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  • Zionism and Anti-Zionism:A Necessary Detour, Not a Final Destination
  • Keith P. Feldman (bio)

Given the critical keywords animating American studies at present, it should not take long to situate Palestine as a suitable subject for research in the field. Transnationalism, diaspora, and indigeneity; race, gender, sexuality, nation, religion, law, and capital; memory, survivance, refugeehood, social movement, and solidarity; orientalisms, settler colonialisms, imperial cultures, borderlands, and carceral geographies: these are among the keywords that index possible insights into the histories, cultures, politics, and economies that have entangled Palestine in an American ambit. Yet the practice of situating Palestine institutionally has been particularly unsettling. As the American Studies Association underscores in its public statements supporting the call from Palestinian civil society to boycott Israeli academic institutions, locating American studies institutionally in relation to Palestine foregrounds, rather than elides or obfuscates, the field’s entanglement with a US state that supports Israel’s ongoing project of territorial expansion and Palestinian dispossession. The ASA has undertaken such a position in the context of ongoing indigenous dispossession in the Americas and a corresponding intensification of anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, and anti-Palestinian racisms. In doing so, it has found itself persistently countered by a legal and administrative arsenal that seeks to conflate critiques of Israel with anti-Semitism, to interfere with the governance of universities, and to demonize faculty, staff, and students who consider Palestine a site of legitimate affective, political, and scholarly commitment.1

The ASA’s boycott resolution invites us to open and maintain an ethical relation to Palestine, which means working toward the flourishing of just, vibrant, and heterogeneous Palestinian futures. Such work underscores the need, as Mark Rifkin argues more generally, “to prioritize[e] Palestinian collective self-understandings and persistent connections to their homelands as a crucial guiding frame for any meaningful and just peace.”2 The flourishing of Palestinian [End Page 1067] futures cannot be brought about without also undoing Zionism. In what follows, I offer a brief detour through Zionism and anti-Zionism that surfaces the former’s enmeshment in US imperial culture and sedimentation in the norms of American studies, and the latter’s historical occlusions and decolonial possibilities. Such a detour aims to clarify the tension between the reconcilable keywords of American studies and its unsettling institutional praxis.

My title draws from a subheading to an essay written at a prefigurative moment in Palestine’s breach in US knowledge production: the historian Matthew Nemiroff Lyons’s contribution to the transnational feminist anthology Sing, Whisper, Shout, Pray! Feminist Visions for a Just World (2003). The anthology was originally proposed in 1987 under the working title The Third Wave: Feminist Essays on Racism, on the urging of Barbara Smith at Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press. It was completed during the onset of the US War on Terror and the “second” Palestinian intifada. As a complement to Kitchen Table’s 1983 publication of This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, the anthology sought to “further the dismantling of racism in the United States and globally.”3 According to the editors’ introduction, among the first questions to arise in crafting the book, the ones that “provoked the most disagreement and tension early on,” were not about the question of Palestine per se but about whether anti-Semitism should be “defined as a form of racism within the scope of the anthology,” and its corollary, whether “North American Jewish women are women of color” (xxi). These were not abstract queries but ones whose stakes intensified as feminist formations confronted the aftermath of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and, before long, the onset of the “first” Palestinian intifada.4 M. Jacqui Alexander, one of the anthology’s editors, urged “placing anti-Semitism in a historical and material context” (xxi). Mab Segrest, another editor, historicized racial capitalism’s origins in the “fusion of settler colonization and chattel slavery” (247).5 Lisa Albrecht, a third editor, wrote as a white American Jew investigating how anti-Semitism and racism in the United States and the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” were “intricately linked.” “American Jews,” Albrecht urges, “cannot call ourselves antiracist and expect to find allies in people of color and...


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