Padma Bhushan Awardee Prof Homi K Bhabha Withdraws From Israel Conference After Criticism

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British scholar Homi K. Bhabha

He said he had intended to speak about how “ethnonationalist populist leaders” like Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, India’s Narendra Modi, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, and Hungary’s Viktor Orban employ political discourses that “polarise populations and racialise social relations”

Clarion India

RENOWNED Indian British scholar Homi K. Bhabha withdrew from a conference in Israel after facing criticism of his acceptance of the invitation, The electronic intifada reported.

“He cited as context for his decision the recent US-brokered normalisation of ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE),” the report said.

Bhabha, a Harvard University professor and one of the foremost experts on post-colonial studies, was scheduled to give the keynote address via Zoom at the annual conference of the Israeli Sociological Society (ISS) in February.

“I have withdrawn from the ISS conference because I have decided that it is not only what you say that matters, but also when and where you say it,” the 70-year-old Harvard scholar stated in an email to The Electronic Intifada.

Bhabha was honoured with Padma Bhushan in 2012 by the Indian government for his services in literature and education.

For Bhabha, the UAE-Israel deal was “amongst several cynical arrangements being put in place to silence and subvert the Palestinian cause” and “to expunge the Palestinian people from a radical reconfiguration of the balance of power and profit in the region.”

“In these circumstances, I made my decision,” Bhabha said.

He, however, expressed gratification towards the hosts of the conference. “None of this diminishes my respect for scholars who fight for what is right and just, and who invited me in a spirit of good faith and collegiality.”

The report said Bhabha justified his initial decision to accept the invitation because the ISS published a statement in June committing itself to “reflect, expose and criticise the violence of security forces and the police against individuals and disadvantaged groups, due to their skin colour or precarious civil status as often happens in the case of Palestinians, Ethiopian Jews, foreign workers and asylum seekers.”

He said he had intended to speak about how “ethnonationalist populist leaders” like Donald Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, India’s Narendra Modi, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, and Hungary’s Viktor Orban employ political discourses that “polarise populations and racialise social relations.”

Bhabha added that these leaders have exploited the pandemic to “further majoritarian agendas to the detriment of migrants, minorities and political dissidents.”

His acceptance of the invitation drew criticism from Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), a pro-Palestine group that seeks academic and cultural boycott of Israel.

Bhabha’s praise of hosts and argument for withdrawal has also come under criticism. “Aside from its sanitising rhetoric about ‘police violence’ and its reduction of the Indigenous Palestinians into yet another ‘disadvantaged group,’ the ISS has failed to recognise, let alone work against, Israel’s decades-old regime of military occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid,” PACBI said.

Bhabha has been criticised in the past for his views on the Palestinian conflict. According to him, it’s a case of competing nationalism. However critics say that the conflict is about “colonialism and national liberation”.

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