Was Nadia Abu El Haj Treated Fairly?

Dr. Harrington, an independent scholar with a degree in history from Oxford, was a lecturer in history at the University of York (1999-2003).

Last week it was announced that Nadia Abu El Haj, a professor in the anthropology departments of Barnard College, New York, and its parent institution, Columbia University, had been awarded tenure. Such news from the world of academe would rarely make much of a public splash, but this had been no ordinary tenure process.

In 2001 Abu El Haj had her first and, so far, only book published by Chicago University Press. Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society is an anthropology of archaeological practice. At its heart is an analysis of the process through which the science of archaeology as conceived and practiced in Israel has contributed to legitimizing through the construction of nationhood an illegitimate, non-national, colonial entity: the State of Israel.

Between 2003 and 2007 this book became the focus of an Internet-based controversy. Supporters of Israel condemned her arguments and her scholarship; a petition was raised demanding that she be denied tenure; Facts on the Ground was chewed over on countless blogs and websites and Abu El Haj’s words interpreted in countless contradictory ways.

Professor Abu El Haj can have little reason to feel that her first book has been ignored; but it cannot have been pleasant to have ones work called 'crank scholarship’ and 'a corruption of honest fact,' and to be described oneself as 'fraudulent,' a 'charlatan anthropologist,' and even 'a classic racist.' Nadia Abu El Haj also has the unenviable distinction of having her own personal name taken and registered as the Internet domain for a site dedicated to attacking her and damaging her reputation and her career; she is perhaps the first person who is not a politician or a convicted criminal to have been subjected to this disreputable treatment.

There are good reasons to feel uneasy about the form taken by the campaign against Nadia Abu El Haj. My own view is that to be a scholar is to have in  some degree a public role, and that one should be prepared for the public discussion of one’s work, for disagreement and argument, but that such discourse must remain civil if it is to be useful, and that many of Nadia Abu El Haj’s critics went beyond what was acceptable in their criticism and the language in which it was couched. That does not mean, however, that the criticisms themselves were entirely baseless. I would certainly argue that Facts on the Ground is a tendentious and flawed piece of work.

This does not mean it is therefore unscholarly. Taken on its own terms, Facts on the Ground is a work of scholarship. It is an anthropological study, and it is unfair to criticize it as if it was a work of archaeology or history. The use of anonymous sources, something which has brought Abu El Haj much criticism, is accepted practice in anthropology (although various protocols govern its use [Awad, 933], and it is to be hoped that Abu El Haj followed these, particularly given the controversial nature of her material).

Political commitment is also often clearer in anthropology than in, for example, history. Since the 1960s anthropology has been working off its guilt at having been, in its early history, implicated in colonialism and western domination. As a result it has shown a tendency to espouse radical political and social positions and to ally itself with 'disciplines, such as cultural studies, and theoretical approaches, such as post-colonialism, that did not carry anthropology’s original sin of cooperation with colonialism’(Ribeiro, 371). Facts on the Ground carries all the hallmarks of this brand of anthropology: it is avowedly post-colonial, after the style of Edward Said, and is committed to a radically skeptical post-modernism. Understood on those terms – and personally I have little sympathy with either of these approaches – it is not a shoddy piece of scholarship per se, although there are some unsatisfactory aspects to the ways her arguments are put together (James Davila, in his excellent scholarly review of the book, highlights her use of 'argument by insinuation’, for example).

In some of her published work Abu El Haj shows her ability to make careful and judicious use of primary source material and to engage in balanced and thoughtful argument (e.g. Abu El Haj 1998 and 2002); elsewhere a shallow polemicism shows through (e.g. Abu El Haj 2003 and 2005). The Duke University PhD thesis from which the book was derived is, according to the accounts of those who have read it, in the former category; Facts on the Ground itself is firmly in the latter. What gives the book its polemical quality above all is Abu El Haj’s particular emphasis on the colonial character of Israel – an emphasis that has implications for the attitude the book takes to the legitimacy of both the Israeli state and the Jewish people.

