This is the final installation of my column at The CJN. No column is forever; though in this case, it has reached the point where I feel that the conversation is no longer productive – for me, anyway. And that means it’s time to move on.
A regular column is both a gift and a burden. It’s a gift in that, because the editor doesn’t require a pitch for each piece, we can write about whatever seems important to the writer at the time. My tribute to my late father-in-law was an example of this. It’s also a gift because the columnist is granted a clear and calm voice in what can be a crowded space where everyone seems to be shouting. My piece about Linda Sarsour’s political views was an example of this.
‘the cacophony that resulted from my piece rested on the use of a word which by now should be uncontroversial: occupation’
And it’s a burden because as a regular deadline looms, one needs to engineer inspiration rather than waiting for it to strike. There is nothing uncommon about forced inspiration; it’s part of many jobs. But I soon realized that in trying to think up topics as my deadline approached, I was beginning to self-censor. Topics that seemed most in need of commentary and analysis I was shoving aside out of fear that my readers would cry foul on basic facts. To draw on a metaphor, I had begun to feel like I was a geologist who had been hired to write a regular column for the community paper of the Flat Earth Society.
Readers are free – and even encouraged – to disagree, of course. We don’t write for echo chambers. (Though we are all human, and we can’t deny we enjoy receiving “likes” on Facebook.) But the reaction to my last column in particular drove home to me that in order to feel like I was gaining analytical traction, I needed to leave this audience behind.
Bringing up a comparison between Canada and Israel, as I did in my last column, could have raised all sorts of pressing and compelling debates, ideas and questions by readers: is Israel a
settler-colonial state? When it comes to the Middle East, who is defined as indigenous? How should the occupation end? How can security and rights and identity all be fulfilled?
Instead, the cacophony that resulted from my piece (and which editor Yoni Goldstein later outlined in his short essay defending his decision to run the piece) rested on the use of a word which by now should be uncontroversial: occupation. I later took to the pages of Ha’aretz to remind readers how what Israel runs in the West Bank is indeed an occupation. That piece was filled with basic facts and figures that are by now common knowledge. But like flat earth proponents, even common knowledge has its deniers.
Thanks goes to Yoni for inviting me to The CJN, and to Joe Serge, Carolan Halpern (now retired) and Daniel Wolgelerenter (who has since left) who were consistently supportive and skilled in their editing, invoicing and headline writing. And that Yoni sought out and retained my column is a sign that the pages of The CJN, if my pieces were any indication, were indeed open to at least some significant degree of dissent.
Had I not been penning a resignation column today, I likely would have written a piece analyzing the cultural and political resonance of Israeli Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev’s head-turning dress worn at Cannes – a dress which was made out of a stunning fabric screen shot of Jerusalem. It reminded me of a brown polyester T-shirt I wore in Winnipeg when I was six, in the late 1970s, made out of a fabric screenshot of Israeli pop sensation Yizhar Cohen. But that cultural and political parsing, including analyzing identity and attachment and political commitments, will have to wait for another outlet.