Sarah Ihmoud is an up and coming cultural anthropologist and currently a postdoctoral fellow at Boston University’s Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies Program. BU is reportedly close to hiring her for a full-time teaching position.
As has been reported, she and two co-authors claim in “Sexual Violence, Women’s Bodies, and Israeli Settler Colonialism,” published at Jadaliyya in November 2014, that the “rape and killing of Palestinian women was a central aspect of Israeli troops’ systematic massacres and evictions during the destruction of Palestinian villages in 1948.”
But is this essay, venomous though it is, representative of her work, or is it an outlier?
Additional essays referenced on her BU home page include “Exiled at Home: Writing Return and the Palestinian Home,” in the Spring 2014 issue of Biography, published by University of Hawaii Press; and “Mohammed Abu-Khdeir and the Politics of Racial Terror in Occupied Jerusalem,” in the online journal Borderlands in October 2015. Collectively, they reveal a pattern of false, anti-Israel claims that, if not as vitriolic as that found in Jadaliyya, nevertheless confirm her as a politicized, biased scholar who consistently distorts sources and history to fit her views.
All three essays focus on “settler colonialism,” a key concept in Ihmoud’s writings. In the widely cited Jadaliyya article, she and her co-authors describe it as “a ‘structure, not an event’ ” that “operates through a ‘logic of elimination’ that seeks to erase indigenous presence on a specific territory.” (Ihmoud defines the term in the other writings, too, but not as completely.) The concept behind “settler colonialism” in this context is that there are two types of people in the world: colonial settlers and indigenous peoples. “Settler colonialism” is the means by which the settlers erase the identity of the indigenous people.
Similarly, each article classifies Zionism implicitly or explicitly as a form of “settler colonialism,” even though Zionism, as the Encyclopedia Britannica correctly defines it, is as a movement to re-establish a Jewish state in “the ancient homeland of the Jews.”
While Zionism generally and contemporary political Zionism especially are relatively modern concepts, they are recent manifestations of a 2,000-year-old ideology, not a nationalism originating in 19th-century Europe. Acknowledging the historical ties of the Jews to the land of Israel naturally undermines the premise of “settler colonialism.” This connection to the land is regularly being proven by new archaeological finds and establishes Jews as the indigenous people to the land. Muslims, who came by way of conquest in the seventh century, are more properly the settlers.
A close examination of Ihmoud’s piece in Borderlands, the only article listed on her home page of which she is sole author, brings these and other shortcomings into sharper focus. Borderlands is a refereed Australian publication that describes itself as a “journal of the humanities and social sciences which has historically worked at the intersection of race, indigeneity, culture, politics, environment and law.”
“Mohammed Abu-Khdeir and the Politics of Racial Terror in Occupied Jerusalem” purports to elucidate the death of a Palestinian teen who was kidnapped and brutally murdered by Jewish terrorists in July 2014, just before rocket fire from the terror group Hamas precipitated a war with Israel.
Ihmoud’s article reflects this belligerency, as it epitomizes the politicized, scholarship that dominates Middle East studies. Filled with unsupported assertions, historical inversions, misrepresentations of facts and events, and outright errors, it exudes a vitriolic hatred of Israel. While she relates some basic facts about Abu Khdeir’s murder accurately, Ihmoud shows her biases early and often, as when she writes “one might also say that the dead Mohammed Abu-Khdeir was—is—an emblem of what it means to see oneself through the eyes of the Jewish colonizers.”
Omitted or ignored from her telling are crucial facts that contradict her thesis. Both the Israeli government and the general population were appalled at the murder, and the Israeli judicial system upheld the rule of law by sentencing two of the suspects convicted for the killing to life in prison and a third to 21 years. Ihmoud doesn’t mention the punishment and charges that the prosecution was pursued only for Israel to distance itself from the act and justify further violence against the Palestinians.
Illogically, she portrays both the killing and Israeli efforts to hold the killers responsible as parts of a greater Zionist attempt to eradicate Palestinians. Or, as she puts it later, “I attempt to identify not only how injury to the flesh takes on an extra-corporeal meaning and comes to signify injury to the Palestinian collective, but how, too, it functions as a form of historical citation of earlier violence.”