The purpose of her book, she writes, is to analyse 'the significance of archaeology to the Israeli state and society and the role it played in the formation and enactment of its colonial-national-historical imagination and in the substantiation of its territorial claims’ (Abu El Haj 2001, 2; henceforth references to Facts on the Ground will simply consist of the page numbers in brackets). The colonial and the national must be considered together, she writes, if Israel, and the role archaeology has played in Israel, is to be properly understood:

Rather than analytically arguing for Zionism’s colonial or national dimensions or, as is also common in scholarship on Israeli society, effacing the colonial question altogether, I insist on the articulation of the colonial and national projects.(4)

And, as we have seen, she does indeed literally articulate them: 'colonial-national-historical imagination.'

Interpreting Israel as a colonial, an inherently colonizing, entity, is not unproblematic, because it does not fit the colonizing model. Colonial America was subject to Britain; to what is Israel subject? There is no clear centre-periphery relationship, for Israel rules itself. It is its own centre and periphery, its own colony and metropole. Abu El Haj recognizes this problem:

In contrast to other settler colonies, however, there never was an actual metropole for Jewish settlers in Palestine … the projects of settlement and of nation-building developed at one and the same time on a single colonial terrain … Palestine and Israel – the colony and the metropole – were, and are, the same place …(5)

This acceptance that the supposed colony is also the colonizers’ metropole would seem to undercut the whole notion that Israel is a colony at all. One of the identifying characteristics of a settler colony is that the colonizers can go back where they originally came from – a notion that becomes less tenable as the settler generations pass, but that remains potent, particularly to opponents of the 'settler’ presence (Northern Ireland provides a notable example). But if there is no home nation to which they can return, how can they be considered colonizers at all in any realistic sense? Abu El Haj’s answer to this is that the whole notion of a Jewish nation is flawed. Israel is a Jewish state, but the Jews are not a nation; they are a religion. She makes this point explicitly:

Zionism was born in Europe in the late nineteenth century and was fashioned within the terms and logics of European nationalism … The Jewish state, however, was not established in Europe itself, but rather on the colonial periphery. Agitating ultimately for the 'return’ of the Jews to Palestine (a place long resonant in Jewish religious practice and life), for the purpose of establishing a sovereign state, Zionism in effect furnished a political solution for Europe’s 'Jewish question' … The Jewish state was founded in a territory under colonial dominion. It was the British who first promised Palestine to the Jews as their national home, a pledge that ultimately precluded the possibility of its indigenous Arab inhabitants (some of whom were Jews) achieving sovereignty during the process of decolonisation to come.(4)

I take three essential points from the foregoing. First, the idea of Jewish nationhood is a creation of the Zionist movement, which patterned its claim for a sovereign Jewish state on the prevailing European notions of nationalism. Second, the significance of Palestine as the Jewish homeland amounts to no more than the place being 'resonant' in Jewish culture. Third, any Jews who lived in Palestine before the establishment of Israel were in fact Arabs. There is thus is a religion of Judaism, but there is no Jewish people and there can be no Jewish nation:

In the context of Palestine and Israel, religion as a marker of persistent colonial difference is only accentuated. Israel’s 'national majority,’ after all, was and is a religious group remade (emancipated in the context of Europe) by transforming religious difference into national form.(235)

Once this aspect of the Abu El Haj thesis becomes clear, her interpretation of the role of Jewish archaeology also emerges with greater clarity. The critics who have argued that Facts on the Ground rejects the existence of ancient Jewish states in the land that is now Israel are, in a sense, missing the point. It would not matter whether those states had existed or not: their significance in the development of Jewish nationhood would in any case be nil, because there is no such thing. Hence assertions such as:

As a nationalist tradition, Israeli archaeology did far more than dig in search of evidence of an ancient Israelite and Jewish past embedded in the land. It was driven by an epistemology that assumed nations, itself embedded in a specific conception of what history is, including the significant events of which it is made …(3)

In insisting that the colonial is considered as part of the national, Abu El Haj is not merely saying that there is a colonial dimension to Israel; she is arguing that the colonial is all there is, for any claim that there is a genuine Jewish nationhood that is expressed through Zionism and through the state of Israel is false.

