Comments I am working on for for Panel 1: Pinkwashing and Transnational Alliance: Challenging Settler Colonialism in Palestine/Israel, the United States, and Canada at the Transnational American Studies Conference at the Center for American Studies and Research at the American University of Beirut (January 6-8, 2014).
Both Israel and the United States claim a state of exceptional expression of democracy and civility in an otherwise barbaric world that absolves them of accountability to international human rights. This state is articulated through the ideology and discourse of social evolution wherein Israelis and Americans have progressed beyond savagery to civilization, having successfully waged a particularly modern and righteous war against the barbarities of racial hatred, religious persecution, and class tyranny. Against great odds, the story goes, they have evolved into all that is democratic and civil—all that is fully human, and so all that is fully righted as human. This is reflected in the way that human rights function within the marketing of Israel and the U.S. as democracy par excellence—with human rights extended to and enjoyed by even the barbarians amongst them.
The discursive production of Israeli and American exceptionalism through evolutionism necessitates that the difference of the barbaric other be contained andlocated elsewhere. The barbarian cannot be allowed to speak on their own, for themselves. They can only mime their barbarity. Their experiences of state genocide, dispossession, and brutality must be deferredbecause those experiences undo the state’s global cred and demand legal and social remedy.
But the work of deferral is never complete. It calls attention to the structure that needs the other to be lacking (lacking of modernity, democracy, civility, humanity). This is not merely about name calling (you are a barbarian!); it is a logic of genocide, dispossession, and brutality by representation (you are only a barbarian) that vacates all that is human and so all that is righted from an other treated inhumanely.
But these remarks are a bit of a distraction. My comments are not aimed at understanding the structure of oppression, or the institutional mechanisms that naturalize apartheid as merely a challenge of administrating against barbarity. I am more interested in prompting a discussion about how the deferral of ongoing historical experiences of oppression and apartheid in Israel and the United States—by the governments of Israel and the United States—are perpetuated by those communities whose barbarity is so central to the invasions and occupations of Israeli and U.S. policy. My thinking is that it has to do not only with the ideological workings of a public consent coerced, invited, et cetera, but with the promise of state citizenship—a status and set of rights possessive of the entitlements of state capital – propertied to its financial systems and benefits, territories and resources, and status and reputation. Herein, public consent, as a form of consumption, easily transforms human rights into a use value for state citizenship that advances a state’s global-cred and thus enables international cooperation with insatiably expansionist aims. A quick definition, an example, and a provocation for discussion.
In Terrorist Assemblages, Jasbir Puar defines homonationalismas a queer liberalism that stages state nationalism through Islamaphobic representations of Arab and Muslim sexuality. These representations—in law and consumerism—advance imperialist military and economic projects by upholding the norms of white heterosexuality against Arab and Muslim deviance. Same-sex marriage, military service, and consumerism are embraced as queer forms of patriotism, distorting the ways by which marriage rights, the military, and consumption perpetuate the invasion and occupation of the Middle East. For instance, in an article for The Jewish Daily Forward, NY-based attorney and Human Rights Watch trustee Kathleen Peratis writes that,
Al-Fatiha — which calls itself the principal international organization promoting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Arabs — is located not in Beirut or Cairo, but in Washington, D.C. And no wonder: The international movement for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people hardly exists inside the Muslim world. Arab human rights organizations sometimes advocate for gay rights, but they do so sotto voce. In fact, the only country in the Middle East in which gay people may safely leave the closet is Israel. Which is why, for gay Palestinians, Tel Aviv is Mecca. Gay Palestinian men flee to Israel because they are not safe in the West Bank and Gaza…. If the sexuality of a gay man in Palestine is exposed, his family might torture or kill him and the police will turn a blind eye. Because they are so vulnerable to blackmail, it is assumed by the families and neighbors of gay Palestinian men — sometimes correctly — that they have been blackmailed into becoming informers, either for Israeli intelligence or for opposition Palestinian factions.
Herein, Israeli apartheid is deferred in a story of Israeli and Palestinian queer human rights.
I would like to suggest that indigenationalism works similarly, as an indigenous liberalism that stages state nationalism through a simultaneous embrace of Israel and revulsion of Arab and Muslim people and society. These discursive practices advance imperialist military and economic projects by upholding what Cheryl Harris has termed the “property of whiteness” through the norms of heterosexuality, raciality, and class mobility. Therein, Christian family values, military service, and consumerism are embraced by indigenous peoples, distorting the ways by which religious conservatism, the military, and capitalism have perpetuated their oppressions and rationalize the military invasion and occupation of the Middle East.
For instance, according to Sherwin Pomerantz for The Jerusalem Post, the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana (Muskogee) was the first federally recognized tribe to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. In 2008, the same year that the tribe created its Department of Commerce, it hosted “an affirmation of friendship event with Israeli consular officials” and issued a proclamation establishing May 14 as “the day to honor Israel.” A year later, the tribe sent a delegation to initiate its first commerce-related project with Israel, “becoming the exclusive distributor of Aya Natural, an Israeli start-up skincare company based in the Druse community of Beit Jann in the Galilee. David Sickey, the head of the tribe, has made a number of visits [to Israel] since as well to promote additional cooperative business activity.”
For instance, Chief Annie Richardson of the Rappahannock Tribe of Virginia, a state recognized tribe, was meeting with Israel’s Minister of Infrastructure Uzi Landau and told him that “American Indians support the State of Israel and its right to the land of Israel.” In presenting Landau with a traditional headdress, she said, “We believe that God has given you this land and we want you to fight for it.’” In an interview with Carl Hoffman for Esra Magazine, Richardson explained her outreach to Israel:
Well, I’m a Christian Zionist. And the reason that I am is because of the similarities between Native Americans and Jews. We share persecution. We’ve both been hated. We’ve both lost loved ones—we to racism, you to anti-Semitism. And yet, we’re both still here. We’re both survivors…. We see you on the news being persecuted because you don’t want to hand over your land. And my people agree. We watch and say, “DON’T DO IT! IT DOESN’T WORK!”
I am not interested in marking out those who consent (as traitors, sell-outs, spies) from those who dissent (as revolutionaries); in denigrating Peratis, the Coushatta, or Richardson and romanticizing Palestinians and indigenous activists within the United States. Within an imperial state formation and its myriad capitalisms, the lines are never so clearly legible or experienced, despite mass representations and self-presentations to the contrary.
I am interested in understanding how and why those figured as the barbaric other by apartheid and imperialist states work so hard at presenting their collective and individual patriotism to that state.
If you read David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years with Winona LaDuke’s The Militarization of Indian Countrytogether, it is clear that there is a foundational relationship between states, capitalism, and the military that is aimed all at once at expansion. Rather than consider these operations within the structural context of oppression that defines the nations of Israel and the United States, I would like to prompt a discussion of why those whose human rights are so profoundly violated by Israel and the US would absorb or perform the tales of social evolution that define their otherness, participate in the structures of oppression that continue to define their experiences of genocide, dispossession, and brutality, and herald their patriotism through shared family values, marriage rights, military service, and consumerism.
What does homonationalism illuminate about indigenationalism, and vice versa?
If the promise of citizenship is the false consciousness of inclusion, what is required for alliances among and between queers and indigenous peoples in Israel and the United States that will undo Israeli apartheid and U.S. occupation in the Middle East? Of lands within U.S. territories in northern America, the Pacific, and the Caribbean? What would that kind of alliance look like?