Anyone who knows the least little bit about the Arab-Israel war, as portrayed in the general media, knows that it is done so in a manner that is toxic to Jews. The question is, given the number of violent national conflicts all around the world, why must this one be so utterly acrimonious among people who, as they say, do not have a dog in the fight? All around the world, with the possible exception of parts of the Asian Pacific Rim, people seem to care very deeply about Jewish behavior toward Palestinian-Arabs while not caring at all about the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Syrians, including many Palestinian-Arabs residing there. And do I really need to reference the death toll in recent years in the Congo? That number is in the millions, but nobody outside of the region cares a whit. Please understand that I do not hold myself innocent in the question of the miserableness, toxicity, and the just plain stupidity of the conversation around the Arab-Israel conflict. The question is, why is it that conversation so toxic? The answer, in part, is postcolonial theory. The people who are driving the conversation are anti-Jewish / anti-Israel ideologues of the sort that shake their fists for BDS. They honestly view Israel as a white, western, racist, colonialist, European outpost in the Middle East... or some combination of this highly dubious rhetorical gibberish. This is due, at least in part, to significant twentieth-century thinkers like Michelle Foucault and Edward Said.Foucault and SaidFoucault suggested that scholarly narratives were not so much about “truth” but about the maintenance of hegemonic systems of power through constructing necessary epistemologies and ontologies, or ways of thinking and being. Said, following Foucault, claimed that western “Orientalist” scholarship, and thus western views on the Arab world, were about the maintenance of western power over the "occupied" Middle East. This particular way of viewing knowledge - as little more than part of the prevailing system of imperial control - dovetails with the postcolonial view that divides the world into Occupiers and the Occupied or white, western oppressors and their victims. The historical source of this relationship allegedly derives from the old racist, European imperial adventures and, we are told, continues to this day with the United States representing the foremost oppressor on the world stage. It is this that Barack Obama thinks that it is his job to undue. Israel is viewed as an instrument of this imperialism, as well as a current example of an "apartheid state" that must be shunned and opposed. The Jewish State must therefore be struggled against not merely for this or that policy toward the Palestinian-Arabs, but because in its essence, it is viewed as a racist, colonialist enterprise similar to, say, the British in India or the French in Indo-China. The problem with Britain in India was not this or that royal policy toward the indigenous population but its very presence controlling other people's lives and land. The problem was imperialism, period, and not merely any particular imperial policy. Israel, of course, does not actually fit the postcolonial model for the obvious reason that people cannot illegitimately, or illegally, "colonize" their own land. In order to make it fit anti-Israel ideologues twist Jewish history in order to cram it into the model. They maliciously misinterpret Israeli behavior in order to suggest that this behavior is not a reaction to real events like, say, Qassam rockets, but is rather an expression of the ugly, essential nature of the Jews in the Middle East, if not Jews more generally. Israel is either a white, western, outpost of imperialism or it is not. Postcolonial theory claims that it is and postcolonial theory is the ghost that hovers behind the conversation, that gives the anti-Israel people their intellectual validation. But how can the movement for Jewish self-determination and self-defense be "imperialist" when we know that the vast majority, virtually the entirety, of European Jews who made aliyah did so to escape late 19th century Russian pogroms and, later, that minor bit of nastiness in early-mid twentieth-century Germany? Thus, on its face, the origins of the Jewish state are not imperialist and in order to make it so an inversion is necessary. The Jews who fled Russian pogroms and, later, the Holocaust, must be viewed as the oppressors. The Jewish immigrants did not arrive at the behest of any European power. They did not ride with any army of conquest, nor were they the functionaries of any foreign government seeking domination. They came to the Land of Israel as an oppressed people hoping to build a community for themselves and their children on the land where Jews have lived for well over three thousand years. The actual history therefore undermines post-colonial theory in regards Israel and renders it useless. The only way to make it work is to start with the presumptions of the theory and then twist the history to conform to, and thus confirm, the theory. But scholarship doesn't work that way. The irony is that post-colonial theory has Marxist roots, but Marx did not consider himself an “idealist,” one who starts with an ideology hovering over the material facts, but just the opposite. Marx thought of himself as a corrective to the German idealist tradition by starting with the material facts of history and drawing his conclusions from those facts, not the other way around, as the current post-colonialists do. Furthermore, since Israel and Zionism are considered in their very nature corrupt, anything that Israel does is viewed as evidence of that corruption. Let’s take the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, for example. Israel was there with an absolutely amazing medical team that saved G-d knows how many lives, yet there are plenty of people who insist that this was nothing but a cheap PR stunt to take attention away from the Gaza strip. In this way, it doesn't matter what Israel does because it is already condemned in its essence as an evil, racist, imperialist, regime and its behavior, whatever that behavior might be, is conducted not from actual circumstances, but as an expression of its corrupt essence. And this is ultimately what makes the conversation around the Arab-Israel conflict so vitriolic. The ideology, by necessity, turns the vast majority of world Jewry into the enemy. So, of course, discussion around the Arab-Israel conflict is toxic. The prevailing anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, postcolonial ideology rattles the Jewish cage. So, what would anyone expect?
Michael Lumish is a blogger at the Israel Thrives blog as well as a regular contributor/blogger at Times of Israel and Jews Down Under.