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Political Science General

Social Justice and Israel/Palestine

Foundational and Contemporary Debates

edited by Aaron Hahn Tapper & Mira Sucharov

University of Toronto Press
Initial publish date
Jun 2019
General, Middle Eastern, Israel, Jewish
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    Jun 2019
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    Jul 2019
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This book critically assesses a series of complex and topical debates helping readers to make sense of the politics surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. Each chapter considers one topic, represented by two or three essays offered in conversation with one another. Together, these essays advance different perspectives; in some cases they are complementary and in others they are oppositional.


Topics include scholarly and activist interpretations of narratives in the context of Israel/Palestine; the concept of self-determination for Jewish Israelis and Palestinians; the debate over settler-colonialism as an appropriate framework for interpreting the history of Israel/Palestine; and questions surrounding Jewish and Palestinian refugees and the impact of displacement, among others. Through these foundational and contemporary topics, readers will be challenged to critically examine the strengths and weaknesses of each position in light of scholarly debates rooted in social justice and helped to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians in order to see a path forward toward justice for all.

About the authors

Aaron J. Hahn Tapper is the Mae and Benjamin Swig Professor of Jewish Studies, director of the Swig Program in Jewish Studies and Social Justice, and professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of San Francisco.

Aaron Hahn Tapper's profile page

Mira Sucharov is Associate Professor of Political Science at Carleton University. She is the author of The International Self: Psychoanalysis and the Search for Israeli-Palestinian Peace (2005) as well as many articles and op-eds on Israeli-Palestinian dynamics, Jewish politics, pedagogy, and reflections on the craft of being a scholar-blogger.

Mira Sucharov's profile page


  • Commended, Association of Jewish Libraries
  • Commended, Judaica Reference and Bibliography Award awarded by The Association of Jewish Libraries

Excerpt: Social Justice and Israel/Palestine: Foundational and Contemporary Debates (edited by Aaron Hahn Tapper & Mira Sucharov)



The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is all too often taught and studied through an informational and explanatory lens: what happened and why? Although the reasons behind this pedagogical approach are sound, it is equally important to examine ways in which the what, how, and why behind this seemingly intractable conflict can—and will—lead to its ultimate end. By examining the Israeli-Palestinian relationship through the lens of social justice, an interdisciplinary perspective that places concepts such as rights, justice, and oppression at the forefront, this book aims to de-exceptionalize this ostensibly exceptional conflict, empowering students to understand ways to end the suffering and injustice that plague those living in Israel/Palestine and beyond.


Before going any further, however, it is critical to lay out just what we mean by “social justice,” or, in this specific case, “social justice education.” One common misperception is that social justice education is akin to social diversity education. The latter idea, though valuable, actually is an approach focusing on an appreciation of social differences. In contrast, social justice education takes social diversity and goes much deeper, focusing instead on understanding the social and power dynamics that result in some groups having privilege, status, and access while other groups are disadvantaged, oppressed, and denied access. Additionally, it commonly pays attention to ways to eliminate oppression (Griffin, 2007).


The Book’s Primary Goal


The primary goal of this book is to help educators offer a more nuanced and sustained discussion of some of the sensitive, controversial, and contested issues that often plague discussions around Israel/Palestine. Although we recognize that many teachers have sought to metaphorically barricade the classroom doors against the seeping in of politics and activism (despite the fact that, by definition, this is not possible), and we ourselves have experienced that impetus at certain times in our careers, we aim to counter an avoidance approach. This is especially germane now, in the age of social media, where these debates are omnipresent. Put another way, this book endeavors to help students navigate these waters, offering tools to serve critical enquiry regarding some of the more vexing issues of this conflict. At the end of the day, we want students to question answers more than answer questions.


The Book’s Structure: Foundational and Contemporary Debates


The chapters of this book contain a series of complex and topical debates helping students make sense of some of the most foundational and contemporary ideas around the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Each chapter considers one topic, represented by two or three essays offered in conversation with one another. Together, these essays advance different perspectives; in some cases they are complementary and in others they are oppositional. The eight chapters are each introduced by a short framing essay, with the first four covering various foundational issues and the last four addressing more contemporary themes.


Foundational Debates. Chapter 1, “Narratives,” with essays by George E. Bisharat, Alan Dowty, and Samia Shoman, presents various scholarly and activist approaches to the interpretation of narratives in the context of Israel/Palestine. Is there a difference between narratives, facts, and truth? If so, what is it? Are monolithic narratives more analytically useful, or should scholars and students take care to uncover differences within each community? Do certain narratives about the conflict serve to highlight certain worldviews and subsequent policy options, thus foreclosing other possibilities?


