In my Jewish Literature class this semester we just finished reading a book called "Mestizo." The book is a murder mystery, about a Jewish man who loses his memory after he sees the murder of his Palestinian neighbor, and is on a quest to get his memory back and also to figure out who is responsible for the murder and and whether or not he is responsible for helping the victim. It takes place in Argentina.
During the discussion in class yesterday we were talking about obligation, a theme in the novel, both Jewish and otherwise. I waited for the appropriate moment to bring up Palestine. There was no appropriate moment...the professor talked about obligation, obligation to victims in general, how it applied to el Proceso in Argentina, etc...I kept waiting. No moment.
I finally raised my hand. Clearly the professor was not going to make room for this conversation so I was just going to take room for it.
I began talking specifically about the text..."This is clearly a call to action, this discussion of obligation with inspirational language, etc etc" (I still hadn't mentioned Palestine.)
Here is what I was going to say:
"It's not a coincidence that the murdered woman is Palestinian. We're glossing over it as though it is, but a Jew doesn't just put a Palestinian in his novel without that being significant. I think it's a metaphor. The main character sees a Palestinian woman murdered and loses his memory. This is about loss of memory in the Jewish community. Loss of memory of values which were once central to a lot of Jewish communities, specifically secular ones...values which included constant debate and questioning, constant discussion, and, usually, siding with the "victim" (survivor?). Now through Zionism, many Jewish communities get lost in the politics of power. Suddenly, Jewish children are no longer encouraged to question everything, because that would include questioning the existence and the actions of "Israel." Suddenly, facts and details which we once sought out in all cases, are hidden and concealed, and we as a community all recreate and rewrite our memory when it comes to the murder of Palestinians and their situation both in Palestine and in the Diaspora- such as in Argentina. The experience that David (the main character) is going through is similar to the experience a lot of Jews have once they acknowledge the atrocities committed both past and present, by Israel- they see this, and suddenly, their entire memory is shaken, everything they were always told by people they trusted turns out to be a lie and they have to recreate everything, from their identity, to their memory, to their politics, to the action they choose, or do not choose to take...."
I was also going to mention that I was told by a Jewish Studies Professor the other day (seriously) that there is something of an unspoken policy in the Jewish Studies Department not to talk about Palestine. And how that is a perfect example of how Zionism eliminates the Jewish tradition that once existed, of questioning and discussing all the time. Now there is something we are not supposed to discuss or debate.
What was actually said (roughly, I don't remember word for word):
ME: "This is clearly a call to action, etc etc...it's not just about Jews in Argentina, it's about Jews everywhere, and people everywhere, and what our respnosibility is. But then, if it's a call to action we have to think about what action it is calling us to...I think that it's not a coincidence that the main character is Palestinian...even though it takes place in Argentina, the author is clearly trying to bring in the situation in Palestine by making her Palestinian. I think it is a metaphor. I think it is trying to say that Jews everywhere have a responsibility not just to "victims" in general but specifically to the victims in Palestine ---"
My Professor: "I'm going to have to cut you off there. We don't have time for this discussion."
She called on more students.
I sat there, feeling completely silenced and cut off. I mean, I was cut off. I thought about the irony of the fact that she silenced discussion so that I was unable to talk about how Jews refuse to talk about Palestine. She did exactly what I was talking about.
I talked to her for about an hour after class, in a conversation I began by saying "I feel a little cut off right now."
In that conversation she told me
1. Not to speak from experience, because speaking from experience is "not the same as critical analysis," and that's not what we're doing here.
2. that she thinks that professors who teach Latin American Literature in "other departments" (ie ethnic studies) are not really qualified to teach it, because they are trained in sociology or social sciences rather than literature and they do not approach it as literature, so I should disregard anything I've been told in those classrooms about authors who intentionally put politics in their work.
3. that she will not allow students to talk about "current political situations" in her classroom, and that if someone started promoting "extreme right wing Zionism" she would have cut them off as well. (So apparently it's also "extreme" to suggest that Jews might have some responsibility for the situation in Palestine...? huh....)
4. That, "Just because it fits your political, activist agenda to interpret this book as being about Palestine that doesn't mean that was the author's intention"
My radical "political activist agenda," which includes speaking from my experience about injustice in the world and our responsibility to work for change.
What about her agenda to shut down conversation about a topic we have no right to be avoiding...?
But it's never an "agenda," when it goes along with the "mainstream" view/approach to a situation right?
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