Ibrahim Saïd: Getting it right when trying to wrong Israel
I find it amusing when an article, such as that by Ibrahim Saïd, sets out to bash Israel but then explains Israel quite well and shows that the author understands what we are really all about. And then he uses this as if it is a bad thing.
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We should be able to expect a modicum of scholarship in an article when the peer reviewed journal in which it appears claims to have been:
established to respond to a growing demand for reflection and critical scholarship on settler colonialism as a distinct social and historical formation.
However, because the term settler colonialism has become familiar to anti-Zionists as a good way to lie and distort the facts concerning Israel, the journal, Settler Colonial Studies, does not disappoint. There appears to be no reflection and no scholarship in the article I review here. All that remains is “critical” when that word is taken to mean “condemnatory”. At some point I will read some articles in the journal that do not concern Israel and see if the same can be said about them.
The article I am looking at here is called: “Some are more equal than others: Palestinian citizens in the settler colonial Jewish State“. The abstract states that the author sets out to:
examine whether the passing of the Basic Law: Israel – the Nation State of the Jewish People represents a transformative moment in the history of the State of Israel, as some critics claim, that undermines the State’s unique democratic features precisely the principle of equality. … The article argues that the Nationality Bill does not represent a transformative moment, it rather reflects a continuous process that stems from the Zionist colonial ideology in historic Palestine.
We will need to examine what the author means by “historic Palestine” but for now, let us look at how he concludes his abstract (often the only thing some people read of academic articles even if they may use the article as a source quite authoritatively for what they want to say):
rather than transforming Israel into an undemocratic apartheid State as some critics argue, the Nationality Bill rather makes sure that the
State of Israel cannot be easily transformed into the State of all its citizens.
Here the author argues that the Nation State Law (NSL) did not turn Israel INTO an undemocratic apartheid state but, rather, that it already was. Well, that is what they want the reader to think. But here is where the author got it right, in fact: the NSL “makes sure that the State of Israel cannot be easily turned [or even with great difficulty, I may add] into the State of all its citizens”.
That is right – Israel never set out to be a “state of all its citizens”. It is the Jewish state. And that is what many Jewish leftwing NGOs in Israel and abroad, the leaders of the major Arab political parties serving in the Knesset and other anti-Israeli supposedly pro-Palestinian organizations are trying to dismantle. The Jewish State.
In the first two pages of his discourse, author Ibraham L. Saïd correctly discusses how the NSL was passed as a way to protect against attacks from within against Jewish state symbols and the collective right of the Jews to define our own sovereign nation.
It constitutes a form of community immunity against the various efforts to challenge the Jewish nature of the State…
He writes about this as if Israel is the only country with a law defining its ethnic character, its flag and other national symbols. He gives examples of the NGO Adalah that is working with Joint List Party Bloc leaders in attempts to get Israel to change these symbols to something palatable to Arab Israelis who are offended by them.
Saïd points out that disagreement regarding the balance between Israel as a Jewish nation and Israel as a democracy are as old as the young modern state itself:
These competing strategies [liberal versus conservative voices] ultimately represent the internal tension embedded in the self-definition of the State of Israel as both Jewish and democratic, which has accompanied the State since its inception.
Vigourous debate on the NSL took place in the Knesset, the media and on the streets. This is certainly something that should be celebrated. After all, one sign of a healthy democracy is that members of the Knesset and the public can protest government policy loudly and not be thrown off a roof or at least imprisoned for such antagonism toward the regime as would happen under Hamas or the Ayatolla, for example.
Saïd quotes one phrase uttered by former MK Shelley Yechimovich (Labour) that he thinks proves how Israel cares nothing for equality; he should have linked to the video of her speech in order to capture the full weight of her vile against Netanyahu and the NSL. And not only did she live another day, she even got to keep her salary as long as there were enough voters that felt her voice represented them. That is our democracy in action.
Likewise, Arab MKs and members of the public are free to voice similar antagonistic opinions without fear of harm. An example of how they execute their right to protest is in their petition to the Supreme Court against the NSL and their publication of position papers accusing Israel of systematic discrimination and apartheid. They are wrong, but it is their democratic right to be wrong and to shout it out wherever they please.
Saïd claims that the NSL deprives the Arab citizens of Israel of the “… right for self-determination as indigenous minority”. But what are these rights? What does it mean for a minority (and the Arabs are not indigenous to the Land of Israel) to exert self-determination? Is it having the right to take family matters to an Islamic court rather than to the secular Israeli family courts? Well, they have that: the Sharia Court that was in existence from Ottoman times still functions unencumbered, today under the auspices of the Israeli Ministry of Justice.
