The Force of Exceptionalist Narratives in the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict. By Eric Cheyfitz. Audio. Society for the Humanities, Cornell University, February 5, 2014. Vimeo.
Why I Support the Academic Boycott of Israel. By Eric Cheyfitz. The Jewish Daily Forward, December 17, 2013.
Sunday, the American Studies Association, of which I am a member, voted to
support the academic boycott of Israel called for by Palestinian civil society.
Included in their announcement of the vote are the statements of 13 scholars in
support of the vote, among which I am included. Here is my statement:
I am a
Jew with a daughter and three grandchildren who are citizens of Israel. I am a
scholar of American Indian and Indigenous studies, who has in published word
and action opposed settler colonialism wherever it exists, including of course
the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. It is worth noting in this
respect that just as the myth of American exceptionalism seeks to erase the
genocide and ongoing settler colonialism of Indigenous peoples here in the
United States, so the myth of Israeli exceptionalism seeks to erase Israeli
colonialism in Palestine and claim original rights to Palestinian lands. It is
from these personal and professional positions that I applaud the decision of
the NC to support the Academic boycott of Israel, which I support, and urge ASA
members to affirm that support with their votes.
the personal information in this statement so that people will know that I have
an immediate interest in a just outcome for the Palestinian people, which would
also be a just outcome for the state of Israel. Simply put, I want my
grandchildren to grow up in a democracy, not in a state that proclaims itself a
democracy while denying human rights to a population under its control — a
population that has the right to a sovereign state of its own on territory
currently under the colonial domination of Israel. We should remember that
Palestinians on the West Bank live under Israeli martial law. I also believe
that in the long run Israel cannot survive caught in the vice of this political
contradiction. And I want Israel to survive.
I have my investments as well, to which the statement alludes. As a professor
of Native American and Indigenous studies, I am acutely aware of how the
agendas of settler colonialism — land grab being the primary one as it is in
Palestine — actively decimated the Indigenous population of the United States
from an initial estimate of four to five million in 1492 in what would become
the lower 48 states to 250,000 by the end of the nineteenth century. While the
Native population has been growing since then and since 1924 Native peoples are
citizens of the U.S., nevertheless the lasting effects and ongoing forms of
settler colonialism are instrumental in making Native peoples the poorest of
the poor in the U.S.
exceptionalism, of which Manifest Destiny is perhaps the best known form (the
notion that the U.S. has a God-given democratizing mission in the world), has
kept the U.S. and its people from facing its own genocidal history, a necessary
step in beginning to move history in a progressive direction.
exceptionalism — the notion that the Jews are God’s chosen people, whether this
is explicitly espoused as it is by certain settler groups on the West Bank, or
implicitly followed as it appears to be by Israeli policy in relation to the
Palestinians and their land — functions the same way as American
exceptionalism, as an alibi for a history that tries to erase the facts on the
are of course both U.S. and Israeli scholars who acknowledge these facts in
their scholarship and offer cogent critiques of the exceptionalist myths that
try to erase them. Some of these scholars are no doubt supported by the very
Israeli universities that are the object of the boycott, while the institutions
themselves remain not only silent about Israeli oppression of the Palestinians
but participate in it. But the boycott is not aimed at individual scholars,
whatever their beliefs, and thus it does not impact academic freedom, which
applies to the rights and responsibilities of individual scholars within
institutions — not to institutions themselves.
support the boycott, then, because these institutions need to be held
accountable for their part in the ongoing colonization of Palestine. While diplomatic
initiatives continue to fail, the boycott is one way of trying to move Israel
toward a history of justice.