Podcast / On The Nose
On the Nose is our biweekly podcast. The editorial staff discusses the politics, culture, and questions that animate today’s Jewish left.
Language, the Media, and Palestine
Duration
0:00 / 34:46
Published
March 14, 2024

In the public sphere, the discursive battle over Israel and Palestine often comes down to language, with one’s willingness to use individual words and phrases like “apartheid” and “settler colonialism,” or “the right to exist” and “human shields,” usually offering a pretty reliable indication of their worldview. Since October 7th, mainstream and independent media alike have been faced with endless choices about how to represent the unfolding events: Which words are used to describe the Hamas attacks and which ones are used to describe those of the Israeli military, for example, and what does it say about the perceived humanity of each group of victims? What should reporters do with words like “genocide” or “war crimes,” which will take some time to adjudicate legally, but which also serve a function in naming unfolding events? This isn’t just a question about words, but also grammar and syntax: In a pattern reminiscent of reporting on police attacks on Black Americans, headlines often employ the passive voice when dealing with Israeli military action, obscuring the culpability of those responsible for attacks on Palestinians.

In this episode, Jewish Currents editor-in-chief Arielle Angel talks to Intercept senior editor Ali Gharib, independent journalist Dalia Hatuqa, and former New York Times Magazine writer Jazmine Hughes about the decisions that newsrooms are making regarding the language they use to discuss Israel/Palestine, and what these decisions mean about the state of journalism today.

Thanks to Jesse Brenneman for producing and to Nathan Salsburg for the use of his song “VIII (All That Were Calculated Have Passed).”

Articles Mentioned and Further Reading:

Coverage of Gaza War in the New York Times and Other Major Newspapers Heavily Favored Israel, Analysis Shows,” Adam Johnson and Othman Ali, The Intercept

CNN Runs Gaza Coverage Past Jerusalem Team Operating Under Shadow of IDF Censor,” Daniel Boguslaw, The Intercept

Between the Hammer and the Anvil: The Story Behind the New York Times October 7 Exposé,” Jeremy Scahill, Ryan Grim, and Daniel Boguslaw, The Intercept

In Internal Meeting, Christiane Amanpour Confronts CNN Brass About ‘Double Standards’ on Israel Coverage,” Daniel Boguslaw and Prem Thakker, The Intercept

This War Did Not Start a Month Ago,” Dalia Hatuqa, The New York Times

Jazmine Hughes on Democracy Now

‘There Has Never Been Less Tolerance for This’: Inside a New York Times Magazine Writer’s Exit Over Gaza Letter,” Charlotte Klein, Vanity Fair

Words About War guide

A Poetry of Proximity,” Solmaz Sharif, Kenyon Review

Notes on Craft: Writing in the Hour of Genocide,” Fargo Nissim Tbakhi, Protean Magazine


Transcript

Arielle Angel: Hello and welcome back to On the Nose, the Jewish Currents Podcast. I’m Arielle Angel, editor in chief of Jewish Currents, and I will be your host for today. In the public sphere, the discursive battle over Israel and Palestine is primarily a battle over language, with individual words and phrases, like apartheid or settler colonialism, the right to exist, or human shields, becoming stand-ins for entire worldviews. Since October 7, mainstream and independent media alike have been faced with endless choices about how to represent the unfolding events—which words are used to describe the Hamas attacks and which ones are used to describe those of the Israeli military, for example—and what does it say about the perceived humanity of each group of victims. What to do with words like genocide or war crimes, which will take some time to adjudicate legally but which also serve a function in naming unfolding events in the present? This isn’t just a question about words but also grammar and syntax. In a pattern reminiscent of reporting on police attacks on Black Americans, headlines often employ the passive voice when dealing with Israeli military actions, obscuring culpability for those responsible for attacks on Palestinians. As feminist theorist Sophie Lewis wrote recently, “A world rising up in outrage against Israel’s atrocities has been met by a media that can barely represent Palestinian personhood at the level of syntax.”