Those critics who saw in Facts on the Ground a work intrinsically hostile to Israel were, in my judgement, correct. That does not justify all the accusations that were made against its author, nor all the tactics that were used by those seeking to damage her, even to silence her; but it can be argued that the high-profile controversy over Nadia Abu El Haj has brought the partisan and politicized state of academic middle east studies in the United States to the attention of the wider community.

Nadia Abu El Haj has been granted tenure, which – regardless of her individual merits – is a good outcome for anyone who believes that professorship by plebiscite is a bad idea and that academic independence is a vital principle whether you agree with all the results or not. But such decisions tend to confirm the impression that Middle East Studies in the U.S. can simply be equated to anti-Israel studies, and this can only lead to a loss of credibility for the field and for academia as a whole.


Nadia Abu El Haj, 'Translating truths: nationalism, archaeological practice and the remaking of past and present in contemporary Jerusalem’, American Ethnologist, vol. 25, no. 2 (May 1998), pp. 166-188.

Nadia Abu El Haj, Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2001).

Nadia Abu El Haj, 'Producing (arti)facts: archaeology and power during the British Mandate of Palestine, Israel Studies, vol. 7, no. 2 (summer 2002), pp. 33-61.
Nadia Abu El Haj, 'Reflections on archaeology and Israeli settler-nationhood’, Radical History Review, no. 86 (spring 2003), pp. 149-163.

Nadia Abu El Haj, 'Edward Said and the political present’, American Ethnologist, vol. 32, no. 4 (November 2005), pp. 538-555.

Isabel Awad, 'Journalists and their sources’, Journalism Studies, vol. 7, no. 6 (Dec 2006), pp. 922-39.

James R. Davila, review of Facts on the Ground at PaleoJudaica.

Gustavo Lins Ribeiro, 'World anthropologies: cosmopolitics for a new global scenario in anthropology,’ Critique of Anthropology, vol. 26, no. 4 (2006), pp. 313-386.

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levi keller - 5/5/2010

The crux of your critique is that she 'discredits' or 'delegitimizes' Israeli nationalism by positing it as a modern invention. This is true, but only to the extent that she would characterize every other nationalism as synthetic. Surely you are familiar with Benedict Anderson's magnum opus????? Or are you just being disingenuous?

N. Friedman - 11/14/2007


I understood your point. As I said, the issue with Arab society is that it has nothing to recommend it. Commerce is only a small part of the mix.

Consider the politics of Arab society. Such politics is a product of Arab culture. As a result, strongmen rulers are the pretty much the rule. The opposition consists of men who would take society back to an imagined age of Islamic glory. Were such opposition an opposition movement to exist in a Western country, that opposition would label itself - and likely proudly label itself - fascist. In Arab countries, the opposition calls itself Islamist - a label it wears proudly.

To a non-Muslim, adopting a culture where the political choice is brutish thugs or reactionary religious fanatics who would take society back to glorious period where Muslims dominated non-Muslims, offers nothing but heartache.

Such a society cannot possibly allow for the intellectual fervor that has excited Westerners of any number of religious heritages including Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Baha'is, Muslims, etc., etc. Such a society, rather than promote intellectuality, promotes conformity and compulsion toward that conformity.

So, again: what does Arab society have that would make a rational Westerner adopt the identity of that Arab society?

art eckstein - 11/14/2007

I note Omar's primitive antisemitism: misunderstanding Mr. Friedman's point, he immediately typed him as a "greedy Jew," who--naturally--calculates all action on the basis of *financial profit and loss.*

omar ibrahim baker - 11/14/2007

Mr Friedman
You intentionally? "miss" my point.
As you must have noticed commerce was "commerce" to indicate more than mere buisiness , money affairs.

Your question " Why would someone ..." is pointless since it was NOT someone or any one that were the subject; Jews that were born raised and lived in Arab countries , Arab Jews (if they wanted to be)were the subject ...NOT someone or any one!
However my point, applicable to any one and particularly to Jews is:
"Human association, the feeling of belonging , does NOT have to be "commercially" profitable to be undertaken!
It normally springs unconsciously, subconsciously from a sense of loyalty to one's own; heritage, culture, neighbours, friends,
relatives etc which add up to one's community and nation"
That was my point to whoever cares to qualify!

N. Friedman - 11/14/2007


You missed my point. I was not referring primarily to commerce - although that is part of the mix.

