Islamophobia and Antisemitism: Reflections of an Arab-Jew

Islamophobia and Antisemitism: Reflections of an Arab-Jew

Ella Shohat, an Arab-Jew from a Baghdadi family now living in New York, is a Professor of Cultural Studies and Middle Eastern Studies at New York University. During this event, she will elaborate on the Arab-Jew figure, and her ongoing challenge to the Eurocentric Arab-versus-Jew binary. By addressing the silenced histories of Arab Jews within Muslim spaces, Shohat disrupts the oppositional pairing of ‘Muslim’ and ‘Jew’ and of islamophobia and antisemitism. Islamophobia today, Shohat argues, holds echoes of the anti-Semitic figure of ‘the Jew’. Shohat’s work has shaped a new space to reflect on discourses on Muslims and Jews in Europe, critiquing the isolationist approach in the discussion of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism which also often places these phenomena as in opposition.

In current debates, we see that some warn that Islamophobia and racist practices against Muslims are on the rise, pointing out that Muslim women wearing headscarves experience violence, that anti-terrorist measures undermine privacy and human rights of Muslims, and that politicians from mainstream parties (sometimes in the name of Israel or the fight against anti-Semitism) freely express their Islamophobic views. Others express their fears of rising anti-Semitism, pointing to the recent extra police protection of Jewish centers or to the harassment experienced by those wearing Jewish dress in certain neighborhoods with a large Muslim immigrant population. The urgency of concerns about anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are emphasized with references to the Holocaust. Such references are also attacked, be it as a marginalization of anti-Semitism or the Holocaust, or on the contrary as a way of silencing any serious and open debate.

This event challenges this opposition by considering the topic of Islamophobia and antisemitism from a postcolonial perspective and by focusing on non-European Jewish and Muslim voices. It departs from the observation that it is not the first time that Islamophobic and anti-Semitic practices are connected: the history of Jews and Muslims (inside and outside of Europe) is intertwined, often in contradictory ways.

Although some now claim Judaism as the part of the essence of Western culture, in the past, European Jews were never fully considered to be part of ‘Western civilization’: Jews were imagined as Oriental (Eastern) Other, as were Muslims. They were labeled barbarian, and had to be civilized, destroyed, or assimilated. When Western European Jews were acknowledged as part of Europe, it was often at the expense of the Oriental Jewish and Muslim Other. To become part of the European project Jews, as Shohat has argued, had to de-Orientalize themselves and were contrasted with Muslims and Jews from the Orient.

Spanning several decades, Professor Shohat’s work has introduced conceptual frameworks that fundamentally challenged conventional understandings of Palestine, Zionism and the Middle East, focusing on the pivotal figure of the Arab-Jew. Defying the binarist and Eurocentric Arab-versus-Jew rendering of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Shohat’s work has dared to engage with the deeper historical and cultural questions swirling around post/colonialism, Orientalism and nationalism. Shohat’s paradigm-shifting work unpacks such fraught issues as the anomalies of the national/colonial in Zionist discourse; the narrating of Jewish pasts in Muslim spaces; the links and distinctions between the dispossession of the Nakba and the dislocation of Arab-Jews; the traumatic memories triggered by partition and border-crossing; the echoes within Islamophobia of the anti-Semitic figure of ‘the Jew’; and the efforts to imagine a possible future inter-communal ‘convivencia’. Shohat’s transdisciplinary perspective illuminates the cultural politics in and around the Middle East, forming part of her larger project of the decolonization of knowledge.

In a conversation with Shohat, Matthea Westerduin and Yolande Jansen explore in what way the perspective of these silenced voices and histories (of both Oriental Jews and Muslims) shed new light on today’s position of Muslims and Jews in Europe and the Middle East.

After the interview with Shohat, Annelies Moors, Ivan Kalmar and Nasar Meer will join the conversation in a roundtable.

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Ella Habiba Shohat

Ella Shohat is a professor of Cultural Studies and Middle Eastern Studies at New York University. Her books include: Taboo Memories, Diasporic Voices (Duke Univ. Press, 2006); Israeli Cinema: East/West and the Politics of Representation (Univ. of Texas Press, 1989; Updated Edition with a new postscript chapter, I.B. Tauris, 2010); Talking Visions: Multicultural Feminism in a Transnational Age (MIT & The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1998); Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation and Postcolonial Perspectives (co-edited, Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1997); Between the Middle East and the Americas: The Cultural Politics of Diaspora (co-edited, The Univ. of Michigan Press, 2013, Honorable Mention in the Non-Fiction Category of the 2014 Arab American Book Award, The Arab American Museum); and with Robert Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism (winner of the Katherine Kovacs Singer Best Book Award,  Routledge, 1994; 2nd Edition for the book’s 20th Anniversary, with a new Afterward chapter, Routledge, 2014); Multiculturalism, Postcoloniality and Transnational Media (Rutgers Univ. Press, 2003); Flagging Patriotism: Crises of Narcissism and Anti-Americanism (Routledge, 2007); and Race in Translation: Culture Wars Around the Postcolonial Atlantic (NYU press, 2012). She co-edited a number of special issues for the journal Social Text, including “Edward Said: A Memorial Issue,” “Palestine in a Transnational Context,” and “911-A Public Emergency?” while her writing has been translated into over 10 languages. Shohat has also served on the editorial board of several journals, including: Social TextMiddle East CritiqueMeridiansInterventions; and Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication. She is a recipient of such fellowships as Rockefeller; the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University, where she also taught at The School of Criticism and Theory; the NYU Humanities Initiative fellowship (with Sinan Antoon) for “Narrating Iraq: Between Nation and Diaspora;” and Fulbright research / lectureship at the University of São Paulo, Brazil, for studying the cultural intersections between the Middle East and Latin America.  Recently, Shohat has been examining “the question of the Arab-Jew” in conjunction with “the question of Judeo-Arabic.” Her book On the Arab-Jew, Palestine, and Other Displacements, which comprises of her selected work since the 1980s, has just been published by Pluto Press.

