Saturday, October 06, 2007

Abu el-Haj: archaeology, scholarship - anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism

In this post, I will explore claims of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism in Nadia Abu el-Haj's facts on the ground: archaeological practice and territorial self-fashioning in Israeli society; a tied post on colonialism follows.

[Finally posted on the 28th of January 2008.]

Alexander H. Joffe (October 2005: 297) scorned Abu el-Haj's book, which 'proports [purports or claims] to analyze the role of archaeology in creating modern Israel's "origin myth" (p. 3)', then asked: '[w]hat then are the real goals the book? It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the effort is designed to contribute to the deconstruction of the legitimacy of Israel as a modern, and ancient, entity.'

Anonymous B (22nd December 2006) noted that 'Holocaust denial is one of the hallmarks of modern anti-Semitism', then opined that:
Nadia Abu El Haj... is not a Holocaust denier, but she is something just as vile. Rather than denying that the Holocaust occurred, Abu El Haj denies that the ancient Israelite kingdoms existed.

As a form of anti-Semitism, this parallels Holocaust denial. Both forms seek to falsify history out of animus against the Jews. In Abu El Haj's case, she seeks to deny to the Jews a right - the right to nationhood - that she confers on Palestinians.
Journalist Stephen Schwartz (21st March 2007), who spent most of his time discussing Palestinian violence, rather than Israeli archaeology and didn't quote Abu el-Haj once and whose only external sources were the Qur'an and one anonymous individual (both used for snide asides), claimed that:
Her outward intent is to transform the image of Israeli archeology into that of an ideological enterprise aimed at destroying Muslim heritage, while she blatantly seeks to obliterate Jewish heritage. Her underlying objective is to deny that Jews as a nation ever existed....

When Israelis engage in legitimate reconstruction and research, they are targeted for brutal disorders, and the global network in which Barnard professor El-Haj is a leading figure supports a renewed campaign of anti-Jewish aggression.
(In another post, I will deal with the campaign against Nadia Abu el-Haj, which itself frequently assumes that she is part of a campaign against Israel or Jews.)

Pseudonymous scholar Emmet Trueman (27th July 2007) dismissed:
Nadia Abu El Haj, by contrast, is a mere pseudo-scholar. She is the author of a single published book that denies the existence of the ancient Israelite kingdoms.
Middle Eastern historian David Meir-Levi (14th August 2007) also accused Abu el-Haj of dismissing ancient Israel as a myth and analysed Abu el-Haj's alleged conception of 'archaeologists' creation of, and creative interpretation of, archaeological evidence to support what she calls the myth of Jewish antiquity in the Holy Land' thus:
The denial of the historicity of thousands of years of Jewish national life in the Holy Land is very much akin to Holocaust denial.
(It is interesting to note some of the coincidences of her critics' references.)
In both cases, the assertion is beyond absurd in light of the overwhelming body of evidence supporting the phenomenon. And in both cases, the motive of those making the assertion is clearly heinous.

Neo-Nazis and Akhmedi-Nejad [Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] deny the Holocaust in order to more easily perpetrate the next one. El-Haj and her ilk deny Jewish existence in ancient Israel in order to more easily delegitimize modern Israel. The delegitimization of modern Israel is part of the Arab strategy of a propaganda war against Israel.

The goal of this war is to weaken support for Israel in the USA and UK so that those Arab forces so inclined can more readily fulfill the vision of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Arafat, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, a dozen other terrorist groups, and current Iranian leadership: a world without Israel, and ultimately, a world without Jews.

.... In other words, her book is one more salvo in the Arab propaganda war against Israel. She has joined the ranks of the propagandists leading the Arab war of words and ideas against the very existence of the Jewish state.

She cannot be ignorant of the bottom line goal of the Arab side in the Arab-Israel conflict: the destruction of Israel and the genocide of its Jews. With her book, therefore, she has joined the ranks of Hitler’s little helpers; and Duke University, the University of Chicago Press, and Barnard have, unwittingly I presume, supported her in her war efforts.
Of 'her reference to "the indigenous Arab inhabitants (some of whom were Jews)" (p. 4)', Maeir (September 2004) believed that, '[s]uch terminology simply denies the right of Jewish national selfdetermination'. The reference comes from this paragraph:
It was the British who first promised Palestine to the Jews as their national home, a pledge that ultimately precluded the possibility of its indigenous Arab inhabitants (some of whom were Jews) achieving sovereignty under the process of decolonization to come.
That statement does not in itself deny 'the right of Jewish national selfdetermination'; indeed, as I understand it, it is factually correct.

