What’s Going on at Guernica?

A Marxist magazine implodes over the decision to run an essay depicting the humanity of Israeli Jews.

AP/Mary Altaffer, file
A tapestry by Atelier J. de la Baume-Durrbach of Pablo Picasso's ‘Guernica’ at United Nations headquarters in 2018 AP/Mary Altaffer, file

These are tough days for Guernica. Not Picasso’s painting, which, last we checked, is on view at the Reina Sofia museum at Madrid. The magazine that takes its name, though, is tearing itself apart joint from joint over the publication of an essay that dared to acknowledge the humanity of Israeli Jews. In the process, Guernica has come to resemble less the ostensibly pro-democracy Republicans of the Spanish Civil War than their fascist opponents.

The controversy at the prestigious publication began with the appearance of a piece in its pages, “From the Edges of a Broken World,” written by an Anglo-Israeli, Joanna Chen. It lamented October 7, and mourned the possibilities for coexistence that the massacre by Hamas foreclosed. Meaning, it was no Zionist polemic or Jabotinsky-esque oration. Ms. Chen never served in the IDF, and spent her time driving Palestinian children to Israeli hospitals. 

None of that, though, was enough to assuage the rage from Guernica’s staff that their magazine dared to publish an Israeli. One senior editor, April Zhu,  wrote that the piece “fails or refuses to trace the shape of power — in this case, a violent, imperialist, colonial power.” Fifteen or so editors and writers have resigned. A co-publisher quit and decried the piece as “a hand-wringing apologia for Zionism and the ongoing genocide in Palestine.”  

Meantime, Ms. Chen’s piece has been replaced with a blank page and the announcement that “Guernica regrets having published this piece, and has retracted it.” The author of this courageous sentiment is listed simply as “admin,” who says “A more fulsome explanation will follow.” An archived version, though, is available through the Wayback Machine. The essay marks the “importance of reaching out to others, of lending a hand when needed.”

Guernica calls itself a “home for incisive ideas and necessary questions.” What a parody. Though Orwell was to be disillusioned by the communism that infiltrated the Republican cause, he wrote of his time fighting the conflict that produced “Guernica”: “If you had asked me why I had joined the militia I should have answered: ‘To fight against Fascism,’ and if you had asked me what I was fighting for, I should have answered: ‘Common decency.’” 

Places like Guernica and other Marxist press now hawk a new fascism that reeks of a raw antisemitism. This meltdown is but its latest marker. Literary pretension is no inoculation against hatred  — it is often in precisely the precincts of the hoity-toity that antisemitism thrives. How ironic that the magazine that claims the mantle of an icon of moral protest is now a foe of every partisan of common decency.   


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