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(Hatem Omar / Maan Images)

The London Review of Books has a problem with Palestinians too

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Last month, Rania Khalek wrote a piece for The Electronic Intifada asking, “Does The Nation have a problem with Palestinians?

Khalek demonstrated that the venerable American leftist magazine “habitually reinforces Israeli apartheid by privileging Jewish voices over Palestinian ones” in its coverage of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

“It’s highly unlikely that The Nation would ever host a forum on rape culture featuring four men and one woman, or a panel on racism made up of three white people and one African American,” she wrote, making a powerful analogy.

Khalek’s piece elicited a risible response from The Nation’s executive editor Richard Kim, who produced 14 pieces from his magazine’s archive written by Palestinians in the past six years – an average of just over two per year.

Kim did not produce a list showing how many articles focusing on Palestine and the Israelis had been written by Israelis or Jewish Americans. If he did, he might have had to point out, for example, that the number of Nation articles written by just two Israelis – Neve Gordon and Bernard Avishai – added up to 34 pieces!

Beyond numbers, Kim ignored the core of Khalek’s critique about the privileging of some voices over others.

Few bought his defense. The Shock Doctrine author Naomi Klein responded in a tweet that Khalek “is right: the double standards [are] glaring. We can and should do much better.”

on Twitter

At Mondoweiss, Philip Weiss and Adam Horowitz concurred with Klein. “The Nation should view Khalek’s critique as an opportunity to lead by introducing the left-liberal community to the Palestinians who are charting the way towards freedom, equality and justice in Israel/Palestine,” they urged.

“Rather than reflecting American cultural bias against Palestinians, The Nation should challenge it.”

It remains to be seen whether any of these critiques will have any impact on Kim and The Nation’s editor and publisher Katrina van den Heuvel, and whether the liberal Zionist bastion’s door will be any more open to Palestinians in the future.

LRB’s Palestinian problem

In the bio of its official Twitter account, the London Review of Books (LRB) proudly quotes playwright and frequent contributor Alan Bennett calling it “the liveliest, most serious and also the most radical literary magazine we have.” He’s mostly right.

The Nation, however, can take some consolation (though no pride) that it is not the only highly regarded progressive publication that publishes a great deal on the question of Palestine that has been notably unwelcoming to Palestinian writers.

The LRB has long had the same problem.

LRB is no marginal literary journal. Its ability to grab significant global media attention was demonstrated only weeks ago when it published Seymour Hersh’s much-discussed investigative piece “Whose Sarin?” questioning the dominant US government narrative about the responsibility of the Syrian government for the use of chemical weapons.

Where are the Palestinians?

Using the LRB website’s search function, we can find 193 articles tagged with the place “Israel and Palestine,” written by a total of 90 contributors.

Overall, by my count, 12 Israeli contributors wrote a total of 54 of the articles, while 7 writers of Palestinian ancestry wrote 20 articles.

But look at the top ten most prolific writers, listed below, and you find that 11 – more than half – of the articles written by Palestinians were by Edward Said, who died more than a decade ago:

  • Avi Shlaim: 13
  • Edward Said: 11
  • Yitzhak Laor: 10
  • Uri Avnery: 8
  • Ilan Pappe: 8
  • Adam Shatz: 8
  • Charles Glass: 7
  • Yonatan Mendel: 6
  • Henry Siegman: 5
  • Ian Gilmour: 4

Notably, five of the top ten writers are Israelis and the late Said is the only Palestinian in the results who has written more than three articles for LRB.

Between them, the other six writers of Palestinian ancestry (Rashid Khalidi, Saree Makdisi, Rita Giacaman, Karim Makdisi, Karma Nabulsi and Raja Shehadeh) have contributed just 9 of the 193 articles in the search result.

Reviewed authors

The exclusion of Palestinians is even more stark when we look at whose books get reviewed by LRB.

Among 138 reviewed authors in the search result for the place “Israel and Palestine,” just four are Palestinian: Edward Said, Jamil Hilal, Nur Masalha and Azzam Tamimi.

By contrast, dozens are Israelis. The top four most frequently reviewed authors are all Israeli: David Grossman (5), Benny Morris (5), Amos Oz (5) and Hillel Halkin (3).

Said, who is in fifth place, has had three books reviewed in LRB, the only Palestinian with more than one title reviewed.

Otherwise, the list is a who’s who of Israeli authors including: Benjamin Netanyahu, Yitzhak Rabin, Moshe Arens, Ilan Pappe, Uri Avnery, Tom Segev, Yehuda Amichai, S.Y. Agnon, Avi Shlaim, Avi Raz, Ehud Ya’ari, Israel Shahak, Yitzhak Shamir, Amnon Rubinstein, Shlomo Sand, Ze’ev Schiff and Itamar Rabinovitch to name just some of them.

