Literary Magazine Retracts Israeli Writer’s Essay as Staffers Quit

Guernica, a small but prestigious online literary magazine, was thrown into turmoil in recent days after publishing — and then retracting — a personal essay about coexistence and war in the Middle East by an Israeli writer, leading to multiple resignations by its volunteer staff members, who said that they objected to its publication.

In an essay titled “From the Edges of a Broken World,” Joanna Chen, a translator of Hebrew and Arabic poetry and prose, had written about her experiences trying to bridge the divide with Palestinians, including by volunteering to drive Palestinian children from the West Bank to receive care at Israeli hospitals, and how her efforts to find common ground faltered after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack and Israel’s subsequent attacks on Gaza.

It was replaced on Guernica’s webpage with a note, attributed to “admin,” stating: “Guernica regrets having published this piece, and has retracted it,” and promising further explanation. Since the essay was published, at least 10 members of the magazine’s all-volunteer staff have resigned, including its former co-publisher, Madhuri Sastry, who on social media wrote that the essay “attempts to soften the violence of colonialism and genocide” and called for a cultural boycott of Israeli institutions.

Chen said in an email that 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.”

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

Michael Archer, the founder of Guernica, said that the magazine would publish a response in the coming days. “The time we are taking to draft this statement reflects both our understanding of the seriousness of the concerns raised and our commitment to engaging with them meaningfully,” he wrote in a text.

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