Photo: Prof. Yehuda Shenhav
Academics in the heavily politicized social sciences and humanities are constantly staking out new fields to endow themselves with the cachet of radical alterity. Nowhere is this more true than in Israel or among expatriate Israelis in Europe and North America. Only those who find a convincing way to reject everything that is rise to the top. In a long interview published in Ha'aretz several days ago, until now available only in Hebrew, Yehuda Shenhav lays out his latest addition to the discursive landscape of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
His attack at first seems familiar. We know the line that Israel is a colonialist state dominated by an Ashkenazi elite bent on subjugating both Palestinians and mizrahi Jews. But Shenhav, the son of Iraqi immigrants, has moved a few steps beyond this narrative. His critique is directed at the Ashkenazi left and Center - Meretz, Labor, and Kadima, which he faults for viewing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as having its origins in 1967 when, according to them, everything went bad. He lampoons this as Ashkenazi nostalgia for an Israel that was more European and less religious. For Shenhav, the twin fears that Israel will have a Palestinian majority or that it will be a majority mizrahi society lurk behind the Ashkenazi elite's embrace of the two-state solution.
Against the "new nostalgists," he pits a strange "alliance" of Palestinians, Arab Israelis, mizrahim, and settlers. The latter are the true left of Israeli society, whereas the left-wing parties, especially Meretz, are no more than wealthy elites spouting ideology. The settlements, in Shenhav's thinking, seem to be a kind of last bastion of the Israeli welfare state. Mizrahim and Palestinians are linked in their shared identities as refugees.
In effect, this implausible new rainbow of ethnic and religious groups and sub-groups for Shenhav seems to play the role of a revolutionary proletariat that will oppose the forces of neo-liberalism. He argues not for a one-state solution but for a utopia of cantons composed of people with different citizenships and allegiances.