Updated: “Outspoken” features anti-Zionist poet(s)

I was Googling the participants in tonight’s Diversity Comissionsponsored Spoken Word event Outspoken. Infuriatingly enough, of the three participants, only one, Andrea Gibson, has a Wikipedia page. But another, Kevin Coval, had another platform; publication on the Huffington Post. The seventh item to return a Google search for Coval’s name produces the article, “Why I am not a Zionist,” originally published Nov. 3, 2009:

Last week I was disinvited from my second Jewish conference in two months for poems I’d written in solidarity with Palestinians, poems that make an unapologetic call for justice. Subsequently I, and the poet I was to read with at the conference, wrote a response to being censored. People from all over the country wrote to us supporting free speech, supporting art as a tool for change, supporting real talk about the degradation of Palestinians, and people wrote to let us know they disagreed. Some more thoughtfully than others.

We decided to hold our reading anyway in Washington, DC during J Street’s inaugural conference at an alternative location. We were hosted by Busboys and Poets. The room filled with a spectrum of ideas. We read our poems and during the Q&A, no one was shouted down. Not the Israeli army Refusnik, not the liberal Zionist apologist, not the Palestinian student who asked us to include more about the Palestinian people in our poems, not just the land or idea of nation-state, a point beautifully made and incredibly profound. No one shouted down moderator Lalia Al-Arian, brilliant journalist and activist, whose father was a Palestinian political prisoner in America, now freed because of his daughter’s persistence. The crowd was cool and civil, though broad in opinion.

The third of the next three sentences I had to read several times to believe:

Since the Second Intifada I have thought, wrote, and spoke about these issues, but over the course of these last several weeks, I have arrived at a new beginning. Prior to now, I muddled this issue in complexity. But I have come to realize it is actually simple and clear.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict “simple and clear”? It would be a “simple” issue if the Palestinians were peaceable, quietist sufferers, but that is not the case. Since 2001, Palestinians have fired over 8,600 rockets into Jewish-populated areas. One of the primary Palestinian political parties is the terrorist organization Hamas. And the taste of political power hasn’t softened or moderated that party, either. I remember several years ago reading about Hamas’ first electoral gains; one of their legislative representatives openly discussed helping her son prepare a suicide vest.

Coval continues:

I am a Jewish-American man in solidarity with Palestinian people. I am in solidarity with Israeli and American and all people who work and risk their lives and livelihood for justice. I am not restricted to working within the confines of the Jewish-American community. Justice and the resistance to imperialism is a global, human concern for all people down to struggle. For Jews, yes, but not Jews alone. For Palestinians, yes, but not Palestinians alone. It will take us all to push and demand governments and corporate interests to create fair, equitable living conditions. It will take all people to hold history accountable for the atrocities that occur.This is analogy. America celebrates Columbus day even though Columbus and American settlers killed, enslaved and pushed Indigenous people off land they lived on. Tragically Indigenous people have been nearly wiped out of existence and pushed to the furthest margins of our culture that revels in amnesia. Main St., mainstream American culture does not expect Native Americans to celebrate Columbus, nor care or know or imagine if they do or not. Native Americans are not a demographic population Hallmark cares to account for. It is preposterous to think Jews would celebrate Kristallnacht, the night of glass when SS troops stormed and terrorized their German ghettos. In Israel, Independence Day is called Yom Ha’atzmaut. Communities gather to play music, dance and watch fireworks. The Chief Rabbinate has declared this day a Jewish holiday in which prayers should be said. But Palestinians remember 1948 and the formation of the State of Israel as al-Nakba, The Catastrophe. A day of murder, displacement, and forced Diaspora. A day families are torn apart and ripped away from their homes. A state sanctioned celebration of their dehumanization and second-class citizenship. For this reason alone, I cannot believe in the integrity of the Zionist project.

This is not a complex issue. There is the brutality of government(s) and the need for the liberation of a people, all people. I am a Jewish person who stands with Palestinian people relegated to second-class citizenship and Israeli soldiers who refuse to enact racist militarism. I am not a nationalist; therefore I am not a Zionist. I am against the oppression of any person and people. I am not a builder of walls. I believe in equity and democratic practice, therefore I am not pro-Israel. I am an advocate for truth, justice and reconciliation. I believe in this. I believe in this now. I believe in the work ahead.

