Let’s talk about Hen Mazzig and his troubling history

On last Thursday, my past in Lebanon and my present at Vassar converged when Former Israeli Defense Force (IDF) officer and Pro-Israeli activist Hen Mazzig came to campus. His visit was met with head-on resistance from Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a group who, to their credit, staged a very well-organized protest from the outside of room 300 of Rockefeller Hall demanding that Mazzig and his ideals leave our community alone.

When the situation blew up online, a shitstorm of Vassar alums, regardless of religious affiliation, and other supporters of Mazzig, upset that students could even protest at all, punctuated their anger by pledging on social media that they would no longer donate to the institution that they once called home (Twitter, “#shameonvassar,” 11.18.2019).

Please.

Keep your money, take your privilege, gift-wrap your nonsensical ideal that money could do anything to sway these passionate students and shove it where the sun doesn’t shine.

Now, let me be clear. My biases—I was born and raised in a Lebanon in constant conflict with Israel—are inherently tied to my roots, but those roots have no attachment to the Vassar chapter of SJP. In fact, I’ve consistently questioned the credibility of a group whose membership is composed of few to no Arabs (to my knowledge). While their intent may be righteous, they have no way of understanding what the conflict is like. There are no real-world consequences when SJP leaders protest. They can put down their signs and go home, not implicated by the volume of their voice nor the aggression of their actions. Palestinian children continue to starve (The Guardian, “One million face hunger in Gaza after US cut to Palestine aid,” 05.15.2019).

Here’s the thing, though: SJP’s protests have no consequences for Palestinian children either. Unfortunately, when Vassar Organizing Israel Conversations Effectively (VOICE) brings in a former IDF officer and Zionist, those implications change, and the consequences become real. By giving Hen Mazzig a voice, we—as a campus—provide a platform for Zionism and the advancement of Israel as a state, joining a bloody history of Palestinian opression.

Mazzig, regardless of his incredible coming out story within the IDF, is complicit in the murder of thousands of Palestinian people (Vox, “This chart shows every person killed in the Israel-Palestine conflict since 2000,” 07.14.2014). While it is true that all but a few Israelis will at some point spend some time in the IDF, few have used that time to build their ethos in the way that Mazzig has. Describing his talk as covering “[H]ow both Palestinian & Israeli life is valuable,” Mazzig seems ignorant to the inequity of these two groups in much the same way the #AllLivesMatter movement induces a racist slumber to the systemic destruction of African Americans (Twitter, @[HenMazzig], 11.14.2019).

When Mazzig speaks, what shadows him is not the typical, Westchester upper-middle class Vassar background, but instead a history rooted in displacement and violence. It’s the ignorance towards a group clearly marginalized and barely hanging on to life. When Mazzig is heard, those voices are silenced. When Mazzig speaks, our ears perk up to his eloquent expression of Israeli life and fall deaf to the sound of gunpowder and metal splattering the floor.

Please don’t forget that this man stood silent among the debris of people’s homes.

VOICE is an integral part of Vassar’s campus, one that represents the Jewish community at Vassar and opens conversations on Palestine and Israel in a way that is both educational and valuable to both groups. It’s a tamer alternative to the often explosive reactions that exist on both sides of the conversation calling for the destruction of a state and the displacement of millions—a situation the Palestinian community already knows far too well.

Mazzig does not represent this healthy discourse, however. Mazzig propagandizes the thought that life in Israel is the same as survival in Palestine. A regular critic of “terrorist” group Hamas, Mazzig seems keen to turn a blind eye to the displacement, starvation and destruction that so regularly accompanies the occupation of Palestine. Hamas’ place in Palestine, as both a protector and defender, seems to be so conveniently ignored by Mazzig. So regardless of VOICE’s orientation towards education, it is pivotal to understand that by engaging with Zionism and its perpetrators, we are quite literally not “[A]llowing all voices to be heard,” as President Bradley seems so determined to maintain on our campus (The Miscellany News, “Letter to the Editor: President Bradley’s response to VOICE event and SJP protest,” 11.15.2019).