I was, rather, referring to the backwardness - which is intellectual, social, political, commercial, etc. - of Arab society. Arab Middle Easterner, in the world as it is today, have nothing to offer for a Westerner.

Again: Why would someone voluntarily join such backwardness? What does it offer to a Westerner? What does it offer to a non-Muslim? What does it offer for a Muslim? At present, I am afraid to say, nothing but heartache.

omar ibrahim baker - 11/14/2007

Mr Friedman
"I might also note that the Arabs have very little to offer Jews at this point."
(Re: An interesting article (#115460)
by N. Friedman on November 13, 2007 at 3:05 PM)

You seem to more than imply here that for a Jew to associate himself with a certain human community and identify himself as part of it the whole thing should be "commercially" profitable; other wise why do it!

Human association, the feeling of belonging , does NOT have to be "commercially" profitable to be undertaken!
It normally springs unconsciously, subconsciously from a sense of loyalty to one's own; heritage culture, neighbours, friends,
relatives etc which add up to one's community and nation !

That is the standard by all humans and for all humans...
Do you contend that it does not apply to Jews?

However this, your contention,goes a long way to explain the crisis of "double loyalty" , or " no loyalty" to one's society, community, nation which historically plagued Jews all over the world.

It is, and should be, the natural humand disposition :to be part of one's society, community, nation and be loyal to it.

To truly, honestly and genuinely identify oneself as a "national" of the nation among which one lives is NOT a commercial, cost/benefit, proposition!

Or do you contend that it IS?

art eckstein - 11/14/2007

In 1940, there were 250,000 Greeks living in Egypt. Some had come in the 19th Century (encouraged by Mehmet Ali); some had been there for 2,300 years.

Yet today there are only 3,000 left.

What happened?

Answer: THE GREEKS WERE EXPELLED between 1952 and 1957 by the Nasser regime. Mostly the refugees moved to Australia, though some went to Greece and some to the U.S. Today, numerous Muslim Egyptians are enjoying these Greeks' property.

Is this as bad as the 750,000 Palestinian Nakbah of 1948? No. But it is 250,000 people. And I bet Omar, in his enormous sense of special victimization, has never heard of it. And it is 250,000 MORE refugees expelled by Muslim policies to add to the ledger along with the Pontic Greeks and the 850,000 Jews.

My point is merely: the Palestinian Nakbah was bad, but it was not unique, it was not even special, nor was it even the worst dispossession in the Middle East in the period of decolonization. Only the existence and intentional cultivation of that special self-pitying Muslim sense of *victimization* and hatred, in which all historical *responsibility* for whatever happened is *shifted* and *must* be shifted--for the sake of honor--off of Muslim shoulders makes the situation special.

art eckstein - 11/14/2007

Colonialism: About 100,000 more "Arab Jews" to use Omar's tendentious phrase, were dispossessed and kicked out of Middle Eastern countries than Palestinians were dispossessed in the Nakbah. Today the property of these people is enjoyed by Muslims. Does Omar now want to say well, those Jews WEREN'T indigenous?

Today the MAJORITY of Israelis are from the Middle East--they are not European colonizers. Does Omar want to say, well, those people AREN"T indigenous?

In 1922 in Turkey, hundreds of thousands of Aegean Greeks were dispossessed and kicked out of a region they had lived in for 2,500 years and their property is today enjoyed by Muslims. Does Omar want to say, well, those people WEREN'T indigenous? In 1951 further tens of thousands of Pontian Greeks who had lived on the Black Sea for 2,500 years were dispossessed and kicked out and their property is today enjoyed by Muslims. Does Omar want to say these people too WEREN'T indigenous?

In other words, the key point is that Omar seeks to make Israel a special case. It isn't. Ask the Turkish govt. (By the way, Omar, are the Turks "indigenous" to Asia Minor--or are they colonizers?)

And, similarly, Omar wants to make the Palestinians a special case. They aren't. Ask the hundreds of thousands of Greeks I mention above; ask the millions of Germans dispossessed in 1945; ask the Middle Eastern Jews dispossessed in 1948-1956, tens of thousands of more than Palestinians dispossessed in the Nakbah.

