for him too—to him, Shapira must have seemed woefully thickheaded and intellectually bankrupt; a spitting image of Zionist disingenuousness for all who would answer “yes” to the event’s titular question.

    All this culminated in a uniquely Columbian, darkly comedic moment of expletive rage. Shapira described the displacement of Palestinians as a tragedy, and Ammous replied with something along the lines of “so we just say ‘fuck it, it’s a tragedy?’”—but by this point the sheer absurdity of their basically incongruous back and forth had adequately prepared the assembled crowd of 30 or so students for whatever escalation was in store. Thus a parody of a real debate deteriorated into a kind of
intellectual “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” No, there wasn’t anybody hit in the balls with a rake. But if you think of an uncivil, not at all educational and emotionally-driven Ammous – Shapira style debate as the rake, and rational, constructive discourse on Israel as the hapless schlub who is about to step on the tines, then I suppose that maybe there was.

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  1. purple  

    Since when is "so we just say 'fuck it, it's a tragedy?'" news?

  2. well  

    this post was unsigned, so you don't know...but what's wrong with DPD? He's so cute. I'd totally hook up with him...

  3. Picture  

    Didn't read the article whatsoever, but props for the Barton Fink picture.

  4. I'm sorry,  

    but I feel that this is a poor review/lecture hop. While I appreciated the Amrin's prose and reference to the Coen brothers, I'm a bit disappointed with the content, specifically the lack thereof.

    For those of us (the majority of us) who did not attend the lecture, what did we learn by reading this? That a Palestinian PhD candidate cursed off an Israeli professor? What were the main points of Professor Shapira's lecture? What was the format of the lecture? Were Saifdean and Shapira co-presenting or was Saifdean a vocal audience member who took a Q&A session to its limits?

    The lack of content unnecessarily presents both characters as idiots. Did Saifdean have a more extensive speech? Or if he was merely an audience member, how did this debate begin? Did it begin coherently? (Even the incoherence of his use of the word "fuck" seems exaggerated. I expected a "fuck you" rather than "fucking tragedy.") Similarly, Shapira is depicted as someone barely able to speak English and completely unable to articulate her beliefs. Rosen writes that she thinks that Israeli nationalism doesn't need to be justified because of her "scholarship, personal experience, and national identification." But she presumably was invited to speak at Columbia because of her academic expertise and experience.

    Say what you will about academia, but I feel as if neither side was given a fair chance here. Bwog needs to raise its standards for lecture hops.

    • well  

      this wasn't a lecture hop, really, just a verbose bit of reportage on an out of hand debate no one had thought to cover beforehand.

    • Armin Rosen  

      Shipra's speech was structured as a straight question and answer, although she began by asking her audience exactly why Zionism is racist. When Ammous (an audience member) challenged some of Shipra's facts and arguments the two of them went back and forth for several minutes.

      Also if you're noticing a lack of substance here it's only because I observed a lack of substance at this event. Nevertheless, I’m sorry for any confusion.

      • Anonymous  

        I wasn't at this event, but this is a pet peeve of mine.

        Suggestion that viewpoints of Israelis and Palestinians are irreconcilable is ludicrous. The heart of the issue is not that Ammous and Shipra are somehow bound to their identities to take the positions they are taking and unable to process the facts. It's that one of them is correct and one is incorrect in their answer to "Is Zionism Racism?" To frame the disagreement as a clash of identities (not a far stretch from a Clash of Civilizations) is to discredit both parties and debase the debate. In my experience, participants in the discourse on the Israeli-Palestine issue from both sides remain typically well grounded in facts and believe what they do because they believe in its veracity and not because they are who they are. Ammous's quite powerful Op-Ed this week was a recount of the first hand experience he has had which has led him to believe what he does. His beliefs no more come from his identity than Shirpa's come from hers. Shirpa is an academic and if what she professes is incorrect, then the inaccuracy should be attributed to inadequacies in her academics, not allegiances to her people.

        Armin, while I understand your assertion that you are simply commenting on what you saw tonight (which I cannot comment on), you would do well to highlight the specificity of your conclusion.

        Read Mearsheimer and Walt's paper, "The Israel Lobby" from the London Review of Books ( for more examples of the debate being debased.

        • Do you suggest  

          that Mearsheimer and Walt's paper is an example of the debased debate or does it present such examples?

          As a sidenote/throwback to the Massad&Reinhart lecture, Massad attacked the paper's conclusion.

