Israel-Palestine, the US, and the Language of the Holocaust

Thursday, October 29, 2015

by SHAI GINSBURG for ISLAMiCommentary on OCTOBER 27, 2015:

Originally, I had planned on focusing my comments on the divergent logics of Empire and State — of the political dynamics that inform the politics of the US on the one hand, and of Israel on the other — as emerge from Khalidi’s analysis.  Recent events compel me, however, to pursue a different route, one — however — which still traverses the same ground.

I would like to dedicate the next few moments thinking about the recent spate in violence in Israel-Palestine and, more specifically, about the way it is dubbed — in words. Here, I can deal with only one small segment of the language of this most recent stage of the conflict, namely Netanyahu’s comments this past Tuesday in a speech to the delegates of the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, referring to the notorious meeting between Haj Amin al Husayni and Adolf Hitler that took place on November 28, 1941.

“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time,” Netanyahu told his audience; “he wanted to expel the Jew. And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here (to Palestine).’”

According to Netanyahu, Hitler then asked: ‘What should I do with them?’ and the mufti replied: ‘Burn them’.”

I will not refer here (in detail) to the flurry of memes that immediately flooded social networks, from “Soup Mufti,” through Bart Simpson filling out the blackboard with “The Mufti made me do it” to blaming the mufti for breaking up the Beatles; nor to the outcry from professional historians; nor once again to the expressions of approval in neo-Nazi circles, who see in the affair a vindication of Hitler and of their own rendition of the history (or, rather, non-history) of the Holocaust; nor finally again to international responses to the statement, of which most conspicuous is Angela Merkel’s eerie insistence — reality indeed exceeds imagination — that “Germany abides by its responsibility for the Holocaust.”

(What really happened? For a brief summary of the scholarly position you may look at UNC-Chapel Hill history professor Christopher Browning’s comments last week in Foreign Policy. For a scholarly account of what we know about what the Mufti did in Nazi Germany and how we know it, see University of Chicago Islamic history and literature professor Michael Sells’ piece in the latest issue of the Journal of Religious Ethics.)

Khalidi opens and concludes his book Brokers of Deceit with references to George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language.” One of the underlying concerns of this book has to do with the misuse of language, of the American-English of journalism and governance, to be more precise, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Following Khalidi one should ask, then, what sense should we make of Netanyahu’s words, delivered as they were in American-English for an international audience? One should point to the fact that not only there is little new in Netanyahu’s contention that Palestinian collaborated with Nazi Germany in its endeavor to annihilate Jews — the accusation has been first put forward in the immediate aftermath of WWII, and was aired time and again by Israeli State Officials and proponents of the Jewish State — but that Netnyahu himself has already broached the matter repeatedly. Already in his first book, A Place Among the Nations: Israel and the World (1993), Netanyahu raises the accusation. More recently, he called the mufti “one of the main architects of the Final Solution” in a speech delivered to the Israeli Kneset in 2012. This earlier speech did not send the same shock waves through the globe—I believe that not only a change in circumstances is responsible for that but, indeed, a change in language.

Unlike the Hebrew comment, the one made in American-English was clearly not uttered for Israeli ears, which are quite entrenched these days. By the way, a poll conducted on Thursday by the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot suggests that 26% of the Israelis agrees with Netanyahu’s comments about the mufti — roughly the same percentage that is satisfied by Netanyahu’s handling of the current wave of violence and slightly higher than the 23.4% of votes Netanyahu’s party, the Likud, received in the last election. Nor was Netanyahu’s speech delivered with a Jewish global audience in mind. Rather, I suggest we should read it as part of Netanyahu’s ongoing engagement with US politics — not a far-reaching proposition given Netanyahu’s repeated interventions in American internal politics over the past few years.

The endeavor — evinced in fact, since Netanyahu’s earliest days in politics — to frame Haj Amin al Husayni in the Final Solution should thus be read as part of a ongoing discursive politics designed to place Israel not only in alliance of the US, but as part and parcel of the US, as the 51st state as some mockingly call Israel. Netanyahu’s speech seeks, that is, to establish discursive contiguity where territorial contiguity is lacking.

Now, the formation and function of the discourse of the Holocaust in the US is far from simple. The central place allotted at the present to testimonies of victims of the atrocities should surely be lauded even if one often feels that more than a measure of bad faith is involved. After all, the promise “never again,” which was uttered in such awe in face of the horrors of Nazi concentration, labor and extermination camps, rings hollow in light of the subsequent miserable failure of the international community to intervene and prevent human suffering in numerous cases. Moreover, our current obsession with the pornography of horror — most conspicuously manifested in our addiction to snuff films from the Middle East and North Africa (and elsewhere) — suggests that the reasons for our investment in testimonies perhaps might not be as honorable as we would like to imagine.

In the case of the Jewish Holocaust one can hardly ignore the irony inherent in the present place of the Holocaust in American culture and politics in light of the anti-Semitism that haunted the Roosevelt administration (and the American public and media in general) in its treatment of the plight of Jews during the war years. The irony is doubled when one turns attention to the swiftness with which the association of Palestinians with Nazi Germany became so prevalent not only within the radical wing of the Republican Party, but among US liberal thinkers as well (even if its affect on this sector seems to be waning).

As Khalidi notes, it informs American popular culture through and through — with Exodus being the most notable early example — to such an extent that it seems that every oration on the Palestinian subject has to begin with Jewish suffering during WWII. In fact, scholarship on the matter notwithstanding, the association of Palestinians with Nazi Germany became ever more prevalent in the American media over the past two to three decades.