It's a crock.

And if the Palestinians want recompense for their property losses, losses which were the result of a WAR that the ARABS started in 1948, I suggest that the Palestinians claim ALL THAT JEWISH PROPERTY SEIZED AND OWNED AND CURRENTLY ENJOYED BY ARABS in the Muslim world. If one looks at the property exchange of 1948-1956, the Arabs are ahead. I'm sure the Israeli govt would be willing to cede all that Jewish property to the Palestinians as recompense for 1948!

But of course some topics are forbidden in this politically-correct discourse.

As for Abu el-Hajj, she not only wants to tendentiously deny the historical roots of the Israel state in antiquity, she also wants to deny that the modern Jews are *genetically* the same as ancient Israelites. She wants to investigate this. I ask you: what could be more racist than such an investigation? Suppose an Israeli scholar was launching an investigation to prove that the population of 19th century Palestine was *genetically different* from "so-called modern Palestinians"--just suppose. What would be the international reaction?

N. Friedman - 11/13/2007


You missed my point.

The term "Arab" is problematic. We have more than a thousand years of history in which people who identified themselves as Arabs claimed that Jews are not Arabs. So far as I know, Jews did not consider themselves to be Arabs either. They considered themselves to be Jews.

I might add that Christians who now call themselves Arabs did not consider themselves to be Arabs, just a short time ago and Muslims, for a long time, did not consider Christians to be Arab either.

So, now we have a fairly recent invention of a new basis by which a person can be called an Arab, to wit, an asserted linguistic/cultural bond. What is the real bond that exists? If we go by history, culture and linguistics were only two parts of the mix. More important was probably religion. And, clearly, Jews are not Muslims. And religion is among the more important reasons why a settlement of the Arab Israeli dispute is so difficult.

My point: you propose that Jews, most particularly those with long dating local addresses, should define themselves as Arabs, something that Arabs would not do when they had the upper hand. Now, people's self-identification may change over time. The problem, especially now, is that the Arab identity is becoming more and more a Muslim identity. Which is to say, we have a very problematic proposal that is essentially tendentious and political, not scholarly.

I might also note that the Arabs have very little to offer Jews at this point. That may change but, at present, it is Jews who have more to offer, by far.

It is Arab culture which is falling further and further behind the world. It is Arabs who have declining standards of living. It is Arabs where the bulk of the population is either illiterate or otherwise uneducated. It is the Arabs who have made next to no recent contributions to modern science. It is Arab countries which, for the most part, are horrible tyrannies.

Why, given the state of Arab culture, would anyone voluntarily fold into the mess which is Arab society? The best that can be said is that it is repulsive and self-destructive; the worst that it is a danger to the world.

Your second point is simply wrong. The Israelis are the only group of migrants in history who have been called colonialists. That point is clearly denoted by Mr. Harrington. A colony is not self-contained. It, instead, represents a different polity that is located elsewhere. Hence, there were American colonies, for example, of England. When Britain was booted out, what were colonies ceased, at that very moment, to be colonies. They became former colonies. And, people stopped calling them colonies at that point, as do histories, so far as I know.

In the case of the Jewish migration, those involved were never colonialists. They never accepted British rule as an end. Very few of them were even British. So, we have a basic definitional problem that making broad assertions, as you do, does not change.

The correct terminology for Jews who migrated in the 19th and 20th Centuries to what is now Israel is migrants. In most cases, they were oppressed people seeking refuge in a place that refuge was legally available.

Now, you certainly have a point were you to argue that no one asked Arabs whether they wanted to take in oppressed migrants seeking refuge. That, of course, is a complaint against the British and then existing International law. It is, however, not a fair question to ask the migrants who were merely exercising a basic human right, namely, the right to find refuge where it becomes available.

By contrast, you wax against what were basically innocent people. I do not understand that. I think, frankly, that your view amounts to a confused idea of the moral. And, it confuses what occurred the better part of a century ago with the present, in which there are two groups with legitimate interests.

I know you would prefer to deny Jews, not just Arabs, have legitimate interests in the region. But, consider: despite innumerable cases of migratory demographic changes not desired by the local population - including today in Europe -, in all other similar cases, all involved allow that civilians who migrated are entirely legitimate. Only Arabs deny what the whole world views to be perfectly moral behavior.

