American magazine retracts Israeli writer’s essay as staff object to ‘genocide softening’

Chen said she had worked on the essay with Jina Moore Ngarambe, Guernica's editor in chief and publisher. (X/Sourced)
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  • At least 10 of Guernica's volunteer staff members have resigned after the essay was published
  • Chen said her piece was about ‘opening dialogue, maintaining empathy’

LONDON: A personal essay by an Israeli writer that delved into her experience after Oct. 7 was taken down from Guernica, a US-based non-profit literary magazine, after it prompted a wave of resignations by more than 10 staff members.

Joanna Chen, a literary translator, wrote in the essay “From the Edges of a Broken World” about her experiences trying to “tread the line of empathy” and “feel passion for both sides” in the wake of the Oct. 7 attack.

On Oct. 7, Hamas carried out a surprise attack in southern Israel, killing 1,200 and taking 240 others hostage. In retaliation, Israel launched a relentless bombing campaign across the Gaza Strip, killing at least 30,960 Palestinians, flattening entire districts, displacing 85 percent of the enclave’s population, and pushing the embattled strip into famine.

The retracted essay was replaced with a statement by “admin” that reads: “Guernica regrets having published this piece, and has retracted it. A more fulsome explanation will follow.” The explanation has not yet been published.

Since the essay went live on March 4, at least 10 of the magazine’s all-volunteer staff have resigned, among them the former co-publisher, Madhuri Sastry.

Sastry announced her departure in an X post on March 10, highlighting that the essay is “a hand-wringing apologia for Zionism and the ongoing genocide in Palestine” and that it “attempts to soften the violence of colonialism and genocide.”

She also called for the resignation of the editor in chief “as the senior most person responsible for overseeing the processes that resulted in this publication decision.”

April Zhu, one of the magazine’s former senior editors, also resigned after the essay was published and explained in an X post that the piece by Chen “fails or refuses to trace the shape of power — in this case, a violent, imperialist, colonial power — that makes the systematic and historic dehumanization of Palestinians (the tacit precondition for why she may feel a need at all to affirm ‘shared humanity’) a non-issue.”

In an email to the New York Times, Chen said she believed her critics had misunderstood “the meaning of my essay, which is about holding on to empathy when there is no human decency in sight.”

She said: “It is about the willingness to listen and the idea that remaining deaf to voices other than your own won’t bring the solution.”

Chen pointed out in her email that she had worked on the essay with Jina Moore Ngarambe, the magazine’s editor in chief and publisher. Over emails and in a one-hour phone conversation, Chen said: “I was offered the distinct impression my essay was appreciated. I was given no indication that the editorial staff was not onboard.”

She told the Times on March 12 that she still has not heard from anyone at Guernica.