Back to Netanyahu’s comment. No doubt, a particular set of historical circumstances brought this about. Netanyahu’s rhetorical strategy to conflate Iran with Nazi Germany in his endeavor to block the nuclear deal seems to have — quite surprisingly, I must admit — have over-saturated the American political discourse. Netanyahu’s quick move to identify “the new Nazi on the block” – a move from metaphorical language to an insistence on the literality of the metaphor – thus seem all but unbelievable to all but his most avid supporters on the far right (even to those who would have happily followed his lead in this matter). What is more, the current wave of escalated violence, characterized by low level terrorism of knife attacks and stone throwing — threatening and frightening as it is for Israelis — and which results in a handful of Israeli casualties (and many more Palestinian ones) pales in comparison not only to the promise of Iranian instigated nuclear doomsday, but also the spectacle of torture and death of ISIS and the civil war in Syria. Netanyahu’s metaphor is so much (and quite simply) over the top that is implodes, and with it the nexus Netanyahu tried to establish between the US and the Israeli ethos.

No doubt, given its prevalence, many find it hard to believe that the association of the Palestinian national movement and of the Palestinian struggle against Israeli oppression with Nazi genocide is groundless. Yet, in the face of Netanyahu’s preposterous comment and the almost universal ire it provoked, even they are forced to pause for a moment to consider the function of the discourse of the Holocaust in our politics and beliefs. Whether this incident would truly change the way we think and talk about Israeli-Jews and Palestinians in this country is hard to tell. As a pessimist, I doubt it.

 

Shai Ginsburg is Associate Professor of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies and Director of Undergraduate Studies in that department at Duke University. His research areas include Hebrew literature, Israeli cinema, critical theory, film theory, and nationalism. He is currently teaching a course “Genealogies of the Middle East.” He is also affiliated faculty with the  Duke Islamic Studies Center and Duke Middle East Studies Center.

- See more at:

http://islamicommentary.org/2015/10/israel-palestine-the-us-and-the-language-of-the-holocaust-by-shai-ginsburg

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Last week Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University, delivered a public lecture at Duke University on “The Hundred Year War in Palestine,” and engaged in a faculty forum the following day with Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill professors on the themes of his book Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.” (Beacon Press, 2013). (Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies and Chair of the Department of History at Columbia University, had served as an advisor to the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid and Washington Arab-Israeli peace negotiations from October 1991 until June 1993).  

Associate Professor of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies Shai Ginsburg, one of the participants in the faculty forum, has shared with ISLAMiCommentary the text of his own prepared remarks for the forum (lightly edited for clarity), which draw on some of the themes in Khalidi’s book and relate them to his (Ginsburg’s) analysis of present-day events. Read below:

 

by SHAI GINSBURG for ISLAMiCommentary on OCTOBER 27, 2015:

Originally, I had planned on focusing my comments on the divergent logics of Empire and State — of the political dynamics that inform the politics of the US on the one hand, and of Israel on the other — as emerge from Khalidi’s analysis.  Recent events compel me, however, to pursue a different route, one — however — which still traverses the same ground.

I would like to dedicate the next few moments thinking about the recent spate in violence in Israel-Palestine and, more specifically, about the way it is dubbed — in words. Here, I can deal with only one small segment of the language of this most recent stage of the conflict, namely Netanyahu’s comments this past Tuesday in a speech to the delegates of the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, referring to the notorious meeting between Haj Amin al Husayni and Adolf Hitler that took place on November 28, 1941.

“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time,” Netanyahu told his audience; “he wanted to expel the Jew. And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here (to Palestine).’”

According to Netanyahu, Hitler then asked: ‘What should I do with them?’ and the mufti replied: ‘Burn them’.”

I will not refer here (in detail) to the flurry of memes that immediately flooded social networks, from “Soup Mufti,” through Bart Simpson filling out the blackboard with “The Mufti made me do it” to blaming the mufti for breaking up the Beatles; nor to the outcry from professional historians; nor once again to the expressions of approval in neo-Nazi circles, who see in the affair a vindication of Hitler and of their own rendition of the history (or, rather, non-history) of the Holocaust; nor finally again to international responses to the statement, of which most conspicuous is Angela Merkel’s eerie insistence — reality indeed exceeds imagination — that “Germany abides by its responsibility for the Holocaust.”

(What really happened? For a brief summary of the scholarly position you may look at UNC-Chapel Hill history professor Christopher Browning’s comments last week in Foreign Policy. For a scholarly account of what we know about what the Mufti did in Nazi Germany and how we know it, see University of Chicago Islamic history and literature professor Michael Sells’ piece in the latest issue of the Journal of Religious Ethics.)

Khalidi opens and concludes his book Brokers of Deceit with references to George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language.” One of the underlying concerns of this book has to do with the misuse of language, of the American-English of journalism and governance, to be more precise, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Following Khalidi one should ask, then, what sense should we make of Netanyahu’s words, delivered as they were in American-English for an international audience? One should point to the fact that not only there is little new in Netanyahu’s contention that Palestinian collaborated with Nazi Germany in its endeavor to annihilate Jews — the accusation has been first put forward in the immediate aftermath of WWII, and was aired time and again by Israeli State Officials and proponents of the Jewish State — but that Netnyahu himself has already broached the matter repeatedly. Already in his first book, A Place Among the Nations: Israel and the World (1993), Netanyahu raises the accusation. More recently, he called the mufti “one of the main architects of the Final Solution” in a speech delivered to the Israeli Kneset in 2012. This earlier speech did not send the same shock waves through the globe—I believe that not only a change in circumstances is responsible for that but, indeed, a change in language.

Unlike the Hebrew comment, the one made in American-English was clearly not uttered for Israeli ears, which are quite entrenched these days. By the way, a poll conducted on Thursday by the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot suggests that 26% of the Israelis agrees with Netanyahu’s comments about the mufti — roughly the same percentage that is satisfied by Netanyahu’s handling of the current wave of violence and slightly higher than the 23.4% of votes Netanyahu’s party, the Likud, received in the last election. Nor was Netanyahu’s speech delivered with a Jewish global audience in mind. Rather, I suggest we should read it as part of Netanyahu’s ongoing engagement with US politics — not a far-reaching proposition given Netanyahu’s repeated interventions in American internal politics over the past few years.

