I have mixed feelings about Hen Mazzig. But I have unambiguous feelings about the justification SJP Vassar just gave for protesting his talk on "The Indigenous Jews of the Middle East: Forgotten Refugees." at Vassar College the other day. It really demonstrates the impossible toxicity of the manner in which SJP seeks to police Jewish -- and often especially minority Jewish -- voices.
The author, Ezra Mead, begins with the nominal affirmation that "[t]he stories of Mizrahi Jews and their struggle both outside and within Israel deserve attention." But by contrast, he argues, "there is no room for 'diverse viewpoints'" or "'free exchange of ideas'" around Israeli military actions in the Palestinian territories.
But of course, Mazzig's talk was not offering [SEE UPDATE BELOW] any viewpoint ("diverse" or otherwise) on the occupation or Israeli military policies, it was -- again -- a talk on "The Indigenous Jews of the Middle East" (i.e., Mizrahi/Sephardic Jews), and he was going to tell the story of his own families dispossession in Tunisia and Iraq that ultimately led them to come to Israel. Mead is engaging in a non-sequitur -- unless, of course, Mead thinks that the mere fact that Mazzig is an Israeli Jew who is not openly contemptuous of his state's existence automatically makes anything he chooses to speak upon an apologia for Palestinian dispossession.
Which is, of course, exactly what he thinks.
It is no surprise, then, that Mead also accuses Mazzig of "pinkwashing", for I've sometimes described "pinkwashing" as encompassing nothing more than being "gay, Jewish, and not visibly burning an Israeli flag". Again: Mazzig's talk was on the history of Jews from North Africa and the Middle East (with a particular focus on his personal family history). It's far from clear that he was going to offer any significant discussion of his sexuality, specifically -- it is certainly a part of his identity he is quite open about, but it did not seem to be the direct focus of the talk itself. But no matter: a gay Jew talking about anything Jewish- or Israel-related is presumed to be and intrinsically coded as part of a plot. You know Jews -- they're only after that one thing.
The fact of the matter is that SJP protested this talk because Mizrahi Jewish history is an uncomfortable subject for them. It does not fit comfortably in the boxes that anti-Zionists (or Zionists, for that matter) wish to lay out for it. Mazzig's talk probably wasn't speaking directly to the IDF or the settlements or the occupation or military operations in Gaza. But it would speak very directly to the brute fact that the most tangible social accomplishment that has occurred under an anti-Zionist banner has not been the enfranchisement of Palestinians (even in circumstances where they live under anti-Zionist political jurisdictions) but the massive dispossession and virtual eradication of ancient Jewish communities throughout the Middle East.
The last thing the SJP wants to do is own that history. So they obstruct that conversation by re-narrating Mizrahi Jewish political narratives generally as being right-wing apologias for Israeli state action no matter what their substantive content is, presumably with a narrow carve-out for those few Mizrahi Jewish activists whose politics are suitably harmonious with SJP's preconceived political commitments about Israel -- i.e., the ones in which they don't have to reckon with what anti-Zionism has tangibly, brutally, concretely meant for that community.
"There is no 'free exchange of ideas' to be had about forced dispossession and ethnic cleansing" indeed.
UPDATE: Hen says that at his talk "I did speak about the occupation and voiced my opposition to it and discussed Palestinians." My guess -- again, given the title -- is that this was not the primary focus of the talk (nor did it have to be!), but perhaps I am mistaken. The broad point remains (if anything, it is strengthened given that Hen contra his SJP "interlocutors" is not "ignoring" Palestinian issues): Mizrahi Jews, Hen Mazzig included, are entirely within their rights to narrate their own history without pausing every forty-five seconds to say "and by the way, the occupation is terrible".