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  • Theodore Horowitz ‘24 and Andrew Rovinsky ‘25

Jewish Professors on the Issues: Israel and Antisemitism Round Table

Authors’ note: This piece was compiled from the first week of April 2024 through the first week of May 2024. Some responses were written before others, so, due to the constantly evolving nature of the situation, some responses might consider information that others do not.  


The two of us started out with very different views on Israel-Palestine, Zionism, and antisemitism. When we first met, this was a source of suspicion, but as we began talking with one another and reading each other's work, we realized that we both want the same things, but have different views on how to get there. Now, instead of dreading confrontation, we look forward to our lively debates and our continued attempts to expose one another to new ideas. We started this project because we wanted to share that with the rest of the community. We want to show the community that it is possible to discuss heated and controversial topics in a respectful manner.


We also understand that Jewish spaces can feel closed to outsiders, and that much of the community has not been exposed to the truly diverse opinions within it. This round table will provide an inside look into the differing views held within Jewish academia. We asked several professors at Brown about their perspectives on antisemitism, Zionism, and current events in Israel-Palestine. The professors are:

  • Dr. Dany Bahar is an economist and a professor of International and Public Affairs at the Watson Institute. He is also a senior fellow of the Growth Lab at the Harvard Center for International Development, and he is associated with multiple other organizations, including the Brookings Institution. His research focuses on the role of migrants and refugees as drivers of technological diffusion across borders, with relative focuses on Israel and Latin America.

  • Dr. Omer Bartov is the Samuel Pisar Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Brown and one of the most respected genocide scholars in the country. He focuses on a wide variety of topics, from war crimes during World War II to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Jewish cinema. 

  • Dr. Katharina Galor is a senior lecturer in Judaic studies and is affiliated with the Center for Middle East Studies and the Center for Urban Studies at Brown. She has also been the Louis Apfelbaum and Hortense Braunstein Apfelbaum Fellow at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania during the academic year 2023–2024. Her research and teaching is wide-ranging, but she focuses on the visual and material culture of Israel-Palestine. 

  • Dr. Paul Nahme is the Director of Undergraduate Studies for Brown’s Department of Judaic Studies and a professor of religious studies. His work focuses on modern Jewish thought, cultural and intellectual history, and rabbinic thought. In his next work, Ghost People: Race, Religion, and the Affective Sources of Jewish Identity, he will explore Judaic studies in conversation with Black studies. 

  • Dr. Adi Ophir is a philosopher and professor emeritus at Tel Aviv University teaching in Brown’s Middle East Studies program and at Brown’s Cogut Institute for the Humanities. He was the founder of Theory and Criticism, Israel’s leading journal on critical theory, and has drawn on the work of scholars such as Hannah Arendt, Michel Foucault, and Jean-François Lyotard. As of late, he has focused on concepts such as the “other,” particularly the “goy,” and has written and taught on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, examining anti-antisemitism, the Jewish Question, and the occupation. 


Below, we have transcribed the thoughtful and thought-provoking answers to the questions we proposed from each of these incredible scholars. We hope you enjoy reading and learning about these topics from a variety of perspectives.


Antisemitism


Question: What is the best way in your mind to identify antisemitism? How do we strike a balance between counteracting harmful speech and allowing that which is legitimate on campuses and in the world at large?


Dr. Bahar: 

I think a good rule of thumb when it comes to hate speech is to always believe the minority at face value when the individual being offended expresses that the language used is racist or xenophobic. It seems to me that with antisemitism, everyone is so worried about defining it that they often disregard when the person offended—typically a Jewish person—claims the comment is antisemitic. The balance between harmful speech and legitimate expressions should not be that difficult to understand if we have insightful, deep conversations based on evidence and facts, as we should have inside a university. As a Jewish person, when I hear offensive comments, I typically try to label the comment as antisemitic, as opposed to the person, and try to explain why. In many cases the person understands the reasoning of the issue with their comment, and I think that’s a good outcome.


Dr. Bartov: 

Antisemitism is attacking Jews as Jews, regardless of their opinions and actions. For instance, if an Orthodox Jew is denounced by someone on the street as responsible for Israel's policies in Gaza, without asking their opinion on the matter, that would be antisemitic. If the same individual proclaims support for Israeli actions in Gaza and is denounced for this statement, that would not be antisemitic.


