[News] Zionism and Native American Studies

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jun 7 11:01:50 EDT 2017


  Zionism and Native American Studies

June 6, 2017

*by Steven Salaita*

It was only a matter of time before Zionism and Native American Studies 
[NAS] came into conflict—or, to be more precise, before Zionists began 
targeting the field for acrimony and recrimination, as they have long 
to various humanities 
<http://www.chronicle.com/article/A-New-Fact-on-the-Ground-/39883> and 
social science 
disciplines.  With an increasingly global focus (in concert with 
emphasis on local concerns), a commitment to material transformation, a 
disdain for US imperialism and militarism, a rejection of state power in 
nearly all its manifestations, and a plethora of young artists 
and scholar-activists 
interested in Palestine, it’s little surprise that Israeli colonization 
would become a topic in the field. And because most people in the field 
don’t have nice things to say about Israel, some of the state’s 
apologists have forced themselves into Indigenous spaces with a singular 
purpose:  to intimidate its practitioners into obedience.  As usual, 
those undertaking the intimidation know nothing about the people they 
endeavor to subdue.  Over five centuries of history prove that 
Indigenous peoples are not given to submission.

The Zionist assaults on NAS rely on well-worn tactics and narratives, 
but they also entail some new strategies.  Pro-Israel operatives have 
never limited themselves to specific disciplines, targeting Palestinians 
wherever they were located within the university—concurrently deploying 
a secondary but no less confrontational focus on Black radical 
scholars—but these days the pro-Israel punishment industry is expanding 
its target zone through a combination of relaxed standards and increased 
anguish.  Recent events at Dartmouth College, discussed below, clarify 
the nature of that expansion.

In examining the relationship between Zionism and NAS, it’s critical to 
think past obvious explanations.  It’s easy to say that because 
Palestine exists in NAS the pro-Israel punishment industry now targets 
it, but we elide lots of important possibilities by repeating that 
formulation, which has the potential to instrumentalize NAS as an 
adjunct to overseas geographies and thus to minimize, if only 
unwittingly, the ongoing dispossession of Native nations in North 
America.  Zionist displeasure with NAS is best situated in the context 
of US and Canadian colonization, with which the Israeli variety is 

Zionist interference in NAS hasn’t merely sought to regulate Palestine.  
It is paradigmatic of the so-called “special relationship” between the 
US and Israel and therefore vigorously opposes North American 
decolonization.  This dual concern with Israel’s reputation and 
America’s moral standing, so easily conflated, illuminates crucial 
features of Palestine as a global presence while highlighting the 
difficult conditions attending to Native scholarship.  Most iterations 
of Zionism include devotion to US colonization.  It’s no longer enough 
to conceptualize Israel merely as an appendage of US foreign policy 
interests.  Too many concrete alliances, mutual training programs, 
concerted policing strategies, weapon exchanges, and synchronized acts 
of oppression exist for that metric to capture the intensity of the 
alliance, which is mutually constitutive (economically, militarily, 
culturally, and discursively).

If we explore the discourses of those who decry (or merely chide) Native 
scholars for opposing Israeli policies, or for supporting Palestinian 
freedom, five features emerge:

 1. Outrage or befuddlement that a people as noble as Natives could
    possibly reject Israelis, their natural allies.
 2. An impulse to police the scope and content of NAS.
 3. Profound misunderstanding (or ignorance) of the field’s
    methodologies, ethical and philosophical commitments, and
    intellectual traditions.
 4. A belief, often tacit, that the US should retain its claim as
    steward of Native populations.
 5. Deep anxiety about a perceived loss of authority in academe.

These discursive norms aren’t identical to the ones that exist vis-à-vis 
repression of Palestine Studies, though there’s overlap.  Identifying 
that overlap is useful, but here I want to assess the broadened focus of 
the pro-Israel punishment industry and then consider the implications of 
the encounter between Zionism and NAS.

