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‘Redwashing’ Panel Follows Academic Associations’ Boycott of Israel

A group of scholars will travel to Lebanon in early January to participate in a panel discussion on “redwashing”—using indigenous Native Americans to cover up Israel’s ongoing illegal occupation of Palestinian land and violations of Palestinians’ human rights.

The panel, called “Redwashing: Israeli Claims to Indigeneity and the Political Role of Native Americans,” will take place during an international conference at the American University Beirut (AUB) Center for American Studies and Research (CASAR) January 6-9. The conference is called “Transnational American Studies.”

The panel comes on the heels of a year of victories for the Palestinian-based cultural and academic boycott of Israel. This includes a decision by world-famous scientist Stephen Hawking to boycott a conference in Israel, the endorsement of the academic boycott by the Asian-American Studies Association, the Association for Humanist Sociology, the American Studies Association, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, and the Modern Languages Association’s plan to host a panel on the academic boycott of Israel at its annual convention January 9-12 and consider a resolution condemning Israel’s denial of entry to academics invited to Palestinian universities in Occupied Palestine.

RELATED: The Native American Studies Association Boycott of Israel

J. K?haulani Kauanui

The redwashing panel at AUB was organized by J. K?haulani Kauanui, who is a Native Hawaiian associate professor of American studies and anthropology at Wesleyan University, where she teaches on colonialism, comparative Native sovereignty issues, and critical race studies. Other panelists include: Robert Warrior, Osage, director of American Indian Studies and professor of AIS, English, and history at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; Sa’ed Atshan, Palestinian American, is a postdoctoral fellow at Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University; and Steven Salaita, Palestinian-Jordanian American, currently an associate professor in the Department of English, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, who in January will begin teaching American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

“This panel session aims to document and critically engage the cultural and political formation of ‘redwashing,’ what I define as the promotion of Indigenous Peoples of the Americas as a deliberate strategy to conceal the continuing violations of the Palestinian people,” Kauanui explained in an overview of the panel sent to Indian Country Today Media Network. “In these cases, Israelis typically appeal to Indigenous Peoples by drawing parallels between their respective claims to indigeneity, legacies of genocide (evoking the Jewish holocaust), and ongoing adversity regarding threats to ‘cultural extinction.’”

Kauanui points to a number of examples of redwashing in the recent past: Last April, Kauanui, Warrior and other indigenous scholars wrote to Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly expressing disappointment at his support for Israel and urging him to pursue international relationships that mirror indigenous values and justice.

RELATED: Indigenous Scholars Oppose Navajo President 'Becoming Partners' With Israel

The letter followed Shelly’s December 2012 visit to Israel where he met with Israeli diplomats and members of the Arizona Israel Business Council and a follow up visit by Israeli farmers to speak to Navajo farmers at a two-day agriculture conference. In 2012, a group representing several First Nations led by Cree First Nation Grand Chief David Harper visited Israel’s Knesset at the invitation of a Christian lobby group to express support for Israel. Also in 2012, 30 young aboriginal leaders from Canada traveled to Israel to study culture and society in the Zionist state as part of “The Youth Leadership Development Mission to Israel” under the auspices of Canada's Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg.

“And then there was the scandalous 2012 case of Native American poet and performer Joy Harjo (Muscogee) who rejected mass appeals that she abide by the academic and cultural boycott and took up a residency at Tel Aviv University,” Kauanui said.

RELATED: Palestinian Trail of Tears: Joy Harjo’s Missed Opportunity for Indigenous Solidarity

Redwashing is relevant to transnational American Studies, she said, because even though tribal/First Nation governments are encompassed within the borders of the United States and Canada, “these domestic dependent sovereigns are nations.” The panelists’ presentations “will map indigeneity, race, and ethnicity in relation to settler colonialism and imperialism to track the political and economic stakes, as well as the symbolic weight, of these forms of redwashing within a range of contemporary cultural and political contexts.”

Kauanui’s presentation, “Redwashing: Israeli Claims to Indigeneity and the Political Role of Native Americans,” will focus on “the specific legal status of Native nations recognized under U.S. and Canadian federal law and how this political status, while structured by colonial domination, is precisely what the Israeli government is playing on in its redwashing campaign to court tribal groups.”

Warrior’s presentation, “Israel and Palestine in the Native American World,” will review the long history of Native American intellectuals’ writing about Israel and Palestine primarily as they incorporate Christian Indian discourse into Christian redemption and American exceptionalism. “In this paper, I want to tease out a genealogy of the recent phenomenon of ‘redwashing’ through this intellectual (deeply Christian) history,” Warrior said. “In doing so, I want to revisit some moments from both Native thought and Palestinian thought, including Edward Said’s ambivalence regarding Native American issues. Understanding redwashing, I want to suggest, will require sustained attention to shoring up alternative ways of understanding the comparative framing of Palestine, Israel, and the Native American world.”

Sa’ed Atshan

In his presentation, “From Native North America to the Middle East: Transnational Indigenous Solidarity Politics,” Atshan will talk about “the advent of solidarity between Indigenous Peoples in North America and Palestine, as well as the anti-solidarity that has emerged as a result of ‘redwashing.’ How does the emergence of Palestinian solidarity with the Idle No More Movement as well as the Joy Harjo controversy with her institutional affiliation at Tel Aviv University allow us to analyze the mechanisms behind indigenous solidarity across geographic boundaries and the reality of colonial co-optation of indigenous elites?”

Salaita’s presentation, “Multiculturalism as Colonization: Why Israel So Eagerly Courts Indians,” will explore Israel’s courtship of tribal peoples, particularly American Indians, in the context of its broader strategies to sanitize its violent history and segregationist policies. “Zionists have long invoked narratives of multicultural conviviality to convince Americans that supporting Israel... is the domain of the modern, the liberal, the genteel, and the civilized,” Salaita said. It’s a strategy rife with ironies, Salaita said, “principal among them the fact that Israel has long identified itself in the context of American expansionism/exceptionalism, but in this instance makes an effort to appropriate Native indigeneity.” His presentation will attempt to work out some of these ironies and provide historical and discursive context to current Israeli redwashing initiatives.

Scholars in America may get the opportunity to hear the “Redwashing: Israeli Claims to Indigeneity and the Political Role of Native Americans” panel later this year. The group has submitted the same proposal for the next NAISA meeting in June 2014.