The endeavor — evinced in fact, since Netanyahu’s earliest days in politics — to frame Haj Amin al Husayni in the Final Solution should thus be read as part of a ongoing discursive politics designed to place Israel not only in alliance of the US, but as part and parcel of the US, as the 51st state as some mockingly call Israel. Netanyahu’s speech seeks, that is, to establish discursive contiguity where territorial contiguity is lacking.

Now, the formation and function of the discourse of the Holocaust in the US is far from simple. The central place allotted at the present to testimonies of victims of the atrocities should surely be lauded even if one often feels that more than a measure of bad faith is involved. After all, the promise “never again,” which was uttered in such awe in face of the horrors of Nazi concentration, labor and extermination camps, rings hollow in light of the subsequent miserable failure of the international community to intervene and prevent human suffering in numerous cases. Moreover, our current obsession with the pornography of horror — most conspicuously manifested in our addiction to snuff films from the Middle East and North Africa (and elsewhere) — suggests that the reasons for our investment in testimonies perhaps might not be as honorable as we would like to imagine.

In the case of the Jewish Holocaust one can hardly ignore the irony inherent in the present place of the Holocaust in American culture and politics in light of the anti-Semitism that haunted the Roosevelt administration (and the American public and media in general) in its treatment of the plight of Jews during the war years. The irony is doubled when one turns attention to the swiftness with which the association of Palestinians with Nazi Germany became so prevalent not only within the radical wing of the Republican Party, but among US liberal thinkers as well (even if its affect on this sector seems to be waning).

As Khalidi notes, it informs American popular culture through and through — with Exodus being the most notable early example — to such an extent that it seems that every oration on the Palestinian subject has to begin with Jewish suffering during WWII. In fact, scholarship on the matter notwithstanding, the association of Palestinians with Nazi Germany became ever more prevalent in the American media over the past two to three decades.

Back to Netanyahu’s comment. No doubt, a particular set of historical circumstances brought this about. Netanyahu’s rhetorical strategy to conflate Iran with Nazi Germany in his endeavor to block the nuclear deal seems to have — quite surprisingly, I must admit — have over-saturated the American political discourse. Netanyahu’s quick move to identify “the new Nazi on the block” – a move from metaphorical language to an insistence on the literality of the metaphor – thus seem all but unbelievable to all but his most avid supporters on the far right (even to those who would have happily followed his lead in this matter). What is more, the current wave of escalated violence, characterized by low level terrorism of knife attacks and stone throwing — threatening and frightening as it is for Israelis — and which results in a handful of Israeli casualties (and many more Palestinian ones) pales in comparison not only to the promise of Iranian instigated nuclear doomsday, but also the spectacle of torture and death of ISIS and the civil war in Syria. Netanyahu’s metaphor is so much (and quite simply) over the top that is implodes, and with it the nexus Netanyahu tried to establish between the US and the Israeli ethos.

No doubt, given its prevalence, many find it hard to believe that the association of the Palestinian national movement and of the Palestinian struggle against Israeli oppression with Nazi genocide is groundless. Yet, in the face of Netanyahu’s preposterous comment and the almost universal ire it provoked, even they are forced to pause for a moment to consider the function of the discourse of the Holocaust in our politics and beliefs. Whether this incident would truly change the way we think and talk about Israeli-Jews and Palestinians in this country is hard to tell. As a pessimist, I doubt it.

 

Shai Ginsburg is Associate Professor of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies and Director of Undergraduate Studies in that department at Duke University. His research areas include Hebrew literature, Israeli cinema, critical theory, film theory, and nationalism. He is currently teaching a course “Genealogies of the Middle East.” He is also affiliated faculty with the  Duke Islamic Studies Center and Duke Middle East Studies Center.

- See more at: http://islamicommentary.org/2015/10/israel-palestine-the-us-and-the-lang...

EDITOR’S NOTE: Last week Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University, delivered a public lecture at Duke University on “The Hundred Year War in Palestine,” and engaged in a faculty forum the following day with Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill professors on the themes of his book Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.” (Beacon Press, 2013). (Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies and Chair of the Department of History at Columbia University, had served as an advisor to the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid and Washington Arab-Israeli peace negotiations from October 1991 until June 1993).  

Associate Professor of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies Shai Ginsburg, one of the participants in the faculty forum, has shared with ISLAMiCommentary the text of his own prepared remarks for the forum (lightly edited for clarity), which draw on some of the themes in Khalidi’s book and relate them to his (Ginsburg’s) analysis of present-day events. Read below:

 

by SHAI GINSBURG for ISLAMiCommentary on OCTOBER 27, 2015:

Originally, I had planned on focusing my comments on the divergent logics of Empire and State — of the political dynamics that inform the politics of the US on the one hand, and of Israel on the other — as emerge from Khalidi’s analysis.  Recent events compel me, however, to pursue a different route, one — however — which still traverses the same ground.

I would like to dedicate the next few moments thinking about the recent spate in violence in Israel-Palestine and, more specifically, about the way it is dubbed — in words. Here, I can deal with only one small segment of the language of this most recent stage of the conflict, namely Netanyahu’s comments this past Tuesday in a speech to the delegates of the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, referring to the notorious meeting between Haj Amin al Husayni and Adolf Hitler that took place on November 28, 1941.

“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time,” Netanyahu told his audience; “he wanted to expel the Jew. And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here (to Palestine).’”

According to Netanyahu, Hitler then asked: ‘What should I do with them?’ and the mufti replied: ‘Burn them’.”

