Photo: Cantavestrella/Wikimedia Commons
An American academic has claimed the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians follows a theory set out by Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt.
Speaking at an online event at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) on 17 September, Professor Noura Erakat, an Assistant Professor at Rutgers University, also said that black people are treated according to the same logic in the US.
Prof Erakat pointed to the case of Ahmed Erekat – a Palestinian driver who was shot dead by Israeli police after his car rammed into a checkpoint, injuring an officer – claiming the Israeli response to the situation was “based on the same Schmittian logic of a priori culpability which assumes that certain groups have greater propensity to violence or criminal behaviour, so that they can be stopped before they can strike”.
She went on to say that that logic “is at the heart of pre-emptive strikes, as well as stop and frisk, as well as the school to prison pipeline in the United States.
“By attributing social behaviour to nature, as opposed to environment, the problem is framed as the group itself and not the context.”
Her discussion drew criticism from Georgia Leatherdale-Gilholy, UK Campus Associate for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting & Analysis (CAMERA), who attended the virtual event.
She told the JC: “Erakat did not refer to the now released video footage that appears to validate the Israeli response as a legitimate reaction to a car-ramming attack, a terror method which has caused many civilian casualties in previous years.
“Erakat lamented how the incident evidenced how Israeli authorities were immune to legal scrutiny, despite the video footage evidencing a terror attack rather than an innocent mistake by the driver.”
Ms Leatherdale-Gilholy also criticised the event’s moderator, Dr Rafeef Ziadah, a Soas Lecturer in Comparative Politics of the Middle East, for not challenging Prof Erakat’s narrative.
When asked to comment, Prof Erakat stressed that she did not attribute Nazi ideology to the Israeli government, but was critiquing legal systems around the world for their reliance on Schmittian logic: “It is not Nazi ideology, it is Carl Schmitt, a jurist associated with the Third Reich, who continues to have significant influence in legal thinking despite his nefarious affiliations.
“I indicate that his theory of a priori culpability has come to constitute a core logic of National Security and US Criminal Law.”
Responding to Ms Leatherdale-Gilholy’s comments regarding the Ahmed Erekat incident, Prof Erakat said the video footage was “not conclusive and Israel has no excuse not to conduct a thorough investigation into the matter.
“The video leaves open to question whether it was mechanical or human error that caused the accident, especially in light of consumer reports and a class action lawsuit against Hyundai for this very problem, as well as the fact that Ahmad’s sister was to be married that day as well as preparing for his own wedding scheduled for late summer.
“Ms Leatherdale-Gilholy also criticised the event’s moderator, Dr Rafeef Ziadah, a Soas Lecturer in Comparative Politics of the Middle East, for not challenging Prof Erakat’s narrative.”
“To conclude that the video suffices to tell us the whole story, without the benefit of an investigation, is reliant on a racist discourse that considers Palestinians guilty until proven innocent.”
At the time of publication, Dr Ziadah had yet to respond to a request for comment.
Prof Erakat – who is also a human rights attorney – has released several books concerning the Israel-Palestine conflict, most recently Justice for Some: Law As Politics in the Question of Palestine. She has served as Legal Counsel for a Congressional Subcommittee in the US House of Representatives and as a legal advocate at the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.
Carl Schmitt was a German jurist and prominent member of the Nazi party between 1933 and 1936, and wrote books used to justify the regime’s authoritarianism.
In 1933 he became the president of the Union of National-Socialist Jurists, and subsequently published legal justifications for the Night of the Long Knives and purging German jurisprudence of Jewish influence.
In 1936, as chairman of the convention of law teachers in Berlin, he demanded German law be cleansed of “Jewish spirit” and that scientific publications by Jews be marked with a small symbol.
After coming to be perceived as the “Crown Jurist” of National Socialism, Schmitt resigned Reich Professional Group Leader in 1936, following infighting with other academics who viewed him as a turncoat who had used the Nazi Party to advance his own career (though he retained other positions).
While some question Schmitt’s affinity with Nazism, a strong case has been made by subsequent academics that his authoritarian writings and ardent antisemitism made him a natural supporter of the regime.
During the online discussion, Prof Erakat also debunked the claim that US police had become militarised because of training in Israel – something which became a prominent conspiracy theory concerning the nature of the death of George Floyd.
She said: “Many people have said ‘the US acts as it does because it was trained by Israelis’. That’s actually not true. Yes, there has been an exchange of technologies; yes, it indicates something worrisome […] But beyond that, what we do by sharing that inaccurate description of law enforcement training is to obscure a colonial reality in the United States.”