Saturday, January 10, 2009

Speak not the truth, or hide

The Taipei Times received a letter, which it published on Sunday, by an American who was reacting to an op-ed by Fania Oz-Salzberger in the Times on Jan. 8. The author of the letter was accusing Oz-Salzberger, professor and chair of Modern Israel Studies at Monash University in Melbourne and director of the Posen Research Forum for Political Thought in the Faculty of Law at the University of Haifa, of minimizing Israel’s responsibility for the Middle East crisis.

An excerpt from the letter: “Imagine someone … from outside your neighborhood coming into your home, forcibly removing you … from it, and kicking you into the dog pen. He electrifies the wires surrounding the pen, making it impossible for you to leave. To your great surprise and chagrin, many of your neighbors and indeed the entire community at large turn a blind eye to this brutal treatment. Later, the intruder decides to block food and medicine deliveries into the dog pen. Your children are now suffering malnutrition, with no access to health care. In your great anger, you begin to lob stones toward the house and some of them even succeed in breaking some windows. Your neighbor then takes out his M-16 and shotgun and begins to fire indiscriminately at you and your family.”

There is no need to name the actors in this scenario, which serves as a perfect analogy for the roots of the conflict and vividly recounts, in a way Oz-Salzberger could not be bothered to mention, what happened in 1948.

However eloquent, the letter does not say anything new, as there are entire shelves of history books and diplomatic documents testifying to the Catastrophe and its aftermath. And yet, its author, “a Zionist; I believe that Israel has a right to statehood, behind the 1967 borders (Green Line) with Jerusalem a divided city,” requested that his or her name and address be withheld. Why? For the same reason that authors, reporters, academics and others have always been reluctant to tell the truth about Israel — personal attacks, accusations of anti-Semitism, defamation and so on (God knows I’ve received my share); book contracts canceled, tenures at university lost or TV programs mothballed. So vicious is the system of repression unleashed by defenders of Zionism that even supporters of Israel — those who believe that Israel’s right to exist should not come at the cost of whitewashing history, that is — are afraid to reveal their identity.

Congratulations to the author for a good letter. One wishes, though, that he or she also had enough courage to provide a name. We cannot continue to allow fear to rule our lives, to bar us from telling truth to power.

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