'The goal of replacing Israel is a struggle against reality'

A Palestinian-American’s call for compromise strikes a chord on social media

Profanity-laden overview by Mo Husseini — a distant relative of the infamous Mufti of Jerusalem — spares neither side, enticing the ‘silent majority’ with commonsensical optimism

Andrew Silow-Carroll is the editor-in-chief of JTA

Mo Husseini's article on the Israel-Hamas war was widely shared on social media by Jewish readers. At rear is an image from the essay. (Courtesy Mo Husseini/ via JTA)
Mo Husseini's article on the Israel-Hamas war was widely shared on social media by Jewish readers. At rear is an image from the essay. (Courtesy Mo Husseini/ via JTA)

JTA — Last fall, Mo Husseini wrote a series of propositions — what he called “50 Completely True Things” — about the Israel-Hamas war, and posted it on the social media site Threads.

Identifying himself as “a Palestinian American who is tired of stupid people,” Husseini set out to puncture myths on both sides of the conflict, suggesting that neither Palestinians nor Israelis had a monopoly on truth, justice or the moral high ground.

“This isn’t an essay in Foreign Affairs, you know? This is an idiot shitposting on the internet in trying to leverage a sense of humor to point out the delusions on both sides,” Husseini said in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Monday, using internet slang for aggressive, often ironic social media content.

“It’s not my place to decide what happens between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators,” he told JTA. “What matters to me is helping people, and getting past the delusions.”

The post — witty, profane and anguished — got a polite if unspectacular response on Threads, which is owned by Meta.

Three days ago Husseini re-upped the post as an essay on the self-publishing site Medium, and in the days since its readership has soared. Husseini has seen his once modest following on Threads grow to over 16,000. The essay on Medium has been read more than 3,500 times. It’s been shared countless times on Facebook, a platform where Husseini barely had a presence before the weekend.

Many of those sharing the post are Jews who seem eager to read and identify with an essay that seeks common ground in a polarizing debate, and, as one Facebook user commented, “tried to push through some of the double talk and extremism.”

An anti-Israel protest encampment on the campus of McGill University in Montreal, Canada, on April 29, 2024. (Graham Hughes / AFP)

Husseini offers plenty to trigger partisans of all stripes, from campus protesters to pro-Israel groups. He notes that there “are shitty and awful people” on all sides of the conflict, that Israelis and Palestinians have both committed “acts of terror and violence,” and that their respective governments do not necessarily speak for their people.

Many of the essay’s short declarations refute some of the shibboleths of partisans: He undercuts, for example, the far-left assertion that the conflict is a clash between white supremacists and people of color, and mocks the far-right Zionist view that the Palestinians have no legitimate claims to a state of their own.

As for the war, Husseini condemns the October 7 massacre — in which thousands of Hamas-led terrorists butchered 1,200 people in southern Israel and kidnapped over 250 more to the Gaza Strip — and writes that Hamas has earned “every f–king thing that the Israeli military throws at them.”

Hamas has earned every f–king thing that the Israeli military throws at them

At the same time, he laments the enormous toll on civilians in Gaza. “What is happening in Gaza to civilians is f–king awful, and not the smartest thing for Israel to do, and some aspects of Israeli military activity may be war crimes, and it doesn’t have to be genocide for it to be tragic,” he writes.

The essay also rejects calls, increasingly popular on the pro-Palestinian left, for a one-state liberal democracy of Palestinians and Jews. “[T]his wonderful future has about as much chance of happening in the near term as this 5’8″ 53-year-old Palestinian has of being a starter for the Golden State Warriors,” writes Husseini. “A two-state solution is the only workable one.”

Josh Feigelson, president and CEO of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, was so taken with the virality of the post that he asked his Facebook followers to explain why they had shared or recommended the piece.

“It felt like a novel Palestinian voice that I wanted to amplify — his publicly affirming Israel’s existence and Hamas’s atrocities, along with the failures of all sides,” responded a Massachusetts rabbi.

“I chose to post it because it speaks to the broad center, which I believe is both the ‘silent majority’ of Zionists and Palestinians and the only possible way out of this conflict,” wrote a Jewish educator.

Ok, I'm going to ask people to think hard before they continue to comment, not because I'm right and you are wrong, but…

Posted by Sharon Astyk on Sunday, May 5, 2024

Husseini also got a boost earlier this month from Rabbi Sharon Brous, the high-profile leader of the Los Angeles congregation IKAR. She quoted another essay by Husseini in her Shabbat sermon on May 4, which is posted to YouTube. In that essay, Husseini asserts that “true long-term freedom, security, and self-determination for Palestinians cannot exist without creating a reciprocal reality for Israelis.”

Brous called that essay “one of the most compelling articles I have read about this conflict in the past decade.” (The novelist Michael Chabon shared Brous’s sermon with his 27,000 followers on Threads.) Brous compared Husseini to Rep. John Lewis, the late congressman and civil rights leader.

Husseini, however, is neither a politician nor an activist, but a design and creative director who lives in the Seattle area. “This has nothing to do with my job,” he said of his posts on the war.

Illustrative: Protesters speak to the press as they gather at a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel encampment during a rally at George Washington University in Washington, DC, May 6, 2024. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

Husseini’s father was born in Jerusalem, the descendant of a branch of a well-known Palestinian Muslim family. Mo Husseini grew up in Kuwait, and after boarding school in the United Kingdom studied political economics at the University of California, Berkeley. He turned to filmmaking after graduation, working at George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic and eventually directing and supervising visual effects for commercials. He currently works for a firm that creates events and brand awareness for major companies.

“I’m not a representative of an organization. I don’t speak for Palestinians,” he said in an interview Monday from his Seattle-area office. “And I certainly don’t speak for Jews.”

“50 Completely True Things,” he said, “came from a deep sense of frustration that everybody knows the answer, especially that the correct answer is a democratic state with equal rights for everybody. And that is fantastic in an idealized world where the Nakba didn’t happen and the Holocaust didn’t happen. But the reality is that everybody is very aware what the solution is, and that solution is fundamentally two states.

The reality is that everybody is very aware what the solution is, and that solution is fundamentally two states

“This idea that the Israelis are just going to have to pack up and leave starts to be a symbolic struggle against reality,” he added. “There’s no one here with clean hands and in the context of that, I think it’s incumbent on people to find a way that acknowledges reality.”

Husseini said 90 percent of the responses to his “Facts” essay have been positive. As for the negative reactions, he dismisses the idea that in acknowledging pain on the Israeli side and culpability on the Palestinian side he is “normalizing” Israel and Zionism.

“I don’t need to ‘normalize’ Israel,” he said. “The State of Israel is normalized. It’s there. Do I wish it didn’t exist the way it exists now, do I have problems with Israel politically? Yes. But I also have those feelings about every state in the world. But if the question is where can people just live their lives, then you have to acknowledge reality.”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JTA or its parent company, 70 Faces Media.

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