At Jewish Currents, we make an effort to be careful with our language and to avoid some of the missteps of mainstream media which contribute to the dehumanization of Palestinian people, and still, questions about language crop up constantly, and the answers are not always so clear cut, both in a hard-news context and in the context of more magazine-style writing. To talk about these fraught questions of language in the media today, I have three amazing guests. Ali Gharib, a senior editor at The Intercept. Hi, Ali.

Ali Gharib: Hello, thanks for having me.

AA: Dalia Hatuqa is an independent journalist and Jewish Currents contributor specializing in Palestinian/Israeli affairs.

Dalia Hatuqa: Hello.

AA: And Jazmine Hughes, a National Magazine Award winner and former New York Times Magazine writer. Thanks for joining us, Jazmine.

Jazmine Hughes: Thank you for having me.

AA: So Ali, I want to start with you since The Intercept has been doing really crucial reporting these last couple of months on what’s going on inside mainstream newsrooms. I’m thinking specifically of both the analysis of the words used in reports in major newspapers thus far, and also the reporting that you’ve done going inside newsrooms like CNN and The New York Times and looking at what their top brass is—how they’re instructing their reporters. I was wondering if you could summarize a little bit of that reporting.

AG: Yeah, we’ve done a bunch of stories, mostly focusing on CNN and the Times, as you said, just about the pressures that writers are feeling at different levels, showing some of the interests at work. Like the executive editor of the Times, his father was on the board of this right-wing, pro-Israel smear shop called Camera. Just relationships like that, and trying to piece together the ways in which these pressures are brought to bear on people in the newsroom. Because not all reporters are great, but a lot of times, reporters are a lot more sensible than the brass at these places and are trying to do the right thing. But the pressures on them are often really incredible.

AA: Yeah, I mean, just bringing in some of The Intercept reporting here: At CNN, for example, the reporters were told that whenever they describe the Ministry of Health, they should say “Hamas-controlled,” and that should precede any mention of the casualties; or the idea that “war crime” and “genocide” are taboo words. Somebody who works at CNN told The Intercept, and that (this is a quote) “Israel bombings in Gaza will be reported as blasts attributed to nobody until the Israeli military weighs in to either accept or deny responsibility.” The Intercept also did another analysis, just basically on the words that different newsrooms have used.

AG: Yeah, that was Adam Johnson and Othman Ali. And they wrote a sort of quantitative analysis, analyzing the Times as well as other major newspapers of the words that they used, like the Palestinian death toll was mentioned at a much lower proportion than the Israeli one in this conflict so far. There were words used like—the October 7 attacks was referred to as a slaughter of Israelis, but that word is almost never used to describe the attacks against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The Times did a lot of articles focusing on the children that were casualties of the October 7 attack and much less on the attacks against the Gaza Strip, where we know that there’s been an incredible death toll of children in the strip, such a young population. And Adam and Othman were able to show how it tilts one way. You could impute motive on that and ascribe it to the motives of journalists at these outlets. But it doesn’t really even matter what the motives are at that point, when you just look at the numbers, and it’s that clear how it shakes out.

AA: Right. I mean, with children in particular, they talked about the hostage exchange, and you have “children being exchanged” on one side—the Israeli hostages—and “people under 18 for the children that are being held in Israeli prisons who were released. So there’s a real one-to-one comparison, in terms of the ways that people are being described. Dalia, I wanted to turn to you. You write for a number of different outlets, and I was wondering if you could talk personally about how questions of language have been coming up for you in your work since October 7 (and even before), maybe both in terms of the decisions that you’re making before a piece even gets to an editor, and maybe the ways that you’re navigating what comes back.

DH: A while back, I wrote a piece for The New York Times, and it took like three weeks of editing. And I had an excellent editor who I’m sure did a lot of hard work in the background and fought a good fight. But when finally it was going to be published, one of the editors inserted something in there, like condemning Hamas or something. But the focus of the piece was about something else entirely, and it felt like me just being Palestinian, like I had to sign this disclaimer. And I was like: No, I don’t want to do this. And then finally, we kind of came to a mutual agreement, and it finally came out.

AA: I was wondering, Jazmine, kind of the same question. I know you’re in magazine writing (or you have been), and also that you left your role at the Times right after October 7. But even beforehand, I think there were a number of debates roiling at the Times, also about transgender issues, also about reporting on police violence. I was curious how you have navigated questions of language in your work and with your editors.

