Political Activism Disguised as Academics: the case of Gadi Algazi

19.01.23

Editorial Note

Professor Gadi Algazi is a Tel Aviv University expert on European history from 1350 to 1600 and the Minerva Center for German History director. Algazi, a longtime political activist, abused his position to promote his politics, as IAM repeatedly reported before.

In the current academic year, Algazi is a research fellow at the International Center of Advanced Studies “Metamorphoses of the Political” (ICAS:MP), a German institution based in New Delhi, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. ICAS:MP was created in honor of Maria Sibylla Merian, the German 17th-century naturalist, and Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali Nobel laureate.

ICAS:MP is an Indo-German research collaboration of six Indian and German institutions. According to its website, ICAS:MP “critically intervenes in global debates in the social sciences and humanities.” For those unfamiliar with the jargon, using the term “critically” suggests following the neo-Marxist, critical scholarship.

While fellows are expected to use their field of expertise, true to character, Algazi seized upon the opportunity to present Israel in a negative light. 

In his research, Algazi will look at Israel’s first years when hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants found themselves in transit camps. While some camps were transitory tent compounds, other camps became “the nuclei of poor neighborhoods and peripheral townships with a lasting impact on the landscape of inequalities in the country.” To Algazi, the early 1950s were formative for “the making of class divisions in Israel.” According to Algazi, “Arab Jews” stayed for several years with little access to worthwhile education or work. “For many Jewish immigrants, this was the site where notions of citizenship and politics, dependence and solidarity were forged.”  To justify his research topic, Algazi claims that historians usually treated those Jewish immigrants as “objects of government policies, at best as unruly, tumultuous crowds.”

Algazi’s study looks at the social history of one of the largest camps located near an established agro-town on the border of the West Bank.   

Algazi writes that the camp was mainly populated by Iraqi Jewish immigrants, in “walking distance from refugee camps, which had been set up just two or three years earlier as a provisional shelter for Palestinians expelled from this very same agricultural region. Chronically unemployed, camp dweller were subject to tight control by government agencies, the security services and the local elite. Nevertheless, within months of arrival, they started a series of protests that soon spread beyond their isolated camp.”

Algazi declares he seeks “to understand the rise and demise of this movement.” He then launches into a conspiracy theory, writing about the “suppressed event – the secret military operation, in which the camp was dismantled.”

Algazi traces “the forgotten protests and their violent suppression – locally, in the impoverished neighborhood which arose at the same site, and in the different camps to which the banished where relocated. Finally, I follow the main protagonists – the families who led local protests and the party boss whom they confronted – into the 1960s, seeking explanations for the suppression of the memory of these early revolts.”

Algazi should note that by now, the history of early immigration to Israel is very well covered. It is widely known that the new state of some 650,000 people in 1948 was under extreme duress.  It had to defend itself from the Palestinians, who rejected the 1947 UN Partition Plan, and their Arab allies, who invaded the country.   At the same time, Israel had to absorb about a million and a half immigrants, Holocaust survivors, and Jews from Arab countries.  Both groups posed a considerable challenge to the state: the Holocaust survivors, most of whom survived concentration camps and lost their families, were penniless and deeply traumatized, unable to be helped by the skeletal mental health system. The Jews of the Arab countries were expelled with only a suitcase.  The Iraqi Jews, arguably the most wealthy of the Jewish communities in the Middle East, were also subjected to bloody pogroms.

Looking at the broader issue of absorption of a traumatized and pauperized population, Algazi trivializes the subject by adopting a nebulous conspiracy theory of nefarious military misdeeds.  He is also egregiously wrong by blaming the government for creating class divisions in Israel.  Like his neo-Marxist, critical scholarship peers, he is unwilling to admit that the market economy developed in Israel favored the better-educated Jews. 

As a historian of medieval Europe, Algazi is unqualified to research a subject that touches on many aspects of social and political economy, immigration, and absorption, among others. 

Of course, as a radical activist, Algazi is not perturbed by a lack of skill since the real purpose of his work is to denigrate and demonize Israel. What is more perplexing is the involvement of the German government, which finances the ICAS:MP. Supporting scholars who use their academic positions to push a political agenda is not a good return on their money.

References

PROF. GADI ALGAZI    A TRANSIT CAMP ON THE BORDER01 January 2023 to 30 June 2023
Research Description:During Israel’s first years, hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants found themselves in ‘transit camps’. Some camps were indeed transitory tent compounds, but others became the nuclei of poor neighbourhoods and peripheral townships with a lasting impact on the landscape of inequalities in the country. The early 1950s were a formative period in terms of the making of class divisions in Israel. While immigrants, mostly of European descent, typically spent less than a year in a camp, others, especially ‘Arab Jews’ from all over the Middle East, stayed for several years with little access to worthwhile education or work. For many Jewish immigrants, this was the site where notions of citizenship and politics, dependence and solidarity were forged.Historians have usually treated them as objects of government policies, at best as unruly, tumultuous crowds. The study is a social history of one of the largest camps, located on the very border between Israel and the West Bank. It was set up near an established agro-town. The local elite controlled the town council, the labour exchange, welfare services, local companies and credit providers and had direct access to political patrons in Israel’s government. The camp, on the other hand, was populated mostly by Jewish Iraqi immigrants, in walking distance from refugee camps, which had been set up just two or three years earlier as a provisional shelter for Palestinians expelled from this very same agricultural region. Chronically unemployed, camp dweller were subject to tight control by government agencies, the security services and the local elite. Nevertheless, within months of arrival, they started a series of protests that soon spread beyond their isolated camp. I seek to understand the rise and demise of this movement, the making of a short-lived collective subject. At the heart of this microhistory story lies a suppressed event – the secret military operation, in which the camp was dismantled, and its inhabitants dispersed in seven different locations. I trace the afterlife of the forgotten protests and their violent suppression – locally, in the impoverished neighbourhood which arose at the same site, and in the different camps to which the banished where relocated. Finally, I follow the main protagonists – the families who led local protests and the party boss whom they confronted – into the 1960s, seeking explanations for the suppression of the memory of these early revolts.Bio:Gadi Algazi is professor of history at the Department of History at Tel Aviv University and currently director of Minerva Center for German History. He is serving in the editorial board of Past and Present, co-editor of the Hebrew historical quarterly Zmanim, and earlier was senior editor of History & Memory: Studies in the Representation of the Past. His main fields of interest are the social and cultural history of Western Europe between 1350 and 1600, historical anthropology, especially the history of family, kinship and gender, the social history of science, colonialism and settler societies.

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About

The M.S. Merian – R. Tagore International Centre of Advanced Studies ‘Metamorphoses of the Political’ (ICAS:MP) is an Indo-German research collaboration of six Indian and German institutions funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). ICAS:MP combines the benefits of an open, interdisciplinary forum for intellectual exchange with the advantages of a cutting-edge research centre. Located in New Delhi, ICAS:MP critically intervenes in global debates in the social sciences and humanities. Bringing together more than 70 scholars from diverse disciplinary backgrounds and through its innovative modular and network structure, ICAS:MP generates sustainable research cooperation among leading social science and humanities scholars from India, Germany and other countries who investigate similar research problems rather than necessarily the same region. Scholarly exchange and joint exploration within ICAS:MP are defined by a shared interest in examining the shifting boundaries, historically contingent content, and intellectual lineages of the twentieth-century ‘political’. It is thus not another initiative to strengthen ‘Area Studies’, but rather serves as a centre of advanced international research.

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