President Bradley expressed a selfish, right-wing claim toward neutrality in a situation where neutrality is not possible. As human-rights activist Desmond Tutu made clear, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor” (Desmond and Mpho Tutu, “The Book of Forgiving,” 2014).

I will leave this article with one final thought. Mazzig said in his talk that the chant echoing through the building, “[F]rom the river to the sea” is one that calls for the “genocide” of his people and the “[M]urder of [him] and [his] family.”

“From the river to the sea” is not a call for murder. The chant calls for the land that once belonged to the Palestinian people. It’s not a call for “The murder of my family” as Mazzig put it.

Crouched behind the walls of Rocky 300, Mazzig made cowardly claims attaching young, American college students to heinous crimes that he is far too familiar with. It’s not a demand for genocide in the same way that “We Shall Overcome” did not call for white destruction in the 1960s. When Mazzig relays this thought, he associates those young men and women chanting for the liberation of Palestine with cold-blooded murderers. Recalling the inconsequential nature of these protests and implying that they are indeed inciting murder is not only incredibly dangerous—it’s cowardly.

Ultimately that’s what Mazzig is: a coward. Hidden behind a brick wall of Twitter characters and murderous implications, Mazzig does little to acknowledge his own history with murder and continues to imply equality where equality is not present.

VOICE has the potential to be an essential group in advancing Palestinian freedom while maintaining Jewish life.

That, however, can never happen with clowns like Hen Mazzig at the forefront.

8 Comments

  1. I don’t know Mr. Mazzig, other than the public fact that his family came originally from Tunisia. Tunisia, prior to 1948, had roughly 105,000 Jews among its population. When Tunisia gained independence in 1956, anti-Jewish legislation soon came into effect and, within a couple of years, synagogues, cemeteries and the Jewish quarters in the country were destroyed. At this point, only about 1,100 Jews remain in Tunisia. So presumably, Mr. Mazzig’s understanding of the world is, in part, colored by the result of the horrors suffered by Jews in Tunisia.

    There were similar occurrences in countries all across that general region during the same time period. The end result of that is that roughly 857,000 individuals of Jewish heritage were expelled or otherwise forced out of their homes. The vast majority of these people lost all of their possessions. What happened to the Jews from the Arab regions was, in fact, a massive crime. A great many of those impacted and their offspring are now Israelis.

    The author of this article, who is from Lebanon, claims to live with the consequences of the dispute between Israel and Lebanon in a way that SJP students don’t. That is no doubt true. However, that author does not consider how the behavior of the Arab world has impacted on Israeli Jews, most particularly (but not only) those from families in the Arab regions. Reconciliation requires listening to those with unfamiliar experiences. Taking away a person’s platform to speak is the opposite of what is needed. Shame on the author.

    With further due respect to the author’s assumptions, the Arab world did not need to reject Israel. Rejectionism was, in fact, only one possible position the Arab side could have taken – and, in fact, it was a minority view held by the most extreme voices on the Palestinian Arab side, at least before 1948, as shown by Hillel Cohen in his book Army of Shadows. Frankly, with minimal goodwill for the concerns and needs of others, partition could have been made to work. And, even if that were not then the case, the Arab side did not need, after losing that war, to refuse recognition of Israel, among other ruinously shortsighted policies related to that dispute that negatively impacted the lives of several generations of Arabs including, most especially, Palestinian Arabs. That refusal has surely contributed massively to the problems faced by Palestinian Arabs.