      *The Duthu Dartmouth Deanship*

In March, 2017, Bruce Duthu accepted a position as dean of the College 
of Arts and Sciences at Dartmouth College.  Duthu is a prominent figure 
in NAS and the occupant of an endowed chair in a prestigious 
department.  Few Natives become upper administrators, so the ascension 
of Duthu at an Ivy League university, whatever one thinks of the utility 
of managerial aspirations, was a noteworthy achievement.  The 
appointment got processed and Duthu received the usual congratulations 
when, two months later, somebody discovered that Duthu once signed a 
statement favoring the boycott of Israeli academic institutions, a 
popular position in the Southern Hemisphere.

But common sense in the South is often taboo in the North and so even 
though he inhabits a field that rejects US nationalism, Duthu was doomed 
by nationalistic sentiment.  No indication exists that Duthu harbors any 
special animus for Israel or affinity for Palestine; in fact, he walked 
back his endorsement of BDS (as initiated in limited form by the NAISA 
Council <http://pacbi.org/pacbi140812/?p=2305>) without disavowing his 
empathy for Palestinians.  That his endorsement of the statement appears 
to have been a function of his position as a NAISA officer rather than 
an ideological commitment did little to assuage his detractors.

The chatter around Duthu’s resignation exposes the mentality of the 
pro-Israel punishment industry. Dartmouth economist Alan Gustman offered 
a dose of comic paranoia 
unbefitting a person presumably devoted to the rigor of social science:  
“The chant of the BDS movement, from the river to the sea, is 
anti-Israel, anti-Zionist and profoundly anti-Jewish…. Again, this 
movement has become a cover for many anti-Semites who like nothing 
better than to once again be free to exercise their prejudices.”  He 
helpfully noted that he has “no reason to believe that Duthu is 
anti-Semitic.”  Speculation about Gustman’s attitude toward Native 
Americans and Arabs is thus far unavailable.

Venerable saboteur Cary Nelson played moderate Zionist to Gustman’s 
extremist, appearing to back Duthu’s appointment.  “[Duthu] is hardly a 
hardcore boycott advocate,” Nelson observed.  “Some people can sign a 
BDS petition without imposing that agenda on the rest of their 
professional life, while others cannot.”

Let’s compare this observation with Gustman’s claim that “[it’s] not 
appropriate to appoint an advocate of BDS, thereby providing the BDS 
movement with a foothold at the highest levels of our administration.”

Here we have two Zionist fanatics, one in favor of Duthu’s appointment, 
the other against.  A close reading of their quotes, however, indicates 
that both say essentially the same thing:  a litmus test on Palestine 
enforceable by dilettantes with no qualifications beyond an irrational 
devotion to Israel must exist before Native scholars can be allowed 
career promotions. Apropos of the field’s general relationship with US 
academe, familiarity isn’t necessary to have an expert opinion about NAS.

The pro-Israel punishment industry relies on the settler’s prerogative 
to freely grant authority as required to maintain colonial hierarchies.  
Zionist academics anoint themselves arbiters of NAS, something we saw 
repeatedly in the past few years, thanks largely to Nelson’s efforts, 
vis-à-vis the Zionist destruction of American Indian Studies at the 
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (though the problem has 
existed alongside the field since its inception).  Not content merely to 
obliterate academic freedom, Nelson set out to discredit the entire 
by conceptualizing it as given to demagoguery, incompetence, 
dereliction, and irrationality.

This self-granted authority vis-à-vis NAS is possible only because of a 
long history of entitlement on campus in general.  Many Zionist scholars 
consider themselves uniquely fit to judge which viewpoints are 
acceptable and thereby interject themselves as indispensable arbiters of 
the reward economy.  The culture of US academe gives them latitude to 
act on those judgments. For instance, Dartmouth Jewish Studies director 
Susannah Heschel, in an apparent display of support for Duthu, noted 
that “he is not promoting or facilitating the boycotting [of Israeli 
institutions]…on the contrary, he is doing the opposite of boycotting,” 
adding that BDS is “very dangerous, wrong and nasty 
These are the words of somebody accustomed to being consulted.