Harmful speech is another matter. Antisemitic speech is hate speech, which is dangerous and can be criminalized. Harmful speech may depend on the eyes of the beholder—or on the authorities of a state that restricts certain types of speech. When the Hebrew University suspends a professor for what it calls harmful speech—expressing empathy for Gaza and doubts about the facts of what occurred on October 7th—it is restricting freedom of speech and academic freedom. Finally, the idea that harmful speech is speech that offends us as individuals, such as the slogan "from the river to the sea," and should therefore be silenced is itself harmful, since it employs our emotions as a means to silence others.


Dr. Galor:

There is often a confusion between the criticism of the political structure of the State of Israel and the hatred of Jews as part of a cultural and/or religious group. And while in my view there should be zero tolerance for the hatred of Jews—whether it manifests itself through aggressive speech or violent action—I also condemn all other forms of racism. I also feel uncomfortable with creating a hierarchy of racisms. That is, I don’t think one form of racist speech or action is worse than another. Let me point to two factors that have contributed to the confusion between Israel criticism and antisemitism. Firstly, Israeli leaders and some influential individuals and organizations have shaped the perception that Israel as a country and its Jewish citizens are representative of all Jews in the world, which is neither factually nor conceptually accurate. Since antiquity, and since the origins of Judaism, often located in early Hellenistic Babylonia, the diaspora has been no less significant for the development of Jewish thought and practice than ancient Palestine. Secondly, the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) working definition of antisemitism understands most forms of criticism of Israel as expressions of antisemitism. While the large majority of scholars who study antisemitism, the Holocaust, and Jewish history in the 20th and 21st centuries do not accept this definition as accurate and as doing justice to the countless different contexts of the hatred towards and discriminatory actions against Jews, it has been instrumentalized by numerous political and institutional entities. In recent months, this confusion has been employed and manipulated by members of Congress to police language and actions around criticism of Israel on US campuses, sanctioning students, faculty, and administrators, leading so far to the resignation of three university presidents. The danger in my view is that the ideological and political instrumentalization of defining most forms of Israel criticism as manifestations of antisemitism not only hampers a nuanced and scholarly understanding of different forms of racisms, but it foremost prevents us from combating real expressions, verbal and physical, of antisemitism. As the daughter of Holocaust survivors, and as someone who has experienced significant forms of verbal and physical antisemitic violence in Germany during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the recent and current instrumentalization of defining antisemitism is alarming, indeed dangerous, and can be understood as a form of racism or antisemitism in its own right.  


Dr. Nahme: 

Antisemitism is constitutively slippery, as it is a kind of animus and hatred that traffics in historical, theological, psychological, and especially emotional elements. That said, I understand antisemitism as a discourse that perpetuates the hatred of Jews by employing tropes, stereotypes, images, or phrases that dehumanize Jews and attribute to them the cause of social, political, economic, and cultural problems. It is important to note that antisemitism, according to my definition, has nothing to do with contemporary ideas of religious difference or intolerance. That’s because I consider antisemitism to be a kind of racism, albeit a racism that constructs Jewishness in an exceptional way, as a racial difference distinct from other racial and ethnic prejudices. Indeed, this distinctive racism is also part of the complexity of antisemitism, as anti-Jewish racism is often unacknowledged in discussions of racial identity. In fact, Jews are often “ghosted” in discussions of race and racism by assuming that racialization is a monolith and one largely rooted in American racial logic. So the identity and history of Jews being targeted as Jews is often collapsed—at least for American, Ashkenazi Jews—completely into the category of Whiteness. This erases the complex and traumatic history and collective memory of Jews, especially in the twentieth century, that haunts each and every one of us in some manner. This in part contributes to the gap between discourse about Israel and Jewish self-determination for many American Jews who see themselves as part of a people that has been repeatedly subject to violence and has, if unconsciously, little faith in liberal societies to protect against the possibility of another Holocaust—that is now part of the fabric of North Atlantic liberal democracies, like it or not—and in the solidarity movement for justice in Palestine, which sees Jews as White oppressors. Accordingly, I think antisemitism dehumanizes Jews by both attributing to them negative attributes in traditional conspiratorial Jew hatred, as well as by depriving Jews of their distinctive history of persecution worthy of being mourned or worked over and part of the collective memory. Antisemitism renders Jews both overdetermined and unrecognized.


