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Placing the colonial boot on the Arab foot

By Lyn Julius

It’s been 46 years since the late French Marxist scholar Maxime Rodinson published his influential essay, and later book: “Israel : colonial settler state? ”

Reinforced by Israel’s 1967 ‘occupation of Palestinian territories’, and its auxiliary Apartheid myth, ‘Israel: colonial settler state?’ cemented the trope that Zionism was a European movement to displace the native Arab inhabitants of Palestine.

Now another French historian, Georges Bensoussan, threatens to stand the notion of ‘Jewish colonialism’ on its head: it is the Jews who lived under Muslim rule who were the true victims of colonialism.

His book, “Juifs en pays arabes: le grand deracinement 1850 – 1975 “ published in 2012 in French, examines the reason why the Arab world was emptied of its Jews in barely a generation. Since most fled as refugees to the Jewish state from the Arab and Muslim world and now constitute at least half Israel’s Jews, the question has huge implications for the Israel-Arab conflict.

Moroccan-born Bensoussan, who made his name as a Holocaust historian, argues that the Jews have been colonised thrice over.

Bensoussan’s great achievement is not just to blow out of the water the myth of Arab-Jewish coexistence predating the creation of Israel, but unfashionably to place the colonial boot on the Arab foot.

Since publishing his book, Bensoussan has had to contend with bien pensant denial (the prevalent post-colonial assumption is that the third world victims of western colonialists can never be seen as oppressors in their own right). He has met resistance from both Arabs and Jews.

Arab historians blame the Jews for causing their own suffering. Jews who deny Arab antisemitism usually lived a charmed life in the European quarters of Arab cities. Bensoussan cautions that reminiscence makes for unreliable history.

All in all, Bensoussan has dropped a bombshell of a book. A sovereign Jewish state in the land of Israel begins to look like the liberation of a colonised, indigenous people from 14 centuries of subjugation. Will Bensoussan have the impact on western intellectual thinking that Maxime Rodinson had, 46 years ago?

Read the entire essay at http://blogs.jpost.com/content/placing-colonial-boot-arab-foot

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