In this spirit, her citations evince an eagerness to bend sources to her interpretation of events. According to the Jewish suspects, the killing of Abu Khdeir was in revenge for the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish teens—Gilad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrach—in June 2014. Ihmoud’s interpretation of that terrorist incident is rife with mistakes and disingenuous claims.
She charged that Israel “inflamed tensions by blaming Hamas for the youth’s [sic] kidnapping,” claiming that Hamas denied the charge. However, in August 2014, Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri, who was based in Turkey at the time, boasted of the killings. Ihmoud also accused Israel of killing the kidnappers “extra-judicially,” when, in fact, they were killed in a shootout with Israeli forces.
Ihmoud’s cited sources are as unreliable as her ahistorical claims, as they include anti-Israel activists Lisa Goldman, Richard Silverstein and Ali Abunimah.
Goldman is among the founders of +972 Magazine, that admits “we do not always adhere to traditional notions of ‘balance,’ ” an acknowledgment of its biases. Silverstein, a well-known anti-Israel activist, in 2012 claimed to publish top-secret Israeli plans for attacking Iran that were later discovered to be from an unreliable online forum, where the speculation was published a few days earlier. Abunimah, co-founder of the viciously anti-Israel, pro-BDS site Electronic Intifada, has a history of defending or rationalizing the terror group Hamas.
Integral to Ihmoud’s thesis is the assertion that Zionism, and the resulting state of Israel, are illegitimate. Zionism is for her the effort “to create an ethnically defined nation-state for the Jewish people in Palestine, an objective ‘essentially incompatible’ with the continued presence of Palestine’s indigenous population.” Under this premise, the two-state solution is a chimera, while a one-state solution rewards the Palestinians with a state even as it destroys the world’s only Jewish nation. And why not, since to Ihmoud, there are no historic ties between Jews and the land of Israel?
This premise is flawed on two levels. First, it mirrors the sins of which Ihmoud accuses Zionists by denying the indigeneity of Jews to their proven ancestral lands. This leads logically to its second defect: anti-Semitism. The widely accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism includes “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination,” a fault her position embraces fully.
Further evidence of Ihmoud’s biases fill her article. Every Israeli policy examined is harshly and unfairly critiqued. Rehabilitating historic buildings is “Judaizing” Jerusalem, a claim reminiscent of “Judaized physics” or commerce. Similarly, Israel “inflamed tensions” by attacking Gaza, as if the rain of rockets from the Hamas-controlled territory never occurred. Yet Ihmoud doesn’t simply condemn Israeli actions; she invents them.
For example, she cites a paper by Israeli analyst Nadav Shragai to support her claim that regarding Jerusalem, Israel has an “official policy of ‘demographic balance,’ which mandates a ratio of 28 percent Palestinians and 72 percent Jewish Israelis as a policy objective” in the city. Shragai makes no such assertion, and in fact states that despite government projections, by 2010 the Arab population of Jerusalem grew faster than the Jewish population, and made up 35 percent of the city’s residents.
Ihmoud’s willingness to misrepresent her sources aside, Shragai’s work proves the Arab (or Palestinian) population of Jerusalem is growing in proportion to the city’s overall population. Israel is not limiting either the absolute or the relative growth of the Arab population of Jerusalem. This undermines Ihmoud’s vicious claim that Israel is engaged in a “genocidal moment,” as populations subjected to genocide do not show steady, unhampered growth.
Perhaps sensing the fatuousness of this claim, Ihmoud next accuses Israel of “genocidal dispossession,” which she describes as “a structure predicated on a racial schema that evicts Palestinians from the realm of the human, relegating them to zones of non-being and death.”
Such academic double-speak—as intended—obscures rather than clarifies and rests on arbitrary definitions, unsupported claims, dubious authorities and purposefully misinterpreted primary sources. Her work is sadly typical of what passes for scholarship among those who proffer falsehoods in support of nakedly political ends. Should Boston University hire Ihmoud, it will advance the moral and intellectual decline in Middle East studies and related fields, much to the detriment of students, journalists and policy-makers who rely on academe for insight and guidance.
David Gerstman is managing editor of Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.