  5. very well written  

    the prose was excellent, refreshingly stylish (what poster number seven very boorishly refered to as verbose) HOWEVER the use of the word fuck was over-emphasized in this write-up. Given the context, it was used idiomatically and not provocatively, akin to how every professor at columbia uses shit.

    still interesting read on what i take was a not so productive back-and-forth.

    and free palestine.

  6. using  

    fuck isn't all that scandalous in college. professors definately do it all the time. the best was my professor who used fuck twice in the first 10 minutes of class, and it wasn't even to make a point. she was just bitching about students at other schools.

    • frumph  

      Most of my professors have used "fuck." Even Prezbo has used it. "Fuck the draft." It's bizarre that all the event was boiled down to was a combative exchange in which someone uses "fuck." So? It beats getting riled up over Dr. Jack.

  7. frumph  

    ...he used it when discussing that case that is, just to be clear.

  8. Julia K  

    Israel's entry for the Eurovision Song Contest is pretty cool:

  9. Commentarian  

    Bwog needs characters. Armin Rosen is a character. I think his lecture hops are enjoyable to read, and you know what you're getting when you read them.

    • I hope  

      Bwog avoids developing such "characters." They're the sign of low-brow journalism and even lower-brow TV sitcoms.

      Should Amrin strive towards being Bwog's polemical Zionist? Who will play the stereotypical Italian American? Don't forget, we need to be juxtaposed by our quirky, Chinese-American high school friend whose journey to reconcile her parents' conservatism and American liberality complements our lovable wild side.

  10. pissed

    So the author of this piece has this to say on Ammous: 'to him, Shapira must have seemed woefully thickheaded and intellectually bankrupt"

    Whereas he feels for Shapira because "—why try justifying what your scholarship, personal experience and national identification tells you needs no justifying to a person who would never in a million years be able to rationally process your side of the argument?"

    Funny, he feels for Ammous because Ammous percieves Shapira in a certain way, but he feels for Shapira because Ammous IS incapable of understanding her.

    We can clearly see whose side this author is on. Which is pretty ironic considering he's using this piece as his moral high horse to deride the level of debate on campus.

    Zionists's self-righteousness is only marginally less pathetic than their ignorance.

  11. Bari  

    Read Daniel Patrick Moynihan's "The Politics of Human Rights" from Commentary, August 1977.
    US ambassador to the UN during the "Zionism is Racism" resolution, he provides the history behind the coinage of the equation. By the vast majority of accounts--not just Moynihan's own--it had nothing to do with the character of Israeli society or Zionism itself, and everything to do with Soviet aims to undermine Israel and western style democracies, and in the bigger picture, to pervert the language of human rights itself.

    • ahh  

      that explains it all! soviet machinations! of course. now can we get on building those israeli settlements? collapse of the eastern bloc be damned.

    • Anonymous  

      Hey Bari,

      Could you please link me to that DP Moynihan piece?

      Until so, all I have on his record in the UN is the following quote on preventing UN intervention in East Timor:

      "The United States wished things to turn out as they did, and worked to bring this about. The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success." (from his 1978 book, Dangerous Place)

  12. Screw  


  13. why don't  

    you stop with the formalities and innuendos, and just come out and say it? You hate Jews, you hate Judaism, and you hate Israel for being the last bastion of the former two. Don't be ashamed, this is Columbia! Anti-zionists and antisemites are welcome here.

    • what a  

      ridonculous post.

    • yeah, it's not like  

      there are any jews at columbia at sirree bob. That is exactly the type of reaction that this post, whether it was entirely successful or not, was getting at. When we retreat into our preestablished notions of right and wrong and refuse to have them challenged in any way, we run the risk of alienating ourselves from reason and introspection. When two different gruops of people do this, and they happen to be armed, heavily, you get conflict. Extremism on either side of the aisle should be condemned and left where it belongs: the fringe. Debates like this will never end, will never reach a solution that will allow both peoples to live in peace, unless their greatest minds are willing to come to a table and accept the fact that others might have a legitimate beef with them. Are we too afraid of the sting of words that we are more willing to use missiles or suicide bombs?

  14. frumph  

    "...You hate Jews, you hate Judaism"

    Knew it. It was only a matter of time before someone used the OMGYOUHATEJEWS card. That's why criticism of Israel is damn near-impossible outside of academia.

  15. invisible_hand

    Israel competes in eurotrash, i mean, eurovision every year. it won in '94 during oslo, and it won in '99 during the peace talks. it's weird how eurovision thinks it has political capital. "we can't STAND those Palestinians!.... but we DO want "diva" to win this year..."
    re: the tenor of debate , at least on this post, i am surprised that godwin's law has thus far gone unsatisfied. and pleasantly surprised.
    Sakib: i just wanted to make sure that that quote was posted just because you like it. b/c as far as i can tell, it has nothing to do with the matter at hand.
    #26: how is israel "the last bastion" of jews and judaism? are jews nearing extinction, in your opinion? do you really equate all anti-zionism with antisemitism? what about criticism of zionism?

