The 100 years’ ‘Guernica’: Phoebe Maltz Bovy with the latest updates on an antizionist literary implosion

Remember Guernica? The highfalutin, U.S.-based, volunteer-run literary magazine that published then unpublished an essay by an Israeli writer, promised a “fulsome explanation” for what that was all about. I’m sure that, in lieu of following Iranian missile news, you’ve been on the edge of your seat, waiting to hear what was new at Guernica.

Well, you’re in luck!

The “fulsome” promise of March 4 came to fruition on April 12, with Guernica founder Michael Archer’s pronouncement, “Moving Forward: On Joanna Chen’s essay, it’s [sic] retraction, and Guernica’s new publisher.”

Despite the literature doctorate I once earned for some reason, I had trouble parsing Archer’s fulsomeness:

“Over time, a literary magazine develops the loose contours of a distinctive political voice. Given Guernica’s long history of publishing the sharply crafted prose that pull from intimate terrains of impact, this piece felt jarring in both its timing and its approach. Rather than mine the personal to expose the political, individual angst was elevated above the collective suffering laid bare in the extensive body of work Guernica has published from the region.”

I think if I may translate from the fulsome-ese, this says, in effect, that they don’t publish Jews. Or not Jews who have something other to say than that they renounce everything to do with their heritage and welcome whatever Iran sends Israel’s way.

Which, look, freedom of association and all that. And Joanna Chen’s essay did find another home:

As for Jina Moore Ngarambe, the Guernica editor-in-chief who had supported Chen’s essay, she too stepped down, but not, as you might imagine, in shame at having dared publish the indie literary answer to Jabotinsky. Nope. She stands by her choice to publish Chen’s piece, partly for feminist reasons. As she explains to Ben Smith, in an interview with Semafor, she broke with Guernica over a difference of opinion. Not over the Israel-Gaza war, but rather about open debate and the role of magazines in sharing different views:

“It’s not uncommon for smart people to disagree about how they interpret a piece. And I think that that’s in publishing, that’s a virtue and not a threat. I don’t really know how to do a publication in a different way, which is one reason I knew I didn’t belong there anymore.”


“I think that if the takeaway here is if there’s a way of looking at the world that tells you which singular perspective you’re allowed, what we end up with is a series of literary magazines—one is for this perspective and one is for that perspective. I’m not sure what those magazines are for.”

She sounds like a great editor to me! But I’m not the one running Guernica (to the ground?).

Back to Archer’s note:

“Guiding the magazine into this next chapter will be writer and social entrepreneur Magogodi aoMphela Makhene, who has joined Guernica in the role of publisher.” Makhene has her own note on the Guernica website, containing the inadvertently hilarious promise, “Especially in this season, I look forward to helping build a Guernica that’s alive with the messy and electric charge that is our shared humanity; a publication courageous enough to see our full complexity…” Courage, definitely the concept that comes to mind where Guernica is concerned.

What does “social entrepreneur” mean, you might wonder? (I wondered.) It means she “helps folks dismantle white supremacy by choosing courage over comfort in their everyday activism.” Very 2020 but whatever. “I’m known for reaching into your heart cavity and expanding that space within the span of a single sentence.” As someone who is also a public speaker (podcaster) and is known for nothing of the kind, I stand in awe.

Per her website, Makhene speaks “at companies like Mastercard, Unilever & MetLife.” A socialist revolution is no doubt imminent.

But the more relevant fact, leftist purity politics-wise, is that Makhene notes, also on her website, that she was “published… by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel!” (Exclamation mark hers.) This jumped out at me because I remember once having a falling out with a real-life friend after posting something Elie Wiesel-related (probably circa his death, in 2016) and learning that this made me too rabid of a Zionist for that individual.

It’s one thing for the publisher of Guernica to bring on someone who teaches credit card companies how to Do The Work. But someone who boasts of an Elie Wiesel connection? In these times? Surely a bridge too far for a publication so pure it cannot host, on its website, an essay by an Israeli woman who volunteers with sick Palestinian children and refused to serve in the IDF.

For more original Jewish culture commentary from Phoebe Maltz Bovy subscribe to the free Bonjour Chai newsletter on Substack.

The CJN’s senior editor Phoebe Maltz Bovy can be reached at [email protected], not to mention @phoebebovy on Bluesky, and @bovymaltz on X. She is also on The CJN’s weekly podcast Bonjour Chai.