So, to be clear, I think antisemitism is both a discourse about Jews as well as a process of depriving Jews of their own right to embody their traumatic pasts and complex identities. It is a way of enforcing a kind of double consciousness on Jews, a term W.E.B. Du Bois described as part of always being subject to an “ever unasked question” in regard to anti-Blackness: How does it feel to be a problem?  


This all contributes to an extremely complex discourse around Jews, power, Zionism, state violence, colonialism, etc. That’s because we have theoretical frameworks that were developed largely by thinkers who were responding to European colonialism, White supremacy, and the imbalance of economic and political power throughout the postcolonial world, especially when Black and Brown people have been the subaltern classes deprived of self-determination. Jews do not fit neatly into the configuration of a decolonial critique because Jews were themselves an internal colony in Europe, rather than in their indigenous land (which is itself put in question by this antisemitic history and its discourse). But also because Zionism was supported by European colonial powers mainly as a kind of advance line against the decolonial movement of third-worldism and communism. So, we now have a theoretical framework that does not quite comprehend how Zionism attempted to liberate a colonized people and prevent a second genocide, nor how that ideology emerged as a critique of European racial liberalism, and now we find Jews themselves replicating state structures of colonialism because that is the inheritance of racial liberalism. Hence, the flatfooted framing of Jews—especially non-American Jews—as “White” because of the colonial dimensions of Israel-Palestine leaves us with a problem back in America. That same flatfooted thinking is then transposed onto American (Ashkenazi) Jews both because of the provisional access to Whiteness that comes along with America’s dominant racial logic of anti-Blackness, and because Jews in America have deployed successful survival strategies (honed over centuries of being confined solely to the financial sector as part of a Christian disdain for levying interest) to maintain access to resources and wealth (though this is a complicated story, as Jews are certainly overrepresented in finance). 


The way we balance antisemitism and free speech and the exchange of ideas is twofold, in my opinion. First, we need to be able to call antisemitism out as what it is: hatred of Jews qua Jews. We should not minimize it or explain it away. It exists. Hatred is a feeling. And I operate under the assumption that many people harbor antisemitic feelings—Jews and non-Jews alike (because feelings are fluid and always circulating without being exclusive). That’s not to say that this is the only hatred or an exceptional one, it’s just what I’m concerned with understanding in this context. Feelings are an almost metaphysical reality that are always under the surface of our discourses, in particular the modern inheritance of European enlightenment humanism. So I think it’s problematic to deny and repress such feelings. But that doesn’t mean we end the conversation there. It is just a fact. We still need to do the work of engaging in honest conversation and in that context, I think we balance free speech—which Leo Strauss taught us means that we must accept that private feelings of hatred and prejudice are constitutive to liberalism and impossible to prohibit; were liberalism to attempt to prohibit feelings, we would no longer be in a liberal world—with trying to be as transparent as possible and clarify our definitions and meanings. If someone wants to talk about Palestinian liberation, then let’s do that. If someone wants to talk about Jewish self-determination, let’s do that. What do we mean when we endorse such visions? What are the specifics? Let’s not hide behind slogans, rhetoric, or even theoretical abstractions. Let’s actually talk about the world. But we need to humanize ourselves and each other in our exchanges. That means we also need to understand what the human stakes are for Israeli Jews in such a vision as much as for Palestinians. Does liberation entail Jewish suffering? In other words, if someone calls for intifada and resistance to occupation, does that mean they envision a blanket justification for killing Jews? Then I’m not on board. If you are criticizing state violence and want to imagine forms of resistance to state violence, and have an ethical commitment beneath such a politics, then although I might not agree with your politics, nevertheless if we are honest and humble in our attempt to discuss this question, I might be able to sit with my discomfort because I can be sure you’re not simply advocating my death or my people’s annihilation in and of itself. Resistance is not something I want to deny a right to, even if I don’t agree with violent tactics. But if I can be confident that someone else’s political vision is not in and of itself a threat to me and my people (antisemitic), even if it makes me uncomfortable, then I think we are in a framework of discussion rather than one in which my life and my people are under attack. Someone’s criticism of Israel as simply a racist project might not cohere with my understanding of it, but if I were to suggest that all nationalisms are racial projects, perhaps we could diffuse what seems like unbalanced targeting of one national movement over any other. That might make other people uncomfortable in turn. In the end, my point is that it’s okay to be uncomfortable. I believe the key is to always be asking ourselves about our positionalities and our experiences as well as about what other positionalities and experiences stand to lose, suffer, or give up if our positionalities are to be prioritized. What about the other way around? What am I being asked to forego or sacrifice to prioritize someone else? 


