In what can only be considered as an ironic twist of intention, it has become apparent that not only has the idea of a free Arab state of Palestine become an agenda item of the first degree for the United Nations, human-rights NGOs, and other similar bodies and institutions, but it has become the ideal of these bodies as well. The slogan “Palestine must be free” has literally colonized the minds of intellectuals, academicians, diplomats and university students, thus assuring, at least for the short term, it being a constant of discussion, debate and involvement.
In what I have termed as the rhetoric of obversity—that is, the orchestration of language to mean not what was originally intended, as well as the expanding of their meaning to include new definitions—the normative definition of settler colonialism has been modified. Settler colonialism is when invaders occupy a territory to permanently replace the existing society with the society of the colonizers so as to enjoy metropolitan living standards and political privileges. It has been applied, wrongly and falsely, to Zionism.
This allows news items, such as one from Dec. 20, “Illegal Israeli Colonizers Raze Land,” to hammer the term into the heads of Jewish youth who should know better as it more easily does into the thinking of others.
Implicit in applying the “settler colonialism” terminology is to suggest that the goals of Zionism were and are the elimination and exploitation of the “native” population. However, that never happened, nor was it the intention of the Zionist enterprise. In fact, it’s the opposite.
Cary Nelson, is his magnificent “Israel Denial” on the faculty campaign against the Jewish state, notes on pages 120-123 how the older claim of Zionism as a colonialist movement has now been linked to the false assertion not only of a supposed Arab Palestinian identity but an Arab Palestinian indigeneity as well, thereby interlocking the core forces that drive the anger and involvement of college student even while this causes a racialization format.
In an academic treatment, Sai Englert quotes Fayez Sayegh who described the core of Zionism’s ideology as one of “racial self-segregation, racial exclusiveness and racial supremacy” on p. 22 in a 1965 PLO booklet. Sayegh, the Syrian-born founder of the Palestine Research Center of Beirut, is held to be a pioneering analyst in the field. Perhaps one of the more illustrative examples of language rape practiced by the proponents of pro-Palestine propaganda is the one used at the March 2011 Seventh Annual Conference of the London’s SOAS Palestine Society. It would have us believe that “[f]or over a century, Zionism has subjected Palestine and Palestinians to a structural and violent form of destruction, dispossession, land appropriation and erasure in the pursuit of a new colonial Israeli society.”
To give but one example of the relative primitiveness of the approach in its early period is to quote from Sayegh writing: “The frenzied ‘Scramble for Africa’ of the 1880s stimulated the beginnings of Zionist colonization in Palestine.” Jews at that time were a permanent feature for centuries in Jerusalem, Safed, Tiberias and Hebron. Leading up to 1740 and in the following decade, thousands immigrated to Eretz Yisrael expecting the Messianic era to evolve, including Rabbi Moses Haim Luzzatto and Kabbalist Rabbi Haim ben Attar.
Indeed, in all the previous centuries, Jews were moving to reside in Eretz Yisrael, including hundreds of rabbis and some of the greatest luminaries of Jewish scholarship. In the mid- to late 18th century, hundreds of Chassidim, many with families, were immigrating to the country. By the early 19th century, the pupils of the Vilna Gaon, too, were making the move. Not antisemitism but religious motivation was the force behind this.
To borrow a phrase from Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), how did this theorizing warp the minds of young people?
As can be expected, one of the very first to spread the theme was a Jew, Maxime Rodinson, whose “Israel: A Colonial Settler-State?” (originally appearing in French in early July 1967) did much to take it out of the category of PLO propaganda. He provided a Marxist and even anthropological framework that allowed the idea to settle into academia in tandem with the success of the growth of race theory and the north/south model.
Nevertheless, there was a problem for Zionism is one of the most genuine, and most successful, repatriation movements in history. Jews came from what the world calls “Palestine.” Antisemites throughout the centuries demanded that Jews “go back to Palestine.” Most recently, even an extreme leftist such as Uri Misgav, in Haaretz, has written: “Zionism is not colonialism, despite the efforts of the politics of blame and identity to place it under this heading.”
There is, perhaps, a psychological element working here.
As Lee Smith asserts, in advancing the cause of the Arab Palestinians, the created “the prototype of ‘Third World man’ which “served the narcissism of Western elites.” To what purpose? Lee explains: “Removed from the apex of their strength, and their will to defend a civilization built by better men long depleted, Western elites’ self-image is sustained by Third World man.” Indeed, “Palestine … [is] not a place, it’s a spiritual principle guided by the inversion of reality and governed by the equation 2+2=5.”
A recent example of the progress of Palestine’s colonization process was the attempted protest by Doctors Against Genocide to take place at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. It went too far and aroused too much pushback, and was walked back. But the idea was to invade the public representation of the Jewish Holocaust—a quite specific and unique event—rob it of its meaning, harvest its emotional value, and ultimately, to take it over as property of “Palestine.”
As Tafi Mhaka wrote in Al Jazeera this month: “The time is ripe for the end of Western colonization in Palestine.” It should be made clear that the time is overdue to end the colonization by pro-Palestine proponents.