Chapter 2, “Self-determination,” with essays by Brent E. Sasley, Ran Greenstein, and Thea Renda Abu El-Haj, assesses the concept of self-determination in the case of Jewish Israelis and Palestinians. Does self-determination necessarily mean state sovereignty? What is the role of Zionism’s success in justifying Israel’s contemporary desire to maintain a Jewish demographic majority? What should be the role of Palestinian refugees in assessing just outcomes? Is the conflict about rights for the people currently living in Israel/Palestine, or should those who live outside the land also be accounted for? Is territorial compromise the most suitable way to address the demands of self-determination?


Chapter 3, “Settler-Colonialism,” addresses the debate over settler-colonialism as an appropriate framework for interpreting the history of Israel/Palestine. An essay by Sam Fleischacker and a second by As’ad Ghanem and Tariq Khateeb consider whether the settler-colonial model is the best model for understanding Israel/Palestine or whether the competing nationalisms model is better. Preferencing one analytical model over another means that one category will be better suited than another for historical and contemporary comparison. Which model one adopts also guides analysts and officials towards certain policy inferences regarding what is most appropriate and what is most just.


Chapter 4, “International Law,” tackles an array of international legal issues, including the use of force as laid out in international humanitarian law, the legality of the occupation and of the West Bank settlements, and Introduction religious rights in Jerusalem. Three essays, by Michael Lynk, Lisa Hajjar, and Miriam F. Elman, lay out particular legal arguments for assessing these issues, as well as the status of the occupation and the nature of the sporadic Israel-Hamas conflicts.


Contemporary Debates. Chapter 5, “Refugees and Displacement,” begins the contemporary debates section, with three essays on the topic of displacement and dispossession. Roula El-Rifai describes the role of third-party countries (in her case, Canada) in facilitating Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on the Palestinian refugee issue; Shayna Zamkanei traces the debate over possible restitution for the Jewish refugees who were displaced from Arab-majority countries from the 1940s onwards; and Safa Aburabia turns the lens on the Bedouin citizens of Israel, showing how the legacy of dispossession since the Nakba (catastrophe) has continued through current state planning policies, and has shaped the ways that Bedouin communities have resisted.


Chapter 6, “Apartheid,” addresses the debate over whether the apartheid label, which is used increasingly in Palestine solidarity activist circles, is an appropriate way to describe Israel’s military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza. With Oren Kroll-Zeldin presenting one essay and Zeina M. Barakat and Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi another, each puts forth an argument for why the label is or is not applicable to Israel/Palestine.


Chapter 7, “Intersectional Alliances,” looks at how the conflict has been exported globally, how marginalized groups have sought out solidarity with one other, and how the concept of intersectionality, including overlapping oppressions, has played a role in the politics of Israel/Palestine. Aziza Khazzoom examines the possibility of cooperation and solidarity between Mizrahim (Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent) and Palestinians in Israel/Palestine; Joey Ayoub traces ways that African American activists have formed transnational alliances with Palestinians; and Yousef Munayyer describes the evolving US-Israel relationship, suggesting that Israel is coming to be perceived less as part of the liberal and democratic order, and more as a representative of authoritarianism and ethnocracy.


Chapter 8, “BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions,” comprises three essays by Tom Pessah, Rachel Fish, and Amjad Iraqi. Each lays out a case either for or against BDS as a set of tactics, considering sub-issues such as attempts in the US, Israel, and elsewhere to legislate against BDS; what the implications of these attempts are for justice in the region; whether or not BDS is an anti-Semitic movement; and if a generalized academic culture has contributed to what advocates of Israel see as the BDS movement’s unfair targeting of Israel.


As these 22 essays demonstrate, assessing the conflict in Israel/Palestine in the context of social justice is not a straightforward task. While each author has clear ideas about the best route towards justice, sometimes the standards of measurement differ. Authors disagree on elements such as the interpretation of law, how to weigh human rights in the context of collective identity, which academic and activist categories best apply, and what the role of territorial compromise should be. Through each chapter, readers will be able to ascertain an array of convergences and divergences regarding these eight foundational and contemporary topics, and thus be able to discern the core arguments at play. Ideally, this will help readers to determine the strengths and weaknesses of each position, deepening their understanding of the history and politics of Israel/Palestine. Ultimately, we hope that this book will help readers to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians in order to see a path forward—towards justice for all.

Editorial Reviews

"The book is a powerful contribution that delves into the politics of the Israel/Palestine question, rendering it invaluable reading for under- and postgraduates as well as activists who want to understand these politics."

<em>Journal of Modern Jewish Studies</em>

Other titles by Mira Sucharov