Like Nelson, Heschel implies that certain views on Israel constitute 
grounds for punishment.  In her mind Duthu doesn’t descend into 
anti-Zionism, an affliction about which the wrong kind of people need to 
be “educated.” 
  He is salvageable as an ethnic subject.  This sort of magnanimity 
reinforces conditions that harm Indigenous scholars.  In the articles 
reporting Duthu’s resignation, we see this theme repeated with slight 
rhetorical variations.  Duthu is one of the good Natives who, while 
given to lapses of judgment, isn’t very hard on Israel.  He is therefore 
qualified to be a dean. None of those articles quotes a Native or 
Palestinian, or even an anti-Zionist Jew, only people opposed to BDS.  
Such exclusions are a journalistic custom that validates pro-Israel 
normativity and reinforces the impression that Palestine is exclusively 
the concern of those who identify as Jewish.  In this case, Indian 
Country also suffers discursive erasures.  It is unwise to imagine 
Israel as inconsequential to Natives.

Israel’s participation in the dispossession of Indigenous peoples is 
inscribed in the narrative dynamics of the Duthu controversy.  Gustman, 
for example, worries about extant Palestinian influence, and hints at 
the dangers of unchecked Native influence, in ways that are rightly 
considered anti-Semitic when the subject is one of Jewish influence.  
Only because Natives and Palestinians inhabit a wretched position in 
academe are they so casually subject to racist suppositions.  Academic 
racism both precedes and validates the supervisory role Zionists confer 
to themselves in relation to colonized demographics.

This racism produces material consequences for its perpetrators and 
victims.  Many observers assume that targets of recrimination are worthy 
of recrimination merely because they were targeted, as against the 
timeless authority of the perpetrator.  Relations of power can define 
notions of probity.  Take Cary Nelson, for example.  He damaged his 
reputation as a stalwart of academic freedom by leading the assault on 
his colleagues in American Indian Studies at UIUC, including partnership 
with far-right demagogues 
and complicity with the Israeli security state 
These actions weren’t a basis for punishment, however.

Now Nelson is again everywhere, organizing against human rights in the 
interjecting himself in Native American Studies, providing quotes on 
topical matters for industry publications.  That institutions and 
individuals in academe continue to entertain him as an expert on 
anything other than dishonesty, snitching, and duplicity illustrates how 
uninviting academe is for those positioned against state power.

Nelson isn’t exceptional.  Ringleaders of campus repression rarely lose 
their rarified positions; in fact, they are often rewarded.  This 
inveterate feature of US academe both reflects and reproduces the 
institutional norms of settler colonization, which treat the violence of 
modernity as a civilizational imperative.  Authoritarianism is the 
currency of American redemption, made available for study but studiously 
ignored during presidential elections, faculty searches, geostrategic 
fads, and every other moment when the populace is expected to lionize 
personalities.  Linear history, feted as insuperable progress, is 
actually a series of regressions to colonial authority.  Academe has 
been so easily corporatized because its originaries prevent it from 
developing in ways that value (or tolerate) unorthodoxy.

Consider that Alan Gustman will suffer no repercussions for his crusade 
against Duthu.  (If anything, he has burnished his own administrative 
credentials.)  Heschel will continue to be lauded 
<http://www.dartreview.com/great-professor-series-susannah-heschel/> as 
a voice of compassion and reason. The off-campus groups that interfered 
will be further emboldened.  Duthu, on the other hand, has to face down 
a permanent demotion.  Victims of the pro-Israel punishment industry 
earn lifetime sentences.