Translated into practice, I think this means: when you say “From the River to the Sea” are you asking my family and friends to be pushed into the sea? In other words, does your liberation entail my negation? That’s antisemitic to me. But if you are imagining my flourishing and my family’s safety in the imagined future of that slogan when you say it, then tell me that. Then that’s not antisemitic. I can share with you the pain that it causes some of my folk, but at least we’re getting somewhere that has a common horizon. I don’t believe suffering is a finishing school nor a virtue. But I believe being vulnerable with you and sharing that space is what we are supposed to be doing on campus, in a university, and in thoughtful discussion about these issues. I’m not an activist, so I don’t concern myself with purity of ideologies or tactics. Life is too complex for purity. Rather, I just hope you will be vulnerable with me in turn. At the end of the day, we want to imagine a way beyond violence as a form of communication.


Dr. Ophir:

The best way is to ask who is asking. Most often, the question is not innocent, and it does not deserve a straightforward response. After all, antisemitism is not a rare flower that needs to be identified, or a prey to be hunted. One must ask, are those who ask about antisemitism confused or ignorant, or are they among those who have created the confusion in the first place, because they are trying to displace the term in order to weaponize it? Antisemitism became an issue of major historical and theoretical disagreement because of this effort to weaponize it and use it to intercept every serious criticism of the State of Israel, and of the Zionist ideology which it claims to represent, in the name of which it claims to act, and which it proliferates through a variety of ideological state apparatuses. The IHRA “legally non-binding” definition of antisemitism that conflates anti-Zionism and antisemitism is the main tool used in an international, loosely orchestrated campaign, which involves many state and non-state actors, very few serious academics, and many interested parties. In Israel the weaponization of antisemitism is used as a discursive Iron Dome against criticism from the outside, and a lullaby for Jewish citizens who are a bit scared or angry because they have dared to take this criticism seriously. In many countries in the Global North the conflation of antisemitism with anti-Zionism helps protect the role assigned to Israel as the embodiment of the justice rendered to the Holocaust’s survivors, and let the Global North pretend that its own colonial crimes belong to the past. And for Christian evangelicals in the US, the same conflation allows an easy separation of the old Christian anti-Jewish sentiments associated with diaspora Jews from the Israeli Jews who are now playing their part in the messianic evangelical drama.  


Zionism and Historical Israel-Palestine


Question: Many people have different ways of understanding the essence of Zionism. Some say it’s a national liberation movement. Some say it’s settler colonialism. How do you conceive of Zionism? What were its primary roots and causes? And what are your thoughts on existing frameworks to understand it? 


Dr. Bahar: 

Zionism is a political movement for the self-determination of the Jewish people, period. For people who like to discuss things within context, the idea of having a national homeland for the Jewish people gains ground within the context of thousands of years of persecution towards Jews and their treatment as second-class citizens throughout history—way before the 20th century. Whoever wants to redefine Zionism as something else, based on personal biases, for example, particularly in a university setting, would tremendously benefit from reading some of the core texts about Zionism in the late 19th century. As in any other texts, there will be aspects that are more controversial than others, but overall, the common thread among those texts is about the right to self-determination of the Jewish people. It is not about achieving this goal at the expense of anyone else’s rights. This overarching mission continues to be the case.


Dr. Bartov:

Zionism was formed as an ethno-national movement in the context of rising ethno-nationalism among the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe, and in response to the rise of modern antisemitism that was a function of that ethno-centric nationalism. But because Zionism identified that land in which Jews could establish themselves as a political nation as the ancestral Eretz Israel, it functionally acted as a settler-colonial movement, seeking to colonize Palestine with Jews and to make it into a Jewish-majority entity, eventually a state. That inevitably caused conflict with the indigenous Palestinian population, which was also in the process of identifying itself as a national group deserving of its own self-determination. Hence Zionism imported to Palestine the problem which had led to its creation—exclusive ethno-nationalism. By now, however, the settler-colonial framework is no longer useful to understanding the current conflict, which is essentially between two nations. With an equal number of 7 million Jews and 7 million Palestinians in the land between the Jordan and the sea, the goal must be to find a way for them to share the land as two self-determined national groups, whether in separate states, in a confederative arrangement, or in a binational state.


