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.
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.