The letter linked to above (full text at the end of this posting) appeared in The Guardian‘s letters section on 30 April. It’s notable that all signatories are Jewish activists. It made me think about how credibility is conferred (or not) on one’s ideological and theoretical positions by virtue of one’s ethnic, religious, national or sexual identity. For example, remember when a few weeks ago Khaldoun experienced some racist comments posted to the blog that provoked a rethinking of our comments policy? One of the comments that we decided not to publish claimed that our blog postings and positions were transparently the thinking of “Arab Moslems.” This comically points to the fallacies of simplistic reasoning about the relationship between identity and theory, since most of Khaldoun’s contributors are not Muslim and only a couple of us are Arab. But it is a reminder that people do make those links, and that knowledge or assumptions about an author’s identity influences how people read her or his theories. In the case of this Guardian letter, the authors clearly decided that their position on Israel’s 60th anniversary would be strengthened by pointing out to readers that they were Jewish.
I had reason to think about the links between ideological credibility and identity recently when I was in Cairo. I went there to start a new research project on reproductive health technologies, but I met with a range of Egyptian and Arab intellectuals in homes and salons where we chatted generally about contemporary political and ideological currents in the Arab world. At one point, I was talking to the owner of a Lebanese-Syrian press that publishes a lot of Western scholarly literature in translation. We were talking about the anthropology of archaeology and we got to talking about the case of Nadia Abu El-Haj’s book, Facts on the Ground (if you’re not familiar with the controversy, see this discussion on Savage Minds). The publisher was very familiar with Abu El-Haj’s book and I suggested to him that he should translate it and publish it in Arabic, if it wasn’t already. But he said that he wasn’t really interested because she was Palestinian. Why? It was because, he told me, he thought that an argument like the one Abu El-Haj makes isn’t as powerful when it comes from a Palestinian as when it comes from an Israeli or Jewish academic (he mentioned Ilan Pappe as an example). I thought it was really depressing that an assessment of the book couldn’t rest on its own merits but rather had to take into account the ethnic identity of its author, but it was probably a realistic assessment of how identity shapes perceptions of academic credibility, and as a publisher whose bottom line is financial, it was a factor he had to take into account.
What about other contributors to / readers of this blog? In what ways has your religious/ ethnic/ national/ sexual/ etc identity shaped how people evaluate your positions on Middle East issues?
In May, Jewish organisations will be celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel. This is understandable in the context of centuries of persecution culminating in the Holocaust. Nevertheless, we are Jews who will not be celebrating. Surely it is now time to acknowledge the narrative of the other, the price paid by another people for European anti-semitism and Hitler’s genocidal policies. As Edward Said emphasised, what the Holocaust is to the Jews, the Naqba is to the Palestinians.
In April 1948, the same month as the infamous massacre at Deir Yassin and the mortar attack on Palestinian civilians in Haifa’s market square, Plan Dalet was put into operation. This authorised the destruction of Palestinian villages and the expulsion of the indigenous population outside the borders of the state. We will not be celebrating.
In July 1948, 70,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes in Lydda and Ramleh in the heat of the summer with no food or water. Hundreds died. It was known as the Death March. We will not be celebrating.
In all, 750,000 Palestinians became refugees. Some 400 villages were wiped off the map. That did not end the ethnic cleansing. Thousands of Palestinians (Israeli citizens) were expelled from the Galilee in 1956. Many thousands more when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza. Under international law and sanctioned by UN resolution 194, refugees from war have a right to return or compensation. Israel has never accepted that right. We will not be celebrating.
We cannot celebrate the birthday of a state founded on terrorism, massacres and the dispossession of another people from their land. We cannot celebrate the birthday of a state that even now engages in ethnic cleansing, that violates international law, that is inflicting a monstrous collective punishment on the civilian population of Gaza and that continues to deny to Palestinians their human rights and national aspirations.
We will celebrate when Arab and Jew live as equals in a peaceful Middle East.
Cllr Jonathan Bloch
Prof. Haim Bresheeth
Dr. Linda Edmondson
Brian Fisher MBE
Yael Oren Kahn
Prof. Adah Kay
Prof. Eleonore Kofman
Prof. Yosefa Loshitzky
Prof. Emeritus Moshe Machover
Miriam Margolyes OBE
Dr. Brian Robinson
Prof. Steven Rose
Prof. Jonathan Rosenhead
Prof. Frances Stewart