I will not refer here (in detail) to the flurry of memes that immediately flooded social networks, from “Soup Mufti,” through Bart Simpson filling out the blackboard with “The Mufti made me do it” to blaming the mufti for breaking up the Beatles; nor to the outcry from professional historians; nor once again to the expressions of approval in neo-Nazi circles, who see in the affair a vindication of Hitler and of their own rendition of the history (or, rather, non-history) of the Holocaust; nor finally again to international responses to the statement, of which most conspicuous is Angela Merkel’s eerie insistence — reality indeed exceeds imagination — that “Germany abides by its responsibility for the Holocaust.”

(What really happened? For a brief summary of the scholarly position you may look at UNC-Chapel Hill history professor Christopher Browning’s comments last week in Foreign Policy. For a scholarly account of what we know about what the Mufti did in Nazi Germany and how we know it, see University of Chicago Islamic history and literature professor Michael Sells’ piece in the latest issue of the Journal of Religious Ethics.)

Khalidi opens and concludes his book Brokers of Deceit with references to George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language.” One of the underlying concerns of this book has to do with the misuse of language, of the American-English of journalism and governance, to be more precise, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Following Khalidi one should ask, then, what sense should we make of Netanyahu’s words, delivered as they were in American-English for an international audience? One should point to the fact that not only there is little new in Netanyahu’s contention that Palestinian collaborated with Nazi Germany in its endeavor to annihilate Jews — the accusation has been first put forward in the immediate aftermath of WWII, and was aired time and again by Israeli State Officials and proponents of the Jewish State — but that Netnyahu himself has already broached the matter repeatedly. Already in his first book, A Place Among the Nations: Israel and the World (1993), Netanyahu raises the accusation. More recently, he called the mufti “one of the main architects of the Final Solution” in a speech delivered to the Israeli Kneset in 2012. This earlier speech did not send the same shock waves through the globe—I believe that not only a change in circumstances is responsible for that but, indeed, a change in language.

Unlike the Hebrew comment, the one made in American-English was clearly not uttered for Israeli ears, which are quite entrenched these days. By the way, a poll conducted on Thursday by the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot suggests that 26% of the Israelis agrees with Netanyahu’s comments about the mufti — roughly the same percentage that is satisfied by Netanyahu’s handling of the current wave of violence and slightly higher than the 23.4% of votes Netanyahu’s party, the Likud, received in the last election. Nor was Netanyahu’s speech delivered with a Jewish global audience in mind. Rather, I suggest we should read it as part of Netanyahu’s ongoing engagement with US politics — not a far-reaching proposition given Netanyahu’s repeated interventions in American internal politics over the past few years.

The endeavor — evinced in fact, since Netanyahu’s earliest days in politics — to frame Haj Amin al Husayni in the Final Solution should thus be read as part of a ongoing discursive politics designed to place Israel not only in alliance of the US, but as part and parcel of the US, as the 51st state as some mockingly call Israel. Netanyahu’s speech seeks, that is, to establish discursive contiguity where territorial contiguity is lacking.

Now, the formation and function of the discourse of the Holocaust in the US is far from simple. The central place allotted at the present to testimonies of victims of the atrocities should surely be lauded even if one often feels that more than a measure of bad faith is involved. After all, the promise “never again,” which was uttered in such awe in face of the horrors of Nazi concentration, labor and extermination camps, rings hollow in light of the subsequent miserable failure of the international community to intervene and prevent human suffering in numerous cases. Moreover, our current obsession with the pornography of horror — most conspicuously manifested in our addiction to snuff films from the Middle East and North Africa (and elsewhere) — suggests that the reasons for our investment in testimonies perhaps might not be as honorable as we would like to imagine.

In the case of the Jewish Holocaust one can hardly ignore the irony inherent in the present place of the Holocaust in American culture and politics in light of the anti-Semitism that haunted the Roosevelt administration (and the American public and media in general) in its treatment of the plight of Jews during the war years. The irony is doubled when one turns attention to the swiftness with which the association of Palestinians with Nazi Germany became so prevalent not only within the radical wing of the Republican Party, but among US liberal thinkers as well (even if its affect on this sector seems to be waning).

As Khalidi notes, it informs American popular culture through and through — with Exodus being the most notable early example — to such an extent that it seems that every oration on the Palestinian subject has to begin with Jewish suffering during WWII. In fact, scholarship on the matter notwithstanding, the association of Palestinians with Nazi Germany became ever more prevalent in the American media over the past two to three decades.

Back to Netanyahu’s comment. No doubt, a particular set of historical circumstances brought this about. Netanyahu’s rhetorical strategy to conflate Iran with Nazi Germany in his endeavor to block the nuclear deal seems to have — quite surprisingly, I must admit — have over-saturated the American political discourse. Netanyahu’s quick move to identify “the new Nazi on the block” – a move from metaphorical language to an insistence on the literality of the metaphor – thus seem all but unbelievable to all but his most avid supporters on the far right (even to those who would have happily followed his lead in this matter). What is more, the current wave of escalated violence, characterized by low level terrorism of knife attacks and stone throwing — threatening and frightening as it is for Israelis — and which results in a handful of Israeli casualties (and many more Palestinian ones) pales in comparison not only to the promise of Iranian instigated nuclear doomsday, but also the spectacle of torture and death of ISIS and the civil war in Syria. Netanyahu’s metaphor is so much (and quite simply) over the top that is implodes, and with it the nexus Netanyahu tried to establish between the US and the Israeli ethos.

No doubt, given its prevalence, many find it hard to believe that the association of the Palestinian national movement and of the Palestinian struggle against Israeli oppression with Nazi genocide is groundless. Yet, in the face of Netanyahu’s preposterous comment and the almost universal ire it provoked, even they are forced to pause for a moment to consider the function of the discourse of the Holocaust in our politics and beliefs. Whether this incident would truly change the way we think and talk about Israeli-Jews and Palestinians in this country is hard to tell. As a pessimist, I doubt it.

