This is about antisemitism and mind games and colonizers and the colonized. The inspiration leading to my reflections here was found in a relatively recent article published in the prestigious British Journal of Criminology. The authors of this article are relentless in their vilification of Israel. I will soon provide my readers with a detailed critique of the so-called scholarly article, but here I just wanted to pause and contemplate one particular sentence that shouted out to me during my first reading of it:
Fanon (1963; 1967) explains that colonized people are not allowed to lead fully human lives, while colonizers live under constant fear that natives will replace them.
Here are the two separate things that served as triggers in this one sentence:
- that colonized people cannot lead fully human lives, and
- that colonizers live under constant fear that the natives will replace them.
Let me share with you my reflections pertaining to each of these. Just as the authors, Bella Kovner and Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, did not expound upon Frantz Fanon and the context in which he was writing, I will not either. (Anyone who is interested can download two of his books for free, here and here.) The important point is that the authors of the article were making parallels between the European-colonized Africans about whom Fanon reflected and the supposedly European-Jew-colonized Arabs, the so-called Palestinians. I, however, could not help but think about the colonized Jews.
Before the establishment of the modern State of Israel, Jews, whether in Europe or Arab countries (you know, most of those countries that had been Arabized during the Moslem Conquest of the 7th Century), were not really considered totally human. We were dhimmis wherever we were, whether we were called that or not. It is clear that for periods of time, Jews had good lives, living well and prospering within our own communities, nestled within the larger majority non-Jewish population around us. However, it was also true that Jews were a convenient scapegoat and pogroms were used to temper the dis-satisfactions of the gentiles who took out their frustrations on us.
We were certainly not colonizers in Europe or Morocco or Egypt or Iraq. And one cannot really call us a colonized people since we were not indigenous to those places. But we were, to use Fanon’s terminology, “colonized of the mind”. Having been dispersed from our indigenous land, we belonged nowhere and were at the mercy of those among whom we found ourselves. This lead to a Diaspora Mentality. For in the Diaspora, before Israel re-emerged on the maps of the world, we had to live in a delicate balance between how we saw ourselves and how others saw us — we were interested in keeping apart from the gentile populations around us because we saw value in our peoplehood and sought to protect it, and the gentiles were interested in keeping us apart because they disdained us and feared us. We became sensitive to the ebbs and flows of sentiment toward us and lost our backbone — the strong axis that keeps a sovereign people standing erect and firm, an equal among equals among the peoples of the globe.
As a people who were “colonized of the mind” within countries to which we fled as refugees in ancient and modern times alike, we were not allowed to lead fully human lives, lives equal in opportunity to those among whom we had settled. Even in the United States, our entry into clubs, communities and institutes of higher learning was restricted. For example, Yale University limited admission of the “alien and unwashed element” until the 1960s, and referred to the “Jewish Problem”. And Yale was only one of many.
At the same time, they were anxious that we would overtake them. Out of this apprehension, grew works such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Mein Kampf, the lie that Jews want to take over the world. The lie that persists today, claiming that Jews control world finances and the media: We heard them shout in Charlottestown, “Jews will not replace us,” because there is the fear that we want to do just that.
And if we take a step back, get a more distant perspective, we can see that the tiny land of Israel is not what threatens the Arabs or the world, but the fear that we Jews are using Israel as a stepping stone to the world domination we supposedly have always planned for. Therefore, Israel cannot be allowed to just live “fully human lives” like the rest of the world’s peoples. We have to be examined and re-examined under the microscope, found wanting, and our wings clipped and reclipped, lest we have the energy to accomplish what they fear we seek — to replace them. So, paradoxically, we colonize their minds — in spite of us having done nothing to promote that.
The funny thing is that, until we get out of our Diaspora Mentality and decolonize our own minds, I fear we may never be able to get off the merry-go-round.
This article was first published on Israel Diaries.
Well said Sheri, though I prefer the term “shtetl mentality”
Yes, that would do, too.