Middle East studies in the News
Denial d'Nadia: Nadia Abu El Haj and the Anti-Semitism of Denial
by Martin "Sol" Solomon
[Once again, this blog has become a locus for the controversy over the controversial Barnard Anthropologist. Here another anonymous academic chimes in. Note that others may also wish to contribute signed or unsigned pieces. Some previous entries on the subject: Who's Coming Up For Tenure: Nadia Abu el-Haj, Abu El Haj and the Skepticism of Fires, Nadia Abu el Haj, Bulldozing the Facts at the University of Chicago and Barnard College, and Archaeologist David Ussishkin Responds to El Haj Accusations.]
Holocaust denial is one of the hallmarks of modern anti-Semitism.
Nadia Abu El Haj, the Barnard College professor whose tenure bid became controversial when questions were raised about bad facts and questionable research methods in her book Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society, is not a Holocaust denier, but she is something just as vile.
Rather than denying that the Holocaust occurred, Abu El Haj denies that the ancient Israelite kingdoms existed. As a form of anti-Semitism, this parallels Holocaust denial. Both forms seek to falsify history out of animus against the Jews. In Abu El Haj's case, she seeks to deny to the Jews a right - the right to nationhood - that she confers on Palestinians.
"Holocaust deniers seek to plant seeds of questioning and doubt." Abu El Haj follows a similar methodology. Like Holocaust deniers, she presents a welter of miscellaneous allegations that have the effect of persuading the ignorant that doubt exists on the question of whether the ancient Israelite kingdoms existed.
Like Holocaust deniers, Abu El Haj dresses her lie in "pseudo-academic garb." Facts on the Ground pretends to be an anthropology of Israeli archaeology and of Israeli attitudes toward archaeology. The masquerade is exposed by the methodology. A scholar actually interested in writing an anthropology of Israeli archaeology would become a participant observer on archaeological digs, attend the annual meeting of ASOR, and study the field. Abu El Haj did no serious field work in archaeology, she merely talked to a handful of archaeologists.
A scholar attempting a serious anthropology of Israeli attitudes toward archaeology would need to know Hebrew; it is the language Israelis speak. Without knowledge of the subject's language, anthropology is not possible.
Facts on the Ground, then, is not what it pretends to be. It is neither an anthropology of Israeli archaeology, nor is it an anthropology of the manner in which archaeology shaped Israeli society. The true nature of this book is, nevertheless, revealed in the title. The assertion of this book, the big lie, is that Israeli is a "self-fashioned" society in the sense that a "myth" – "that an ancient Israelite social collectivity" existed – has been created by archaeologists who impute Israelite ethnicity to artifacts, despite the fact that the existence of the Israelite kingdoms is "a pure political fabrication."
"The ongoing work of archaeology, after all, was constitutive of the territorial self-fashioning of Jewish nativeness out of which a settler-colonial community emerged as a national, an original, and a native one, which would thereby have legitimate claim not just to the land as a whole, but, more specifically, to particular ancient artifacts that embody the Jewish nation's history and heritage."
The Jews, in Abu El Haj's book, have connived with dishonest archaeologists to make up ancient Jewish kingdoms so that they can claim to be native when, actually, they are colonizers with no historical ties to the land of Israel.
The final parallel is to deniers not of the Holocaust, but of the Armenian genocide. Turkish genocide-deniers like to turn reality on its head, claiming that the true atrocity was the large-scale massacres of innocent Turks by armed Armenians. Abu El Haj, writing at a time of recurring, large-scale, deliberate destruction of archaeological sites by Palestinian Muslims, accuses Jewish archaeologists of the deliberate destruction of Muslim artifacts.
As lies go, Abu El Haj's book is a big one.
 All un-footnoted quotations are taken from Facts on the Ground.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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