The Arguments against Israel: Indigeneity

by A. Jay Adler on May 7, 2012
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Outside of war, no modern state has ever been subject to such an attack on its legitimacy and existence as has the state of Israel. Indeed, the concerted transnational political challenge to Israeli legitimacy – given the longstanding open-ended conditions of military and other violent conflict against Israel – may be truly conceived, to invert Clausewitz, to represent politics as a continuation of war by other means.

It is a truth of conflict between peoples manifested in history that groups in conflict will hold to genuinely differing – which is not to say equally true – perceptions of the grounds of their conflict and that most members of warring groups will demand, up until some point of human and political exhaustion has been reached, that the conflict be maintained until the ascendancy of their claims has been achieved. Outside parties will commonly remain uninvested. Non-state actors, such as expatriated descendents embedded in other cultures, may feel, and even at times act on, sympathies with one group (Irish-Catholic supporters of the IRA in the U.S., for instance), and allied states may materially support their sides in unexhausted conflicts that promote an interest of the ally, but overwhelmingly it is the case, and enunciated position of almost any outsider, that whatever terms of settlement to the local conditions of conflict are acceptable to the warring groups themselves – the invested parties – are certainly acceptable to the outside world.

All the rest of us just want peace – so glad you two could find a way to get along.

One of the conditions that muddies consideration of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, however, and now raises profound obstacles to its settlement, is the purposeful, strategic masking of hostile intent among outside parties – in attitudes unsympathetic to Israel’s founding and to its historical conditions of conflict, and that are actually directed at the state’s dissolution – under the guise of peace and justice politics. Of contemporary political charlatanry there is no greater representation.

This simple bad faith, then, stands as a first condition in analyzing arguments over the nature and possible resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – that while some disagreements are inherent in the conflicting perceptions and demands of the parties to the conflict, some are actually developed and maintained by outside interests that, while pretending to seek resolution, actually seek to advance the conflict to a point of victory by the Palestinian side. In this manner, in fact, many ideologically-driven outside agents and their supporters, while draping themselves in the moral finery of peace and justice and elaborately and insistently articulating its vocabulary, actually serve as proponents of the conditions – the disputes – of continued conflict. Then, when that conflict periodically becomes heightened and armed, these fake advocates of peace will blame Israel and, in extraordinary gestures of more heightened bad faith, fail to perceive, certainly acknowledge, their own responsibility. The Palestinians and Israelis are, in a sense, supposed to be, in the very nature of their uprising in conflict, angry and unyielding with each other – until the point of some hoped for compromise. Empathetic nannas from the U.S. and U.K. and human rights champions all over the world, on the other hand, are supposed to be calling for compassion compromise and an end to the belligerence, not spraying one fighter’s face in the corner and whispering in his ear, “You can win this thing.”

One of the first signs, a blaring announcement, of a third party’s promotion of continued conflict is in its perpetuation of the historical argument. We know the path to resolution of international conflicts is not by reaching agreement, or winning the argument, on the historical origins of a dispute. That resolution is known as argumentum ad baculum ( the appeal to force) and is generally reached through war. Such is the only promise of continuing disputes about original claims and offenses in history. Nonetheless, as the basis for mischaracterizations of contemporary conditions, ongoing historical dispute forms the foundation of left anti-Israel campaigning, and postcolonial ideology draws it all together.

The postcolonial prism perversely distorts the creation of Israel – the return of political and national autonomy to the oldest continually oppressed and persecuted minority in the world – as a Western colonial enterprise. In order to make this claim, however, it is necessary to deny the Jewish historical connection to the land that became Israel. But while the consequent fraudulent claims about Jews, so common to Jewish history – such as that Ashkenazi Jews are really the descendents of the Khazars and not the Jews of ancient Israel at all – are many, the contrasting historical evidence of Jewish origins, such as multiple genetic studies, is overwhelming. Still the denial of Jewish origins is common, though as a direct lie, more commonly by Palestinians and other Arabs. The Western left representation is more rhetorical, more of a piece with a broader ideological scheme, and more devious. Increasingly, left anti-Israel activists – against the recent historical phenomenon of Ashkenazi Jews retuning to Israel from Europe, and thus superficially characterizable as outsiders and colonizers – label the Palestinian population, in contrast, as indigenous.