While Gustman and Heschel intervene in ways that should cause any 
discerning observer to object, Nelson, despite his hopeless attempt to 
sound open-minded, offers the most objectionable intervention.  Allow me 
to speak more plainly:  it’s not Cary Nelson’s business what happens at 
Dartmouth.  It’s not Cary Nelson’s business what happens in Native 
American Studies.  It’s not Cary Nelson’s business who does and doesn’t 
support BDS.  It’s not Cary Nelson’s business to sort the good people of 
color from the bad people of color.  And yet in the structures within 
which he functions it actually is his business.  He exemplifies a 
specific class of white senior scholar who exercise the responsibility 
of managing political standards on campus.  Administration forever 
summons men of that class to the task.  It is their duty, their 
pleasure, their passion, their birthright, their burden. That’s why men 
like Nelson never offer a “no comment.”

We can return to one of his comments to recognize the settler’s 
indomitable subject position:  “Some people can sign a BDS petition 
without imposing that agenda on the rest of their professional life, 
while others cannot.”  Neither the /Chronicle of Higher Education/ nor 
/Inside Higher Ed/, where this passage appears, has ever considered the 
question in the inverse.  Can people be devoted to Israel without 
imposing that agenda on the rest of their professional lives?  Given the 
unabated growth of the pro-Israel punishment industry and Nelson’s own 
obsession with safeguarding Israel’s reputation, it’s a question worth 
raising if we’re going to be in the business of implicating 
professionalism based on political opinions.  (It’s worth noting that 
there’s no known instance in the history of US academe where a professor 
has been fired for supporting Israel or for unethical practices 
vis-à-vis Indigenous communities.)  That only the dark thoughts of 
subalternity are marked for surgical restriction indicates that 
enlightenment often does little more than project onto the subaltern its 
most incriminating anxieties.

Despite Duthu’s ambiguous response to the controversy, it’s important 
for observers to condemn the behavior of his adversaries (and ostensible 
supporters).  We can remain mindful of Duthu’s personal circumstances 
while simultaneously assessing the broader implications of the imbroglio 
for NAS and the various scholarly and activist communities with which it 
is in conversation.  Zionists didn’t merely interfere with Duthu’s 
career.  Their actions are deleterious to the field Duthu represents. 
Are its practitioners now obliged to appease Zionists before seeking 
promotion?  Must they check with the local supporters of settler 
colonization before they undertake transnational organizing?  Is their 
self-governance contingent on the magnanimity of their oppressor?  After 
all, they have just been warned that their criticism of colonization 
must remain confined to points of view that please the settler.

      *Civilizing Aggression*

Dialogue between Natives and Palestinians goes back at least half a 
century.  The first substantive interchange occurred during the heyday 
of the American Indian Movement [AIM], when Native activists, like their 
Black Panther peers, looked to global liberation struggles for 
inspiration and solidarity, proffering both to anti-colonial movements 
in return.  The radical politics of the time put numerous armed groups 
across the globe into communication.

In turn, many efforts to chronicle Native activism engage on some level 
with Palestine, Algeria, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Cuba, Northern Ireland, 
and other contemporaneous struggles.  NAS has numerous antecedents, but 
in important ways it is derivative of that moment, helped along by 
campus organizing that demanded representation of underserved ethnic, 
racial, and national groups.  Its presence in US academe, then, ranges 
from tenuous to unwelcome.  It sometimes acts as a repository of 
managerial grandstanding about diversity and at others as a productive 
link between colleges and Native nations.  We cannot ascribe a specific 
function to NAS that universally captures its place on campus, but we 
can observe that it regularly encounters, or creates, a tension between 
cultures of resistance and sites of state power.

Some Zionist agitators see in that tension an opportunity to shame NAS 
away from the spaces of academe hostile to settler colonization—spaces 
long derided as radical or unrigorous.  Their vision of NAS is quaintly 
anthropological.  It exists to decode culture, to vitalize American 
diversity, to celebrate resilience, to unearth civilizational origins, 
to transmit ancient wisdom to a modern world always in need of 
redemption. All that decolonization stuff?  It degrades the field’s 
integrity.  Any suggestion of complicating rather than perfecting 
modernity inhibits the purpose of higher education.