Referring to Britain's (2nd of November 1917) Balfour Declaration, journalist Charles Glass (7th June 2001) said that:
The use of the phrase 'national home' was... intended to disguise what the British knew and the Arabs feared: the Zionists intended to create a state for Jews in a province that was more than 90 per cent Arab.

At the Paris peace talks in 1919, a French delegate let slip that France would not oppose a Jewish 'state' in Palestine. [Head of the Zionist Commission for the British Government Chaim] Weizmann cautioned him. He explained: "We ourselves had been very careful not to use this term."
(Weizmann was later president of the World Zionist Organisation, head of the Jewish Agency and, eventually, the first president of Israel (AICE, 2008).)

Glass had previously observed that:
Despite the objections of some British military commanders and civil servants in Palestine, His Majesty's Government protected Jewish immigration, encouraged Jewish settlement, subsidised Jewish defence and protected the Yishuv, as Palestine's minority Jewish community called itself, from the native population.

Without Great Britain, there would not have been an Israel for the Yishuv, or a catastrophe - nakba in Arabic - for Palestine's Arab majority.
Later on, Glass relayed that,
when Churchill proposed representative government for all the people of Palestine, Weizmann opposed him because Jews were a minority. Similarly, the Zionists rejected "free immigration" into Palestine out of fear that Arabs would move there.

When they demanded special treatment for themselves vis-à-vis non-Zionist Jews and Arabs, Britain gave it. Churchill told Weizmann that he knew the Zionists were smuggling arms into Palestine but would not interfere to uphold the law.
If Maeir (September 2004) is to defend Jews' right to national self-determination, he ought also to support Palestinian Muslims' and Christians' equal right and to acknowledge the injustice of one being won at the expense of the other.

Yet Abu el-Haj's (2001) terminology and Maeir's (September 2004) challenge require still more contextualisation. Immediately before talking about the Palestine Mandate's 'indigenous Arab inhabitants (some of whom were Jews)', Abu el-Haj (2002: 4) wrote that:
As [sociologist] Gershon Shafir has written, "Zionism was a variety of Eastern European nationalism... an ethnic movement in search of a state" ([1989] 1996: xiv).

The Jewish state was not, however, established in Europe itself, but rather on the colonial periphery. Agitating ultimately for the "return" of Jews to Palestine (a place long resonant in Jewish religious practice and life), for the purpose of establishing a sovereign state, Zionism in effect furnished a political solution for Europe's "Jewish Question".
I could have understood Maeir's (September 2004) challenge, as I had felt that this passage carried unpleasant undertones of the proposition that the 'solution for Europe's "Jewish Question"' ought to be the establishment of an Israel in Europe, a concomitant of which would be the disestablishment of the Israel in the Middle East.

As will be seen in the following post on colonialism, however, Abu el-Haj's (2002: 273) aspiration is not for the disestablishment of Israel, but for its reform to a 'truly postnationalist... fully anticolonial.... vision of a polity and society that would parallel that of the postapartheid South African state'.

To suggest that 'Europe's "Jewish Question"' was Europe's alone, nonetheless, was inaccurate and unfair. As Max Boot (20th December 2006) noted,
Arabs were, on a small scale, cheerleaders and enablers of the Final Solution. The most famous example was Haj Amin Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem (and uncle of Yasser Arafat), who took refuge in Berlin in World War II. A rabid Nazi, he personally lobbied Hitler to kill as many Jews as possible and even helped out by recruiting Bosnian Muslims to serve in the Waffen SS.(1)
Europe was neither the only place that had a "Jewish Question" - nor the only place that had an obscene answer to it.
  1. As far as the Bosnian Muslims are concerned, it's worth mentioning that political geographers Guy Robinson, Sten Engelstoft and Alma Pobric (2001: 972) noted that 'Muslims and Serbs dominated the opposition to the Nazi occupation of former Yugoslavian territory'.

    Journalist Oliver Kamm (12th February 2006) noted that '[t]he 'Young Muslim' group... was not considered by the Communists to be a pro-fascist or quisling group.... Many members of the Young Muslims joined the Partisans and fought against the Nazis, Chetniks and Ustashas.... It was only because of their resistance to the Communist dictatorship that they were eventually crushed.'

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