Free speech is not without consequence. In the United States, for example, criticism of Israel is
tantamount to heresy.
Former US President Jimmy Carter felt a societal backlash last year after the release of his
book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,
which condemned Israel�s apartheid-style policies in the occupied Palestinian
territories. Consequently, and without foundation, Carter was branded by many
in the American press as a one-sided, anti-Semitic propagandist.
Similarly, Harvard professor Stephen Walt and University of
Chicago professor John Mearsheimer were lambasted for a paper the two
co-authored that discussed the power of the Israel lobby and its adverse effect
on American policy.
Additionally, Norman Finkelstein, an esteemed professor at
DePaul University and author of the bestselling book, The Holocaust Industry, witnessed a McCarthyite-style campaign
mounted against him when he came up for tenure. Finkelstein, the son of
Holocaust survivors, has been an outspoken critic of Israel�s human rights
abuses and of pro-Israel apologist
and Harvard professor, Alan Dershowitz. Predictably, it was Dershowitz who led
the anti-tenure campaign against him; ultimately, Finkelstein was not only
denied tenure, but he lost his job at DePaul.
The attacks against Carter, Finkelstein, Walt and
Mearsheimer serve as a few well-known examples of the consequences writers and
intellectuals face when they breach the line and criticize Israel. Furthermore,
the condemnation writers and intellectuals of Arab descent face are invariably
higher than Jews of conscience, former presidents, and highly regarded
academics. As a result, many writers often acquiesce to the demands of the
mainstream. Their self-censorship usually appears in the form of �toning down
the message,� be it to please editors or critics -- essentially to conform to
the reality of purported pragmatism. Yet, this �pragmatism� is a euphemism for
acceptance of a repressive status quo and is analogous to the �necessary�
practical thinking that silenced a multitude of commentators during the Oslo
years -- the supposed time of peace. Unsurprisingly, untold Palestinian
suffering followed as a result of increased settlement expansion, land
confiscation, checkpoints and seizures, and the ultimate failure of Camp David
Shying away from perceived controversial matters may help to
protect a mainstream career, but the intent of a political analyst should not
be to produce works of fiction. The
vast majority of Americans weren�t open to criticism of US policy during the
run-up to the war on Iraq, mainly due to the media�s complicity in promoting
the war, but criticism was still the appropriate course of action based on the
facts, and Americans would have been better off for it today.
A man who combined principle, activism, and human appeal
quite masterfully was distinguished educator and commentator Edward Said. In
the realm of academia and Middle East analysis, Said was by no means viewed as
the quintessential radical. Nonetheless, his positions were radical when
juxtaposed with �conventional wisdom�: he was a proponent of the one-state
solution, an unwavering critic of the Israeli government, and an ardent
supporter of the ostensibly controversial right of return. Said was still
heavily criticized throughout his career and endured incessant attacks by his
detractors, yet his accessible
personality and articulate message kept him relevant.
Sadly, Said�s relative acceptance has been the exception
rather than the rule. In recent years, there has been increased emphasis on putative pragmatic
dialogue. However, this accentuation of so-called rational and balanced
thinking has proven to be little more than a sinister means to pressure the oppressed to accept the position of the oppressor.
The greatest leaders of the last hundred years didn�t shy away from
controversy; they remained persistent, and saw their visions brought to
fruition; be they Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, or Mahatma Gandhi.
Nevertheless, one cannot overlook that even paramount figures have been
castigated for �overstepping� their boundaries, namely Martin Luther King who
was chided for speaking out against the war in Vietnam, imperialism, and social
injustices that plagued the US.
Last week, Palestinians across the US commemorated 60 years
of displacement. Yet, the lens the Palestinian people are expected to look
through under the pragmatist vision is one that sees a dispossessed people as
necessary victims for a righteous state to take form. Unfortunately, waves of writers and commentators continue to
adopt this line in fear of retribution, in exchange for nicer houses and
comfortable livings, or a combination of both. That is their free will. Free speech is not without consequence.
Nonetheless, losing peace of mind is the only repercussion a writer should
Kanazi is the editor of the forthcoming anthology of poetry, Poets For
Palestine, which can be pre-ordered at www.PoetsForPalestine.com. Remi
can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.