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Israel, Palestine and the Politics of Race

November 25, 2019 at 4:31 pm

  • Book Author(s): Yasmeen Abu Laban, Abigail B. Bakan
  • Published Date: October 2019
  • Publisher: I.B Tauris
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • ISBN-13: 978-1780765334

Normalising Israel as a Jewish state absents “Palestinian experience, history and identity claims”. Yasmeen Abu Laban and Abigail Bakan, Palestinian and Jewish authors of “Israel, Palestine and the Politics of Race” have constructed a detailed analysis of race and power relations which has been sustained and adopted by the international community. By dispelling the conflations associated with race, the book delves into the political implications, showing how the exclusion of Palestinians on all levels – politics, land and environment – are all sites in which Israel is able to manipulate, thus constructing the apartheid state in full view of, and with no obstruction from, the international community.

The book tackles the subject in three sections which connect the Zionist colonial framework and its erasure of Palestine, to the historical and current global politics that endorsed Israel’s self-exceptionalism which, post 2001 and the US “war on terror”, was conflated to disseminate international identification with the settler-colonial state by constructing a purportedly common enemy. This move by Western liberal democracies draws an important point – the links between racial contracts as explained by the authors and liberal democracy. The book draws upon Antonio Gramsci’s works on hegemony and resistance, as well as draws comparisons between Israel and other settler-colonial entities, namely Canada and the US, which established themselves upon the erasure of the indigenous populations.

Abu Laban and Bakan clarify the dynamics of the racial contract in the first chapter, deeming it “ideological, material and literal”. Ideologically, the authors state, “Israel indeed depends upon the establishment of Israel on land that was claimed to be uninhabited, rendering the indigenous Palestinian population invisible in the most enduring and significant absence.” To maintain this erasure, Zionism implemented and encouraged a conflation of terms, such as equating Palestinians with terrorism and declaring state policy critique as racism against the Jewish people. In addition, Zionism has also reshaped Holocaust memory; the authors refer to Hannah Arendt’s observation of the massacres confined to an atrocity against Jews as opposed to against humanity. The latter was not challenged by the international community in terms of political strategy and the contradiction which Zionism was openly promoting in terms of Israel constructed as a site of safety for Jews, built upon the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinians.

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Internationally, the existing hegemonic discourse had already been established by other settler-colonial states which now occupied the helm of the international arena. Canada is specifically mentioned in the book due to its track record of supporting Israel’s erasure of Palestinians – a trend which the Canadian government only diverted from very recently. In terms of Israeli and Canadian exclusion of the “other”, the authors note that Canada had refused Jewish refugees in the aftermath of World War II, yet its support for Israel makes it complicity in the Zionist dispossession of the Palestinian people.

Israel’s racial profiling – a political move in line with white supremacy – was globally adopted after September 11, 2001. The book shows how Israel perfected the racial strategy against Palestinians and, as a result of the global emphasis on surveillance in accordance with the racial contract, extended its self-exceptionalism to Western liberal democracies and their exclusionary politics. Abu Laban and Bakan explain, “We suggest that what could be considered as a certain “Palestinianisation” has occurred in liberal democracies, generalising a sense of fear or threat in response to those who are socially sorted as terrorists.”

The racial strategy forms the premise of Israel’s militarisation against indigenous Palestinian resistance. Since the Nakba, the authors argue, Palestinians have been “treated as an existential threat to the territory redefined as the “Jewish state” of Israel, constructed by the state as exclusively and ethnically Jewish.” To show how Israel perfected the purported terror threat from Palestinians, the book delves into specific periods of Israel colonisation from 1948 onwards, making the point that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had used the “war on terror phrase” in 1996; by 2001, Israel’s racial contract and militarised surveillance influenced the US designation of the war on terror. It is this assimilation to Israel, particularly by the US, which further absents the Palestinian people by creating victims out of the colonial oppressors.

Within the international community, this anomaly is not challenged adequately. Abu Laban and Bakan observe the Zionist manipulation to “deny, forgive and forget Western European racism towards the Jewish population and to ascribe Jewish survival to the colonial state building project associated with Israeli military occupation of Palestinian land.” The UN, while providing a platform for articulating human rights, is beyond doubt exclusionary – in the authors’ words, “contradictory and inconsistent from its earliest, foundational years.” An important point highlighted in the book is the UN’s facilitating representation while still rendering Palestinians subjugated to “a relationship of a stateless people to an international organisation made up of states.”

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Just as the book shows the historical trajectory of Israel and Palestine within the UN context, it also traces the current apartheid back to 1948 which is deemed unique due to the ethnic cleansing and settler-colonialism which founded the current reality. The racialised expression of Israel’s obsession with a demographic majority necessitates a future “one-state” as “post-apartheid reality”. However, the authors describe this as “a necessary first step in expanding democratic rights to those who have been victims of colonial settlement.”

Global response to Israel’s racial contract has largely been sustained through coercion and complicity. To counter the hegemonic racism, the authors suggest global solidarity which is currently epitomised by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement.

Abu Laban and Bakan have excelled in illustrating an important aspect of Israel’s settler colonialism and international complicity which is less scrutinised when speaking about Palestinian dispossession. In prioritising the politics of race and its influence within the global scene, the authors shed light on how Israel influenced global politics through its colonial entrenchment in Palestine, as its designation as a “Jewish state” and, above all, the social sorting applied against Palestinians which has become a blueprint for surveillance and repression of minorities elsewhere.