We’ll Meet Again
Written by Bwog Staff
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.