Sunday, March 03, 2019

  • Sunday, March 03, 2019
  • Elder of Ziyon

Quite a few years ago, in 2007, I discussed why Zionism is not colonialism, as has been argued ad nauseum by academic critics of Israel. Essentially, colonialism relies on a "metropole," a mother country, which extends its mores onto a weaker, indigenous society. But Zionism does not have a metropole - it never relied on Britain (the most obvious candidate) or Russia or anywhere else as its mother country.

In more recent times, perhaps as a rebuttal to that argument, came the academic field of "settler colonialsm," meant to incorporate places like the United States and Australia as places where the indigenous populations are replaced with an invasive settler society that, over time, develops a distinctive identity and sovereignty. Israel is considered a prime example of settler colonialism - the academic journal "Settler Colonial Studies" has had a number of issues dedicated solely to the idea of Israel as a settler colonial entity.

Perhaps the father of the entire field of settler colonialism is Lorenzo Veracini, and he wrote a paper in "Interventions : International Journal of Postcolonial Studies" that defended the idea of Israel as a paradigm of settler colonialism.

He brings two counterarguments and answers them. The first is nonsensical:

To contextualize this outline, I will begin with two oft-repeated statements.They are routinely used to deny that Zionism can be interpreted as an instance of colonialism, let alone settler colonialism. The first one asserts Zionism cannot be considered settler colonialism because such a rubric obscures its inherent specificity. I remain unconvinced. It is like saying that Newton was wrong to think in abstract terms and that his theory of gravitation was inappropriate because it neglected the specific characteristics of a particular apple. More to the point: abstracting does not rule out specific observation. On the contrary, it is necessarily premised on it. At the same time, appraising Zionism and settler colonialism in the same interpretive frame does not amount to saying that Zionism is just like other settler colonialisms, or an imitation of previous iterations of this mode of domination. This approach is primarily about Zionism’s relationship with the indigenous collective it encounters and how this relationship reproduces the relationships other settler-colonial projects establish with other indigenous collectives. It is a statement of political geometry, not an exercise in morality. Indeed, it is not even about a similarity between colonization movements but about a relational similarity. It is not about comparing apples but about comparing their falling. It may be a great apple, but the fact remains that apple fell in Palestine  If I were a Palestinian, I would develop a keen interest in the physics of apples, but even if I were personally committed to the project of settling in Palestine I would still be interest in ‘appledynamics.
Veracini fails to specify what exactly is the specific nature of Zionism that might distinguish it from "other" settler colonialisms, claiming that it doesn't really matter because it is in the end a discussion of the relationship between Zionists and the "indigenous collective." But that characterization is itself biased, because Zionism considers Jews to be the indigenous population, that has been displaced throughout the millennia from their land, especially from the destruction of the Temple through the Muslim conquest, which is the time that Jews became a minority.

Yet there are no papers on the settler colonialism of the Arabs of the 8th and 9th centuries CE.

His next argument claims to dispense with the one mentioned above, about the absence of any metropole:

The second statement I’d like to address is about the ostensible absence of a directly colonizing metropole. Colonialism must be performed for the benefit of a colonizing centre, it is argued. If it is missing this direction, and Zionism is, as it relies on the institutions of a diaspora rather than those of a colonizing centre (even though it is crucially relying on the support of colonial/imperial and neocolonial powers – the British during the Mandate era and the United States afterwards), then it is not colonialism. Others have countered this assertion by pointing to Zionism’s ability to rely on a ‘diffusely integrated’ or ‘diffuse transnational’ metropole (Wolfe 2016, 228, 247), but for the purposes of this essay I’d like to note that settler colonialism is crucially distinguished from colonialism as a mode of domination precisely because of the settlers’ collective ability to subtract themselves from the supervisory control of an overbearing metropolis while following an autonomous course. Triumphant settlers are always emancipated from a colonizing metropole; they famously declare their independence. The absence of a colonizing national metropole, or the presence of a transnational one, is a shared trait of settler-colonial phenomena, including Zionism, not a distinguishing feature. These defenders of Zionism are actually arguing that Zionism is not a colonial movement because it is … a settler-colonial one. They may be onto something, but do they want to be onto this something?
The answer to this is that the very nature of Zionism is not to be a colonizing movement but to be a national liberation movement - for Jews.

By casting Jews as the colonialists - whether traditional or settler-colonialist - the very basis of Zionism and Jewish nationalism is discarded a priori. Given that Jews have remained connected to the land, both emotionally and physically as many have returned throughout the last thousand years, the belittling of the Jewish desire to return to Zion is at the most charitable a huge blind spot, and at worst antisemitic.

A number of other arguments against Zionism being settler-colonialist have been posited. Wikipedia lists a few. Perhaps the most cogent is this one:

S. Ilan Troen, in 'De-Judaizing the Homeland: Academic Politics in Rewriting the History of Palestine', argues that Zionism was the repatriation of a long displaced indigenous population to their historic homeland, and that "Zionists did not see themselves as foreigners or conquerors, for centuries in the Diaspora they had been strangers". Troen further argues that there are several differences between European colonialism and the Zionist movement, including that "there is no New Vilna, New Bialystock, New Warsaw, New England, New York,...and so on" in Israel. He writes that "mandates were intended to nurture the formation of new states until independence and this instrument was to be applied to Jews, even as it was for the Arab peoples of Syria and Iraq. In this view, Jews were a people not only entitled to a state but that polity was naturally located in a part of the world in which they had originated, had been resident since the ancient world, and still constituted a vital presence in many areas of the region, including Palestine" and that "perhaps the most manifest or visible evidence—for those who would be willing to acknowledge—were found in the revival of Hebrew into a living language; the marking the landscape with a Jewish identity; and the development of an indigenous culture with roots in the ancient past." He concludes that "casting Zionists as colonizers serves to present them as occupiers in a land to which, by definition, they do not belong."
Exactly. And beyond his excellent argument about there being no "New Bialystock" in Israel -  the communities that were built by Jews were, by and large, given the very names that they had in Biblical times, names that in many cases had been replaced by Arabic equivalents - of the Arab colonizers.

Veracini has one point. The Jews who returned to Israel did often look at themselves as being superior to the Arab population in Palestine, and in that narrow sense there may be something to be learned from cases of settler-colonialism in the US or Canada.

One answer is that early Zionists always envisioned a society where the undeniable Jewish superiority in technology, politics, and industry would positively affect the local Arabs, a rising tide that would lift all people. One would be hard-pressed to find any early Zionist writings that encouraged ethnic cleansing of Arabs of the type done in the US to native Americans. Jewish boys aren't playing an Arab-Israeli version of "Cowboys and Indians." The biggest exodus of Arabs came about from a war that was meant to wipe out the Jews. In 1948 there was never the intent to drive most of the Arabs out - although in a minority of cases that indeed happened - most left because of panic and the lies that the Arabs would win so they can return.

At any rate, positioning Israel as a settler colonialist state indeed is a moral position - one that claims that Jews somehow don't belong in their ancestral lands. And that is a bigoted position to take, no matter what the intention.

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Elder of Ziyon - حـكـيـم صـهـيـون

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