Professor Yehouda Shenhav
TAU Sociology & Anthropology
Yehouda Shenav: Post Zionist Utopia, Academic Hubris or Both?
Yehouda Shenhav (TAU) has used the tools of neo-Marxist, critical scholarship to create some of the most outlandish arguments in Israeli academy. Unencumbered by the positivist tradition in the social science that relies on empirical observation, critical scholars are free to create their own reality and a peculiar vocabulary to describe it. The following articles are a case in point.
The Chronotope of Refugee Return http://zochrot.org/sites/default/files/sedek6_shenhav_eng_p.pdf
Towards return of Palestinian refugees, Sedek - A Journal on the Ongoing Nakba: Issue no. 6, May 2011
In The Chronotope, Shenhav mixes a type of post-modern psychological sensibility with his own unique suggestions to assuage it. To begin with, he seeks to place the fate of the Palestinians in the 1948 war outside real space and time; “the disaster did not occur at one specific time or in one specific place. The Nakba is an ongoing process that takes a variety of forms; it is not an isolated event frozen in time.” Furthermore, he claims that for the Palestinians the Nakba continues to this day, as manifested in disparate events like the reprisals of the 1950’s, life under the military regime in the 1950s, the 1967 war (Naqsa) and recent events, when “inspectors from the Israel Lands Authority and 1,500 police officers” come to demolish the unrecognized Bedouin village of Al Araqib, and even Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. As a result, Shenhav diagnoses the Nakba as “insidious trauma:" that “unlike post trauma, which refers to the traumatic effect in the present of a single event in the past, insidious trauma is characterized by continuous occurrences of the event in the present.”
Shenhav declares that an insidious trauma cannot be healed by an overnight “redemption.” In his view, the return of the refugees is not enough; there needs to be a transition from “redemption” to a “heterotopia” that allows for a “material realization that is a good enough approximation of the original place and time.” With such a model, “refugeeism will be present as part of the identity of the place, but rather than dominating, it will become a part of its daily life.”
To achieve such a “heterotopia”, Shenhav recommends a “post-Westphalian” concept of sovereignty, his terminology for a Palestinian-Israeli condominium or federation. Under a post-Westphalian structure, the fate of Israeli Jews would be similar to the fate of the Afrikaners in post-apartheid South Africa. A shared Jewish-Palestinian constitutional court would recognize the country’s heterogeneous population and would view the Palestinian right of return not just as a moral and legal right, but as “an action that must be implemented.” Palestinian refugees would return to new villages that would be built as close to their original villages as possible, while also moving into major cities such as Jaffa, Haifa, Lod, Ramla, and Jerusalem. If the house where the Palestinian refugees once lived still exists, the original owners will be able to demand their homes back; such claims could be potentially settled via compensation from the current residents.
While Shenhav acknowledged that such a return would be an expensive, he nevertheless insists that it needs to be implemented, for a Palestinian “return and its implementation will be fundamental principles of the regime.”
‘Arab Jews’ after structuralism: Zionist discourse and the (de)formation of an ethnic identity
By Yehouda Shenhav & Hannan Hever, 09 Dec 2011 http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13504630.2011.629517
The article is a follow-up on Shenhav’s 2006 book The Arab Jews: A Post-Colonial Reading of Nationalism, Religion and Ethnicity. Shenhav and his co-author Hanan Hever explain that “post-structural interpretation rejects the bifurcated form in lieu of a hybrid epistemology, which tolerates and enables a dynamic movement between the two facets of ‘Arabs’ and ‘Jews.” In other words, it gives Shenhav the license to call the Mizrahim anything he wants to call them. Indeed, Shenhav believes that the Mizrahim are natural allies of the Arabs (as opposed to the Ashkenazim who are an alien element in the region) and as such should be leaders in the peace process.
Following the book’s appearance, Shenhav came under withering criticism from many Israeli sociologists. As one of them stated, resurrecting a historical identity that does not fit contemporary reality is a manipulation that serves a political agenda [of Shenhav and others]. “It gives them political and moral capital by connecting them to the discourse of the Third World and making them the spokesmen for the oppressed.” But Shenhav has not has been impressed by either such criticism, or by the fact that the vast majority of Mizrahim vehemently reject the label. When confronted with empirical findings contrary to his theory, Shenhav once explained that Mizrahim live in self-denial.