Dr. Galor:

The fact that Jews and non-Jews today have different views on the origins and historical development of Zionist ideology and the movement’s historical development is not only based on different understandings and positionalities of one monolithic truth of what Zionism is and has been since its emergence in the late nineteenth century. The multiplicities of understandings of Zionism are rooted in the fact that from its inception different thinkers, leaders, and parties defined a variety of visions for how this ideology should be implemented. Some thinkers understood it as primarily historically motivated, others more spiritually, or alternatively as mostly a response to repeated oppressions, persecutions, ultimately culminating with the Holocaust. If we try to condense the historical and conceptual diversities and complexities into a key notion from the perspective of Israel’s state narrative, however, Zionism enabled the creation of the State of Israel as the homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine, as a safe haven for all Jews. Applying the same tool of artificial consolidation to defining Zionism according to the Palestinian perspective, the creation of a homeland for the Jewish people negated the right of the native majority population to maintain equal rights and privileges. In other words, what has meant safety and homecoming to some has signified discrimination, expulsion, and the loss of human dignity and security to others.


Dr. Nahme:  

Zionism originated historically as a critique of European liberalism and its nation-state model. Given the failures of European liberal states to integrate Jews as Jews (before racialized antisemitism became dominant) and then the failure to secure Jewish bodies from total violence, Zionism presented an alternative vision of Jewish self-determination and articulated a political ideology that assumes Jews are not safe from persecution unless they have the right to self-determination and self-protection through sovereignty. It is a form of modern nationalism that is accompanied by Jewish claims to indigeneity in the historic land of Israel as the basis upon which to maintain a sovereign nation-state as the form of determination and protection.


As a critique of liberalism, Zionism therefore presents a national ideology of Jewish peoplehood as the social and political good that must be upheld and protected at all costs. I do not believe such an ideological vision is inherently supremacist, if by that we mean that Jewish life is valued as superior to all non-Jewish life. Rather, I believe it is a non-liberal account of the nature of popular sovereignty. Here we see that it is a modern movement, one made possible by the rise of European nationalisms and the political consensus on the liberal, constitutional state. The existence of a Jewish people, however, predates the modern idea of a nation. In this respect, I believe Zionism taps into a premodern vision that it then renegotiates through a modern, secular political vision. Here is where I find a constitutive paradox in the Zionist ideology: as a critique of liberalism, I believe Zionism is correct. Liberalism is a post-Christian epistemology that seeks to recognize differences of a family type (freedom of conscience representing an inherently Christian difference of belief between Protestants and Catholics about saints and miracles, see the later chapters of Hobbes’ Leviathan; the ones nobody seems to read…). Jews were never meant to be accommodated or tolerated under that form of liberalism. And so, Jewishness is a political problem for European liberalism and as the history of the twentieth century shows us, liberalism cannot prevent the mass murder of Jews for being Jews. Zionism therefore does represent a movement that liberated and secured Jewish bodies against complete annihilation. I believe this is historically accurate. 


However, Zionism completed its political goal by accepting a constitutive paradox for itself. By founding a nation-state (a European construct) as exclusively Jewish, Zionism internalized a European problem. How can you accommodate and tolerate a non-Jewish minority that does not simply adhere to different internal model of protected conscience, but claims a completely alternative lifeworld, with an indigeneity in the same land, and traditions and histories rooted therein, which also aren’t easily reduced to the model of European national collectives? That is to say, the religio-racial world of Arabness, including its Islamicate and Eastern Christian dimensions, represents Zionism’s own internal Jewish Question, the unresolved “Arab Question” that has dogged Zionism from the beginning, much the way Jewishness remains a question for the Christian Euro-American world. This is why I believe it is problematic to single out Zionism for the sins of nationalisms writ large.  


