In what author and founder of website The Electronic Intifada Ali Abunimah, has called "an unprecedented act of political censorship," Al Jazeera has deleted an op-ed by Colombia University professor Joseph Massad, bowing to pressure from pro-Israel advocates. Massad, who is associate professor of modern arab politics and intellectual history at Colombia, wrote an article (see the embed below) titled, "The last of the Semites," in which he argued that Zionism and anti-Semitism are effectively two sides of same coin. Published by Al Jazeera last Tuesday, on Saturday the article was suddenly taken down from its website without an explanation, and on Monday it was removed from its mobile site too.
Unsurprisingly, the article had come in for heavy criticism. But regardless of what you think of Massad's argument, the fact that Al Jazeera has simply deleted it without explanation constitutes a worrying act of censorship that serves to stifle political debate on the sensitive issue of Zionism and anti-Semitism.
The original link to the article now just redirects the user to Al Jazeera's homepage, while it has also been removed from Massad's profile on the site. Below is a copy of the article as it orginally appeared on Al Jazeera's website:
Following the article's initial publication, it came in for intense criticism, largely, as Glenn Greenwald points out, from commentators "who have spent years casually smearing as anti-Semites those who criticize Israel." Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic sarcastically tweeted: "Congratulations, Al Jazeera: You've just posted one of the most anti-Jewish screeds in recent memory," while the editor of the neoconservative journal Commentary, John Podhoretz, wrote: "Congratulations, donors to Columbia University, for paying this monstrous fuckhead's salary!"
Articles published in the opinion section of the Al Jazeera website are routinely controversial and provocative. In fact, that is the point: they are purposefully provocative so as to generate debate. Both those who have criticized and defended Massad's argument are entirely within their right to do so, and this sort of debate should be encouraged. As Greenwald argues:
"It's one thing for a media outlet to decide in the first instance not to publish an opinion piece on grounds of quality; it's another thing entirely for them to retract one they decide to publish simply because it offends people. Offending people is a necessary part of journalism and the fact that something produces offense is not evidence that it is invalid."
While Al Jazeera has offered no explanation for deleting the article, Massad claims that it was pulled by management. Given the nature of Massad's previous comments on this topic and other articles that angered Zionists, the criticism of his latest article should not have been unexpected by Al Jazeera.
Abunimah and Greenwald argue that the decision to pull the article and provide no explanation may be related to Al Jazeera's impending entry into the U.S. television market. Management is reportedly worried about "the perception of Al Jazeera as both anti-American and anti-Israel" and that this will negatively affect its relationship with powerful politicians, advertisers, and cable carriers in the U.S. If this is the case, it represents a worrying potential trend for a news organisation that has built its reputation on a willingness to engage in provocative journalism and air a wide range of viewpoints not often seen in the American media.