- Inter/Nationalism: Decolonizing Native America and Palestine by Steven Salaita
Steven Salaita is now best known for the imbroglio over his termination from a tenured position at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2015, following university donor objections to a series of tweets critical of Israel and of Zionism — an event relevant to his new book, which deals briefly with his firing and tries to contextualize it as part of an ongoing structural colonialism in American academia that seeks to silence voices critical of settler exploitation across the globe. Inter/Nationalism is a study of various modes of connection, comparison, and solidarity between what Salaita considers to be linked indigeneities: Palestinian Arabs displaced and oppressed by Zionism and the state of Israel, and Native communities similarly affected by European settlement in the Americas and the United States government.
Salaita defines the (regrettably clunky) term "inter/nationalism" on the first page of his book as a "commitment to mutual liberation based on the proposition that colonial power must be rendered diffuse across multiple hemispheres through reciprocal struggle" — in other words, a joint Palestinian/Native American commitment to oppose both neoimperial military authority and neoliberal economics, Israeli and American alike, that collectively serve to entrench political and economic inequities. He addresses both academic and political questions, and is especially interested in areas where the two coincide: the corporatization of the university, legislative resistance to ethnic studies and academic critiques of capitalism, and questions of imperialism and its study. The book's first chapter, "How Palestine Became Important to American Indian Studies," looks at Native academic interest in the topic of Palestinian rights, focusing especially on Native commitment in the United States (there is little mention of Native communities in Canada or elsewhere) to the bds (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement targeting Israel as an occupier and oppressor. In the next chapter, "Boycotting Israel as Native Nationalism," Salaita defends the bds movement — and particularly Americanist and Native Studies participation in it — as a mode of solidarity within a movement of global decolonization.
The next two chapters depart from this theme to look at texts. Chapter three, "Ethnic Cleansing as National Uplift," is perhaps the most compelling of the book: it offers a searing comparative look at the writings of the Revisionist Zionist thinker Ze'ev Vladimir Jabotinsky (1880–1940), one of the earliest and frankest Zionist advocates of Palestinian Arab removal as a fundamental foundation for the Jewish state, and Andrew Jackson, an unapologetic advocate for the campaigns of "Indian removal" carried out [End Page 567] by the US federal government in the early 1830s. This chapter aligns with and extends some earlier scholarly work, like Hilton Obenzinger's American Palestine, on the resonances between narratives of an American "pioneer" experience and Zionist settler rhetoric and practice. Salaita's analysis highlights Jabotinsky's and Jackson's shared construction of an unchanging and fundamentally inscrutable "native" in both the American and Zionist contexts; creation of a settlement narrative that he correctly notes "is inherently restricted to the psychology of the conqueror"; and acceptance of violence as a necessary and even glorious aspect of creating a settler civilization. These are insights useful to both Americanists and scholars of Palestine/Israel seeking to move from parochial to global analyses of their respective topics. As a counter to these settler voices, the next chapter discusses appearances Palestine and the Palestinian cause make in recent Native poetry and other literary productions, emphasizing the way at least a few Native poets have seen in Palestine not only a mirror of Native experiences of dispossession and violence but a more general metaphor for collective suffering and collective resistance. The interchangeability of these parallel experiences is emphasized in the intellectual exchange between Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish's poem "The 'Red Indian's' Penultimate Speech to the White Man" and Russell Means's "Song of the Palestinian," of which Salaita writes, "It is easy to forget which body of text is meant to represent the Native vis-à-vis the Palestinian" (128...