Lucky for Shenhav, his brand of scholarship has recycled the old Marxist claim that the masses should not be trusted when expressing opinions because they suffer from “false consciousness.”
Undoubtedly, they need someone like Shenhav who changed his name from the Arabic- sounding Shahrabani to show them how to think about themselves.
There is an ironic post-script to Shenhav’s research. The Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, a Marxist group that opened an office in Israel, has funded one of his colleagues, Dr. Nissim Mizrachi, to direct a study “of the obvious yet un-scrutinized gap between leftist ideology and the people it aspires to represent, a gap that has hindered efforts to initiate fundamental changes in Israeli political culture and has impeded the creation of an effective movement for peace.” The project strives to “outline an intervention model that will provide grounded theoretical foundations for a new Palestinian-Mizrahi dialogue. Such a new social program is essential for counteracting the stagnation in Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.”
In plain English, even the Marxist foundation understands that merely declaring the Mizrahim to be Arab Jews, as Shenhav does, is not enough to change the empirical reality of their behavior. Time would tell whether the Rosa Luxemburg project can prompt the Mizrahim to flock to the leftist (and mostly Ashkenazi) peace movement any more that Shenhav’s linguistic manipulation.
“The Chronotope of Refugee Return” by Yehouda Shenhav
Both Palestinian nationalists and Zionists base their identities upon the narrative “from destruction to redemption.” Within both of these national narratives, “from destruction to redemption” serves as a powerful recruiting tool whose “utopian vision paradoxically removes all discussion of the return from its political context.” Shenhav claimed that Palestinian nationalism “often assumes that the Nakba is a discrete traumatic event that occurred in 1948 and thus it allows only one way and one channel for talking about the return of the refugees: it is the return of the people to the grand place from which they were uprooted.” Shenhav promoted reevaluating this viewpoint because “it is based on a perception of time that fixes both the disaster and the return in a mythic universe located outside of time and on a perception of space as two distinct locations.”
“The catastrophe of 1948,” according to Shenhav, has become the “most important point of reference in the history of Palestinian nationalism.” Between 520,000 and 800,000 Palestinians became refugees and their descendants today number between 4.5 and 6.5 million people. Shenhav claimed that most of these Palestinians were “uprooted” from around 400 localities, where their land was expropriated, their homes were destroyed, and their villages were “erased from the map.” Jews were settled in where these Palestinians used to live. Shenhav claimed, “More and more evidence is coming to light about massacres and expulsions during the process of what can be called the ethnic cleansing of 1948.” However, he emphasized that it is important to remember that “the disaster did not occur at one specific time or in one specific place. The Nakba is an ongoing process that takes a variety of forms; it is not an isolated event frozen in time.”
For these reasons, Shenhav believes that it is important to remember that no return should be seen as an “isolated event fixed in time.” People must recognize that the landscape has changed. While he believes that it is “unfortunate that we must surrender to the imperatives of these power mechanisms,” Shenhav nevertheless thinks that any successful implementation of a Palestinian return must include the Jews and their geography, although Jews would be required to “relinquish privileges obtained through violence” in favor of a “decentralized political structure that is more fluid and more just.” From Shenhav’s perspective, “Nakba discourse requires explicit consideration of the power relations made invisible” by “extreme opposing perspectives,” where the present is included in the past and the past is included in the present. “The Nakba and the return” should be seen as “multi-spacial events comprised of Palestinian space prior to 1948, its memories, the contemporary Israeli space, and the refugee camps.”
Shenhav then proceeded to characterize the Palestinian situation as an insidious trauma. This means that “unlike post trauma, which refers to the traumatic effect in the present of a single event in the past, insidious trauma is characterized by continuous occurrences of the event in the present.” Shenhav believes that this concept of insidious trauma is in accordance with Palestinian memories, “which refer not only to the extreme trauma of 1948, but also to its continuing existence through insidious repetition.” For examples, Shenhav cited the “reprisals of the 1950’s, in life under the military government’s heel, in the 1967 war that came to be known the Naqsa, and of course, also today,” when “inspectors from the Israel Lands Authority and 1,500 police officers” decide to demolish dozens of illegal structures belonging to the Al Turi tribe in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Al Araqib, which was described by the Guardian newspaper as the “ethnic cleansing of the Negev” and by others as “Nakba 2010.” To Shenhav, “these events can not be separated from the 1948 disaster, nor is there any doubt that they are one more link in the chain of disasters known as the Nakba.” To further illustrate this point regarding insidious trauma in the Palestinian case, Shenhav cited the interviews that Fatma Kassem conducted in Lod and Ramleh of female Israeli Arab citizens who lived through the 1948 war. One of Kassem’s interviewers connected the past with the present by stating following one of Israel’s strikes against Gaza “those days return. People have nothing to eat. The Israelis are hitting them from the sky.” Shenhav thus implied that for this Israeli Arab woman, the Gaza War was a continuation of the Nakba.
