The Muslim Zionists

A generation of compradors has learned that Palestinians are valuable raw material for careerism.

A few days ago, I finally managed to synthesize an observation that has bothered me for decades:  “Being an asshole to Palestinians is an excellent way to launch a media career in the United States.”  From Martin Peretz to Bari Weiss, the strategy has rarely failed writers seeking bylines in prestigious newspapers. 

Native informants and sellouts have always been part of the U.S. media landscape and so it was only a matter of time before the ruling class conjured up some Arab and Muslim compradors adapted to the social media age.  In stepped the Muslim Leadership Initiative, a shady outfit with ties to the IDF and various Islamophobic organizations. 

In 2014, the MLI began sponsoring junkets to Israel for enterprising Muslim pundits.  Those who participated immediately enjoyed an elevated media profile.  Rabia Chaudry showed up in Time Magazine.  Haroon Moghul became a “professional Muslim” for NPR.  Abdullah Antepli was soon a fixture on the interfaith circuit.  And Wajahat Ali went from CounterPunch to the New York Times

That was always the tradeoff for normalizing Israel as a gesture of Muslim civility.  These fast-risers weren’t feted for their insight or originality.  They offer no attraction to corporate media beyond a lack of principle.  Even though the cohort is mainly South Asian (with no Palestinians), they position Islam as a unique source of authority on Palestine and thus remove colonization and imperialism from the equation.  The “conflict” becomes a silly misunderstanding between Jews and Muslims (Palestinian Christians cease to exist).  Only Enlightened Muslims free of atavistic prejudice can fix the problem. 

“Muslim Zionist” only sounds contradictory because we’re conditioned to understand Zionism as an ethnic characteristic.  In reality, Zionism is more than anything a political ideology, beyond the domain of any specific religious group.  Most Zionists, in fact, are Christian.  Zionism probably has been the defining feature of Jewish life after World War II, but it never came to define the universal makeup of Jewish people.  Platforming Muslim Americans who suggest that Zionism is a primitive expression of Jewishness serves two purposes:  to mystify the actual indivisibility of Zionism and imperialism; and to reify the false indivisibility of Israel and Judaism. 

Wajahat Ali has probably been the most successful MLI alumnus.  On Twitter the other day, he channeled a deeply harmful form of Zionist fanaticism, accusing me of peddling an “anti-Semitic conspiracy theory” for pointing out that his idea of merit is actually just deference to power. 

Actually, yes, it is the only explanation

We could spend a long time discussing everything wrong with Ali’s accusation:  its defamatory character; its misunderstanding of the relevant point; its insufferably sneering tone (an Ali specialty); its ignorance of propaganda models; its historical illiteracy; its vacuous rhetoric; its scornful language common to social climbers more disposed to contempt than critique (“conspiracy theory”).  But let’s focus on its assumption that identifying a preponderance of Zionism in corporate media necessarily equals anti-Semitism. 

Unless we conflate all Jews with Zionism, the assumption is empirically impossible.  Ali indeed made that conflation and thereby introduced Jews and Judaism into the discussion, tethering them to Israeli military violence, to the inclinations of power, to the media’s ideological constraints. 


Again, we see Zionists willing to entertain anti-Semitism so long as its purveyors support Israel.  Devotion to the racial colony determines utility to the Jewish people.  As Sahar Ghumkhor put it on Facebook, “[Ali and Chaudry] are using the charge of anti-semitism because of their own anti-Semitic belief about who has power in the media.  It’s a curious admission.” 

If Ali and Chaudry were capable of curiosity, Ghumkhor would be entirely correct.  Still, it’s hard to imagine that before barreling into a public debate, neither of them took a second to notice that I wasn’t speaking of Jews (again, Ali introduced the word, along with the corresponding menu of stereotypes).  I was referencing the ruling class:  arms dealers, CEOs, politicians, traffickers, banks, intelligence agencies.  Individuals and institutions that determine the scope and effect of information.  It’s basic stuff that goes back to Gramsci and was developed in subsequent work by hundreds of writers.  Those who obey limits painstakingly imposed by the ruling class will be rewarded with opportunity.  Convention is currency.  Compradors will feast.  It gets awfully lonely for everyone else. 

In fact, I would classify the nature of my comment as essentially banal. 

Not so to Ali.  He saw it as an opportunity to further suck up to his Zionist handlers.  His failure to ever say anything incisive is written into the bargain.  The pitiful figure who emerged from the arrangement drips with a sad recognition that nobody gives a shit what he thinks, that he’s needed only to repeat establishment bromides and misrepresent his community.  The detritus of this bargain is evident in puerile humor and relentless smarm, the defense mechanisms of a toady whose soul is always unsettled. 

Ali enjoyed a bit of groveling from his white audience, but in the end he caught a well-earned ratio.  His inability to conjure support from the community he claims to represent illustrates that Palestine cannot easily be apportioned into crude identitarian categories.  Ali sounded demoralized as this recognition set in, offering a series of musty jokes ignored by nearly all of his 240,000 followers.  At one point he even attached a “get out the vote!” message to one of his rejoinders and this all-but-guaranteed way to get cheap retweets resulted in…nothing.

Joe will fix the problem

There’s a subtext here that we should recognize, one that extends into contested spaces among the pro-Palestine left:  the struggle between a new leadership class reliant on liberal patronage and those who are serious about opposition to Zionism.  The Palestinian American community once boasted a formidable radical energy.  The radical energy that managed to survive decades of repression has been almost wholly swallowed by electoralism, social climbing, Gulf money, and Democratic Party astroturf.  With his cornball zest for #resistance literature, Wajahat Ali may sound like the lost Krassenstein brother, but the Palestinians who followed his march into the Democratic Party are operating on the same terrain, no matter how different they sound on Twitter.  Even the most adamant anti-Zionist will find it difficult to avoid practicing Zionism in that terrain.  

People think they can game the machinery, imagine that they can maintain their dignity within a system erected atop a mountain of Palestinian bodies, but such idealism quickly dissipates.  You either play by the rules, with an occasional gesture of rebellion for the sake of pretense, or you run away from the fantasy, knowing that the system will either survive or implode, but never reform. 

Decide to play electoral politics in institutional spaces and everything changes.  Suddenly you’re no longer free to speak your mind.  Suddenly you have donors to appease, handlers to oblige, organizations to assuage.  Suddenly you’ve made yourself property of the potentates and defense contractors who control the party.  And soon you’ll be acclimated to humiliation. The players pretend they’re free, proclaim that they’re in fact promoting or preserving freedom, but they know the constraints better than anyone. 

MLI was the test run.  Keep an eye on how the project of chaining leadership to electoralism develops.  We’ll continue drowning as those who profess to represent us opt for respectability, using the identity we earned through decades of struggle to satisfy the predilections of our enemy. 

If you’re ever confused, ever ambiguous, ever uncertain, please try your best to remember:  Palestinians need freedom.  Nobody needs a media career.  


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