JH: I write largely about entertainment and celebrity culture, and so I think that my personal misgivings around language were always centered around Black identity and Black identification. My first real brush up with the ways that The New York Times allows its reporters to deploy language was when a white editor told me that I was allowed to use the n-word in a story. And she didn’t censor herself, she actually repeated herself. And so, in order to stay safe and sane, I tried really hard to work with editors, with whom not only could I have this sort of intimate safe space, but also editors who I know would defend me once we got further down the line and people wanted to insert things into a story that I might not have agreed with. And for the most part, for my actual stories, that all went very successfully.

But as, I guess now, an “alumnus” of The New York Times (I worked there for almost nine years), one thing that particularly worries me is the decreasing channels for dissent, and the ways in which we are seeing the masthead, the top brass at the paper, crack down on any sort of dissent. I have seen venues for dissent (or even venues to ask questions) shrink and shrink over time. I’m sure you guys saw an op-ed, published by a staff opinion writer, Pamela Paul, that came out maybe a month ago. There were some employees of the paper who were in the Queer Employee Resource Groups Slack channel, wanting to find a safe space but also an official space to air their grievances about coverage, who were swiftly shut down. They saw their Slack messages get deleted, even though they were dissenting internally (and quite respectfully) and making the case that it felt like the paper was slowly becoming a more hostile workplace. And unfortunately, those messages were deleted. And those employees were told that went against the Times’s policy against public protest, even though it was internal, even though it was literally in the Slack channel dedicated to queer New York Times employees, who both entered that space looking for a sense of community but also to engender a sense of safety for queer employees of The New York Times.

So it’s been quite striking to look at a publication that is predicated on free speech, of free press, to turn around and try to stymie that same action within the newsroom, within its own company. It feels incredibly confusing and also incredibly disgusting. But also, I worry that there’s a holier-than-thou sentiment that’s really starting to travel around. Especially when they are now immersed in this culture of, like, “You’re so lucky to be here,” which is a sentence I heard over and over and over again, and “This is the most important work you’ll ever do.”

AA: Yeah, I mean, Jazmine, you had a very public resignation from the Times, a pressured resignation after signing a letter by writers against the war on Gaza calling for a ceasefire and a boycott (among other things). And the Times said that that violated their policy on public protest. In an interview with Democracy Now afterwards, you said “Objectivity is a beautiful project for a world that doesn’t exist.”

JH: Yeah. I think the only way that objectivity works (in the ways that the powers-that-be wish it does) is if they turn that focus, that camera lens, on themselves. Like Ali, you just mentioned that Joe Kahn, the editor in chief of The New York Times, his father sat on the board of Camera—Joe Kahn was also the paper’s Jerusalem bureau chief. I think that if we want to cry objectivity, then everyone should come with a laundry list of their potential biases. And that’s insane. That’s totally impossible. And so I have difficulty figuring out where objectivity goes. But I also think that it has, unfortunately, become a tool to keep people of marginalized identities, journalists with marginalized identities, out of stories that they otherwise would be fantastic at. But that’s very rarely turned upon people who are of the majority of the newsroom, whether that’s among race, among class, or among gender. For example, I’m really curious about how many people on the upper masthead, the upper echelons of The New York Times, have completed a birthright trip. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything about you, but that’s a really critical piece of bias that I think would be just as germane as something like me, a magazine reporter, signing a letter decrying a genocide.

AG: I think Jazmine is exactly right, that the idea of not taking a side actually is taking a side, and it’s for a status quo that is not going to work for a lot of people but works for a small, select few. So I also think that’s kind of bullshit. I’m lucky enough to work at a place where we don’t have to pretend like we don’t have independent individual thoughts about things. But the journalism always comes first. If you’re gonna put it on the page, you better be able to back it up and prove it. That’s kind of my approach to it: Look, if you can report it, let’s do it, and if you can’t, then we leave it off, and you can tweet about it or whatever you want.