Here, I believe it is important to distinguish Zionism from Israel to the extent that the former is an ideology and the latter is nation-state caught up in a problem that is best understood not by consigning it to a settler-colonial paradigm, eliding it with empire, but rather by understanding it as a post-colonial constellation in which there is an inextricable relationship between these two peoples and their narratives of what constitutes indigeneity in the land—as well as their responses to British colonialism in Palestine, and the possibility of a future there for each people. Zionism is therefore one dimension of a larger ideological debate about what Jewish life could look like in Israel-Palestine. I believe calling Israel settler-colonial is often aimed at effacing Jewish claims to indigeneity and can be used to dehumanize Israeli Jews who are trying to live lives in the only place they know as “home.” If no Israeli Jewish life can be mourned because they are merely “settlers,” then I worry we have lost a descriptive tool for understanding the conflict and simply moved into moralistic judgment. I believe Zionism as an ideology has colonial dimensions, certainly, which its founders openly proclaimed and which have certainly continued to infuse the logic of occupation. However, colonialism is part of the logic of the nation-state, as is the racialization of the citizen subject. I do not believe Zionism is unique here. I believe all nation-states are racialized. I believe a Palestinian state would be as well, should it pursue a liberal nationalist model. 


Put differently, I suggest that it’s important to distinguish between Zionism as an ideology and Israel as a country with a Jewish culture, aesthetics, literary and intellectual productivity that has been extremely generative for Jews throughout the world as a whole. That is a cultural and religious world that I feel very connected to, independent of politics. I read Hebrew literature and study rabbinic thought that has been uniquely produced in that cultural milieu and that has meaning to me. I pray three times a day for Jerusalem, and I ritually commit to memory the sacred geography of biblical Israel, from the desert to the cedars of Lebanon. It is deep within my imagination and my identity. I don’t believe that the existence of that culture should be subsumed under the question of colonialism or invalidated because of it. 


I worry that the framework of settler-colonial theory has failed to advance our thinking. I would agree that there are efforts to dispossess and displace an indigenous Palestinian population that have been enacted and are ongoing. I am not going to offer that justification. I would also suggest that the meaning of indigeneity is not as self-evident as some claim. And I think that the complex history I have been alluding to makes it reductive and not helpful to frame the state of Israel as a settler-colonial entity in the category of Euro-American empire when there are more complex dimensions of cultural, religious, aesthetic, and emotional history at play in these people’s attachments this land and its meaning. My worry is about the moralistic rather than descriptive argument that undergirds such invocations and how this continues to inhibit our ability to have productive conversations about Israel-Palestine.


Dr. Ophir:

I assume you want to know whether Zionism was a legitimate national movement or a settler-colonial project. Well, from the very beginning it was both. Zionism was a nationalist Jewish response to growing Jewish hatred, discrimination, and persecution in the late 19th century across Europe. It emerged as a national movement that sought to create a modern Jewish nation outside Europe, in the territory where other people, including other Jews, lived. Like other national movements that it uses as a model, Zionism cultivated a myth of continuity from a glorious past in ancient times to a broken presence that calls for resurrection. In the case of Zionism, this was also a myth that sought to connect Jewish communities from all over the world not only to each other but also to a territory which was not theirs. Since late antiquity, many diasporic Jewish communities were related through various networks, to each other and to Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel), but these networks and kinds of contacts and relations were precisely not of the kind that nationalism envisioned. And more importantly, unlike other national movements, Zionists had first to settle in Palestine/Eretz Israel, and to do this not as immigrants but as the pioneers of a nation that practically sought a kind of separate self-rule at first and, a few decades later, full sovereignty. 

 

From the very beginning colonization was inscribed in essays, textbooks, and popular songs, justified in theory, and performed in practice. Colonization of Eretz Israel was both part of Zionism’s ultimate goal and the major form and means of the projects’ realization. Although some Zionists settled in mixed cities, most of the organized effort was invested in building separate Jewish communities. Most Zionists came to Palestine with this separation in mind or accepted it as a matter of fact and necessity. And until 1948 the colonizing enterprise was carried out under the auspices and supervision of the ruling empire, first the Ottomans, and then the British. There were very few moments since then in which the Zionist project—for Israel is not only a state but always also a project—was not carried out with an imperial umbrella. 


