Nahla Abdo reviews Traces of Racial Exception

Traces of Racial Exception: Racializing Israeli Settler Colonialism

by Ronit Lentin. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018. 224 pages. $84.00 cloth, $27.96 paper, $21.57 e-book.

Nahla Abdo

Published online: 25 Jan 2021

Journal of Palestine Studies, January 2021

Location and methodology are crucial to understanding Ronit Lentin’s latest book, Traces of Racial Exception: Racializing Israeli Settler Colonialism, a work that brings together her long experience as a Jewish anti-Zionist activist and critical race theorist. Positioning herself as an Ashkenazi Jew, Lentin witnesses: “I write this book about the perpetrators, fully aware of my privilege as a member of the colonizing collectivity” (p. 7). Her topic: Israel’s settler-colonial racialization of Palestinians and non-Ashkenazi Jews alike.

Traces of Racial Exception is made up of five chapters and a conclusion. The first chapter traces race in the settler colony and identifies it as structural to colonialism. The second chapter argues against the claim that Israel is a racial state of exception. The third argues that settler colonialism is a process, not an event. The fourth chapter locates race at the heart of the colonial project. Chapter 5 re-presents Palestine from a gender perspective. Finally, chapter 6 recasts the Israeli settler-colonial state in an international context and relates the Palestinian (Indigenous) anti-colonial struggle to global movements.

Beginning with a literature review establishing racialized settler colonialism as the foundation of the Israeli state, the author considers Ilan Pappé’s work on ethnic cleansing and rejects the term “ethnic” for the Palestinian people, the Indigenous inhabitants of Palestine. Continuing, she points out that settler colonialism is a continuous process in Canada, Australia, the United States, and elsewhere, so Pappé’s characterization of Israel as the last “active settler-colonialist project” in existence cannot stand. Further, Lentin describes how she abandoned her early embrace of Giorgio Agamben and Michel Foucault to discard their methodology as Eurocentric. I part with the author’s critique of these influential theorists (p. 22), who have been used extensively by Palestinian scholars.

Having preferred John Docker’s “genocide” to Pappé’s “ethnic cleansing,” Lentin describes the Zionist state’s ongoing treatment of Palestinian Bedouins, who inhabit “legal and conceptual liminality” and are central to theorizing Israel as a racial state (p. 52). The author demonstrates the racial regime does not apply to the occupied territories of 1967 alone, as some Israeli scholars argue. Israeli settler colonialism, according to Lentin, is no “new paradigm” but past and present: for the occupied Palestinian territories, for the state’s Palestinian citizens, and for the Palestinian Bedouins. This continuity of the Zionist settler-colonial project proves systemic racialization.

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Time to close the Direct Provision system

 

On Saturday 18 November a rally organised by United against Racism heard moving speeches by several asylum seekers living the Direct Provision for-profit incarceration system where men, women and children are held often for up to ten years. The Irish Times reported Mavis who has lived in Direct Provision with her three children for fifteen months, as saying: “For me every day is a struggle, to watch my children suffering and getting sick. I wish one day somebody, an Irish citizen would go into my life for one week and they would know what a hell it is. I don’t even have words. Waiting and waiting for a decision is one of the hardest things a mother can do. What can we do? We have to pray and hope.”

The rally was part of the campaign to close the Direct Provision system, end deportations and grant asylum seekers the right to work, as per the Supreme Court recent ruling. According to Lucky Khambule of the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (MASI), the restrictions imposed by the government on asylum seekers’ right to work, including not working while appealing their applications for refugee status, amount to a total denial of asylum seekers’ right to work. Continue reading “Time to close the Direct Provision system”