Understanding commentary, Suarez and others

By Isaac Simon

(Jessica Picard / Daily Collegian)

It is not uncommon for writers and journalists alike to provide commentary on events that take place. The same practice applies for speakers, whether they are historians within academia or are public figures. It also applies to people like Thomas Suarez.

Commentary is supposed to add and advance an existing conversation while allowing for healthy positive reflection in common discourse. Commentators who fail to do so will oftentimes answer every question while managing to say nothing concrete at the same time. On Sept. 19, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian published a news article on Thomas Suarez’s talk, highlighting several points that he made. Near the beginning, the piece says that Suarez started his lecture “by stating that the Palestinian and Israeli conflict is not the irreversible conflict that it has been made out to be; the common goal for everyone is to reach an end to the conflict.”

If only that were an original goal or a statement that could have been articulated in a way that is conducive to the current conflict. I would be curious to find someone that doesn’t want to see an end to the conflict. Perhaps someone should ask Suarez whether his inflammatory and equally incendiary lecture title, “State of Terror: How terrorism created modern Israel,” helps pave a path for peace in the region.

However, this problem is not particular to Suarez. It speaks to the heart of understanding commentary that rarely fits in the parameters of a one-hour time slot. There is a myth involving commentators’ involvement with discourse: it achieves in its ability to “reflect on both sides” of a given topic. This myth is very much interlinked with bias. Bias is inevitable, yet too much of it is problematic. Oftentimes, the reality of a situation fails to lend itself to the virtues of objectivity. There aren’t as many facts as there are ways to interpret said facts. It is in this way that objective facts become oxymoronic. If a non-empirical approach is taken, then the way the facts are interpreted to inform our outlook on the truth is varied.

Even though it might be unfair to criticize and put Suarez in a box for not being an academic, it is not to say that the work of academics on these issues and similar issues shouldn’t be added to the conversation. Professors in the Judaic Studies Department at the University of Massachusetts released a statement in response to Suarez’s speaking invitation. It read, “Tom Suarez’s book is a deeply flawed work by an amateur author, full of factual errors, and distortions of the archival record. There are serious historians who take an honest look at Israel/Palestine in the 1940s and at the violence of the conflict, but Suarez is something else. It is disappointing to see a student group and outside groups use universities to promote ideological polemics like Suarez’s that only look to demonize an ‘enemy.’ That is unscholarly incitement, not responsible history.” Shedding a light on opposing opinions in a continuous dialogue can help listeners come to their own opinions by hearing from multiple perspectives.

Joe Frank’s column last week regarding Suarez’s talk was gracious in so far as it provided a fundamental critique of Suarez for who he is as a professional or lack thereof. Frank ends his column by drawing a connection between Suarez’s hateful rhetoric and the anti-hate campaign that is endorsed and promoted by the University. Yet, that seems to be a bit of a stretch. Suarez’s work has been debunked by a variety of academics. We don’t have to look further than the work of David Collier to understand this. Through Prof. Collier, along with professors at this University, such as the likes of Jay Berkowitz, Daniel Gordon and Jonathan Skolnik—for whom I greatly admire—to understand that Suarez is more ahistorical than hateful, more fictional than factual. The back-and-forth dialogue between differing parties provides listeners with multiple viewpoints, bringing multiple stories to the limelight.

This is part of public opinion, a platform through which divisive debate is not only welcomed, but also encouraged. The critically-acclaimed writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is famous for her talk on the fear of the single story. The danger she says lies not in the story itself, but that it is often the only story heard at all. Suarez has every right to provide commentary on these issues. It is for the same reason that a plurality of voices are able to unite around opposing commentary and rhetoric in order to help others understand why he is wrong.


Isaac Simon is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]