JH: What sorts of conversations or thinking, do you all have around retractions? Because, for example, within The New York Times, obtaining a retraction (or even obtaining a correction) is often a really lengthy process, both out of this idea (that, you know, has benefited me) that you stand behind your writer, and you stand behind the reporting and the editing and what have you. But also, there’s this idea that if they bend to every sort of request for correction, that’s all that they would ever do. And I also think the Times takes its positionality as “the paper of record” quite seriously. And so my experience has been, like, corrections are really, really hard to come by—retractions are nearly impossible. And I wonder what those conversations are like for you.

AG: I was working with one of our more headstrong reporters the other day on a request for a correction, and they were kind of worked up about it. And you hear people say stuff, like: I haven’t had a correction in however many years. And it’s like: Well, then, I’ve got questions—it sounds to me like you think you got everything right, and nobody does that. And this wasn’t the same reporter, but I told him that for me, the occasional correction is really a badge of honor rather than one of shame, because it shows that you’re willing to show when you’ve been wrong. And I say this as someone who did a story questioning The New York Times reporting process on their story about sexual violence on October 7, and we did corrections to that story. And you know, we’re not like in print being, like “The New York Times should retract or correct or update” or whatever, we’re just showing problems, and they can do that with what they want. But I think it’s pretty telling that they haven’t even appended an update or, in subsequent stories, updated the information that they related. It’s just like, “Never Question Any Of That” is the ethos. That’s really old school, in a way. I think it has to do with exactly their thinking that they’re the paper of record; it has to do with them thinking they’re actually on paper, which is not really relevant anymore. For me, I’m always open to it—take requests for correction seriously. Oftentimes, I’m more up for doing corrections than the writers themselves.

AA: I definitely am. I mean, I think you have to take every single request seriously and make your own adjudication. So maybe it would be helpful to give you guys an example from my work. When we identify the Israeli military—obviously, the Israeli military has named itself the Israeli Defense Forces. You have some outlets like Mondoweiss and Electronic Intifada, for example, that will only use Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF). For myself, as the editor in chief of Jewish Currents, IDF is not very comfortable because it is the expression of Israeli power and hegemony and the way that they want to be seen in the world. And IOF is not very comfortable because it’s not that legible, and it immediately marks the outlet as an outlet that is speaking to a specific audience that is already on board, or has already internalized this shift in language. So we usually just say the Israeli military—that’s the way that we deal with that. But I wanted to ask how you think about—and maybe Dalia, I’ll start with you—how you think about the question of both not wanting to just represent the power structure, while also recognizing when you might be on the forefront of different kinds of language, or where you might be tipping off your readers to a certain kind of alignment, and how do you balance those concerns?

DH: For me, this example is very relevant. I don’t think I’ve ever—and I could be wrong—but I’ve never myself inserted the word IDF into a story. I’ve had squabbles with the editors about it, who wanted to call it IDF. I always call it the Israeli army or the Israeli military, you know, Israeli forces, Israeli soldiers, but never IDF, and also never IOF, because like, what the hell is that? I mean, I know they’re occupying forces, but what are we saying here? Not that they’re both equal. I mean, I get why people would want to use it, but they’re catering to a specific readership, or listenership, or whatever. So I tried to keep these things on the sidelines. But also for me, I’m proud that I’m Palestinian, but I’m a journalist first, and I owe it to my profession to relay the story with the view, or the idea, that many different kinds of people are reading my work or listening to me and what have you.

AG: Yeah. I like to always be legible to readers that are not always going to be high-information readers. I want those people to be able to open an article and read it all the way through and understand everything that’s going on as well. Especially I find myself, if there’s a quote that says “IDF” I’ll introduce Israel Defense Forces earlier in the story, but like at some point, it’s a proper name. Where does it end? Is The Intercept going to decide to call it the War Department and the War Secretary? Or are we gonna call Lloyd Austin the Secretary of Defense?

AA: Well, what’s interesting is that we just got this guide from a group called Words About War. And their first line is: Discussions of war in foreign policy are full of dehumanizing euphemisms, bloodless jargon, little-known government acronyms, and troubling metaphors that hide war’s damage. They say, for example: Don’t say defense spending, say military spending, or Pentagon spending. This is in the context of American foreign policy, like: Don’t say Boots on the ground, or whatever, use troops. And they do mention the War Department. They don’t say “Call it the War Department,” but they do say “Call it the Pentagon.”

