Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, May 2012
For Liberation, Equality and Justice in Palestine and the World, Jewish Texts and Cultural Discourse Must Be Deconstructed
By Gilad Atzmon
Redress, Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, May 23, 2012
Post-colonial theory, whiteness and Palestine
Gilad Atzmon argues that Palestinian activists – indeed, everyone
who strives for liberation, equality and justice – must ditch the
circular, sterile post-colonial discourse that permeates leftist thinking
and "deconstruct Jewish texts and Jewish cultural discourse with the same
vigour that Edward Said deconstructed the European canon, whether it was
Charles Dickens or Lord Balfour”.
Without questioning the intellectual validity and the theoretical substance of the post-colonial spectrum of thought, it is clear that some leading contemporary trends within this realm of studies emphasize the role of the “white male” and the “phallus” as being at the core of Western society’s malaise. So the next question is almost inevitable: where does this leave the “white male”? Or more anecdotally, do I, a person who happens to be wrapped in pale skin and is also attached to a white phallic organ, bear responsibility for centuries of European genocides? Would my responsibility lessen if I decide to chop off my male organ? Am I, or any other white male, left with any authentic ethical role? Or are we biologically doomed to be the epitome of every wrongdoing of Western society for generations? The astute post-colonial theorist may suggest that “masculinity”, “whiteness” and the “phallus” are mere symbolic representations rather than “things in themselves”.
Some post-colonial and feminist theoreticians would argue that imperialism, like patriarchy, is in essence a “phallo-centric”, “supremacist”, “white” ideology that subjugates and dominates its subjects. This is an interesting and even intriguing statement, yet I am not so sure that it is valid or at all relevant to our understanding of Zionism and the crimes committed by the Jewish state. Zionism and Israel are clearly supremacist ideologies, yet is the push for war against Iran by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) “phallo-centric”? Is the Zionist appetite for Palestinian land “patriarchal” or inspired by any form of “phallic” enthusiasm or even “whiteness”? Is the “war on terror” that left about one and a half million fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan, “phallicly”-orientated or is the operative factor here the white male again?
Let’s face it, Zionism, Israeli politics and Jewish lobbying are not
particularly phallo-centric or patriarchal. They also have little to do
with “whiteness”. Zionism and Israel are actually primarily
“Judeo-centric” to the bone. They are racially driven and fuelled by a
particular supremacist culture that is inspired by aspects of Talmudic
goy [gentile] hating, as well as sporadic (and false) Old Testament
interpretations. But this is exactly the verdict the post-colonial scholar
attempts to prevent us from reaching. It is especially embarrassing
because Israelis and Zionists openly draw their inspiration and
expansionist enthusiasm from Jewish culture and texts, which they
interpret in a very particular self-serving manner.
Arab and Palestinian post-colonial scholarship
One of the most influential post-colonial thinkers was
Palestinian-American literary theorist Edward Said. Said’s polemic,
Orientalism, was a deeply profound attempt to grasp the
West’s vision of the Orient, the colony and Islam. The term “orientalism”,
as coined by Said, covers three interrelated meanings. First, it names the
academic study of the Orient. Secondly, it is a form of deliberation that
constitutes the Arab as the “other”. Thirdly, it is the structures that
maintain Western domination over the Orient.
Abunimah is not happy at all with my reading of the conflict. This is understandable and totally legitimate and, furthermore, he is not alone. Other exiled Palestinians seem also to be very concerned. Their outrage at my argument that Israel is not a European-style colonial state implies that they fear the end to a discourse in which they have invested so much. Some of those Palestinians were very happy to add their names to the list of book burners who demanded my disavowal. This was indeed a very sad turn – futile, yet, at the same time both revealing and predictable. Though those Arab and Palestinian scholars criticized my work for allegedly being “racist” without providing a single racist comment by me, it was disappointing to discover that it was in fact their own writing that was actually saturated with biological determinist comments and peppered with blunt racism.
Recently we came across a video of Omar Barghouti exploring some
“post-colonial” ideas. He, for instance, insisted that “the white race is
the most violent in the history of mankind”. This is an outrageous
sweeping generalization, especially since, as Barghouti surely knows,
Zionism is Judeo-centric and has very little to do with whiteness. It is
not the degree of “whiteness” that constitutes the racist element within
the Israeli legal system. Rather, it is the “degree of Jewishness” that
makes an Arab Jew privileged in comparison to a Palestinian with a very
similar skin colour.
Omar Barghouti is studying at the “Zionist” Tel Aviv university while
asking everyone else to boycott the same university. Seemingly, he has
internalized the Zionist academic post-colonial jargon and has integrated
and implemented some biological determinist and racist ideas into his
pro-Palestinian political thinking.
Whiteness, the Jew and the queer
In the last few weeks I have been wondering why Omar Barghouti attacks the “white race”? Is it really necessary? Couldn’t he just refer to the “West”, America, Orientalism or the “British Empire”? Why does “The Angry Arab” fight the white man? Is it really an elementary political category? Does the introduction of racial categories and biological determinism serve the Palestinian cause or Arab liberation? I decided to jump into the water and immersed myself in some contemporary texts about whiteness and post-colonial theory. I thought that it might help me understand the emergence of these thoughts.
Following the recommendation of my friend and musical partner Sarah Gillespie, one of the first texts I picked was Richard Dyer’s book White. Dyer is a respected film scholar and a leading writer on the topic. It didn’t take more than five pages before I stumbled upon a very interesting passage that opened my eyes. In the next few lines Dyer speaks about his childhood friendship with a Jewish person and the impact this had on him.
The Wandering Who? I wrote extensively about the clear
ideological and theoretical continuum between Zionism and other marginal
thoughts. I explored the deep ideological similarity between “queer
theory” and the Jewish national aspiration. On the one hand we notice a
legitimate and reasonable call against injustice – the Zionist and the
queer theorists demand to become “people like other people”, a call
obviously understood and supported by many. But on the other hand we also
detect another forceful demand: to maintain and preserve uniqueness and
differentiation. As one can imagine, the humanist call for equality can
easily clash with the forceful, self-centric, clannish demand for
preservation, especially when celebrated at the expense of others.
I obviously understand it and I am far from being judgmental. But am I naïve to expect Palestinian activists and intellectuals to ensure that the “wrongfulness of Palestinian oppression” be widely and “socially recognized” by the masses, rather than by a few post-colonial Jewish anti-Zionists? It is time for our discourse to leave the ghetto.
I guess that, to achieve such a goal, we must transcend the decaying
post-colonial discourse or else completely revise it. We must drift away
from any form of marginal ideology. We must be able to deconstruct Jewish
texts and Jewish cultural discourse with the same vigour that Edward Said
deconstructed the European canon, whether it was Charles Dickens or Lord
Balfour. Actually, we had better place the issue of Palestine at the
forefront of the battle for a better world, humanity and humanism.
1. If Israel is the Jewish
settler state we had better be informed at last where is the Jewish
"mother state" for colonialism is defined by a clear material, cultural
and spiritual exchange between a mother and a settler states.
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