Thus, given the nature of insidious traumas, Shenhav believes that the problems of the Palestinians can not be healed overnight via redemption. Citing Al Remawi,Shenhav argued that insidious traumas can not be heeled, can not be fully represented and that bringing about a return is not an easy matter. Al Remawi and his family were uprooted from Bayt Dajan during the 1948 war and ended up in Al Nu’ayma, near Jericho. Following the 1967 war, Al Remawi and his family were displaced from Al Nu’ayma and found themselves in Suwayli, Jordan. In his story, Shenhav believes that Al Remawi emphasizes that “the greatest tragedy of the Nakba is the scattering over time of a people through a vast expanse of space, together with the irreversibility of time and the irreversibility of this filled-up space.” While the younger generation of Palestinians fights for redemption,Shenhav emphasizes that Al Rimawi’s generation is too steep in “melancholy” for that.
Nevertheless, despite this melancholy and the impossibility of a return to villages that no longer exist, Shenhav nevertheless supports a Palestinian right of return that is fractured. Citing Adi Ophir, Shenhav argues that the country should be “mapped anew” in such a way as to recreate what existed prior to 1948 while simultaneously recognizing the realities that currently exist on the ground. This would allow the transition from redemption to a heterotopia that allows for a “material realization that is a good enough approximation of the original place and time.” As an example of this model, Shenhav cited plans made for the reconstruction of the village of Bir’im, which “incorporates the remains of the old village within and as an integral part of the new one.” With such a model, “refugeeism will be present as part of the identity of the place, but rather than dominating, it will become a part of its daily life.” Thus, the current plans for rebuilding the village of Bir’am are not an act of conservation or reconstruction, but instead aim at building “something new from the memory of the place.”
However, Shenhav believes that making space for the return of Palestinian refugees is not sufficient, for an arrangement known as post-Westphalian sovereignty should also be put into effect that would deconstruct how we view the concept of state sovereignty in such a way as to make it more inclusive than the concept of state sovereignty has generally been understood since the Peace of Westphalia. Examples of such a post-Westphalian sovereignty that should be implemented in the Israeli-Palestinian case in Shenhav’s viewpoint can be found in either the condominium and federation models. “A condominium permits joint sovereignty over a territory, with political authority assigned horizontally. A federation permits joint sovereignty over a territory, with political authority assigned vertically.” Some sectors, however, would be under the influence of international institutions. To further elaborate on this point, Shenhav cited Lev Grinberg, who proposed a hybridization of two democratic nation-states combined with seven federations that would be part of these nation-states to some degree. The reason why Shenhav claimed that he supports such models is because he believes that Zionism, instead of returning Jews to their proper place in history, instead created an autarkic Diaspora economy that neglected the rights of the Jews themselves, while “creating a sovereignty that preserved master-slave relations between Jews and Palestinians.” Thus, under a post-Westphalian structure, the fate of Israeli Jews would be similar to the fate of the Afrikaners in South Africa.
This post-Westphalian structure would lead to the establishment of a shared Jewish-Palestinian constitutional court that would recognize the country’s heterogeneous population and would view the Palestinian right of return not just as a moral and legal right, but as “an action that must be implemented.” However, this same court, while addressing old injustices, must be careful inShenhav’s viewpoint not to create new injustices. Palestinian refugees would return to new villages that would be built as close to their original villages as possible, while also moving into major cities such as Jaffa, Haifa, Lod, Ramla, and Jerusalem. If the building where the Palestinian refugees once lived is still standing, the Palestinian refugees will be able to demand their homes back which would have the potential to be settled via compensation from the current residents. While Shenhav acknowledged that this return would be an expensive endeavor, he nevertheless does not think that is a reason to not implement it, for a Palestinian “return and its implementation will be fundamental principles of the regime.” The court will deal with all disputes and will try to balance correcting “all aspects of the Nakba” with “changes” that have occurred since 1948.
The Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Tel Aviv University