AG: You know, I’ll call it the Department of Corrections, but I’m not going to be like, “Corrections Officer Union” in our own editorial voice—they’re fucking prison guards. And that’s what I want to call them, because that is legible to everyone. Everyone understands they’re guards and, like, what are these people correcting? Nothing. It’s a euphemism to hide what they do. Like all the time, I’m thinking about that kind of stuff. But there’s like a part of me that maybe is just a little too old school, and I don’t mind using the proper names when they fit.

AA: I mean, I don’t think it’s necessarily old school. I think what we’re talking about is that there’s really a trade-off here. I mean, all of us have read leftist outlets, where they immediately announce themselves in a certain kind of way, and they’re also sometimes kind of unreadable. I mean, the jargon kind of never ends. What I’ve always wanted to do with Currents was to create something that was radical in content but extremely conventional in form, so that you could think that you’re reading The New Yorker or something, and none of those red flags would go up for a certain kind of reader, but then they can come away with very different conclusions.

AG: You know, it’s tough. You got to worry about things getting cluttered. Like, it happens with the armistice line that separates the Palestinian territories: Are you going to call that a border? Are you going to call that a demarcation line? Are you going to call it the armistice line, and then you got to stick in a couple more clauses to explain it?

AA: I mean, even just as a journalistic outlet that also publishes literary work, we’re always making decisions about: How literary is this work, and how much room do we have to say something or not say something? There’s a whole bunch of people that we might work with that are envisioning different kinds of futures and trying to create a future through language. There’s a question about how much journalists themselves should be on the forefront of that kind of creation, or whether that is the work of artists or creative writers—I mean, especially Jazmine, since you were doing magazine writing, which is kind of on a spectrum.

JH: It’s funny, Dalia—When you were saying that you’re a journalist first, that’s an ethos that I respect. I think that I don’t necessarily carry for myself because of the type of work I do. I write like, celebrity profiles, for the most part, right? I think that because my primary mission is not to inform, then I think, for me, the ethic of journalism guides me less in my day-to-day than my assemblage of lived identities. And so, it was very frustrating for me as not only a Black, young, queer employee of The New York Times, but also a longtime employee of The New York Times being forced out once my race became like a politic and not just a pigment. I found that really frustrating, because there were all these instances—in my experience and my career, I felt like the Time, really traded off of my various identities.

And there were times in which like, I agreed, there were times where as a member of the team of the New York Times Magazine, I would see an assignment and I would say, like: No, I think I should do this, or I think someone of whatever, whatever XYZ identity should do this, because of the perspective that can bring, because the level of comfort that a subject might get was a really huge thing for me. There were so many times in my career where I would show up for an interview and all the subject would know is that someone from The New York Times was coming, and then I would show up with like armpit hair, dreads, Black girl with tattoos, and then we were able to forge a different sort of relationship than I think they were expecting. I think that worked to the Times’s advantage many, many times, and so it was very frustrating for me when I wanted to enact or live out the politics that came with that.

AA: I was talking two years ago to an editor in chief of a very large legacy magazine that I won’t name, who just basically said: I just can’t cover Israel/Palestine anymore in the magazine, not frequently, because I can’t deal with like the letter writing campaigns. And I’ve dealt with this in my position, even at Jewish Currents. Especially on a Peter Beinart article, we’ll get dozens of letters all saying essentially the same thing and taking issue with one or another language choice or framing. And I know that this has been a tactic of the ADL and AJC for decades. And I do think that, in addition to other things, this has contributed to setting the standards and the norms for these organizations—that they know what is going to provoke backlash that they have to deal with. And I wonder, with what is going on now with organizations like Writers Against the War On Gaza, but other kind of watchdogs generally, who are putting more pressure from the left on these institutions, if we think that that is something that’s going to help. Or how we think about the role of pressure in shaping media: If we don’t think that journalists are necessarily on the forefront of this, can activists play a role?