 

Shai Ginsburg is Associate Professor of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies and Director of Undergraduate Studies in that department at Duke University. His research areas include Hebrew literature, Israeli cinema, critical theory, film theory, and nationalism. He is currently teaching a course “Genealogies of the Middle East.” He is also affiliated faculty with the  Duke Islamic Studies Center and Duke Middle East Studies Center.

- See more at: http://islamicommentary.org/2015/10/israel-palestine-the-us-and-the-lang...

EDITOR’S NOTE: Last week Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University, delivered a public lecture at Duke University on “The Hundred Year War in Palestine,” and engaged in a faculty forum the following day with Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill professors on the themes of his book Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.” (Beacon Press, 2013). (Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies and Chair of the Department of History at Columbia University, had served as an advisor to the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid and Washington Arab-Israeli peace negotiations from October 1991 until June 1993).  

Associate Professor of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies Shai Ginsburg, one of the participants in the faculty forum, has shared with ISLAMiCommentary the text of his own prepared remarks for the forum (lightly edited for clarity), which draw on some of the themes in Khalidi’s book and relate them to his (Ginsburg’s) analysis of present-day events. Read below:

 

by SHAI GINSBURG for ISLAMiCommentary on OCTOBER 27, 2015:

Originally, I had planned on focusing my comments on the divergent logics of Empire and State — of the political dynamics that inform the politics of the US on the one hand, and of Israel on the other — as emerge from Khalidi’s analysis.  Recent events compel me, however, to pursue a different route, one — however — which still traverses the same ground.

I would like to dedicate the next few moments thinking about the recent spate in violence in Israel-Palestine and, more specifically, about the way it is dubbed — in words. Here, I can deal with only one small segment of the language of this most recent stage of the conflict, namely Netanyahu’s comments this past Tuesday in a speech to the delegates of the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, referring to the notorious meeting between Haj Amin al Husayni and Adolf Hitler that took place on November 28, 1941.

“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time,” Netanyahu told his audience; “he wanted to expel the Jew. And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here (to Palestine).’”

According to Netanyahu, Hitler then asked: ‘What should I do with them?’ and the mufti replied: ‘Burn them’.”

I will not refer here (in detail) to the flurry of memes that immediately flooded social networks, from “Soup Mufti,” through Bart Simpson filling out the blackboard with “The Mufti made me do it” to blaming the mufti for breaking up the Beatles; nor to the outcry from professional historians; nor once again to the expressions of approval in neo-Nazi circles, who see in the affair a vindication of Hitler and of their own rendition of the history (or, rather, non-history) of the Holocaust; nor finally again to international responses to the statement, of which most conspicuous is Angela Merkel’s eerie insistence — reality indeed exceeds imagination — that “Germany abides by its responsibility for the Holocaust.”

(What really happened? For a brief summary of the scholarly position you may look at UNC-Chapel Hill history professor Christopher Browning’s comments last week in Foreign Policy. For a scholarly account of what we know about what the Mufti did in Nazi Germany and how we know it, see University of Chicago Islamic history and literature professor Michael Sells’ piece in the latest issue of the Journal of Religious Ethics.)

Khalidi opens and concludes his book Brokers of Deceit with references to George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language.” One of the underlying concerns of this book has to do with the misuse of language, of the American-English of journalism and governance, to be more precise, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Following Khalidi one should ask, then, what sense should we make of Netanyahu’s words, delivered as they were in American-English for an international audience? One should point to the fact that not only there is little new in Netanyahu’s contention that Palestinian collaborated with Nazi Germany in its endeavor to annihilate Jews — the accusation has been first put forward in the immediate aftermath of WWII, and was aired time and again by Israeli State Officials and proponents of the Jewish State — but that Netnyahu himself has already broached the matter repeatedly. Already in his first book, A Place Among the Nations: Israel and the World (1993), Netanyahu raises the accusation. More recently, he called the mufti “one of the main architects of the Final Solution” in a speech delivered to the Israeli Kneset in 2012. This earlier speech did not send the same shock waves through the globe—I believe that not only a change in circumstances is responsible for that but, indeed, a change in language.

Unlike the Hebrew comment, the one made in American-English was clearly not uttered for Israeli ears, which are quite entrenched these days. By the way, a poll conducted on Thursday by the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot suggests that 26% of the Israelis agrees with Netanyahu’s comments about the mufti — roughly the same percentage that is satisfied by Netanyahu’s handling of the current wave of violence and slightly higher than the 23.4% of votes Netanyahu’s party, the Likud, received in the last election. Nor was Netanyahu’s speech delivered with a Jewish global audience in mind. Rather, I suggest we should read it as part of Netanyahu’s ongoing engagement with US politics — not a far-reaching proposition given Netanyahu’s repeated interventions in American internal politics over the past few years.

The endeavor — evinced in fact, since Netanyahu’s earliest days in politics — to frame Haj Amin al Husayni in the Final Solution should thus be read as part of a ongoing discursive politics designed to place Israel not only in alliance of the US, but as part and parcel of the US, as the 51st state as some mockingly call Israel. Netanyahu’s speech seeks, that is, to establish discursive contiguity where territorial contiguity is lacking.

Now, the formation and function of the discourse of the Holocaust in the US is far from simple. The central place allotted at the present to testimonies of victims of the atrocities should surely be lauded even if one often feels that more than a measure of bad faith is involved. After all, the promise “never again,” which was uttered in such awe in face of the horrors of Nazi concentration, labor and extermination camps, rings hollow in light of the subsequent miserable failure of the international community to intervene and prevent human suffering in numerous cases. Moreover, our current obsession with the pornography of horror — most conspicuously manifested in our addiction to snuff films from the Middle East and North Africa (and elsewhere) — suggests that the reasons for our investment in testimonies perhaps might not be as honorable as we would like to imagine.

