Professor Stephen Sheehi, who serves as the Sultan Qaboos bin Said Chair of Middle East Studies at William & Mary, has made several misleading assertions regarding the history of the State of Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is necessary to highlight and respond to these inaccurate claims.

On February 6th, 2022, Sheehi appeared as a guest on a video podcast by Trapart Films, Rendering Unconscious, where he claimed that the Zionist relationship to the land of Israel “is a psychotic relationship to the land” which is “built on fantasy”. By characterizing the Jewish relationship to the land as one “built on psychosis”, Sheehi dismissed thousands of years of Jewish history and the continual presence of Jewish communities in the land of Israel. Jews around the world have prayed in the Hebrew language for centuries, facing the holy city of Jerusalem, and have yearned to return to Israel. Sheehi conveniently ignored that Arab Palestinians arrived to the land of Israel through Arab imperialism and the Islamic conquest.

Together with his wife, Sheehi wrote the book Psychoanalysis Under Occupation: Practicing Resistance in Palestine. In this work, the Sheehis accused Zionists of settler-colonial “reality-bending”. They likened Zionists to colonialist regimes which “enact a fantasy and make it into a reality”. However, settler-colonization is not applicable to the Zionist project. You cannot colonize your native land. As I have already established, Jews have an enduring connection to the land of Israel.

In a Flat Hat article, Sheehi defined settler-colonialism as a specific form of colonialism in which “settlers disengage from their home country and start to identify themselves through the settler colony itself”. Thus he must understand why his own claim that “[Zionism] always has been a settler-colonial project” is false. There is no empire or mother country behind the Zionist movement.

In a video lecture published on May 31st, 2021 for Daanish TV, Sheehi called Israel a “little, western, white colony”. He also made a similar remark on the Rendering Unconscious podcast, where he portrayed the escape of Jews to Israel as a “story of whiteness, a story of white European colonial hegemony”.

This simply is not true. The first Jews in Israel were not a “white”, privileged class, but a subjugated minority in their countries of origin. These Jews were refugees, fleeing empires not only from Europe, but also from North Africa and the Middle East. Centuries of antisemitism in Europe and in the Middle East, culminating into the Holocaust and Jewish expulsion from Arab lands, pushed Jews to return to Israel. Zionism is not solely a Western phenomenon; most Jews in Israel are and historically have been Mizrahi Jews, those from the Middle East and North Africa.

Stop ascribing privilege and power to a persecuted minority. Jews continue to escape hate and discrimination by emigrating to Israel.

Colonialism also involves the exploitation of the local population. Sheehi asserted in the Daanish TV video that Zionism has “always been intent on the elimination of the Palestinians”.

However, exploitation or removal were not a part of the Zionist project. Theodore Herzl, a key Zionist figure, thought local Arabs would benefit from Jewish settlement. Israel has not exploited the Arab population within her borders, but has granted them full citizenship. Zionism was not a colonial economic or empire-building project, but a national, ethnic movement.

Furthermore, how can Zionists be seeking to eliminate Palestinians if Israel continues to offer Palestinians peace deals to end the Arab-Israeli conflict? It is the Palestinian side which consistently has rejected Israeli peace offers and refuses any solution which maintains the existence of a Jewish state.

What Sheehi accuses Zionists of doing is what he himself is doing: “rejecting reality into the normative logic of being”. The reality is that Israelis are people who have rebuilt and thrived in their indigenous home. Israelis are not the white, settler colonialists that Sheehi would have you believe they are.

What is Israel to Stephen Sheehi? It’s “arrogant, it’s powerful, it’s ruthless, it has pretense democracy, pretense to liberalism. It loves looking at itself in the mirror…narcissistic but psychotic.”

Professor Sheehi is in a position to disseminate dangerous and grossly incorrect views. It is necessary to educate and empower ourselves, or else a harmful and vile ideology will win out.

This article was originally published in the Algemeiner.

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