JH: I’m a Christian. So I love shame, right? I think shame is the most effective tool that we have in our toolboxes. So in many ways, I do want to say yes—but I also worry that it engenders this idea of “us versus them,” and it helps only to calcify this idea that anyone who sort of disavows journalistic work is immediately written off as an activist (whether or not you are a journalist). I think, as much as I would like activism to be more and more effective, I think that it is probably most beneficial in a newsroom’s relationship with its readers but not necessarily what’s going on inside of a newsroom.

AA: Maybe another way of saying what you’re saying is that it’s more effective for activists to cloak themselves in the journalistic process (like to be writing letters to the editor) than it is to be standing in the New York Times lobby. I mean, I think that has a role, but you’re saying the newsrooms themselves dismiss those people as activists as opposed to participants in the readership?

JH: Yes. I think the most effective way to foment change internally is to go the letters to the editor route—to support the people within who are trying to create change. I think the best way to have an effect on the reputation of a newsroom (or, again its relationship with its readers) is to go the more like external activist events that we’ve seen from organizations like Wall Walk.

AG: Obviously, I’m interested in a lot of the same things activists are (they’re some of my dearest friends in the world), but I don’t really consider myself an activist. Maybe it’s like I’m in a related place in the larger war of ideas, but not that particular route. I mean, that’s how just how I conceive of myself. I’m sure that there’s a lot of people out there who would look at my writing and me on the internet and the stuff that I edit and say: You’re an activist journalist. But that’s just not how I think of myself.

JH: Yeah, I wonder, is there room for something in between? Is that a conversation we should even be having? Or should we just accept that some journalists have points of view based on their experiences or their intellect, and, again, neutrality is fake, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t be a good journalist anyway.

DH: I think for me, there should be a distinction, because when I see activists in Palestine, for example, people that I know are activists, like they go to demonstrations, and they raise the flag and everything. And then I see them saying that they’re journalists—I don’t know, maybe I’m an asshole, but I don’t like it. I appreciate that they are writers, I could call them that. But I don’t know if you’re a journalist, even though like we might hold the same viewpoints, and we probably do. And I don’t mind using some of the activism tools to achieve what needs to be achieved, but you’ll never see me in a demonstration holding a flag, for example.

AA: I mean, Dalia, I wonder about this, because I also wonder if it’s just a response to being in this business for a long time and seeing a lot of Zionist journalists who are constantly out there with flags, and nobody says anything.

DH: Yeah, because I have to hold myself to a higher standard. And I can’t get away with the shit that they’re getting away with. And so it’s two-fold. I have to fight harder to be taken seriously, and I have to be more “neutral” or whatever. But also, on the other hand, I have a respect for this profession. And yes, my background is obviously Palestinian, and I have thoughts and ideas and whatnot. But what I put down on paper is not going to be like “the terrorist Israeli colonial state.” I mean, irrespective of what I think, my words have to be measured for them to carry weight and for people to take me seriously. Obviously, the fact that I’m Palestinian is the reason why I’m a journalist. It’s not that I’m disassociating myself from my Palestinianism, I mean, it feeds into it, and everything I’ve been doing for the past 20 years has been about Palestine. But I have to fight that much harder to—not necessarily fit in, I don’t want to fit in. I’ve never once written anything that I wasn’t comfortable with—but to actually be allowed into the space. That’s mainstream media.

AG: I appreciate Dalia talking about the craft. As much as I assume everybody here wants to jettison some of the old shitty things about the way journalism works, it is a craft with a history of how to do it. And it’s worth at least thinking through those things and not reflexively throwing them all out. Another consideration of mine is that I want the most people to read the piece and be persuaded by it. And look, we’re The Intercept. I know that a lot of centrist libs and right wingers are not going to be reading us. But if they do, I don’t want them to just be able to dismiss it out of hand. And that doesn’t mean I’m kowtowing to them in the language that we use, but it does mean that I’m not going to gratuitously alienate them. If I’m going to alienate them, it’s going to be because there’s a good reason to. And the other thing that has been shocking (but not surprising) in this current war, is that it’s really crazy to watch what Palestinians in this profession have to deal with. You see the campaign of total erasure that’s happening in the way people respond to Palestinian journalists. It’s extremely harrowing to watch. It’s a totally different ballgame. I mean the things that happen to Palestinian journalists never happened to me being an Iranian who’s worked on Iran stuff. I have so much respect for people like Dalia that just stay with it and keep their heads in the game and do it, because—I mean, I don’t know how you do it, to be honest.