In 1948 and ever since, the logic of settler colonialism became clearly visible—most of the native population was expelled, their past and ongoing presence were gradually but intentionally erased, the Palestinians who remained became second-class citizens, always suspect due to their relations to the Palestinians outside Israel, and, except for about three years (between the signing of the Oslo I Accord in 1993 and the election of Netanyahu’s first government in 1996) during which the Palestinians’ rights in Palestine were vaguely acknowledged, for the Jewish State the Palestinians were either alien residents or foreigners. The Jews who fought in 1948 knew all too well that the people who opposed them were the native residents of the land. Then those residents became “infiltrators” and “terrorists,” the landscape has been reshaped, history has been rewritten, and both history and landscape were cleansed as much as possible from the traces of “Palestine.” This cleansing and that erasure are what we witness now in full swing in the Gaza Strip.


Contemporary Israel-Palestine and October 7th


Question: How do you view October 7th and its response? Where do we go from here? 


Dr. Bahar:

I’m an Israeli and, as a result, I’m not neutral when it comes to this. I think anyone who has a stake in this part of the world, after October 7th, must reflect on what will come next. Anyone who did not change their view on this conflict either has not had a chance to reflect or is letting prior biases stand in the way. As an Israeli who identifies with the Israeli left, there are many lessons to be learned. In the long run, we must continue to strive, and make important compromises, towards a two-state solution. Such a process must involve the new actors in the region who can contribute to this goal, such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. The Palestinian people also have the right to self-determination. That right is, in my opinion, not only in their own interest but also in the best interest of Israel, too, so that this conflict can end once and for all. But in the short term, my vision has changed somewhat. I am now less optimistic that extremism will disappear on its own, even if Israel takes significant steps towards ending the occupation. As such, it seems like a prerequisite to peace to actively sideline extremists, especially those that endorse violence and use it exclusively to terrorize, such as Hamas. With extremists in the picture, there will never be an opportunity to build trust and advance towards a peaceful future together. 


Dr. Bartov:

October 7th was a heinous attack by Hamas on mostly Jewish civilians (although there were also non-Jewish civilian victims and about 300 IDF troops among the approximately 1,200 killed and murdered). It was a terrorist attack on a large scale—including the taking of numerous hostages—that can likely be defined as a war crime, a crime against humanity, and possibly as a genocidal action, if it is linked to the Hamas charter of 1988. However, the context of that attack is the struggle by Gazans against the siege of the Strip for over 16 years, and the 57-year-long Israeli occupation. Hence, one can criticize the methods and ideology of Hamas, while supporting the fervent desire of the Palestinians to rid themselves of the increasingly brutal Israeli occupation.


The Israeli response to the attack has been a large-scale attack on Gaza, in the name of defending itself from Hamas. The stated goals of the Israeli operation are to free the hostages and destroy Hamas. Neither has been achieved. But in the ensuing 6 months, about 33,000 Gazans have been killed, of whom two-thirds are civilians, half of them children. At least 7,000 more are buried under the rubble. Israel has systematically destroyed two-thirds of the buildings in the Strip, including hospitals, universities, schools, public buildings, houses of worship, and residential homes. It is currently subjecting the population to policies of hunger. There can be little doubt that the IDF has thus carried out war crimes, likely crimes against humanity, and that a continuation of its massive forcible displacement and starvation of civilians, and the brutal statements by many political and military leaders, bring it perilously close to providing grounds for being found guilty of genocide.


The only way to progress from here is: 1. Agree on a ceasefire, whereby the hostages would be returned in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. 2. Hamas leadership in Gaza would go into exile. 3. The IDF would be replaced by soldiers from neighboring Arab countries. 4. The Palestinian Authority, under a new leadership, would take over the Gaza Strip. 5. Elections in Israel would bring a new, more moderate leadership. 6. An agreement would be negotiated between Israel and the PA about the creation of an independent Palestinian state. 7. International assistance would be given to rebuild Gaza and help the displaced population return to its rebuilt homes.


The only alternative to this would be genocidal ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in Gaza, isolation of Israel from the international community, and decades of progressive internal violence and pauperization of Israeli and Palestinian societies under the extreme rule of a pariah state.