    • Anonymous  

      The article Bari cites is titled "The Politics of Human Rights." Calling on Moynihan's own human rights record on the international political stage, that is obfuscating UN efforts to intervene in preventing war crimes in Indonesia because of Cold War politics, Moynihan proves to hold human rights even less holy than Bari claims that Moynihan later alleges of the Soviets.

      Bottom line: I'd love to read the article, but DPM has no more authority to talk about human rights, or to allege the falsification of accusations of human rights abuses, than Adolf Eichmann.

      • Anonymous  

        Note: I didn't pick Eichmann for any reason other than he's a well known and executed war criminal. But given that simply his name could derail this whole thread, I'll retract it and offer three substitutions:
        Slobodan Milosovic, Henry Kissinger, or John Negroponte

  16. i think  

    it's legitimate to be uncomfortable with the equation of zionism with racism. that kind of oversimplification is pretty bound to get misinterpreted.

    honestly, comments like that make me feel pretty sensitive too. i thought there were some other reasons for a jewish state besides being out to get palestinians.

    no one else sees any of that as a little much?

  17. +this  

    Columbia starts to make me feel a little neurotic sometimes what with people's seeming incapability to conceive that there can be more than one side to a debate. God forbid, you might not even have a monopoly on truth.

  18. agree with  

    those above who point out that Ammous's use of "fuck it" wasn't worth the drama that Rosen makes out of it. There's a HUGE difference between "fuck it" and "fuck you".

    on another note... "Israel and western style democracies"... good to see the implicit acknowledgement with the absence of an "and other"

  19. Bari  

    Hey Sakib-

    Unfortunately, you can only access the article through PAO on the Columbia database service, which is unlinkable.

    The article is about language-- the implications that the Zionism is racism resolution, in his view, has on language (specifically, the language of human rights and racism).

    For a better record of Moynihan's short year at the UN, and his general political outlook check out "The Gentlemen From New York"--a good intellectual biography by a guy named Hodgson.

    Sakib: I love having these exchanges, but not when they become hyperbolic and ridiculous. Comparing Moynihan's HR record to A. Eichmann is absolutely ludicrous, and you know it.

  20. Anonymous  

    I'll admit it is total hyperbole. The comparison would be like comparing a shoplifter to Kenneth Lay.

    But still moral bankruptcy and theft nonetheless.

  21. Not so good  

    This was actually not an unproductive discussion. Just because it ended in some verbal clashing does not mean that there wasn't a healthy exchange of ideas in an academic context.

    This op-ed really does not give credit to the chalenging debate that actually took place.

  22. I agree with 39  

    The event was misrepresented. It did escalate at times, but was often a very productive exchange of ideas. It's sad that this issue can rarely be discussed without a complete deterioration into inanity but this event was as close as I think we've come to not doing that. And for the record, the professors name is Anita Shapira not Shipra or shirpa, and Ammous actually said was: "so we should just go fuck ourselves?!". Regardless of the context, it was entirely disrespectful to the professor - especially one visiting Columbia for a short period of time.

  23. re:bwog  

    Can y'all please do a Bari-Sakib conversation on human rights? They're both brilliant.

  24. Bari  

    His book "A Dangerous Place"--essentially journal-style book from his time as UN ambassador will give you a good sense of his ideology.

    He also wrote two key articles in "Policy Review" about Words and Foreign Policy (both written in 1978).

    Key quotes:

    "Hannah Arendt somewhere remarks that the tactical advantage of the totalitarian elites of the 1920s and 1930s in Europe lay in their ability to turn every statement of fact into a question of motive. I began to wonder whether the advantage of the present day totalitarians, for practical purposes now all Marxists, lies in the related ability to win acceptance by us of language which exalts their motives and impugns ours."

    "For years now, the most brutal totalitarian regimes in the world have called themselves "people's democracies" or "democratic republics""

    Moynihan called this "Semantic Inflitration" and considered this bastardization of language to be the key enemy of creating any sort of international standard of human rights. In his view, the zionism is racism resolution represented a perfect case study.

  25. Nice  

    That is a very good argument you make Bari, but it applies so much more forcefuly to the ludicrous nonsense of saying anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.

    Think about it: There are several religious and ethnic groups (however the hell one defines these nonsensical terms) in historic Palestine, if you say that everyone should live together in equality regardless of all these criteria, you're an anti-Zionist, and hence, an anti-Semite.

