Tuesday, March 28, 2006

"Israeli Arabs" = Bad "Arab Jews" = Good

Here's another example of the hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty of post-colonial scholars. You will hardly find a po-coist, whether in Israel or abroad, use the term "Israeli Arabs" to describe Arabs who are citizens of Israel. The in-vogue term is "Palestinian Israelis" or "Palestinians in Israel." I know enough Arabs here in Israel to know that many indeed do not identify themselves as Israelis. It's certainly true that Arab academics tend to identify themselves as Palestinians. Other identities such as " 'Arab 48" (Arabs of 1948) is usually used by Arabs from Israel when they go abroad, especially if they meet other other Arabs and feel uncomfortable. But there are many Arabs who describe themselves as Israeli Arabs, even when they go abroad! And there's no denying that they know they're different from the Palestinians abroad and from the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza! They have very different experiences, and even though they might have family ties, commercial ties (this is true also among the Bedouin), etc., a Palestinian kid in Nablus or Hebron has a very different experience from an Arab kid in the Negev or in Haifa. For crying out loud, the average Israeli Arab/Palestinian Israeli/whatever can't converse for more than five minutes without using a Hebrew word! As a high school teacher in a Bedouin school in the Negev in Israel, I know that the MOST popular affirmative response to many questions is the Hebrew word "beseder" (ok) often combined with the Arabic word "tayyib" as in "tayyib-beseeder".

That reminds me of a story told to me by an Arab friend who recalled the time he took a commuter cab (monit sherut) to Ramallah from Jerusalem. This was at a time of high tension around Netanyahu's tunnel riots and he made sure not to speak Hebrew on his cell phone. Anyway, an Arab friend of his called and they began talking and at the conclusion of the conversation, my friend slipped in the word "beseder". He was reprimanded by two stern Palestinian young women sitting behind him who scolded him for speaking Hebrew in a Palestinian Taxi. He got them back later though when they substituted English words for Arabic ones.

If you listen to Dr. Lauren Erdreich, research associate at Princeton's Transregional Research Institute, though, you'd never be the wiser of all these subtleties. Who cares about subtlety, when you have a political statement to make? Here's Erdreich defending her centre's preference of the term "Palestinians in Israel" over "Israeli Arabs":


The usage of the term [Palestinians in Israel] grew out of a postcolonial approach to the social study of the area of Israel/Palestine, which takes into account the legacies of colonization (Turkish, British, and Israeli) in shaping the social and political life of this indigenous population as well as of other indigenous and immigrant populations (such as Mizrahi Jews). One of these legacies is the categorization of minorities: Palestinians in the state after 1948 were referred to as “Israeli Arabs” in order to distinguish them from their brethren outside of the state, despite any social, economic, political, religious, or familial ties they might share. The use of the term “Palestinian” or “ Palestine” was even forbidden in Arab sector schools until after Oslo. Similarly, Jewish immigrants from Arab lands were termed “mizrahim” (easterners) and never referred to as “Arab Jews,” despite the cultural, linguistic, and historic ties they shared with other Arab populations. In both terms we can see how the State tried to set boundaries around groups and determine where these groups would fit in and how they would identify with the State. It did not always work however, and so today we still see Palestinian Israelis feeling a dual and complex identification both with the State and with Palestinians, (as well as Mizrahi Jews feeling both part of the State and forcefully estranged from their “Arab” traditions).

The term “Palestinian Israelis” is then intended as a rejection of coercive state attempts to deny this community its heritage and identification, as well as a reflection of the community’s experience of duality in identifying as citizens of a state that often discriminates against them and their brethren.

Hold it, Lauren, calling Jews from Arab countries "Arab Jews" is not a denial of the identification of many of those people? Does the fact that Jews of Moroccan or Yemenite origin speak/spoke Arabic and shared some of the same customs as other Moroccans and Yemenis automatically make them Arab Jews? Was the identification "Arab Jew" even meaningful in societies where most people still identified primarily in religious terms? And what about their own desire to identify themselves as Israelis or even as mizrahim? Lauren, if your Palestinian Israelis are not Israeli Arabs, even though Arab academics express themselves better in Hebrew than Arabic and even though they are steeped in Israeli culture, then why do Yemenite Jews become "Arab Jews" in your dictionary?

BTW, most mizrahim, and I'm not afraid to use that term, don't express anger about being estranged from "Arab" traditions. Usually, they frame it in terms of having been estranged from their JEWISH traditions by the ashkenazi elite.


Amos said...

That Transregional Institute is a front for Israel-bashing. It was set up so that they could get around the Near Eastern Studies Department, which hasn't gone over entirely to their insanity. It's currently headed by a guy called Miguel Centeno (NK - he was the master of Wilson College back in our day), a sociologist with no knowledge of the region's languages, who's responsible for this year's research theme "Society under Occupation: Contemporary Palestinian Politics, Culture and Identity." They were also the ones who invited Edward Said when I was in college and various other Israel-haters.

Anyway, it's pretty outrageous when you see who their two visiting researchers are and what they study:
Transregional Institute

Also, very interesting that this Erdreich is working on "Women and the Creation of Islamic Social Conceptions in Israel: An Ethnography of Teachers and Girls in Islamic Movement Educational Institutions." She seems to be following in the footsteps of the Berkeley anthropologist Saba Mahmood - here's a blurb about her most recent work:

"In Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject (Princeton 2005), I addressed some of these issues through an ethnography of a women’s piety movement that is part of the larger Islamist movement in Egypt . My analysis of the Islamist movement in this book is guided by three central questions:

"1. In what ways do these movements help us rethink the normative liberal account of politics? How do the politics of gender in these movements parochialize key assumptions within feminist theory?

"2. How does a consideration of the debates about embodied practice among Islamists and their secular critics help us understand the conceptual relationship between the specificity of bodily form and the process of subject formation?"

She is also a real hater and rather dictatorial as a teacher (I guess that's appropriate for a critic of liberalism).

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