In the case of the Jewish Holocaust one can hardly ignore the irony inherent in the present place of the Holocaust in American culture and politics in light of the anti-Semitism that haunted the Roosevelt administration (and the American public and media in general) in its treatment of the plight of Jews during the war years. The irony is doubled when one turns attention to the swiftness with which the association of Palestinians with Nazi Germany became so prevalent not only within the radical wing of the Republican Party, but among US liberal thinkers as well (even if its affect on this sector seems to be waning).

As Khalidi notes, it informs American popular culture through and through — with Exodus being the most notable early example — to such an extent that it seems that every oration on the Palestinian subject has to begin with Jewish suffering during WWII. In fact, scholarship on the matter notwithstanding, the association of Palestinians with Nazi Germany became ever more prevalent in the American media over the past two to three decades.

Back to Netanyahu’s comment. No doubt, a particular set of historical circumstances brought this about. Netanyahu’s rhetorical strategy to conflate Iran with Nazi Germany in his endeavor to block the nuclear deal seems to have — quite surprisingly, I must admit — have over-saturated the American political discourse. Netanyahu’s quick move to identify “the new Nazi on the block” – a move from metaphorical language to an insistence on the literality of the metaphor – thus seem all but unbelievable to all but his most avid supporters on the far right (even to those who would have happily followed his lead in this matter). What is more, the current wave of escalated violence, characterized by low level terrorism of knife attacks and stone throwing — threatening and frightening as it is for Israelis — and which results in a handful of Israeli casualties (and many more Palestinian ones) pales in comparison not only to the promise of Iranian instigated nuclear doomsday, but also the spectacle of torture and death of ISIS and the civil war in Syria. Netanyahu’s metaphor is so much (and quite simply) over the top that is implodes, and with it the nexus Netanyahu tried to establish between the US and the Israeli ethos.

No doubt, given its prevalence, many find it hard to believe that the association of the Palestinian national movement and of the Palestinian struggle against Israeli oppression with Nazi genocide is groundless. Yet, in the face of Netanyahu’s preposterous comment and the almost universal ire it provoked, even they are forced to pause for a moment to consider the function of the discourse of the Holocaust in our politics and beliefs. Whether this incident would truly change the way we think and talk about Israeli-Jews and Palestinians in this country is hard to tell. As a pessimist, I doubt it.

 

Shai Ginsburg is Associate Professor of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies and Director of Undergraduate Studies in that department at Duke University. His research areas include Hebrew literature, Israeli cinema, critical theory, film theory, and nationalism. He is currently teaching a course “Genealogies of the Middle East.” He is also affiliated faculty with the  Duke Islamic Studies Center and Duke Middle East Studies Center.

- See more at: http://islamicommentary.org/2015/10/israel-palestine-the-us-and-the-lang...

by SHAI GINSBURG for ISLAMiCommentary on OCTOBER 27, 2015:

Originally, I had planned on focusing my comments on the divergent logics of Empire and State — of the political dynamics that inform the politics of the US on the one hand, and of Israel on the other — as emerge from Khalidi’s analysis.  Recent events compel me, however, to pursue a different route, one — however — which still traverses the same ground.

I would like to dedicate the next few moments thinking about the recent spate in violence in Israel-Palestine and, more specifically, about the way it is dubbed — in words. Here, I can deal with only one small segment of the language of this most recent stage of the conflict, namely Netanyahu’s comments this past Tuesday in a speech to the delegates of the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, referring to the notorious meeting between Haj Amin al Husayni and Adolf Hitler that took place on November 28, 1941.

“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time,” Netanyahu told his audience; “he wanted to expel the Jew. And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here (to Palestine).’”

According to Netanyahu, Hitler then asked: ‘What should I do with them?’ and the mufti replied: ‘Burn them’.”

I will not refer here (in detail) to the flurry of memes that immediately flooded social networks, from “Soup Mufti,” through Bart Simpson filling out the blackboard with “The Mufti made me do it” to blaming the mufti for breaking up the Beatles; nor to the outcry from professional historians; nor once again to the expressions of approval in neo-Nazi circles, who see in the affair a vindication of Hitler and of their own rendition of the history (or, rather, non-history) of the Holocaust; nor finally again to international responses to the statement, of which most conspicuous is Angela Merkel’s eerie insistence — reality indeed exceeds imagination — that “Germany abides by its responsibility for the Holocaust.”

(What really happened? For a brief summary of the scholarly position you may look at UNC-Chapel Hill history professor Christopher Browning’s comments last week in Foreign Policy. For a scholarly account of what we know about what the Mufti did in Nazi Germany and how we know it, see University of Chicago Islamic history and literature professor Michael Sells’ piece in the latest issue of the Journal of Religious Ethics.)

Khalidi opens and concludes his book Brokers of Deceit with references to George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language.” One of the underlying concerns of this book has to do with the misuse of language, of the American-English of journalism and governance, to be more precise, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Following Khalidi one should ask, then, what sense should we make of Netanyahu’s words, delivered as they were in American-English for an international audience? One should point to the fact that not only there is little new in Netanyahu’s contention that Palestinian collaborated with Nazi Germany in its endeavor to annihilate Jews — the accusation has been first put forward in the immediate aftermath of WWII, and was aired time and again by Israeli State Officials and proponents of the Jewish State — but that Netnyahu himself has already broached the matter repeatedly. Already in his first book, A Place Among the Nations: Israel and the World (1993), Netanyahu raises the accusation. More recently, he called the mufti “one of the main architects of the Final Solution” in a speech delivered to the Israeli Kneset in 2012. This earlier speech did not send the same shock waves through the globe—I believe that not only a change in circumstances is responsible for that but, indeed, a change in language.