    The author says that “’From the river to the sea’ is not a call for murder.” Whether or not that is technically true, the agenda that saying represents could never be achieved without mass violence and death. And, given that Israel is a reality, that saying asserts that Jewish self-determination ought, as the author must likely see it, be void. That is the stuff of antisemitism, whether the author of the article understands it or not. To quote Senator Bernie Sanders: “It is true that some criticism of Israel can cross the line into antisemitism, especially when it denies the right of self-determination to Jews, or when it plays into conspiracy theories about outsized Jewish power. I will always call out antisemitism when I see it.” (Source: “Fighting antisemitism is at the heart of the left’s struggle against oppression,” by Bernie Sanders, The Guardian, November 12, 2019, at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/nov/12/antisemitism-left-jews-multiracial-democracy).

    • @Neal Friedman – The book Army of Shadows by Hillel Cohen actually disproves your case. It shows that Palestinians and Jews of that region got along before hordes of outside of immigrants started pouring in. The whole malarkey of the Palestinians being the hateful people is shown to be untrue.

      Its all wonderful to claim the Arab world did not need to reject Israel. Well Mr Friedman, if you were on the other side of the argument and someone showed up to your house or country and took it over what would your reaction be. And of course in all your posts you conveniently ignore that Israel was given its country and the dispute centers around the 1967 borders.

      You cannot pick and choose which people have a greater right to self determination, which is exactly what you do. If you want to criticize by your analysis , the supposed denial of self determiniation of Jewish people then why don’t you do the same for the Palestinian people. Or are you going to still claim it needs careful study decades after the facts on the ground.

      https://www.jacobinmag.com/2019/07/bernie-sanders-israel-palestine-bds
      If you’re going to quote Bernie Sanders are you going to agree with what Bernie stands for as stated below

      “Sanders himself described Israel’s settlements in the West Bank as a violation of international law and their razing as a prerequisite for peace: “I think if the expansion was illegal, moving into territory that was not their territory, I think withdrawal from those territories is appropriate.”

      Recently, Sanders has hinted that if elected he would impose real penalties on Israel if it continued its occupation, including cuts in US financial aid and arms sales (which total $3.8 billion annually). “

      • Raj writes that “It [i.e. Army of Shadows by Hillel Cohen], shows that Palestinians and Jews of that region got along before hordes of outside of immigrants started pouring in. ” Evidently, Raj did not bother to read the book before making his comment. He might start with the book’s full title, which is “Army of Shadows – Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917–1948” so that he might realize that the book addresses a different topic than he realizes. Moreover, so that there is no doubt that Raj has this wrong, I quote from the publisher’s description of the book:

        “In Army of Shadows, initially published in Israel to high acclaim and intense controversy, he tells the story of Arabs who, from the very beginning of the Arab-Israeli encounter, sided with the Zionists and aided them politically, economically, and in security matters. Based on newly declassified documents and research in Zionist, Arab, and British sources, Army of Shadows follows Bedouins who hosted Jewish neighbors, weapons dealers, pro-Zionist propagandists, and informers and local leaders who cooperated with the Zionists, and others to reveal an alternate history of the mandate period with repercussions extending to this day. The book illuminates the Palestinian nationalist movement, which branded these “collaborators” as traitors and persecuted them; the Zionist movement, which used them to undermine Palestinian society from within and betrayed them; and the collaborators themselves, who held an alternate view of Palestinian nationalism. Army of Shadows offers a crucial new view of history from below and raises profound questions about the roots of the Israel-Palestine conflict.” https://www.ucpress.edu/book/9780520259898/army-of-shadows

        As shown in the book – and notwithstanding Raj’s make-believe version of it -, most Palestinians were not rejections. Rejectionism was the viewpoint of the most extreme voices. Collaborationists were obviously also not the majority. Most people were more “go along, get along” in nature.

        I suggest that Raj, before he makes more foolish comments, read the book.

        And, frankly, there is no reason to imagine – unless Raj is claiming that Arabs are mostly bigots – that the Arab reaction to immigration was substantially different from reactions to immigration in other parts of the world. He might look at the present day US and Europe, where there is, in fact, a substantial, but not the majority, group that is opposed to immigration out of fear of what those immigrants will do that brings change. The strongest opposition to the immigrants is associated with bigoted extremists, whether in Europe or the US.