The list of reviewed authors – Palestinian, Israeli and other – is also overwhelmingly dominated by men.

Of course it can’t be that Palestinians don’t write books; they write lots of them, and if you’re interested you can check out The Electronic Intifada’s Arts, Music & Culture section or the book section of the Journal of Palestine Studies for regular reviews.

But you won’t find these books in the London Review of Books.

Nonchalance

Let me be clear: the point is not that LRB should publish more on Palestine; it already publishes more than most on the topic and many of the articles are very good.

The issue – as in The Nation – is that Israeli and Jewish voices are overwhelmingly privileged over Palestinians on this topic.

I and other writers have taken this issue up with LRB editors privately over several years. I have never received a coherent explanation for this glaring exclusion of Palestinians, nor any sense that there’s much concern about it.

It’s the right time to ask publicly for the London Review of Books to address its problem with Palestinians.

Update: LRB blog

Since 2009, LRB has also had a blog. Posts on the blog are indexed separately from other articles.

However this analysis of LRB blog posts tagged “Israel” or “Palestine” shows that the pattern of hostility to Palestinian voices is just as pronounced.

As the list below indicates, five Israeli writers (Gordon, Arad, Pappe, Avnery, Dana and Mendel) have collectively produced 22 posts, while four Palestinian writers (Rabbani, Moor, Nabulsi and Khalidi) have together produced 5.

LRB contributing editor Adam Shatz (formerly of The Nation) has produced as many posts on “Israel” or “Palestine” as all Palestinians combined.

  • Neve Gordon: 14
  • The Editors: 12
  • Adam Shatz: 5
  • Jeremy Harding: 5
  • Roy Arad: 4
  • Oliver Miles: 3
  • John Mearsheimer: 2
  • Mouin Rabbani: 2
  • Ahmed Moor: 1
  • David Patrikarakos: 1
  • Deborah Friedell: 1
  • Eliot Weinberger: 1
  • Hugh Miles: 1
  • Ilan Pappe: 1
  • Joseph Dana: 1
  • Judith Butler: 1
  • Karma Nabulsi: 1
  • Laura Dean: 1
  • Nicola Perugini: 1
  • Norman Dombey: 1
  • Rashid Khalidi: 1
  • Rebecca L. Stein: 1
  • Sara Roy: 1
  • Suzy Hansen: 1
  • Tariq Ali: 1
  • Uri Avnery: 1
  • Yonatan Mendel: 1

Comments

Thank you for giving credit to this observation, as your forum will hopefully force white leftists to swallow this double standard reality. I have also seen this in activist communities where panels leave out Palestinian and other voices of color in order to have the Jewish voice lead. I have witnessed professors and community activists extract information and experiences out of ‘brown’, often foreign-accented community members to then turn around and represent these ideas as their own on public panels, where they end up claiming themselves the ‘experts’. I hope we can coin a term for this phenomenon, maybe “Knowledge and Experiential Plagiarism”? That sounds kind of bulky. Anyway, it’s a form of racism that is wrongfully discredited as faulty ‘identity politics’ by the white leftists in the room.

Today I have sent an email to the editorial dept of LRB.
(edit@lrb.co.uk)

'The London Review of Books has a problem with Palestinians too'

Dear Sir,
I would like to draw your attention to an article in Electronic Intifida dated 01/02/2014 which highlights the lack of book reviews by Palestinian writers;

"12 Israeli contributors wrote a total of 54 of the articles, while 7 writers of Palestinian ancestry wrote 20 articles."

Those of us who are appalled at Israel's treatment of Palestinians are also appalled when it would seem that organisations such as yours are contributing to the difficulty of bringing the culture and plight of the Palestinians into the International media arena.

I hope that your organisation will take note of this article and reflect upon your policy.

Yours faithfully,

"The list of reviewed authors – Palestinian, Israeli and other – is also overwhelmingly dominated by men."

Ironically, your own banner photo, above, shows 4 young Palestinian men reading newspapers -- and no women at all. I love the work you do -- and the LRB, too, which I also read regularly: it seems both need to reflect on their practices and correct them.

On the home page, there’s a block that lists the authors whose work has appeared most frequently for the past year. Most of them are women.

If you’d like to do an analysis of EI’s work and authors, please be in touch with the editors. I (the webmaster) will be happy to supply them with data to help you.

My point was that visuals, too, do matter. The banner renders Palestinian women invisible, non-existent to the eye (and the mind). The photo was clearly posed, so it might be possible to get another one showing Palestinian women reading, too.

The block you refer to lists 25 contributors -- at least 13 of them are men, I believe.

Daryl Meador is a woman.