Unlike the Hebrew comment, the one made in American-English was clearly not uttered for Israeli ears, which are quite entrenched these days. By the way, a poll conducted on Thursday by the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot suggests that 26% of the Israelis agrees with Netanyahu’s comments about the mufti — roughly the same percentage that is satisfied by Netanyahu’s handling of the current wave of violence and slightly higher than the 23.4% of votes Netanyahu’s party, the Likud, received in the last election. Nor was Netanyahu’s speech delivered with a Jewish global audience in mind. Rather, I suggest we should read it as part of Netanyahu’s ongoing engagement with US politics — not a far-reaching proposition given Netanyahu’s repeated interventions in American internal politics over the past few years.

The endeavor — evinced in fact, since Netanyahu’s earliest days in politics — to frame Haj Amin al Husayni in the Final Solution should thus be read as part of a ongoing discursive politics designed to place Israel not only in alliance of the US, but as part and parcel of the US, as the 51st state as some mockingly call Israel. Netanyahu’s speech seeks, that is, to establish discursive contiguity where territorial contiguity is lacking.

Now, the formation and function of the discourse of the Holocaust in the US is far from simple. The central place allotted at the present to testimonies of victims of the atrocities should surely be lauded even if one often feels that more than a measure of bad faith is involved. After all, the promise “never again,” which was uttered in such awe in face of the horrors of Nazi concentration, labor and extermination camps, rings hollow in light of the subsequent miserable failure of the international community to intervene and prevent human suffering in numerous cases. Moreover, our current obsession with the pornography of horror — most conspicuously manifested in our addiction to snuff films from the Middle East and North Africa (and elsewhere) — suggests that the reasons for our investment in testimonies perhaps might not be as honorable as we would like to imagine.

In the case of the Jewish Holocaust one can hardly ignore the irony inherent in the present place of the Holocaust in American culture and politics in light of the anti-Semitism that haunted the Roosevelt administration (and the American public and media in general) in its treatment of the plight of Jews during the war years. The irony is doubled when one turns attention to the swiftness with which the association of Palestinians with Nazi Germany became so prevalent not only within the radical wing of the Republican Party, but among US liberal thinkers as well (even if its affect on this sector seems to be waning).

As Khalidi notes, it informs American popular culture through and through — with Exodus being the most notable early example — to such an extent that it seems that every oration on the Palestinian subject has to begin with Jewish suffering during WWII. In fact, scholarship on the matter notwithstanding, the association of Palestinians with Nazi Germany became ever more prevalent in the American media over the past two to three decades.

Back to Netanyahu’s comment. No doubt, a particular set of historical circumstances brought this about. Netanyahu’s rhetorical strategy to conflate Iran with Nazi Germany in his endeavor to block the nuclear deal seems to have — quite surprisingly, I must admit — have over-saturated the American political discourse. Netanyahu’s quick move to identify “the new Nazi on the block” – a move from metaphorical language to an insistence on the literality of the metaphor – thus seem all but unbelievable to all but his most avid supporters on the far right (even to those who would have happily followed his lead in this matter). What is more, the current wave of escalated violence, characterized by low level terrorism of knife attacks and stone throwing — threatening and frightening as it is for Israelis — and which results in a handful of Israeli casualties (and many more Palestinian ones) pales in comparison not only to the promise of Iranian instigated nuclear doomsday, but also the spectacle of torture and death of ISIS and the civil war in Syria. Netanyahu’s metaphor is so much (and quite simply) over the top that is implodes, and with it the nexus Netanyahu tried to establish between the US and the Israeli ethos.

No doubt, given its prevalence, many find it hard to believe that the association of the Palestinian national movement and of the Palestinian struggle against Israeli oppression with Nazi genocide is groundless. Yet, in the face of Netanyahu’s preposterous comment and the almost universal ire it provoked, even they are forced to pause for a moment to consider the function of the discourse of the Holocaust in our politics and beliefs. Whether this incident would truly change the way we think and talk about Israeli-Jews and Palestinians in this country is hard to tell. As a pessimist, I doubt it.

 

Shai Ginsburg is Associate Professor of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies and Director of Undergraduate Studies in that department at Duke University. His research areas include Hebrew literature, Israeli cinema, critical theory, film theory, and nationalism. He is currently teaching a course “Genealogies of the Middle East.” He is also affiliated faculty with the  Duke Islamic Studies Center and Duke Middle East Studies Center.

- See more at: http://islamicommentary.org/2015/10/israel-palestine-the-us-and-the-lang...

by SHAI GINSBURG for ISLAMiCommentary on OCTOBER 27, 2015:

Originally, I had planned on focusing my comments on the divergent logics of Empire and State — of the political dynamics that inform the politics of the US on the one hand, and of Israel on the other — as emerge from Khalidi’s analysis.  Recent events compel me, however, to pursue a different route, one — however — which still traverses the same ground.

I would like to dedicate the next few moments thinking about the recent spate in violence in Israel-Palestine and, more specifically, about the way it is dubbed — in words. Here, I can deal with only one small segment of the language of this most recent stage of the conflict, namely Netanyahu’s comments this past Tuesday in a speech to the delegates of the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, referring to the notorious meeting between Haj Amin al Husayni and Adolf Hitler that took place on November 28, 1941.

“Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time,” Netanyahu told his audience; “he wanted to expel the Jew. And Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, ‘If you expel them, they’ll all come here (to Palestine).’”

According to Netanyahu, Hitler then asked: ‘What should I do with them?’ and the mufti replied: ‘Burn them’.”