My point is that your position is, in effect, an inversion of anything that the world deems to be moral.

omar ibrahim baker - 11/13/2007

Mr Friedman has in his short post raised two major aspects of the Arab/Israeli conflict.
These are;

1-Is there such a thing as an Arab Jew?

To which the immediate answer is : YES and by all means if that Jew wishes to associate with and be part of the, Arab, society he lives in.

Arabism being neither a racial/racist/blood nor an ethnic bond;
Arabism being primarily a linguistic/cultural bond that springs from the belief in a common culture and heritage that embues its adherents with the conviction that they all belong to the same nation and share the same,common destiny .

AS such there is absolutely no reason to exclude Jews who live in an Arab society ,who share these common beliefs which ,despite our diverse ethnic provenance and confessional affiliations, bonds all of us Arabs together .

Only self imposed restrictions, intentional self alienation, self exclusion from the surrounding milieu, from an Arab society in which he was born and/or raised and the conscious rejection of these common bonds can exclude a Jew, or any body else for that matter , from being an Arab if he identifies with that society and its people as his and ties his own future with its future !

Hence Professor al Haj is certainly correct in claiming that Arabism does not exclude Jews from being Arab if they so wished, or wish.
Any exclusion , of the Jews in Palestine and other Arab countries , was self imposed and NOT ONLY in Arab countries as is well known.

by the simplest and most basic of definitions colonialism is: one ALIEN power, entity , community imposing itself by ruse or force on another land,community, nation ,
people to rule , settle, exploit and reside in that land and rule over its indigenous inhabitants AGAINST the will of that , the indigenous, people!

By this, the simplest and most basic of definition of colonialism, Israel is certainly a colony in that:
Zionism was , is, the ALIEN power that imposed, by ruse and force, a community of Aliens on Palestine to settle on and exploit the land AGAINST the will of its indigenous population and is ruling over them against their will.

Zionist colonialism also has a uniqely pernicious aspect in that its applications and designs include the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population it colonized to achieve its peculiar racial /confessional racist domination.

N. Friedman - 11/13/2007


You might also add that such mindset remains a poisonous spoiler to efforts to resolve your country's dispute with the Arabs.

Elliott Aron Green - 11/13/2007

NF, since you mentioned Nazis, it is appropriate to add that the Arab nationalist movement in general and the Palestinian Arab leadership in particular were pro-Nazi during the war. The chief Palestinian Arab leader, Haj Amin el-Husseini, and his entourage in Nazi Germany [including members of other leading Palestinian Arab families], made pro-Nazi propaganda among Muslim peoples in the Nazi-occupied countries [USSR, Yugoslavia, etc], broadcast Nazi propaganda to the Arab countries, and took part in the Holocaust. Husseini [then called "the Mufti"] urged the Germans and their satellite states in eastern Europe to kill more Jews and not let any escape.

N. Friedman - 11/12/2007


I agree with the basic thrust of what you write. That is a point overlooked in Mr. Harrington's article.

There is another point to make that he also overlooks. The reason that Israel's friends are assertive against tendentious theories like Ms. El Haj's theory is that they are designed to delegitimize Israel in the same sort of way that the Nazis, before destroying European Jewry, sought to delegitimize Jews and Judaism.

One does, however, have to note that Israel's real legitimacy is its existence - the same as every other country on Earth - and not the role of Jews in history or their place of origin. Any other reason asserted, including the fact that Jews can trace their ancestry back to ancient Israel and Judea, etc., has a counterargument, even one that plays fast and loose with facts and is tendentious, not scholarly. And, any other reason can fall pray to the political currents of the day, as is occurring to your country today.

On the other hand, that there is a Jewish people cannot be seriously questioned by anyone who agrees that there is an Arab people or an American people, etc. In fact, by the standards of what the world believes to be a people, Jews likely fit the definition better than most and certainly better than Arabs. But, then again, the notion that there are discreet peoples is itself problematic. We are all just human beings. The rest is an intellectual construct.

