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Ella Shohat - Rupture and Return

Ella Shohat - Rupture and Return

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Published by: razan on Jan 12, 2011
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09/07/2013

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Eurocentric and Zionist norms of scholarship have had dire consequencesfor the representation of the history and identity of Arab Jews/Mizrahim(that is, Jews from Arab/Muslim regions) vis-à-vis the question of Pales-tine. In previous publications I suggested some of the historical, political,economic, and discursive links between the question of Palestine and ArabJews, and argued for a scholarship that investigates the erasure of suchlinks. Here, I will trace some moments in the hegemonic production of anisolationist approach to the study of “Jewish History” as crucial to a quiteanomalous project in which the state created the nation—not simply inthe metaphorical sense of fabrication, but also in the literal sense of engi-neering the transplant of populations from all over the world. New modesof knowledge about Jews were essential in this enterprise, which placedPalestinians and European Zionist Jews at opposite poles of the civiliza-tional clash. Yet, Arab Jews presented some challenges for Zionist schol-arship, precisely because their presence “messed up” its Enlightenmentparadigm that had already figured the modern Jew as cleansed from itsshtetl past. In Palestine, freed of its progenitor the Ostjuden, the New Jewcould paradoxically live in the “East” without being of it.Central to Zionist thinking was the concept of 
Kibbutz Galuiot 
—the“ingathering of the exiles.” Following two millennia of homelessness andliving presumably “outside of history,” Jews could once again “enter his-tory” as subjects, as “normal” actors on the world stage by returning totheir ancient birth place, Eretz Israel. In this way, Jews were thought toheal a deformative rupture produced by exilic existence. This transfor-mation of 
Migola le’Geula
from diaspora to redemption—offered a tele-ological reading of Jewish History in which Zionism formed a redemptivevehicle for the renewal of Jewish life on a demarcated terrain, no longersimply spiritual and textual but rather national and political. The idea of Jewish return (which after the establishment of Israel was translated intolegal language handing every Jew immediate access to Israeli citizenship)had been intertwined with the imaging of the empty land of Palestine. Itsindigenous inhabitants could be bracketed or, alternately, portrayed asintruders deemed to “return” to their Arab land of origins (a discoursethat was encoded in the various transfer plans).A corollary of the notion of Jewish “return” and continuity in Israel
Ella Shohat
Rupture and Return
ZIONIST DISCOURSE AND THE STUDY OF ARAB JEWS
Social Text 
75, Vol. 21, No. 2, Summer 2003. Copyright © 2003 by Ella Shohat.
 
was the idea of rupture and discontinuity with diasporic existence. Inorder to be transformed into “New Jews” (later Israelis), the “DiasporicJews” had to abandon their diasporic culture, which, in the case of ArabJews, meant abandoning Arabness and acquiescing in assimilationist mod-ernization, for “their own good.” Within this Promethean rescue narrative,concepts of “ingathering” and “modernization” naturalized and glossedover the historical, psychic, and epistemological violence generated bythe Zionist vision of the New Jew.
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This rescue narrative also elided Zion-ism’s own role in provoking ruptures, dislocations, and fragmentation forPalestinian lives, and—in a different way—for Middle Eastern and northAfrican Jews. These ruptures were not only physical (the movement acrossborders) but also cultural (a rift in relation to previous cultural affiliations)as well as conceptual (in the very ways time and space, history, and geog-raphy were conceived).In this essay I will examine some of the foundational premises andsubstratal axioms of Zionist discourse concerning Arab Jews, arguing thatwriting a critical historiography in the wake of nationalism—both Araband Jewish—requires the dismantling of a number of master narratives. Iwill attempt to disentangle the complexities of the Mizrahi question byunsettling the conceptual borders erected by more than a century of Zion-ist discourse, with its lethal binarisms of savagery versus civilization, tra-dition versus modernity, East versus West, and Arab versus Jew. While onemight examine the position of Mizrahim within the restrictive parametersof what Zionist scholarship constructed as “Jewish History,” I have longargued against creating such a segregated discursive space for history,identity, and culture. Even if Mizrahi identity was “invented” within theprocess of the Zionist invention of the “Jewish nation,” it is important tounsettle the ghettoized nationalist analytical framework.
2
A diasporizedanalysis would situate Arab Jewish history, since the advent of Zionismand the partition of Palestine, within a constellation of multidirectionaland palimpsest cross-border movements. Although I do not focus here oncontemporary intersections between Mizrahim and Palestinians, I am try-ing to offer a partial genealogy for today’s Mizrahi ambivalent positioningas occupying the actantial slot of both dominated and dominators; simul-taneously disempowered as “Orientals” or “blacks” vis-à-vis “white”Euro-Israelis and empowered as Jews in a Jewish state vis-à-vis Palestini-ans. In a sense, Mizrahim are both embedded in and in excess of Zionisthistory.This essay offers another dimension to the critique of the denial of Palestinian right of return. It examines the Zionist foundational principleof the Jewish right of return in light of the contradictions that haveemerged in the wake of the partition of Palestine for the Jewish minority in
50
Ella Shohat 
 
Arab/Muslim states. Post-Zionist revisionist history has Eurocentricallyignored this question and in this sense has retained the contours of aZionist narrative in which Arab Jews are projected as if always alreadyforming part of the Jewish nation.The critical project proposed here suggests that Mizrahim have been,at least partly, invented within Zionism, but simultaneously refuses toaccept the hegemonic Zionist and post-Zionist naturalizing of the place of Arab Jews within Jewish nationalism. Furthermore, as Mizrahim are alsoactively reinventing their identity, a critical Mizrahi scholarship mustinvent a new understanding of the continuities and discontinuities entailedby the movement across national borders to Israel. The high-velocity his-tory of the past century requires the rethinking of identity designations,intellectual grids, and disciplinary boundaries. Critical scholars especiallyneed to dismantle the zoning of knowledge and rearticulate the relation-ships between the diverse interdisciplinary practices constituting multi-cultural Mizrahi inquiry.My purpose has been to rearticulate a different conceptual frame-work, one formulated within a
multichronotopic
notion of time and space,highlighting a dynamic palimpsest of identity formations. In this essay, myhope is to suggest the contours of an intellectual/institutional space forcritical analysis, called here “Mizrahi studies,” that operates within a
rela-tional 
approach that highlights a nonfinalized and conjunctural definitionof identity as a polysemic site of contradictory positionalities. In the fol-lowing I will critically explore the dialectics of continuity and discontinu-ity, of rupture and return, as central to Zionist discourse, especially con-cerning Jews from west Asia and north Africa. I will examine these dialecticsthrough the following grids: (1)
dislocation
: spatiality and the question of naming; (2)
displacement 
: the narrative of cross-border movement; (3)
dismemberment 
: the erasure of the hyphen; (4)
dischronicity
: temporalityand the paradoxes of modernization; (5)
dissonance
: methodology as dis-cursive rupture; and (6)
disciplining 
: the move toward Mizrahi studies as arelational inquiry.
Dislocation: Spatiality and the Question of Naming
In the paradigmatically Zionist film
Sallah Shabbati 
(Israel, 1964), thespectator is first introduced to the Oriental Jew Sallah when he and hisfamily land in Israel. He comes from the Levant, but within the film’sEurocentric imaginary mapping, he comes from nowhere: first in the lit-eral sense, since his place of origin remains unknown; and second in themetaphorical sense, since Asian and African geographies are suggested to
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Rupture and Return

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