        There is no imaginable reason to believe that Palestinians reaction was different than how other humans (e.g., Europeans and Americans) react in the face of immigration. In fact, extremists on the Palestinian Arab side issued death threats in order to block people from selling their homes. Those threats were backed by religious proclamations supporting them, as shown in Army of Shadows. If the Palestinian Arabs were all or even mostly against the immigrants coming and buying land and building a country, there would not need to be Arab religious leaders who made the sale of land into a justification for killing their own people. So, that speaks for itself.

        Raj also writes; “Well Mr Friedman, if you were on the other side of the argument and someone showed up to your house or country and took it over what would your reaction be.” In fact, property was purchased at above-market prices. So, like a substantial number of property owners in what is now Israel actually did, I might have considered selling my house if it helped my family. Be that as it may, ownership of a house and governance of a territory are not remotely the same thing. And, in this instance, what Raj is actually arguing is against one of the oldest moral right known to this world, namely, the right to seek refuge from oppression wherever it is offered.

        Raj writes: “You cannot pick and choose which people have a greater right to self determination, which is exactly what you do. If you want to criticize by your analysis , the supposed denial of self determiniation of Jewish people then why don’t you do the same for the Palestinian people.” Raj failed, it seems, to read my words. In fact, I do not oppose self-determination for Palestinian Arabs. In fact, as I wrote, “partition could have been made to work.” Raj should consider reading things more carefully before commenting.

        Sanders does claim that settlement on captured land violates International law. I never addressed that point because it is not relevant to the point I was making about the article. In fact, the article provided an apologia for the dismantling of Israel, not for partition where both parties would each have their own country. As stated in the article “The chant calls for the land that once belonged to the Palestinian people.”

        In fact, Raj is writing in support of an article which would deny Jews self-determination while I, in fact, was writing that both sides could have co-existed in two states (i.e., partition).

        • @friedman – What a dishonest response . You state ”As shown in the book – and notwithstanding Raj’s make-believe version of it -, most Palestinians were not rejections.”

          Huh ? Did you even bother to read what I stated ? I wrote

          “ The whole malarkey of the Palestinians being the hateful people is shown to be untrue”

          Really @friedman , does that statement of mine read as if I painted Palestinians as rejectionists ? Really ?

        • “Raj is actually arguing is against one of the oldest moral right known to this world, namely, the right to seek refuge from oppression wherever it is offered.“

          There’s a difference between giving an immigrant refuge and it allowing them to buy land and giving up your country/governance in the process. @friedman carefully blurs the distinction. How so convenient?!!!

          Oh btw how are all those African refugees in Israel being treated. Plenty to preach but not to practice eh ?

  2. Given the percentage of students at Vassar receiving financial aid your call for alumni to “keep [their] money” is pretty ignorant and short sighted. If (a) you receive financial aid and (b) are so injured by alumni expressing their outrage over SJPs antics, I suggest you find an alternative means of financing your Vassar education.

  3. You say “When Mazzig is heard, those voices are silenced.” This seems to be your only argument against Mazzig, and it’s a pretty stupid argument. How is Mazzig a coward? You don’t explain it at all. He stood up there and talked about his life. He put himself at risk of critique. How is that cowardly? How could he avoid be cowardly?

    He’s not silencing anyone. When I am reading this article, people who aren’t you are silenced. When you read this comment, people who aren’t me are silenced. By this logic, the only people who deserve to ever have a voice are the ones who the most virtuous person in the room says can have a voice. Who says that you or Palestinians are right on this issue? I hope you see how solipsistic your argument is. No one is every “silenced” by anyone else talking. Just because someone listens to Mazzig doesn’t mean they’re going to become a crazy and violent Zionist who kills Palestinians without remorse. How is Mazzig dangerous? You don’t say; you just assume your ethos and pathos will speak for itself. It doesn’t. You’re allowed to disagree with Mazzig, but he is no coward, and he is silencing no one.

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