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How Do We Expect Palestinians to Think?

By TTN Blog

This is a brief point-counterpoint taken by permission from The Third Narrative’s email discussion group.  It began with TTN’s editor, Ralph Seliger, commenting on an essay by Shaul Magid (pictured), a Jewish studies scholar at the University of Indiana from 2004 until 2018, now at Dartmouth, and a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute.  Prof. Magid is also a rabbi, ordained in Jerusalem, who serves a congregation in the New York resort area of Fire Island.  

. . .  I was fascinated to read a longish but engaging piece at the Hartman Institute website, adapted from his Yom Kippur sermon, “Keep Jews Interesting: It’s Time to Stop Being Defined by Anti-Semitism.”  He both invokes Salo Baron’s famous critical reference to the “lachrymose” view of Jewish history, and critiques Bari Weiss’s popular new book on antisemitism.  

Baron’s remark is about promoting a more richly balanced perspective on Jewish history; on the other hand, Jewish history is unusually tragic and bloody.  If I’m not mistaken, every country where large numbers of Jews prospered turned very bad at one point or other, where great Jewish communities were expelled, persecuted or massacred.   Think Spain, Portugal, Germany, Poland, England, France.  One exception, so far, is the United States (or North America more generally).   

But I think Magid’s very correct that Bari Weiss’s advice to resist antisemitism by becoming more Jewish (“leaning into Judaism”) is NOT the answer.  He caustically quotes a colleague that her “grandparents in Europe leaned pretty heavily into Judaism and it didn’t turn out so well for them.” 

I also think he’s correct in saying that a Palestinian-American woman’s hatred of Israel is not the same thing as neo-Nazis shouting “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville.  He asks, reasonably I think, how do you expect a Palestinian to think?      

(His exact words: “why shouldn’t she be [anti-Israel]?”)

This prompted the following response from TTN colleague Jonathan Zasloff (a law professor at UCLA):

“He asks, reasonably I think, how do you expect a Palestinian to think?”

Here’s how: I expect them to act as Black South Africans did during apartheid. This really isn’t asking too much.

I expect them to say, as the ANC did in the Freedom Charter, that Palestine belongs to all of its people, Arab and Jew, Christian and Muslim and Druze, secular and religious.

I expect them to understand that it wasn’t like a bunch of white people from northern Europe threw a dart at a map, saw that it hit the Middle East, and said, “hmmm…okay, we’ll colonize that place.”

I expect them to be self-critical and not assume the stance of passive innocent victims with no agency.

I expect them to at least try to understand the Jewish narrative without necessarily accepting it. I expect them to comprehend that the Jews have, at least in their own minds, come home, and that this isn’t some sort of false consciousness but rests on a 2,000 year old tradition.

This is not too much to ask – we demand the equivalent things of ourselves. And no, it is no answer to say, “well, we don’t have any power so we can’t be expected to do all these things.” They have plenty of power – especially highly privileged advocates in the United States and Europe, and certainly they have more power than did the ANC.

None of these require abandoning anti-Zionism; they simply require them to take their own promises seriously.

They have not done any of these things. And that speaks volumes.

4 Responses to “How Do We Expect Palestinians to Think?”

  1. Sheldon Ranz
    November 26, 2019 at 6:48 pm #

    Zasloff; “I expect them to say, as the ANC did in the Freedom Charter, that Palestine belongs to all of its people, Arab and Jew, Christian and Muslim and Druze, secular and religious.”

    Well, many of ‘them’ promote a One-State Solution, which seems to be the equivalent of what you’re claiming the ANC stood for. So, yes, they have done at least that ‘thing.’

    • STAN NADEL
      November 27, 2019 at 7:28 am #

      No Sheldon Rantz, the ANC Freedom Charter didn’t privilege one group of South Africans over the others but the Palestinians consistently call for creating a Muslim Palestine and not a neutral one (see the PA, PLO, Fatah Hamas & etc. charters). Their one state is no less problematic than that of the Greater Israel crowd. And if you want to cite the PFLP lip service to a neutral ideal, just look at their track record of murdering Jews qua Jews to see that they are blowing smoke.

  2. Ralph Seliger
    November 27, 2019 at 10:39 am #

    Pre-Oslo, the PLO promoted the notion of a “democratic” (or “secular democratic”) state in lieu of Israel. This always struck me as phony because: a) “democracy” was a sham for what was a pro-Soviet movement at the time; b) the notion of a “secular” state denied that Jews have rights as a historic people, and not simply followers of a religion. If Israeli Jews could trust that one secular democratic state would truly be democratic and respect Jewish nationality, then one-state would be binational and worth pursuing. But the train of binationalism left the station in 1947/48 when Palestinians violently rejected both partition and a binational state.

  3. Sheldon Ranz
    November 27, 2019 at 1:18 pm #

    I was not addressing you, Mr. Stan Nadel. I wanted to know what Mr. Zasloff would react, since, if one takes what HE says at face value, then he should agree with the last sentence of my post. The One-State faction of the BDS movement, for example, does not promote a Muslim Palestine but indeed a neutral one (I oppose a OSS for other reasons).

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