    If, however, you maintain a truly racist notion and suggest that Jews need to have their own country, a throwback to old European ethno-nationalism of the 19th Century, then you are not a racist, but you are pro-peace.

    Liars like Alan Dershowitz have made this an art form, and unfortunately, undergrad Zionists all around campuses have fallen for it hook, line and sinker...

    • Jon  

      "Nice" (I'm Jon btw, I'd love to meet you) - Can you please explain this paragraph of yours:
      "If, however, you maintain a truly racist notion and suggest that Jews need to have their own country, a throwback to old European ethno-nationalism of the 19th Century, then you are not a racist, but you are pro-peace."

      I just don't understand what you mean. Can you clarify this sentence?

      Also, do you consider all forms of "ethno-nationalism" racist? If so, is all racism bad? Is having an Italian club on campus racist, or negatively racist as well?

  26. Anonymous  

    Interesting theory. Language is bastardized to create power dynamics, fronts, hypocritical appearances, and irony fit for the blackest of comedies.

    But others would see the Israeli dual-image of "the only western democracy in the Middle East", paired with a brutal and bloody occupation and level the same charges of "Semantic Infiltration" against the Zionist state.

    The Zionism as racism issue itself depends quite a lot on a definition of Zionism first, a definition of racism second, and then an equation third. UN Resolution 3379 does none of that (!OpenDocument), simply asserts that Zionism, apartheid, colonialism, and racism have been held in parallel in various resolutions and conferences and the General Assembly chooses to equate them as well.

    Of course, Moynihan could be correct in the idea that the cases presented internationally have bastardized language to take shots at Israel. But that still doesn't refute a strong, logical case that Zionism is racism. It only disqualifies poor constructed cases.

  27. Bari  

    #44--and folks in general--can you please use your name so we can have a real conversation?
    If you stand by what you're saying, this shouldn't be a problem.


  28. Not exactly  

    I think one thing that can be said about Zionism is it was not so much racism against the arabs as it was ethnocentrism for the Jews. The Jews that came to Israel on the premise of hope for a better place from themselves. It was not, at first, the relatively content Jews of Western Europe, but those abused ones from Eastern Europe. Of course they were responding to the ethno-nationalism that was crushing them, so they made an ethno-nationalistic ideology, Zionism, of their own.

    The outcome of Israel only proves that ethno-nationalism inevitably hurts another group, but their desire for a state of their own does not seem unreasonable for people in their situation.

    However, they do now have a responsibility to the effects of their decisions ,primarily the refugee situation and the settlements. It's just that it wasn't some sinister master plan, is all.

    So, while equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism is wrong, I believe it stems from this common misinterpretation of Zionism as an intentionally racist idea as opposed to an ideology of hope with racist byproducts.

    People just need to understand the source of actions as driven by immediate human needs rather than lofty ideologies.

  29. Fuck it  

    Fuck it! Yes! That's your answer for everything!

  30. Anonymous

    I've never heard anyone, ever, even in the most exaggerated of circumstances, put forth a theory that Zionism is an intentional plot put forth (by the klan? the knights templar? free masons? opus dei?) to ethnically cleanse a bunch of A-rabs.

    It is quite clear that Zionism is a ethnonationalist ideology of a historically oppressed people. On Tuesday, Rashid Khalidi classified Zionism as one of three ethnocentric nationalist ideologies that have existed in the modern Middle East. (an aside: the other two, Pan-Arabism and Pan-Turanism, are long dead forces, Zionism is the only one that has endured)

    Maybe Zionism in itself is not a racist concept (I won't concede the point, but simply entertain the possibility). Zionism would work without being racist if the Zionist state existed in a space that was 100% Jewish. On any other space, Zionism as a verb (that is, the establishment of a Zionist society) is a crime against the de facto disenfranchised non-Jews.

    Racist society is often easy to find and identify. In US history, one has to utter no more than one simply fraction ("three-fifths") to understand the institutionalization of disenfranchisement in apartheid society. In Israeli history, its Declaration of Independence ( is quite plain in stating that "Representatives of the Jewish community of Eretz-Israel and the Zionist Movement... declare the establishment of a Jewish state."

    The later promises of equality to "inhabitants" on basis of race, religion, culture, etc. have shown no more practical weight in Israel's first 60 years than the words "all men created equal" carried in the first 60 years of our nation. The implicit "Jewish" in front of "inhabitants" is almost eerily parallel to the implied "White" in front of "men".

    Please don't bring up Israeli Arabs as the embodiment of equality for Palestinians. It doesn't address the occupation. At all.