Dr. Galor:

The escalation of the cycle of violence, beginning with the horrific attack on Israeli civilians by Hamas militants on October 7th, 2023 and leading to the killing of roughly 34,000 Gazans, two-thirds of whom are women and children, has established once more that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, as well as the current situation of apartheid, are not a viable solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rather than being able to eliminate the Hamas infrastructure, the physical destruction of Gaza, and especially the death toll and human misery that the Israeli military attack and invasion have caused, will only reinforce Hamas ideology. I am of the firm belief that only by putting an end to this cycle of violence, and by involving the international community, will it be possible to establish the foundations necessary for a peaceful co-existence between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians, the latter with and without Israeli citizenship. In my view, the only viable solution that will ultimately lead to such a state of affairs is to establish a binational state in which all human hierarchies are eliminated, and where Jewish lives and bodies matter as much as those of Palestinians. The majority of Palestinians, including in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, would support this solution, which may not surprise given their current status as underprivileged. Currently, in contrast, the majority of Israeli Jews would not acquiesce to their prerogatives associated with their status as citizens of a Jewish state, which in its own way is sensible if compared to the world’s other examples where an occupying force may be asked to abandon its vantages over another ethnic community.


Dr. Nahme: 

October 7th was a horrific atrocity. I have no words adequate to describe my sadness and pain. It was an epoch-defining moment in the history of the State of Israel, but I’m not a citizen of the State of Israel. I am a Jew. And so, I see that day as a catastrophe in the modern collective Jewish memory. It triggered a trauma response in many Jews, which, as a trauma, means that a previously unsymbolized rupture in the psychic life has been reanimated without successfully being worked through. I believe this is why the vengeful anger and rage that has been witnessed is entirely understandable as a feeling—but as my therapist tells me, no matter the right to feel a feeling we have, that doesn’t mean we should act on those feelings.


October 7th was a trauma for me because I also knew that day that Palestinian lives would be lost, en masse. My worst fears came true. It has also been an epoch-making event for Palestinians, albeit with a scale of devastation I cannot fathom this generation being able to recover from. In this respect, I really don’t know what happens next. I don’t see a clear path forward. 


It is not for me to imagine a way forward. It does not feel like pontificating about what happens next is an ethical position to take. At this point, there are still so many lives to mourn; there are still hostages to pray for; innocent civilians to pray for. It feels irresponsible to attempt to explain away what happened on October 7th much the way I think it is irresponsible to explain away the horrors in Gaza. All I can do is pray, so that’s my way forward.


Dr. Ophir:

First, October 7th. One cannot start telling the story of October 7th on October 6th and end it on October 8th, as many Israeli Jews wish to do. The Hamas attack was not inevitable; it cannot be explained without accounting for decades of oppression and humiliation, let alone the deprivation of basic rights, and for the intentional strengthening of the Hamas by all Israeli governments since the 1980s with the explicit purpose of undermining the power and legitimacy of the PLO and later of the Palestinian Authority in the Occupied Territory. October 7th was an act of anti-colonial resurgence conducted against a colonial power that has long abandoned the search for political settlement and left the colonized little option besides violent resistance. It was also an act driven by an Islamist, messianic vision of taking over Palestine from the Jews through a holy war, helped by the colossal failure of all Israeli defense apparatuses. And it was hideously cruel, paying no respect to any conception of jus in bello, justice in war. But Israelis are the last to complain about murderous brutality against non-involved civilians (remember that there are no citizens in Gaza, for the residents of the Occupied Territories are the non-citizens of Israel). Before October 7th, 2023, in a series of operations against the Gaza Strip since 2006, Israel killed thousands of non-involved civilians and wreaked havoc on any piece of land it would associate with “the terrorists.”


The response—the goal of the counteroffensive was clearly declared at the outset: to wipe out Hamas. Hamas became an absolute enemy with which no negotiation is possible. The name and figure of such an enemy have become metonyms for Gaza, while many of the militants themselves have disappeared underground, and no goal beyond what can be achieved by sheer force has ever been discussed. Thus, only the fury of revenge and the wiping out have remained. Recurring displacements of hundreds of thousands of people, and a regime of controlled famine, assisted by the world’s most dedicated humanitarian organizations, have become the new normal. Gaza as a place for the living, a region where a civilized people once lived, a besieged area where universities, hospitals, industries and agriculture, music, art, and poetry once functioned, sometimes even thrived, has been wiped out. The Israeli authorities say that everything destroyed was used to hide Hamas’ militants—as if they would have acted differently, as if the IDF headquarters does not reside at the center of Tel Aviv, surrounded by the district court, the Tel Aviv Museum, the municipal library, and the local theater. 


But this is no longer an Israeli-Palestinian story. Israel’s colonial rule in Palestine has been globalized, and we are only beginning to understand the meaning of this transformation.



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