Matthea Westerduin

Matthea Westerduin studied cultural history, theology and literature and is currently a PhD candidate at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Her research focuses on religion, racism and exclusion. She explores how in Western Europe the stereotyping of Muslims and Jews is historically interwoven with ideas on ‘Judaism’ and ‘Islam’. Together with theater maker Iona Tudor Matthea created the performance ‘Loosing our Whiteness’ that was part of the Parade 2016.

Yolande Jansen

Professor Yolande Jansen is Special Professor for the Socrates-foundation at VU University, where she holds the chair for ‘humanism in relation to religion and secularity’. She is also a senior researcher and lecturer at the Amsterdam Centre for Globalization Studies and the department of philosophy of the UvA. Since September 2012, Yolande Jansen studied philosophy and French Studies at the University of Amsterdam and at the University of Paris VII.

One of the focuses of her research are the controversies in the Netherlands and other European countries concerning Jewish and Muslim religious practices such as ritual slaughter and circumcision.

Annelies Moors

Annelies Moors door Anja MeulenbeltAnnelies Moors studied Arabic at the University of Damascus and Arabic and anthropology at the University of Amsterdam. She holds the chair for contemporary Muslim societies at the department of sociology and anthropology at the University of Amsterdam. Moors has published widely on gender, nation and religion in such fields as Muslim family law and Islamic marriages, wearing gold, the visual media (postcards of Palestine), migrant domestic labor, Islamic fashion, and wearing face-veils. She is also a core group member of the Arab Families Working Group (AFWG). From 2001-2008 she has been the Amsterdam chair of the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World. She has held visiting positions at the University of San’a, Yemen, and was Honorably Visiting Professor at the London School of Fashion (London University of the Arts). She was the primary investigator of an international NORFACE research programme on ‘The emergence of Islamic fashion in Europe’, and of the NWO Cultural Dynamics programme on ‘Islamic cultural practices and performances: New youth cultures in Europe’. Currently, she is the PI of the NWO programme Muslim Activism in the Netherlands after 1989 (senior researcher: Martijn de Koning) and of the ERC advanced grant “Muslim Marriages” (senior researcher: Julie McBrien), see

Nasar Meer

Nasar MeerNasar Meer is Professor of Race, Identity and Citizenship in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, and a Royal Society of Edinburgh Research Fellow (2014-2019). He was previously Professor of Comparative Citizenship and Social Policy in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Strathclyde University, and a Reader at both Strathclyde and Northumbria University where he was also co-Director of the Centre for Civil Society and Citizenship (CCSC), in the Faculty of Arts, Design and Social Sciences. He is a holder of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Thomas Reid Medal. During 2013 he was a Minda de Gunzberg Fellow at Harvard University, a Visiting Fellow with the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities (IASH) at the University of Edinburgh, and a member of the British Council’s Outreach Program. He has been named a Routledge ‘Super Author’ and has studied at the Universities of Essex, Edinburgh, and Bristol, and held visiting fellowships with the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Studies, Harvard University, and the University of Aarhus. Nasar was previously a Lecturer at the University of Southampton, and a researcher at the Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship (CSEC), Bristol University, and remains an honorary fellow. In 2014 he was elected to the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Young Academy (YAS) and the UK Social Policy Association Executive (SPA), and in 2016 he was elected as co-Chair of YAS and as a Trustee of the British Sociological Association (BSA).



Ivan Kalmar

Ivan KalmarIvan Kalmar’s research and teaching concentrates on cultural history, anthropological linguistics, and semiotics. He has addressed a wide range of topics ranging from Inuit language and culture to the mythology of the computer. Recently his publications have focused on the image of Muslims and Jews in western Christian cultural history. Within this context, he has written and lectured widely on orientalist notions about the Jews, and on the common roots of antisemitism and Islamophobia. Currently, Kalmar is investigating how in the nineteenth century the western concept of the “language family” mixed with religious notions to establish the pseudoscientific notion of “races” such as the Aryan and the Semitic. It also enabled the formation of pan-nationalist movements such as pan-Germanism, pan-Slavism, and pan-Turkism. This development, Kalmar’s research indicates, contributed significantly to the formation of modern nationalisms. Eventually, it led to the establishment of new nation-states in Europe: a process that may still not be quite finished today.