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Mass resignations at ‘Guernica,’ which retracts Israeli writer’s essay

Joanna Chen wrote that she didn’t serve in the IDF and volunteers driving Palestinian children to Israeli hospitals.

Credit: Tama66/Pixabay.
Credit: Tama66/Pixabay.

The masthead for Guernica, a 20-year-old online arts and politics magazine, still listed “publishers” in the plural on its masthead on Sunday night. But just one name appeared: Jina Moore Ngarambe.

The prior co-publisher Madhuri Sastry had announced her resignation earlier in the day, following the publication of an article, which Guernica has since retracted, that was said to be too pro-Israel.

“It is, among many things, a hand-wringing apologia for Zionism and the ongoing genocide in Palestine,” Sastry wrote, of Joanna Chen’s article “From the edges of a broken world. In Israel, a translator tries to tread the line of empathy.”

Sastry wrote that she is “deeply ashamed” that the piece ran “and sincerely apologize to the writers, readers and supporters who feel betrayed by this decision.”

Other parts of the team—all volunteer—of the nonprofit publication also tweeted resignations from their unpaid positions.

Hua Xi, who was interviews editor, wrote that parts of the essay “felt particularly harmful and disorienting to read.” April Zhu, who was senior editor, accused Israel of “apartheid” and “genocide.” And Ishita Marwah, formerly a fiction editor, wrote that the magazine is “a pillar of eugenicist white colonialism masquerading as goodness.”

Sarah Madges quit as copy editor, stating “Had this ever entered my queue I would have declined it immediately.”

Two publishing assistants and an editorial assistant also announced their resignations. Chelsea Risley did so “in solidarity with other editors and publishing team members,” adding “Free Palestine.” And Jackie Domenus noted, “It has unfortunately become clear that during a genocide, the mag is failing to take a stand for what it claims to stand for.”

The magazine has since removed the article and states “Guernica regrets having published this piece and has retracted it. A more fulsome explanation will follow.” The essay remains available in archived form.

In the piece, Chen notes that she did not join the Israel Defense Forces, despite her mother’s encouragement. Her mother said, “We have the world’s greatest army here.”

“And I fired back immediately: Who’s we? Speak for yourself,” Chen wrote. “I never served in the army.”

The British-born author and translator adds that she volunteers for Road to Recovery, which “transports Palestinian children in need of lifesaving medical procedures to and from Israeli hospitals.”

Chen writes of checking in with Palestinian colleagues after Oct. 7 but finding it too difficult. “It is not easy to tread the line of empathy, to feel passion for both sides,” she wrote. “But as the days went by, the shock turned into a dull pain in my heart and a heaviness in my legs.”

Two weeks after the war began, Chen began driving Palestinian children and their families to Israeli hospitals again, over objections from her family. She concludes optimistically, “There is a very long way to go, but of one thing I am sure: recovery begins now, at home.”

The magazine came to see things differently, though many came to Chen’s defense.

“Taking its cue from Joe McCarthy and MAGA book burners, Guernica has decided to retract this moving essay by a Jewish writer,” the journalist and editor Michele Chabin wrote.

“The worst part is the gaping hole in the discourse that will be left by the destruction of Guernica magazine. Who’s going to drive the public conversation now?” wrote Jeff Blehar, of National Review and the Political Beats podcast.

Scott Gilmore, a human-rights lawyer in the Washington area, wrote, “If Guernica wants to do BDS it should just say so and boycott all Israeli Jews. Apparently, these voices should not be heard.”

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