Because Hamas is so deeply committed to “democratic practice”. And they’re so utterly and completely opposed to nationalism, militarism, and, especially, racism.


I’m not denying that Isreal has committed some military and policing actions which could be considered atrocities in its history. But it is revisionist in-of-itself to claim the Palestinians are mere victims. Israel’s military has overreacted sometimes, but this is to be expected when 8,600 rockets rain on your civilians in a decade.

And of course, the Diversity Comission can host anyone they want to yadda yadda and Coval is entitled to his opinions yadda yadda. But I have to wonder if the Comission’s was aware of Coval’s crassness. (And I do think it is fair to say anyone who declares the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “simple” in print is crass.)

I don’t know if Coval will be discussing the Middle East tonight. But the show starts in about fifteen minutes. Hopefully I’ll have time to do at least a brief writeup afterwards. I’ll also be writing a review of it for a class; I might seek permission to publish that here.

Update: 10:04 PM April 10 2010-I spoke with a Diversity Commissioner. She said the DC had not heard of Coval, but only invited him upon the recommendation of the event’s host, Dasha Kelly.

Coval himself did not mention Israel tonight. Coval didn’t, but a verse of Andrea Gibson’s spoke of “turning Palestine into a gas chamber.”

I hope I don’t have to elaborate into the irreducible distastefulness of comparing Israeli policing policy, however overzealous it can sometimes be in its implementation, to the Nazi’s extermination factories.

For shame, Gibson! Granted, her pieces on anti-gay bigotry and sexual violence are brave and commendable. But she lacks any world-historic perspective or, curiosity for the motivations of people she declares villains.


21 Responses

  1. I was going to post a long response, but I’m a bit tired this weekend.

    I highly recommend that you see this documentary:


    The root issue is occupation. And abuse. Israel has not merely over-extended or committed some blunders, but is systematically abusing Palestinians.

    I’ve blogged about this a great deal:

    Here are some examples:



    Israel is illegally and immorally occupying lands they are not entitled to. Palestianians are subject to phsyical and psychological abuse, their lands confiscated, and forced t live in poverty.

    I support neither Hamas nor violence, nor the firing of Rockets. But let us never downplay the horrible human rights abuses that Israel had inflicted on the palestinins during its occupation.

    • I would check some other sources. Occupation 101 is pure propaganda.

      • I would most certainly check out other sources. There are many, and many good ones. But the claim that Occupation 101 is pure propaganda is simply false. It is actually pretty fairly objective and coldly accurate. The idea that anything highly critical of Israel must be propaganda is, itself, pure propaganda.

      • There is such thing as reporting only certain facts and statistics….

      • But that is very diff. From checking from claiming it is “pure proganda.” In any case, the facts in the film are pretty easy to check with other sources, and they are well docmented and well supported claims.

  2. I agree with Matt, Bento. And I’m no expert, but I have enough people I respect sharing these ideas with me and I’ve got to say I’m going to applaud any Jewish individual that stands up against the Zionism of today.

    • Dashaway: I really do mean no offense when I say this—but claiming “enough people [you] respect” agree with you in opposing “Zionism” is not an admissible proof for the validity of that position. The statement is structured like an “appeal to authority.”
      Also, Coval isn’t heroic for opposing “Zionism” merely because he’s Jewish. For one thing, he’s insulated from accusations of anti-Semitism. (“Self-loathing Jew” is not a conversation-stopping accusation the way “anti-Semite” is.) Moreover, only about 54 percent of American Jews under 35 describe themselves as “comfortable with the idea of a Jewish state.” I linked to a story discussing this statistic a while back:
      I’m curious for clarification of your use of the term “Zionism.” The term, in contemporary usage, obviously encompasses objection to Israel’s current policy towards the Palestinians; but do you believe in “Zionism” the broader sense, the right of the state of Israel to exist?
      I did try to acknowledge the imperfection of Israel’s policies, but I’m also not an expert. But it’s clear that both sides perpetuate gratuitous violence. However, though we can hold both sides to a standard of basic decency, it is a stretch to expect them to live up to it, as both Israelis and Palestinians live under the constant specter of violence and death at one another’s hands. So some overreaction is to be expected. To understand this is not to excuse it.
      Nonetheless, I believe the US ought to advocate policies in Israel’s best interest. (And among the policies in Israel’s best interests are the scaling-back of West Bank settlements and a two-state solution. All the outrage over Netanyahu’s announcement of more settlements was warranted, and probably even underreported) Diminutive as it is, it’s the only liberal democracy in the region. However often it might fail in living up to democratic ideals, it’s still the country in the Middle East most fertile for a democratic state.