This vision of higher education as guardian of responsible 
inquiry—absent, of course, the omnipresent dynamics of colonial 
power—underlies the pro-Israel punishment industry’s justifications for 
disciplining wayward individuals.  That the industry would come into 
conflict with NAS, especially as Palestine is invigorated through 
movements for North American decolonization, seems inevitable, but 
linking Zionism to NAS only through Palestine misses important elements 
of the story.

NAS’s commitment to decolonization is incongruous with the type of 
academy regulated by Zionist agitators, from progressives like Heschel 
to extremists like William Jacobson of /Legal Insurrection/.  We have 
seen that liberal Zionists are happy to join reactionary forces when the 
protection of Israel is at stake.  We have scant evidence of those 
liberals entering into alliance with movements and individuals perceived 
as radical.  These are strategic decisions, yes, but they also speak to 
people’s structural positions in relation to their professional 
aspirations.  The Zionist cannot accept being implicated in Israeli 
colonization.  He is even less prepared to be identified with the 
settlement of the United States.  By flagging Natives for recrimination, 
the Zionist doesn’t merely save Israel from scrutiny; he protects a 
system of neoliberal commerce to which Israel is indispensable.

Israel’s indispensability to American militarism is regularly evident.  
During the movement in Standing Rock to preserve ancestral land from the 
environmental devastation of oil pipelines, US authorities availed 
themselves of security firm G4S 
a longtime stalwart in Palestine before the BDS movement pushed it out.  
The US government likewise approached the Standing Rock protests as a 
counterterrorism operation 
a move that coheres with its treatment of radical activism around 
Palestinian, Puerto Rican, Hawaiian, and Black liberation.  Israel is an 
American talisman in matters of terror.  And Israeli authorities work 
with US police departments 
across the country.

Counterterrorism isn’t merely a legal tactic, but a frame of reference, 
a defensive posture, and an ideology, a result of the hardboiled belief 
that Native sovereignty (much less liberation) imperils the United 
States.  Terrorism is the requisite antithesis to the imaginary of a 
stable, exalted nation-state.  If it is an act of terror for Natives to 
assert basic rights, then Indigeneity becomes foreign, an unsettling 
departure from its traditional role as a pastoral validation of the body 
politic.  Native assertions of self-determination represent an 
unpacified history, the source of deep settler anxiety, where landscapes 
conquered into docility threaten to become animate and rebel against 
their corporate steward.

It is easy to frame anti-Zionism as a rejection of the US polity, 
something that happens regularly, albeit with variegated iterations, in 
Native scholarship. Anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism needn’t be 
articulated together to generate settler anxiety and the rancor that 
often follows.  The pro-Israel punishment industry is concerned with a 
particular order of the world, one in which their glamorized 
nation-state maintains a rarified presence.  More than anything it is 
interested in protecting that world from the unglamorous crudeness of 
condemnation.  Even without mentioning Palestine, certain features of 
NAS are a nightmare for Zionism.

Just as continuous returns to authority restrict political vision in the 
US, regressions to normativity in North American academe hamper 
intellectual creativity.  Such is the design of universities that 
reproduce neoliberal imperatives, a structure campus Zionists adamantly 
enforce.  I recall, for example, the time on a Facebook NAISA thread 
when Sergei Kan, an anthropologist of Tlingit cultures and an Israeli 
apologist of spectacular pettiness, invoked a viral essay 
<http://www.salon.com/2013/08/25/no_thanks_i_wont_support_the_troops/> I 
had written about the problems with the phrase “support our troops” as a 
way to discredit my participation in NAS on the grounds of inadequate 
patriotism.  Khan has likewise targeted Kahnawake scholar Audra Simpson, 
whose book /Mohawk Interruptus/ proffers a sophisticated reading of 
Indigenous liberation, a prospect Kan appears to find highly troublesome.

