Three Questions That Make One

By Bashir Bashir and Leila Farsakh

Bashir Bashir and Leila Farsakh (eds.), The Arab and Jewish Questions: Geographies of Entanglement and Beyond, New York: Columbia University Press, 2020

Over the past two decades, Middle Eastern and European politics have been impacted by three critical developments that call into question dominant understandings of nationalism, citizenship, and decolonization. First, “the question of Palestine” has not yet been answered. The aggressive and ongoing colonization of Palestine created irreversible realities that cast serious doubts on the feasibility of partition and the “two-state solution.” At the same time, Palestine’s colonization deepened the entwinements between Israeli and Palestinian lives, rendering inseparable the question of present and future rights of Arabs and Jews. Second, the Arab uprisings that erupted in a number of Middle Eastern and North African countries in 2011 signaled the demise of grand assimilationist ideologies like Arabism, Ba’athism, and Islamism, calling thereby into question the overarching “we” that cements the citizenry together. Third, Islam and Muslims have become the new internal signifiers of otherness, particularly in the West, posing serious challenges to existing conceptions of citizenship and democracy in the West. The rise of Eurocentric and Islamophobic notions of citizenship reflect, among other things, an intimate conceptual and historical link between Judeophobia and Islamophobia in Europe.

Many scholars have studied the causes underlying these developments. No study, however, has explored the intersections between the rise of Islamophobia in the West, the failure to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the political meanings of the Arab uprisings. Neither have many scholars examined how these developments are tied to three seemingly unrelated questions, namely the question of Israel/Palestine, the Arab-Muslim question, and the Jewish question. This book argues that these questions are not only entangled, but also belong to the same history – one that continues to foment tensions in the Middle East, Europe, and the US.

Nineteenth-century Europe turned the political status of its Jewish communities into the “Jewish Question,” as both Christianity and rising forms of nationalism viewed Jews as the ultimate other. With the onset of Zionism, this “question” migrated to Palestine and intensified under British colonial rule and in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Zionism’s attempt to solve the “Jewish Question” created what came to be known as the “Arab Question,” which concerned the presence and rights of the Arab population in Palestine. For the most part, however, Jewish settlers denied or dismissed the question they created, to the detriment of both Arabs and Jews in Palestine and elsewhere.

The volume The Arab and Jewish Questions: Geographies of Entanglement and Beyond (Columbia University Press, 2020) brings together leading scholars to consider how these two questions are entangled historically and in the present day. It offers critical analyses of Arab engagements with the question of Jewish rights alongside Zionist and non-Zionist Jewish considerations of Palestinian national identity and political rights. Together, the essays show that the Arab and Jewish questions, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which they have become subsumed, belong to the same thorny history. Despite their major differences, the historical Jewish and Arab questions are about the political rights of oppressed groups and their inclusion within exclusionary political communities – a question that continues to foment tensions in the Middle East, Europe, and the United States. Shedding new light on the intricate relationships among Orientalism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, colonialism, and the impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this book reveals the inseparability of Arab and Jewish struggles for self-determination and political equality.

The book draws on multiple disciplines, ranging from political thought to cultural studies, history to anthropology. It seeks to fill a lacuna in the literature on European colonialism, Jewish and Arab nationalisms, and Israel/Palestine by examining the inseparability of the Arab and Jewish struggle for self-determination and political equality. The contributors draw links between otherwise segregated struggles, histories, and possibilities. They address the question of diversity and inclusive citizenship by calling into question the conceptualization of territorial separation in the twenty-first century, and by considering possible venues of decolonization and historical reconciliation given the various forms of heterogeneities in the Middle East that cannot, and should not, be ignored. Such a critical approach to the intertwined Arab and Jewish questions also allows us to go beyond the boundaries of Israel/Palestine and nationalism and reach out to Europe and the Arab, Jewish, and Muslim worlds.

Besides a substantive introductory chapter, the book is composed of three parts and each part includes several chapters according to the following content:

Introduction: Three Questions That Make One – Bashir Bashir and Leila Farsakh

Part I. Interrogating Europe: Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and Colonialism

  1. Jackals and Arabs (Once More on the German-Jewish Dialogue) – Gil Anidjar
  2. An Emblematic Embrace: New Europe, the Jewish State, and the Palestinian Question – Brian Klug
  3. Palestine in Algeria: The Emergence of an Arab-Islamic Question in the Interwar Period – Amal Ghazal

Part II. Beyond the Binary Division Between “Jews” and “Arabs”: Revisiting National Constructs

  1. On Orientalist Genealogies: The Split Arab-Jew Figure Revisited – Ella Shohat
  2. Returning to the Question of Europe: From the Standpoint of the Defeated – Hakem Al-Rustom
  3. Between Shared Homeland to National Home: The Balfour Declaration from a Native Sephardic Perspective – Yuval Evri and Hillel Cohen
  4. Towards a Joint Field of Israel/Palestine Studies – Derek Penslar

Part III.  Stubborn Realities and Alternative Visions for Palestine/Israel

  1. Apocalypse/Emnity/Dialogue: Negotiating the Depths – Jacqueline Rose
  2. Competing Marxisms, Cessation of (Settler) Colonialism and the One-State Solution in Israel/Palestine – Moshe Behar
  3. Dialectic of the National Identities in Palestinian Society and Israeli Society: Nationalism and Bi-nationalism – Maram Masarwi

Bashir Bashir is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology, Political Science, and Communication at the Open University of Israel and a senior research fellow at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and the Bruno Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue. His primary research interests are nationalism and citizenship studies, multiculturalism, democratic theory, memory, and the politics of reconciliation. He has published in leading journals on these themes. His writings have appeared in English, Hebrew, Arabic, Italian and German. He is the co-editor of The Politics of Reconciliation in Multicultural Societies (with Will Kymlicka, OUP, 2008) and The Holocaust and the Nakba (with Amos Goldberg, CUP, 2018). Bashir Bashir has been a 2009-10 Fellow of Europe in the Middle East – The Middle East in Europe (EUME) at the Forum Transregionale Studien, as have been two other contributors to this volume, Yuval Evri in 2013-14, and Maram Masarwi in 2014-15.

Leila Farsakh is an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Her research interests focus on the political economy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the politics of partition and its alternatives in Israel-Palestine. Among her publications are: Palestinian Labour Migration to Israel: Labour, Land and Occupation (second edition, 2012) and Commemorating the Naksa, Evoking the Nakba (2008). Her forthcoming book, Rethinking Statehood in Palestine, is due to be published in 2021.


Citation: Bashir Bashir and Leila Farsakh, Three Questions That Make One, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 04.12.2020, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/25845.


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