DH: I don’t know. I don’t know honestly. But I do think that obviously, the physical toll that Palestinian journalists are under in Gaza—we’ve got 90 journalists who were killed, and then the things that they’re going through, because not only are they our eyes and ears on the ground, but they’re also living the war. They’re hungry, they’re thirsty, they’re everything. They’re displaced from their homes, and there’s a cost.

AA: Yeah. Ali, you brought up craft. And in preparation for this podcast, I was actually reading a lot from poets and I was reading from Solmaz Sharif from a piece called “The Poetry of Proximity.” She talks about how the state exerts (or at least attempts authority over us) in many ways, including its use of language, passive construction, missing subjects, riotous chiasmus, etc. “A combination of rhetorical flourish, euphemism, and passivity provide the state with the means to justify formally warfare.” I’ve also read a piece called “Notes On Craft” by Fargo Nissim Tbakhi, who’s our artist-in-residence at Jewish Currents, and talks about how craft itself is a machine for regulation, estrangement, and sanitization. He says, “Palestine and all the struggles with which it is bound up require of us, in any and all forms of speech going forward, a commitment to constant and escalating betrayals of this machine. It requires that we poison and betray craft at all turns. It might mean writing things that are unpublishable, and forcing publishers into doing it anyway. It might mean circumventing or ignoring the structures of publishing in favor of means of circulation outside the bounds of capital and therefore free from the grasp of the invisible hand. It might mean boycott pressure and refusing to allow the return of the oppressive dailiness in any space we inhabit.”

And these are two much longer pieces about craft in particular. They’re both poets, Fargo’s also a theatre maker. And obviously, there’s been a lot of resistance on this call, at least, to thinking about that kind of intruding on the craft of journalism on some level. But how do those words hit you all? Like, how do we think about refusing the grammar of state violence in our work as journalists? We’ve talked, so far, a little bit almost about omitting words, trying not to use words that are tinged in this direction, but also not to use words tinged in that direction. And that leaves us with another set of words, but also a whole bunch of words that we can’t use. That’s one tactic that we’ve talked about, but how do we think about it?

AG: I understand and I respect it. And I’m all for questioning the order of things that have come before, because that order of things has been unjust to a whole lot of people, and we should. But I also want to think about political progress in a strategic way, which is not to say necessarily incremental, but strategic, at least. And I would be hard-pressed to look back at the history of journalism and not see that there’s stuff that has come before that I can learn from. And that’s what I mean by craft. I’m not ready to throw all that out. I do think of myself as part of the improvement of this tradition. Also, I try to be cognizant of being in a political project that’s bringing more people over to my side and the side of justice for people who haven’t had it before.

DH: Yeah, I mean, the art of crafting or craft, it’s something we can build on. So it’s not something that’s built in stone. So our own rendition of it, or our own thoughts on it, or however we want to mold it, we’re already doing that by breaking into spaces that aren’t built for people like us and using the craft in a way that also respects our own principles and our own thoughts, and doesn’t betray those. So I don’t think saying that we’re respecting the craft is adhering to the oppressive white man. I understand where that craft came from and how this craft traditionally has sidelined people of color and people of a certain class and everything. But for people like us, it’s not black or white. We have to work with a lot of forces, we have to swim against a lot of different tides. At the end of the day, we are changing the craft, and I believe that we can if we want to. I mean, I don’t know how far we’re gonna get, but I gotta at least try because there’s hardly any Palestinian journalists out there that can speak and write in English really fluently, and even if the interest in these people is just so you can be the token Palestinian, I mean, I don’t care.


AA: Thank you all for joining me today. This has been another episode of On the Nose. If you liked it, please share it. And please subscribe to Jewish Currents at JewishCurrents.org. Thanks a lot, see you next time.

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