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Tel Aviv University
TAU Yehouda Shenhav's research group "Zionism and the Empires" finds that Zionism was a colonial movement

TAU Professor Yehouda Shenhav

E-mail: shenhav@post.tau.ac.il


Editorial Note:
Professor Yehouda Shenhav (TAU) is at it again.  Hired to teach and research the sociology of organizations, he has virtually abandoned his field in order to concentrate on various aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As IAM reported, the self-proclaimed critical sociologist, has tailored the specific topics to his political activism.  Upon joining the Mizrahi Rainbow, a group dedicated to bringing together Jews from Arab countries and Palestinians in 1990s, Shenhav wrote a book and a number of articles on Arab Jews, his name for the Mizrahim to prove that they, like the Palestinians, were victims of Zionism.  Shenhav's endeavor failed miserably, as his target audience went on the create the Shas Party, a reliable coalition partner of the right-wing Likud.
Undaunted, in the mid-2000s, Shenhav launched a new project to create the intellectual infrastructure for a bi-national state. In Shenhav's vision this would be a "post-Westphalian" state where national boundaries will be replaced by a confederation of Jewish and Palestinian cantons. Unfortunately for Shenhav, the Arab Spring unleashed Islamist forces which have little appreciation to the advanced post-national, post-Westphalian concepts.
Finding the present and the future difficult, Shenhav turned to the past. His new project - a research group sponsored by Van Leer Institute - promises "to 'bring back' the empires into research and debate over Zionism and thus release this debate from a unique historical case reflected in the concept of Zionist exceptionalism. In other words, the group aspires to locate the discussion of Zionism explicit within the global matrix of imperialism."  In plain English, Shenhav wants to reinforce the view that Zionism was a colonial movement aided and abetted by the imperial powers of the day.
The group membership is tailor-made to produce such findings.  In addition to such stalwarts as Hanna Herzog and Hannan Hever, there are a number of Shenhav's doctoral students, Manar Hassan, Yuval Evri, Areej Sabbagh and Benny Nurieli.  In addition to privileging Shenhav's students, it is signal to potential candidates in the Sociology Department that radical scholarships pays off.

Lending a hand to Shenhav's imperial project is Ronen Shamir, the former head of the Sociology Department at TAU. Shamir's own critical views of Israel are well - known.  Following the Mavi Marmara incident Shamir wrote an open letter to denounce the Likud government; he also blamed it for a broader effort to undermine Israel relations with Turkey. "The present-day Israeli regime is not interested in peace. The Israeli establishment has become prisoner to an ever growing public of Jewish fanatics -- informed by messianic visions of Greater Israel... the Israeli regime is firmly grounded in a religiously guided, ultranationalist and xenophobic worldview, one which is bound to bring calamity to the whole region, including Israel." He further stated that "Turkey has been systematically demonized by the Israeli government. Relying on and further fostering well-embedded stereotypes of Muslims among Israeli Jews, Turkey -- abstracted and depicted as a homogenous social-political entity -- is now portrayed as the natural ally of militant and radical Islamists around the world."   Shamir was also emphatic in making a distinction between the "few fascist brigands [who] burnt the flag of Turkey in front of its embassy in Tel Aviv, [and] a thousand of us stood in front of the Ministry of Defense, denouncing the attack on the Mavi Marmara".  This obsessive one-sided desire to blame Israel while ignoring the Islamist Prime Minster Tayyip Erdogan's continuous erosion of democracy, not to mention the harsh treatment of Kurds, makes Shamir an ideal addition to the Van Leer study group. 

IAM reported a Van Leer -sponsored group trying to revive communism in the region, asking why should resources needed to study the real and profound changes in the Middle East be devoted to such a marginal topic. Reflecting on Shenhav's project, the answer becomes clear. Focusing on resurgent Islamism in the Middle East, including Turkey would amount to an admission that Israel alone is not to blame.  Faced with such an abysmal prospect, radical scholars and their boosters at Van Leer have chosen to ignore reality.


Zionism and the Empires

Imperialism | Zionism | Post-communism




Years of Activity:2012

Research Status:


Group Leaders:

Prof. Yehouda Shenhav


Dr. Eitan Bar-Yosef, Prof. Jacob Barnai, Dr. Samir Ben-Layashi,

 Ronna Brayer-Garb, Yuval Evri, Dr. Manar Hassan, Prof. Hanna Herzog,Prof. Hannan Hever, Dr. Abigail Jacobson, Dr. Ron Kuzar, Dr. Anat Lapidot-Firilla, Benny Nurieli, Dr. Areej Sabbagh-Khoury, Prof. Ronen Shamir, Prof. Yehouda Shenhav, Dr. Dmitry Shumsky, Dr. Mahmoud Yazbak,

 Group Coordinator: Ronna Brayer-Garb


The main goal of this research group is to “bring back” the empires into research and debate over Zionism and thus release this debate from the narrative of a unique historical case reflected in the concept of “Zionist exceptionalism.” In other words, the group aspires to locate the discussion of Zionism explicitly within the global matrix of imperialism that was formed at the end of the nineteenth century, and to rethink the significanceof this epistemological shift. This does not mean that there has been no discussion about the role of the empires in Zionist and Jewish history; however, a close reading of these discussions reveals a problematic gap between the utopian narratives of Zionism (“emancipation,” “auto-emancipation,” the rejection of the Diaspora) and the global research and study of empires and the processes of colonization and decolonization, in the global imperial system and in the Middle East in particular. This gap demonstrates the lack of a comprehensive, explicit theory and history of empires in extant research. Especially lacking is a theoretical approach to empire and imperialism as a significant phenomenon in the history of Zionism as a whole.

The group’s discussions were dedicated to rethinking imperialism and empire as the context for the rise of Zionism, and how this context guided and directed the development of Jewish and Palestinian societies. The group focused on several historical episodes and debates that illustrate these problematic aspects. Among the different fields of research represented in the group are language, historiography, secularization, citizenship and nationalism, governmentality and population management, and information networks.
The group leaders aim to edit a volume devoted to the topic of Zionism and the empires, which will be composed of articles written by the group members. The first round of written pieces has already been submitted to the group leaders, and the volume is to be published in 2013.
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