The Amira Hass Charade
“Tossed out of Palestinian university for being Jewish” and “booted from Palestinian school because she’s Israeli Jew” were the headlines that greeted us in late September when Amira Hass claimed she was thrown out of a conference because she was Jewish.
The narrative created was that she was a victim. Many pro-Israel voices, such as Evelyn Gordon at Commentary, noted that this reinforces our understanding of the Palestinian Authority. “So how is peace possible when Birzeit is educating these future Palestinian leaders to believe all Israeli Jews should be shunned simply because they are Israeli Jews? And how is peace possible when these future leaders won’t even listen to any view of the conflict that contradicts their own, such as an Israeli Jew (though not Hass) might provide?”
The incident was used to highlight the intellectually opposite nature of Israeli universities, where Palestinians are welcome and where the Palestinian narrative is fostered. But this entire episode has been misunderstood and people are drawing the wrong lessons.
First of all, unlike the incident at Al-Quds University where Palestinian Professor and famed advocate of moderation and dialogue Professor Mohammed Dajani resigned under threats after taking students to see a Nazi Death camp in Poland, this story involves a vainglorious journalist whose main claim to fame is being more Palestinian than the Palestinians. The incident only became known because she wrote about it and it was promoted under the headline “kicked out of Ramallah uni for being a Jew.”
This was a story by Amira Hass, for Amira Hass, and of Amira Hass; it was designed to make her reporting seem more courageous and her views of Palestinians more balanced because now she was a victim also. Playing the victim is part of the repertoire of the radical left in Israel, on display at The New York Times recently when Mairav Zonzsein claimed that left wing “dissent” was being “silenced” in Israel. Similarly a DemocracyNow article in April 2013 claimed that “journalist Amira Hass sparks furor at home for defending Palestinian right to resist.” What is a “right to resist”? A right to shoot people, a right to plant bombs? As recently as October 16, 2013, Hass was writing that “Hamas has a right to dig tunnels.” She is big on Palestinian rights. And she is being held up as a victim?
The victim narrative was on display in a September 30 piece at Haaretz by Mathew Kalman claiming that Hass’ ejection from Birzeit University was part of the “how Palestinian universities like Birzeit are intellectual straitjacking their students.” The claim that by not having Amira Hass at their conference Birzeit was “straitjacketing” their students intellectually would imply that she was going to offer some alternative perspective to the Palestinian nationalism studied at the university. But Hass is a dyed in the wool Palestinian nationalist; she only draws some nuance over Hamas’ actions. She wasn’t going to challenge Palestinian stereotypes and norms but reinforce them.
Amira Hass is not a victim, she is a perpetrator. Is there any suggestion that when the fellow-travellers of Hass hold a conference supporting BDS or concepts such as “Israel is a racist colonial settler state” that they invite to their conferences those who disagree? The real reason Hass was unhappy was just as she articulated, that her little group of radical leftists were not welcome. It isn’t about “Jews” being welcome at a Palestinian university or Israeli-Jews. As she admits, she understands Palestinian needs for a “safe place” from those outside voices who might challenge them.
This reaction to anti-Israel activity is very common. When Tricycle theatre in the UK banned a Jewish film festival the reaction was “many films made in Israel are highly critical of Israel” and when the American Studies Association boycotted Israeli academics, the refrain was “but Israeli academics are at the forefront of critiquing their country.”
The refrain is that the “wrong Israelis” are being banned and boycotted.
The Palestinians claim their opposition to Hass is consistent with a policy of “anti-normalization,” which means no work with Israelis, primarily Israeli Jews. The voices like Hass that claim to be victims of this policy reverse the logic of what normalization should entail.
What is the point of “normalization” if it only involves work with critical Israelis? Logically in order for peace to come about, all Israelis must be included.
But nothing scares this group on the left more than rejection by the Palestinians because it takes away their raison d’etre. Palestinian views on normalization understand this in a roundabout way. They wonder why Palestinians can’t articulate the Palestinian experience, but only voices like Amira Hass, Gideon Levy, and others who pose as knowing Palestinians “better than they know themselves.”
Palestinians are, in a sense, reclaiming their narrative. We’ve seen this issue play itself out with the Israeli bedouin. A group of Israeli researchers posed as champion of Bedouin rights and colonized the bedouin narrative and made it an “indigenous” one without almost any input from the Bedouin. If the Bedouin would say that they will not work with the researchers unless they have a seat at the next conference, what would be the problem?
Is it a problem to totally restrict Israelis? Yes, it is. But it is equally a problem to have a political litmus test so only the “correct thinking” Israelis can attend. I’ve seen this lockstep nonsense in academia in Israel. If you do not toe the party line, there is a lot discrimination. So this party line has now come home to roost. The Palestinians are doing, at long last, what many of their supporters wanted them to do, they have just gone slightly too far by seemingly not allowing a few Israeli friends of theirs in the tent.
It is a shame that Palestinians are closing off their society and cutting all Israelis out and conflating Israelis and Jews. But that should not be met with a retort of “wait a sec, I sympathize with you, let me in.” The retort is patently ridiculous.
The best way to combat Palestinian closed mindedness is to be open minded and encourage open discussion.
For years, Israelis like Hass whitewashed radicalism in Palestinian society. Rather than pretending that they are victims, the public should support a real debate with Palestinians and those Palestinian voices who have spoken out and challenged their own society. The Hass charade ended abruptly at Birzeit. There is no reason to resurrect it.
Follow the author on Twitter @Sfrantzman