Elliott Aron Green - 11/12/2007

Harrington recognizes Abu el-Haj's book as tendentious. It is just as important to recognize the origins of her specific prejudices, her denial of Jewish nationality, claiming that Jews are only a relgious group, etc. Her basic view of Jews and Zionism as a historical phenomenon can be found in Article 20 of the PLO charter, which is itself rooted in traditional Islamic prejudices.

Article 20 states inter alia: "The claim of historical or religious ties between Jews and Palestine does not tally with historical realities nor with the constituents of statehood in their true sense. Judaism, in its character as a revealed religion, is not a nationality with an independent existence. Likewise, the Jews are not one people with an independent identity. They are rather citizens of the states to which they belong."

I think that Abu el-Haj's basic claims about Jews can be found in the above quote, which she has elaborated on, rather than innovating. Whether or not she stresses the last point [Jews are citizens of the states to which they belong], let's start there. Is the PLO saying that a Jew born in Poland in 1910, who immigrated to Israel in 1936 from Poland [or from Germany or Austria if you like], "belongs" to Poland or Germany or Austria and should return there? Then of course there's the whole problem of states founded by settlers in the last 250 years. Besides the USA, these include Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, Panama, Haiti, Brazil, etc.
Where is the hatred against those states?

Now let's go to Islam. Arab invaders conquered Israel in the years 634-640 CE, along with the rest of the Levant, Egypt, and Persia. The conquered subject peoples were placed in a subjugated status in many ways, which was called dhimma. This comprised oppression, humiliation, various forms of social inferiority and the payment of yearly tribute [jizya], and other special taxes. Subject peoples were identified with their religions and denied political control over their national territories, etc. These included national groups with national religions, such as Jews, Copts, Armenians, etc. Hence, Abu el-Haj is accepting the categories contrived by Arab-Muslim invaders and oppressors as rightful definitions of the subject peoples in the Islamic states. Moreover, Jews in Arab-Islamic society were usually considered inferior even to other dhimmis and were even more hated, which is usually explained as the Muslim reaction to the tales of conflicts between Muhammad and the Jews of Medinah.

Nevertheless, Arab-Muslim historiography before 1948 continued to view the Jews, for example, as a historical nation. Consider Ibn Khaldun's numerous mentions of Jews. Here Abu el-Haj goes against traditional Arab historiography. On the other hand, the denial of Jewish nationhood fits in with certain interpretations of the French revolutionary decrees emancipating Jews [likewise in other Western countries], as well as with certain ahistorical interpretations of Reform Judaism and of Stalin's denial of Jewish nationality, circa 1914, etc.

Arab anti-Zionists and others have also claimed that modern Ashkenazic Jews are not descended from ancient Jews. This is refuted by recent studies of DNA. Furthermore, Muslims and Christians both forbid conversion to Judaism by their own flock, which also tended to preserve the Jews genetically as a distinct group [although not 100% pure of course]. Jews from Yemen, Belarus, Germany, Morocco, etc. have been found to share similar DNA, which fits in with Jewish tradition and Jewish historiography, which records Jewish migrations from Israel to Babylonia, Europe, North Africa, etc. throughout history.

For this reason, it is fair to say that Jews have returned to their ancestral homeland, albeit 1370 years of Muslim oppression and the Crusader massacres of Jews in Israel have changed many things in the land. It is significant that even Abu el-Haj recognizes the lack of a metropole or colonial power behind Zionism [since Britain in fact violated its promises to the Jews and the League of Nations mandate to settle Jews in the country].

Cary Fraser - 11/12/2007

"Interpreting Israel as a colonial, an inherently colonizing, entity, is not unproblematic, because it does not fit the colonizing model."

A very flawed assumption upon which to build a serious argument. When the US acquired its territories/colonies, was there a single colonization model?

N. Friedman - 11/12/2007

Mr. Harrington has written an interesting article.

On the other hand, it is rather difficult to take the scholar he writes about seriously. We have discussion of Jews being "Arabs" as if the notion of who is an "Arab" is not, itself, complicated. We have the word "colonial" stretched so that refugees from European and Arab countries are now colonialists. Etc., etc.

It seems to me that this article itself shows why El Haj was so severely criticizes and why Middle East studies is in such disarray in the US.

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