I will not refer here (in detail) to the flurry of memes that immediately flooded social networks, from “Soup Mufti,” through Bart Simpson filling out the blackboard with “The Mufti made me do it” to blaming the mufti for breaking up the Beatles; nor to the outcry from professional historians; nor once again to the expressions of approval in neo-Nazi circles, who see in the affair a vindication of Hitler and of their own rendition of the history (or, rather, non-history) of the Holocaust; nor finally again to international responses to the statement, of which most conspicuous is Angela Merkel’s eerie insistence — reality indeed exceeds imagination — that “Germany abides by its responsibility for the Holocaust.”

(What really happened? For a brief summary of the scholarly position you may look at UNC-Chapel Hill history professor Christopher Browning’s comments last week in Foreign Policy. For a scholarly account of what we know about what the Mufti did in Nazi Germany and how we know it, see University of Chicago Islamic history and literature professor Michael Sells’ piece in the latest issue of the Journal of Religious Ethics.)

Khalidi opens and concludes his book Brokers of Deceit with references to George Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language.” One of the underlying concerns of this book has to do with the misuse of language, of the American-English of journalism and governance, to be more precise, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Following Khalidi one should ask, then, what sense should we make of Netanyahu’s words, delivered as they were in American-English for an international audience? One should point to the fact that not only there is little new in Netanyahu’s contention that Palestinian collaborated with Nazi Germany in its endeavor to annihilate Jews — the accusation has been first put forward in the immediate aftermath of WWII, and was aired time and again by Israeli State Officials and proponents of the Jewish State — but that Netnyahu himself has already broached the matter repeatedly. Already in his first book, A Place Among the Nations: Israel and the World (1993), Netanyahu raises the accusation. More recently, he called the mufti “one of the main architects of the Final Solution” in a speech delivered to the Israeli Kneset in 2012. This earlier speech did not send the same shock waves through the globe—I believe that not only a change in circumstances is responsible for that but, indeed, a change in language.

Unlike the Hebrew comment, the one made in American-English was clearly not uttered for Israeli ears, which are quite entrenched these days. By the way, a poll conducted on Thursday by the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot suggests that 26% of the Israelis agrees with Netanyahu’s comments about the mufti — roughly the same percentage that is satisfied by Netanyahu’s handling of the current wave of violence and slightly higher than the 23.4% of votes Netanyahu’s party, the Likud, received in the last election. Nor was Netanyahu’s speech delivered with a Jewish global audience in mind. Rather, I suggest we should read it as part of Netanyahu’s ongoing engagement with US politics — not a far-reaching proposition given Netanyahu’s repeated interventions in American internal politics over the past few years.

The endeavor — evinced in fact, since Netanyahu’s earliest days in politics — to frame Haj Amin al Husayni in the Final Solution should thus be read as part of a ongoing discursive politics designed to place Israel not only in alliance of the US, but as part and parcel of the US, as the 51st state as some mockingly call Israel. Netanyahu’s speech seeks, that is, to establish discursive contiguity where territorial contiguity is lacking.

Now, the formation and function of the discourse of the Holocaust in the US is far from simple. The central place allotted at the present to testimonies of victims of the atrocities should surely be lauded even if one often feels that more than a measure of bad faith is involved. After all, the promise “never again,” which was uttered in such awe in face of the horrors of Nazi concentration, labor and extermination camps, rings hollow in light of the subsequent miserable failure of the international community to intervene and prevent human suffering in numerous cases. Moreover, our current obsession with the pornography of horror — most conspicuously manifested in our addiction to snuff films from the Middle East and North Africa (and elsewhere) — suggests that the reasons for our investment in testimonies perhaps might not be as honorable as we would like to imagine.

In the case of the Jewish Holocaust one can hardly ignore the irony inherent in the present place of the Holocaust in American culture and politics in light of the anti-Semitism that haunted the Roosevelt administration (and the American public and media in general) in its treatment of the plight of Jews during the war years. The irony is doubled when one turns attention to the swiftness with which the association of Palestinians with Nazi Germany became so prevalent not only within the radical wing of the Republican Party, but among US liberal thinkers as well (even if its affect on this sector seems to be waning).

As Khalidi notes, it informs American popular culture through and through — with Exodus being the most notable early example — to such an extent that it seems that every oration on the Palestinian subject has to begin with Jewish suffering during WWII. In fact, scholarship on the matter notwithstanding, the association of Palestinians with Nazi Germany became ever more prevalent in the American media over the past two to three decades.

Back to Netanyahu’s comment. No doubt, a particular set of historical circumstances brought this about. Netanyahu’s rhetorical strategy to conflate Iran with Nazi Germany in his endeavor to block the nuclear deal seems to have — quite surprisingly, I must admit — have over-saturated the American political discourse. Netanyahu’s quick move to identify “the new Nazi on the block” – a move from metaphorical language to an insistence on the literality of the metaphor – thus seem all but unbelievable to all but his most avid supporters on the far right (even to those who would have happily followed his lead in this matter). What is more, the current wave of escalated violence, characterized by low level terrorism of knife attacks and stone throwing — threatening and frightening as it is for Israelis — and which results in a handful of Israeli casualties (and many more Palestinian ones) pales in comparison not only to the promise of Iranian instigated nuclear doomsday, but also the spectacle of torture and death of ISIS and the civil war in Syria. Netanyahu’s metaphor is so much (and quite simply) over the top that is implodes, and with it the nexus Netanyahu tried to establish between the US and the Israeli ethos.

No doubt, given its prevalence, many find it hard to believe that the association of the Palestinian national movement and of the Palestinian struggle against Israeli oppression with Nazi genocide is groundless. Yet, in the face of Netanyahu’s preposterous comment and the almost universal ire it provoked, even they are forced to pause for a moment to consider the function of the discourse of the Holocaust in our politics