      • It is in Israel’s interes to withdraw from Gaza and the West Bank; it will bring them peace to let Palestine become an independent country.

        I think the United States, being the main ally in all ways of Israel and the world’s leading imperial power is obligated to do what is in the best interest of all concerned: not merely Israel.

        Sadly, neither the United States, nor the leaders in Israel, nor even Hamas are doing much good for the people. A radical change is needed here.

    • I don’t really understand why zionism is to blame. I would think it would be the misuse of military power, failure to communicate, as well as the meddlesome intervention of other countries in foreign affairs.

      Zionism is only the movement to establish a Jewish home state. The misuse of the word zionism is prevalent in biased media sources. It’s become an insult or a swear word, just as Bento has stated.

      • I have no concern with “Zionism” myself. Either for or against. My concern is with occupation. It is that which must be stopped.

  3. Matt, Israel has pulled out of Gaza and look where it’s gotten them. What would the Palestinians do if they got their own country? They don’t even have a government, they have no means of creating a stable economy for which the country could depend if they could get a government together. No other Arab nation is stepping up to help the Palestinians in any way other to supply their terrorist organizations with weapons and money. This money isn’t going to building water treatment plants, roads, or industry. It’s going to the destruction of Israel.

    Ughh, “leading imperial power”? Look at China! They have enslaved their own people as well as the people of Taiwan and Tibet for the sake of Capitalism.

    • Take a good hard look at what America has done in many countries around the world for a very very long time. That we are not an imperial power is sheer foolishness. We clearly are.

      • I’m not saying America is not an imperial power, I’m refuting the fact that we are the “leading imperial power”.

      • fair enough. But Imperial power does not mean we are the “most evil.” simply that we have the most power to “shape the world according to our desires.” This we do have.

    • Israel “pulled-out” of Gaza. But they still control it, blockaged, attack it, and sanction it. The Israeli blockage keeps them in a condition of poverty and disorder. Simply “withdrawing” is not enough, they must stop their miltary embargo.

      • Israel is not blocking the entrance into Egypt. Whatever happened to Arab brotherhood?

        Israel had to block Gaza, one cannot deny the facts, there have been less terrorist attacks since the blockade as well as a decrease in terrorism when the wall was build.

        If the terrorist activity would stop in totality, there would be peace, but since there’s not guarantee of peace if Israel gives the Palestinians their own country, let alone a guarantee that this country would have the means for a stable existence, there’s no peace. As Golda Meir (purportedly) said, Peace will come when the Arabs start to love their children more than they hate us

      • I don’t buy it. That is a bit of a racist assumption, to claim that Arabs are just so full of hate and evil that they cannot stop! The Israeli military constantly bombards Gaza, that must simply be stopped It is wrong. Egypt has long sided with the United States and Israel, ever since Carter got them to drop the Palestinian cause for a peace agreement.

      • I do agree, of course, that the Palestinians MUST recognize the legitmacy of Israel to exit, and Hamas is, of course, a horror! I also understand that israel feels a need to protect itself, given the horrors inflicted on jews so frequently … but their policies are only hurting themselves and others. It’s time for a radical change.

  4. I would challange the premise, repeated by both parties, that the US is an “imperial power”. It’s undeniable that America asserts more influence (intended and unintended) than any other country in the world, possibly more than any single nation in the history of the world. And though we do have 700 military bases in 135 countries, it’s not the government’s goal to assert sovreign dominion over the countries we operate in or even occupy. We invaded Iraq, but didn’t annex it.
    I don’t think there’s anyone at the top of any government branch who actually wants to *rule* any country. But I do think a lot of US interests, private and governmental, want to align the interests of those nations they exert power in with their own. That being said, a lot of these agendas work against one another; so anyone trying to run with the “empire” analogy would be hardpressed to find an emperor. There are a bunch of oligarchies tripping over each other.

  5. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8614908.stm

    Check it.

    And this is frickin’ heartbreaking:

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