I have yet to find a list of items that the Arab population of Israel needs in order to express their right for self-determination. So far, all I see is their burning desire to make Israel a so-called state of all its citizens, in other words, not a Jewish state. Sadly, I would have expected an academic article to provide such a list of criteria for defining self-determination of a minority group or at least cite another academic article that does. All he does he regurgitate propaganda about apartheid and systemic discrimination.
It would require a book-length treatise to counter all that he claims in his article and that is the beauty of writing the kinds of pieces Saïd did. You can throw out easily recognized terms (such as settler-colonialism, historic Palestine, occupation, apartheid, etc) without being asked to define them as you are confirming the biases of those who control the gates in the academic journals and academic institutions. Trying to shed light on the vacuity of these terms requires lengthy referral to source materials and it seems nobody has any patience for that these days, especially if it challenges their pet ideas.
Suffice it to say, Ibrahim L. Saïd has inadvertently provided a good argument for the necessity of having the Nation State Law on the books. Furthermore, he has shown what a vibrant democracy Israel is as it still struggles its way to define itself as both a Jewish and democratic nation. I may even quote him one day in a pro-Israeli article.
This leaves one issue I do want to go into in more depth –
Saïd mentions “historic Palestine” nine times in 21 pages. He never defines what that is, but he gets closest when he writes:
Following the establishment of the State of Israel, Palestine was erased from the maps, media and public discourse and the Palestinian history was subsequently deleted. Public spaces were Hebrewised drawing a continuous connection between biblical history and Zionist modern history.
First of all, he implies that the “continuous connection between biblical history and Zionist modern history” is only because “public spaces were Hebrewised”. He does not, however, tell his readers that, in fact, the original Hebrew names were changed to Arabic when colonized during the Muslim Conquest in the 7th-8th century of the common era. This is well known and Michal Eshed has done painstaking work in mapping 700 villages in which this had happened. This does not prevent some academics from claiming that Israel “judaized” Arab towns, the most absurd one being “judaizing” the town Yehud (means Jew) when the Arabs had called their town in the same place Al-Yehudia (meaning The Jew).
Ibrahim Saïd is an anthropologist and not a historian and therefore I would suggest he try to find a history book that defines historic Palestine. There is none. Instead, he would find that the name Palestine was first put onto the map as a province of the Roman Empire (no Arabs or muslims there yet) and not a sovereign state. It was removed from the map and put back onto the map at various points and became a “thing” in the 1800s when Christians from Europe referred to The Holy Land as the Roman “Palestine” into which Jesus was born. A good history of the use of the name “Palestine” can be found here.
Even more interesting is the fact that on a Wikipedia diagram showing the occupiers and sovereigns over this region from Biblical times until today, the name “Palestine” or “Palestinians” never appears. Wikipedia cannot be said to be pro-Israeli by any means so if there was a way to prove that “Palestine” existed as a separate sovereign entity you can be sure they would show that.
This raises the question of what exactly is “historic Palestine”. Stay tuned.
Who is Ibrahim L. Saïd
Saïd is currently a research associate at the Centre On Conflict, Development & Peacebuilding in Geneva. According to his LinkedIn profile, he is originally from Israel. He did a BA at Bar Ilan University in criminology and then another BA in social work at Haifa University. He worked for a number of years in this field before moving to the UK and beginning studies in anthropology and sociology, and finally moving to Switzerland where it appears he did his PhD.
He submitted a report to the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict in which he:
Documented and analyzed the violations of International Human Rights Law (IHR) and International Humanitarian Law (IHL) committed during the 2014 operation “Protective Edge” on Gaza.
His PhD thesis explored youth rehabilitation in East Jerusalem, examining social welfare and community policing under Israeli rule. He claims to provide a “complex picture of its nature, modes of operation and effect of rule”, “its” referring to “settler colonial power”. I wanted to look at what he means but the link to his thesis is a dead-end.
Having grown up in Israel and working in a variety of social welfare programmes, he is certainly personally familiar with the best and the worst of the country. I have no doubt he has personal experience with discrimination against him on a personal level as an Arab. But he is also well aware that there is no apartheid.
Since Ibrahim Saïd hates Israel so much, I am glad that he has joined the ranks of those who no longer live here even though it is likely he has not given up his Israeli passport. Let him spew his venom elsewhere, where it finds a fertile soil, I am sure, and let the rest of us, Jews and Arabs alike, just get on with the business of building a society in which all feel enriched, even if it is a Jewish country. Remember, Arabs here do not have to pay jizya.
Feature Image Credit: LinkedIn profile photo on Saïd’s public profile.