The pro-Israel punishment industry makes heavy use of Metis goon Ryan 
Bellerose to purify NAS of its decolonial tendencies.  Bellerose prowls 
the internet to find Indigenes nefarious enough to criticize Israel and 
then lavishes the offenders with vitriol.  He has attacked J. Kehaulani 
and Robert Warrior 
<http://www.israellycool.com/2014/04/01/dances-with-idiots/>, among 
others, calling them “idiots” and “asshats” and questioning their ethnic 
authenticity.  (A few years ago, Bellerose showed up to a talk I gave in 
Alberta and got himself removed, physically threatening Native women in 
the audience on his way out.)

Bellerose is an extreme example—Hillel Montreal once cancelled an event 
with him because of his belligerent behavior—but still he represents the 
sanctified rendition of a phenomenon that Indigenous scholars regularly 
endure:  aggressive men demanding compliance by deploying tactics of 
shame and intimidation.  However eagerly the genteel and urbane 
pro-Israel observers of NAS may want to distance themselves from people 
like Bellerose, we must point out that liberal Zionists evince more 
tolerance for reactionary hacks than for the targets of their opprobrium.

      *Native American Studies Without Zionism*

As somebody with a history of conflict with the pro-Israel punishment 
industry and an investment in the fields of American Indian and 
Indigenous Studies, I can offer a few pragmatic observations that I hope 
readers might find useful.

We should treat the pro-Israel punishment industry as a nuisance and not 
an interlocutor.  We can conceptualize it as a nuisance without 
minimizing the harmful outcomes it is capable of producing.  It is 
crucial to develop strategies for surviving recrimination, or for 
eliminating it altogether.  It is likewise crucial to expose and analyze 
the industry’s detrimental presence in academe.  Treating that industry 
as a nuisance is a way of taking it seriously without accommodating its 
unsolicited interventions.  We cannot allow it to have a voice within 
Native American Studies despite the difficulty of ignoring the noise it 
makes from the outside.

I suggest treating Zionist displeasure with our work as a site of 
productive inquiry:  what does this reactionary interest in NAS tell us 
about the field?  In inoculating ourselves against recrimination, how 
are we developing intellectual spaces that bypass or evade the 
traditional strictures of academe?  In what ways can those spaces be 
meaningful to the communities we represent?

The pro-Israel punishment industry isn’t an aberration; it makes 
manifest an implicit feature of American higher education:  that 
Indigenous peoples are unwelcome whenever they supersede the safe 
romance of mascotry. Aspiring to liberation is inherently hostile. 
Decolonization is anathema to norms of responsibility. The field’s 
leading scholars attempt to undermine private ownership 
and land-grant mythologies 
narrative bellwethers of US higher education.  If the goal of Zionist 
meddling is to destroy affiliation with radical geographies, then it 
unwittingly facilitates one of the discipline’s basic needs—to 
disaffiliate from the institutions that house it.

Conflict with pro-Israel zealots is a professional detriment, but also a 
philosophical affirmation.  Few political formations make the corporate, 
colonial marrow of campus more obvious.  In this sense, Zionist 
recrimination is useful in that it forces onlookers to profess their 
real affinities.  Those who allow flaccid ideals of diversity to 
colonize the real work of anti-racism must either stay silent, a damning 
ethical choice, or align with the unenlightened conservatives they 
pretend to abhor.

For those in NAS and related fields, the appearance of Zionist martinets 
and their tacit enablers can be something of a clarifying ritual.  The 
kinds of responses those martinets generate (or don’t) help advocates of 
decolonization determine whether US academe even deserves to survive. 
  This formula is neither flippant nor facetious.  To the contrary, it 
is a statement of principle.  Native American Studies doesn’t exist to 
marshal Indigenous peoples into the service of redeeming the colonial 
university, but to ensure that they outlast it.

/About the author: /Steven Salaita’s most recent book is 
/Inter/Nationalism: Decolonizing Native America and Palestine 

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://freedomarchives.org/pipermail/news_freedomarchives.org/attachments/20170607/b6a47d17/attachment.html>

More information about the News mailing list