In international policy, the definition of an indigenous people is so controversial that the U.N. will not label as an actual definition those identifying characteristics that its Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has established as explanatory of the concept of indigenous people – even though the establishment of a class and the identification of distinguishing characteristics for a subset of that class is the functional practice of developing a definition. The third and fourth characteristics, then, note the following:

Indigenous peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of societies now prevailing in those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal systems.

Manjusha S. Nair has observed that

territoriality is premised on originality, since original inhabitants have more claims on a territorial space… Hence, indigeneity becomes a field of contestation. Some are born with it; others imagine it as an ethnic belonging. Empirically, the claim of indigeneity is always contested since few human groups inhabit a space from the beginning. The groups that claim indigeneity associate themselves with the original inhabitants in quite imaginative ways though they exist many generations later. [Emphasis added]

Obviously, by these parameters, both Jews and Palestinian Arabs have indigenous claims to make. European, Ottoman, and other empires traded colonial rule of the Middle East for two millennia while Jews and Arabs throughout, like all subjects of imperial conquest, suffered under the rule of others. Surely there is no active contestation of indigeneity that reaches farther back in time than the one in which these two groups engage. Surely, too, however one may reasonably characterize an ongoing effort to deny the claim of either, it cannot be as one directed at conflict resolution and peace. Yet beyond the unsurprising, belligerent claims of some Jews and more Palestinians that the claim of the other is false, the like claim by some on the far left, dressed in the postcolonial vocabulary of corrective justice, is as ideologically-driven an intellectual fraud as has been foisted on the field of human rights since the collapse of the communist world. Further, it is a political abuse of the conquered and dominated peoples postcolonial theorizing purports to champion.

It is an unfortunate truth that many indigenous peoples around the world were fooled for that second time or saw history offer its second repetition as long ago, let’s say, as when the Spanish ordered in 1599 that every surviving male of the Acoma Pueblo who was over twenty-five be punished for his resistance by the loss of his right foot. The iterations of deception over the centuries since represent nothing less than the nightmare of history. There is no degree of distrust, no contempt for Western acculturation that might be begrudged any indigenous people conquered in, but still surviving the colonial onslaught. This is the fundamental historical precondition from which to draw a postcolonial theory. It takes little imagination to appreciate how such theorizing would attract politicized indigenous men and women to the full range of far left and postcolonial political perceptions, including – professed and politicized as it now manipulatively is in the rhetoric of colonial dispossession and difference – that of Israel-Palestine. The crueler truth is that the whole maneuver stands one more time for the same exploitation, the colonizing by Western ideologues, for their own entirely different propaganda purposes against Israel, of the true politics of indigeneity, pursued on behalf of peoples who do not already have 21 states of their own.

So manipulative, confused, and incoherent is the appropriation of the language of postcolonialism and indigeneity to the propaganda war against Israel that its perpetrators fail to recognize the inner contradictions of it. They focus almost exclusively in their manufactured colonial construct on the Ashkenazi returnees to Israel from Europe, ignoring the land’s persistent Jewish population and that from surrounding Arab territories and nations. The long Diaspora is used, practically and conceptually, to alienate Jews from their own territorial origin, their own indigeneity. See, for instance, the ignorant example, easily repeatable, of Helen

Thomas calling for Jews to “return” to Poland. In the historical imagination of the anti-Israeli and the frequently anti-Jewish, the long sojourn from home for the Jews has entailed the loss of their claim to that home. Note, then, below, the exceptional identification by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, of who exactly constitutes a Palestinian refugee.

The operational definition of a Palestine refugee is any person whose “normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948 and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.”

Palestine refugees are persons who fulfil the above definition and descendants of fathers fulfilling the definition. [Emphasis added]

Recall from the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues above the identifying focus on “ancestral territories” and the preservation of “ethnic identity.” Consider how Nair referred to the common practice for peoples claiming indigeneity to claim it even though “they exist many generations later.”

The Palestinians claim a right of return even for descendents who never lived on the land. Why should it be different for Jews? How many generations would need to pass before Palestinian Arabs would relinquish their identification with the land, their claim of an ancestral home, and a right of return? If the condition of conflict exiled Palestinians from the land and their autonomy for a thousand years, for two thousand, as history so long exiled Jews from theirs, would they accept their claims as forfeited?

Why should it be any different for Jews?

One may call those falsifiers of Jewish historical identity and claims many things – those propagandists of postcolonial rhetoric and exploiters of the true history of indigenous colonization – but one may not call them honest. And they are not proponents of peace and justice.

AJA

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