    • just wondering  

      I'm just not sure how I see your point that Zionism is de facto disenfranchisement. Certainly, Israel needs to improve integration of its Arab citizens and to improve their quality of life. But great strides have been made since 1948, and despite the very real presence of discrimination against Arabs (which, after all that Israelis have faced, I can't dismiss that it's a human, if incorrect, reaction), Israeli-Arabs nonetheless have much more opportunity than in the past. And I'm not sure why the Palestinians have anything to do with Israel being a racist society, since Israel and Palestine are two different states with separate cultures and separate governments. Could you explain that further?

  31. that game

    never works.

    If you're quoting founding documents, the Israeli declaration of independence goes on to say:
    WE APPEAL - in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months - to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.

    WE EXTEND our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.

    The PLO charter, on the other hand, states:
    The Jews who had normally resided in Palestine until the beginning of the Zionist invasion will be considered Palestinians.

    which sounds lovely, until you wonder what happens to all the Jews who didn't. And if the children of those Jews count.

    And the Hamas charter (only quoted because they control cabinet, not as representative of the Palestinian people) paraphrases the protocols of the elders of zion:
    For a long time, the enemies have been planning, skillfully and with precision, for the achievement of what they have attained. They took into consideration the causes affecting the current of events. They strived to amass great and substantive material wealth which they devoted to the realisation of their dream. With their money, they took control of the world media, news agencies, the press, publishing houses, broadcasting stations, and others. With their money they stirred revolutions in various parts of the world with the purpose of achieving their interests and reaping the fruit therein. They were behind the French Revolution, the Communist revolution and most of the revolutions we heard and hear about, here and there. With their money they formed secret societies, such as Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, the Lions and others in different parts of the world for the purpose of sabotaging societies and achieving Zionist interests. With their money they were able to control imperialistic countries and instigate them to colonize many countries in order to enable them to exploit their resources and spread corruption there. (continues for a few paragraphs).

    Such a nice attribution.

    • Anonymous

      I acknowledged that the Israeli document goes on to make statements suggesting principled approaches to equality. However, these approaches are rendered null and void in the very same manner as "all men created equal" was an impotent feature in US society until the mid-1960s (maybe still even today). The operative phrases in any such document are not the ineffectual ones, but rather the effectual ones. That the authority of a document is derived from its efficacy is not as unnatural as it may seem at first. The Balfour Declaration (a recommendation, not a legislation or a statement of policy) is read as authoritative precisely because it was so effectual.

      Comments on the PLO charter or Hamas documents seem to be presented here to create some sort of comparative case-study. Without rendering any comment on your statements, I want to comment that Palestinian thought or organization is completely irrelevant to the question "Is Zionism Racism?" It only appears in a debate, "Who is more racist, Israel or Palestine?" That circus is the arena of Alan "The Clown" Dershowtiz and is not worthy of address. It is absolutely preposterous that anyone would ever debate, "I am less racist than you." You and Alan have fun being the lesser evil, but evil nonetheless.

      re: 52- Israeli occupation of Palestine and subjugation of Palestinians to brutal, violent tyranny is inherently racist. That's what the Palestinians have to do with it.

      re: 53
      The question of whether Zionism, or other ethnonationalist ideologies are inherently racist is more complex in the abstract than addressing the actual practice of the Zionist state in Israel. I really don't know the answer to that. It's a novel question though.

      The idea that Israeli intolerance of political ideas is somehow skewed to favor Palestinians is ludicrous on too many levels.

  32. i think

    The idea is that Israel is a racist society regardless of the Palestinians, because it is nationalist and declared as a state for the Jewish people rather than for everyone. Thus, there is de facto discrimination against anyone who isn’t Jewish. And furthermore, there’s a conception that the Palestinians needed to be displaced in order for Israel to be created/exist. But the thing is, that would mean every nationalist state is racist, because in the end, they are each primarily states for their own people they let others in, but france is a state for French people, germany for germans and japan for Japanese. Furthermore, there was never any Israeli policy of kicking people out. While I won’t deny that it did occur at some points, it is interesting to note that the kach party, which had transfer of Palestinians as part of its platform, was kicked out of the Israeli parliament for being racist. The arab parties, some of which have a cessation of the jewish state as part of their platforms, are represented.

  33. Anonymous

    Integrity, more integrity.

    Cold war style debates are detrimental to the health of all people. So there is a need for intellectual honesty, without blames for lost homesteads, to the benefit of all Israelis and Palestinians.

    I am sure, you can find a majority of Israelis and Palestinians who are not racists and ready for a peaceful coexistence.

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