April O'Brien reviews

Toward a Critical Rhetoric on the Israel-Palestine Conflict
Author(s) or Editors: Matthew Abraham, Editor
Publisher: Parlor Press
Paperback Cost $27.00(U.S.)


Book Review of Toward a Critical Rhetoric on the Israel-Palestine Conflict
Edited by Matthew Abraham

On Video:
“The essays in this collection advance an ambitious goal: a comprehensive and careful treatment of the often divisive rhetorics surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict that is focused on producing empathic understanding and increasing cross-cultural identification” (Abraham 186).

“. . . I will maintain that the point is not simply to examine this distorted discourse; the point is to change it” (Crosswhite 175).

While critical rhetoric interrogates hegemonic power structures and influences cultural attitudes, those within this discourse community avoid broaching the Israeli-Palestian conflict. Approaching such reluctance head-on, this collection of essays, edited by Matthew Abraham, both uncovers the various reasons for academia’s hesitancy to engage in this discussion and offers a thoughtful analysis of various perspectives surrounding the conflict. Aside from the gap in conversation that I have already noted, Abraham proposes that there three main arguments for the relevance of the text: first, both sides cannot reach any stasis because of rhetorics that compete with each other and are seemingly incompatible, secondly, the longevity of the conflict should cause rhetoricians to study it more deeply, and lastly, what Abraham calls “a rhetoric of inevitability” (4) shrouds our understanding of the situation and needs to be dispelled.

The authors that contribute to the book repeatedly note that “dogmatic position-taking” is one of the most significant barriers to any discussion on the matter. To combat this tendency, the text explores how and why people on either side form and maintain their positions.

On Video:
“How can rhetoricians committed to a just and peaceful resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict intervene in the entrenched set of uptakes . . .”
- Anis Bawarshi, “Discourse on the Israel-Palestine Conflict: Rhetorical Memory and Uptake”

In chapter two, Anis Bawarshi explores how memory and uptake affect discussions about the conflict and makes suggestions for those who wish to intervene in these conversations with the hope of greater knowledge and a larger change in attitudes. One of his most powerful statements is that people are often silenced from their critique of Israeli treatment of Palestinians because of the competing memories at work. The end result is that any attempt to critique Israel is read as anti-Semitism. In his argument, Bawarshi uses Kenneth Burke’s definition of rhetoric as one that moves past persuasion to identification to support his argument.

On Video:
“. . . We must reframe our identifications with respect to Israeli and Palestinian nationalism if rhetoricians are to find a way out of the discursive impasse that currently hampers discussion about the historical and diplomatic record.”
- Matthew Abraham, “Reluctant Rhetoricians: Refusing to Frame the Israel-Palestine Conflict Through Jewish-Arab Antagonism”

In chapter three, Matthew Abraham discusses “the discursive impasse” that inhibits academics within the rhet/comp community. He depicts how conversations on a WPA list-serve quickly dissolved into name-calling and affective stances as a result of the Rachel Corrie Courage in the Teaching of Writing award. Abraham argues that rhetoricians should intercede during debates about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict instead of being fearful to speak.

On Video:
“The longevity of Anti-Semitism as a specific form of hatred and its theological projection into the future, in my view, stands at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and only its eradication can open the path to a more peaceful relationship between Muslims and Jews.”
- Amos Kiewe, “The Temporal Roots of Anti-Semitism and its Impact on the Arab-Israeli Conflict”

In chapter four, the author studies the notion of temporality in rhetoric and suggests that by examining the temporal causes of Anti-Semitism in Christianity we can understand how the same Anti-Semitism functions in Islam. He also proposes that by interrogating Anti-Semitism in Islam, it helps frame our understanding of the conflict between Arabs and Israelis.

On Video:
“That language—of identity, of ‘we Jews,’ ‘we here in Madison,’ ‘we of the right-thinking majority’—makes the stranger and the homeborn as one or, perhaps worse, divides the stranger and the homeborn, the Jew and the non-Jew, and places an impassable chasm between them.”
- Michael Bernard-Donals, “Deterritorialized Rhetoric; or, What Happens When We Forget We are Exiles”

Michael Bernard-Donals focuses on the idea of the exile, citing Psalm 137 as a poetic connection to the current cultural climate in the Palestine/Israel region. He calls this theory an exhilic rhetorical position, and it supposes that because one is not home in his/her land, his/her language is not secure. Bernard-Donals hopes that through poetry and song that people can come to a better understanding of life as an exile.

On Video:
“What is most needed now, in my opinion, is not the perpetuations of ‘narration sickness,’ but a turn toward listening, with mutual regard and respect, to the narratives of the other as they cross the narrative divide.”
- Michael Kleine, “Feeling the Narrative/s of the Other’s Oppression: Toward a Liberatory Mutuality in the Middle East”

The author in Chapter Five connects Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He argues that injustice that occurs anywhere should be addressed and not just injustice that personally affects us in the field. Kleine proposes that we practice Krista Ratcliffe’s “rhetorical listening” to create a climate that is open to new ideas and perspectives.

In Chapter Seven, Robert Rowland compares two speeches: one by Obama and one by Netanyahu that illustrate different perspectives about Israel. From Rowland’s analysis, he proposes that while President Obama argues for Israel’s re/consideration of their borders, Prime Minister Netanyahu states that the United States must take Iran’s threats seriously and helps support Israel’s defense.

On Video:
“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict reveals that genuine argument is often sidetracked by traumas expressed in transhistoric terms.”
- David Frank, “Traumatic Myth, the Middle Voice, and Genuine Argumentation in the Israeli-Palestinian Civil War”

The author believes that “genuine argument” can help navigate the complex discourses that surround this conflict. He studies Carolin Emcke’s Echoes of Violence, the Geneva initiative, and the riparian model of conflict management to encourage production argumentation. By using the “middle voice, Frank suggests that we can actually work through the trauma and find some commonality.

On Video:
“Poetry—inasmuch as it simultaneously establishes a community of interlocutors and challenges it—raises questions of civility and citizenship that are central to the consideration of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
- Shai Ginsburg, “Poetry and Conflict: on Civility, Citizenship and Criticism”

In Chapter 9, Ginsburg examines how poetry can be an act of civil-citizenship and how this can be applied to the conflict in the Middle East.

On Video:
“. . . perhaps to invite different people to speak, saying different things, in different frameworks from the ones that have been producing the impasses with which we are familiar.”
- James Crosswhite, “The Point is to Change It”

In this final chapter, James Crosswhite moves the reader past thinking into a space of doing. He suggests that the first step is to change the distorted discourse and to invite multiple voices to this new conversation.

This collection of essays has far-reaching effects. If read and applied, it could change how academics discuss and grapple with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I think this text is an excellent starting point, and I look forward to future iterations of these ideas as they evolve.

Work Cited
Abraham, Matthew, ed. 2015.Toward a Critical Rhetoric on the Israel-Palestine Conflict. Anderson: Parlor Press.

Music and Image/Video Credits (all marked for reuse):

"All This" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

"Water Prelude" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

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About the Author(s):

April O’Brien is pursuing her Ph.D. at Clemson University where she studies Rhetorics, Communication, and Information Design. She was recently appointed a member of the Digital Creativity Faculty Program within Clemson University’s Center of Excellence and strives to develop her voice in digital spaces as well as provide an environment for her students to create arguments in both written and visual texts. Follow her on Twitter @aprilobrien412.