August 7, 2020

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Academic journal accuses Israel of ‘vegan-washing"

In the latest Journal of Intercultural Studies, there is an article by Esther Alloun called “Veganwashing Israel’s Dirty Laundry? Animal Politics and Nationalism in Palestine-Israel.

Predictably, the article accuses Israel is using vegan-friendly policies to distract from, yes, its “occupation.”

The abstract:

In popular media and public discourse, Israel has been referred to as ‘the first vegan nation’ and the ‘global centre for veganism’ because of the mainstreaming of veganism in the country in the 2010s. The article examines this triumphalist rhetoric and argues that animal welfare and veganism have been enrolled as a device to narrate the Israeli nation within terms of Jewish Israeli sovereignty. The contemporary cultural politics of veganism in Israel circulate and reinforce national myths of exceptionalism tethered to a Zionist exclusionary ideology, including claims to unique victimhood, pioneering achievements and moral rectitude, which further entrench Jewish Israeli belonging and Palestinian unbelonging. Indeed, Israeli institutions have co-opted an image of ‘vegan/animal-friendliness’ as makers of the nation’s modernity and morality. Yet, drawing on fieldwork with Jewish Israeli activists, the paper argues that both the deliberate practices of veganwashing and its well-intentioned critiques overlook the nuances and ambivalences of Israeli animal politics. The paper also highlights that critiques of veganwashing do not go far enough to show how it is negotiated by Palestinian animal advocates. It suggests that focus on veganwashing as the primary debate of settler-colonial injustice and animal politics has paradoxically rendered them inaudible, and calls instead for a politics of listening.

Parts of the paper are unintentionally funny.

Activists have rightly pointed out that Israeli veganwashing generates much violence through its deflection and obscuring of settler colonial oppression.

Talking about Israeli leadership in veganism generates much violence?

The paper laments that any discussion of veganwashing has the same practical effect as veganwashing itself:

Debating veganwashing can (unwittingly) serve as a politics of deflection itself by drawing attention away from the actual settler colonial politics of the Israeli State and Palestinians’ resistance to it.

Perhaps an entirely new field can be founded, of X-washing-washing, where debate about how Israel tries to deflect from its awful crimes is actually a deflection from discussing Israel’s awful crimes. Maybe even Alloun herself is a Zionist shill for increasing the debate about X-washing and deflecting from writing yet another article about how Israel is more directly evil.

The absurdities continue. The author interviewed some new Israeli Jewish vegans who stupidly compared animal cruelty to the Holocaust. Based on these anecdotes, Alloun concludes:

Mainstream Israeli culture tends to not only essentialise Jewish victimhood and innocence, crystallised through events like the Holocaust and as a core part of Israeli Jewish identity, but also to deny that other humans can be victim (Pappé 2010). This is crucial to understand the broader implications of activists folding animals into national (Jewish) victimhood and political innocence.

Using Ilan Pappe’s fictional thesis that Zionist deny any other human suffering besides Jews, Alloun makes up a further theory that Jews will include animals as fellow victims, based on interviewing two idiots. Somehow, I doubt that Yad Vashem would agree.

There is a telling anecdote as Alloun talks with members of the Palestinian Animal League, the only Palestinian animal rights group in the West Bank.

Sudfeh, PAL’s vegan cafeteria (and main vegan initiative) in Abu Dhis (West Bank) which had got a lot of press and sent a clear signal that Israel did not have a monopoly over veganism, had closed because of a lack of business. Speaking to PAL volunteers and its core team at the conference, it also became apparent that veganism was neither the centrepiece nor a top priority of PAL’s animal advocacy. Conference tours of Bethlehem, Ramallah and Jalazon prompted an international attendee to remark that she had not yet seen the Palestinian vegan movement she had expected and come to the West Bank to witness (fieldnotes). There is no beating Israel at the game of the vegan nation.

The paper goes on to note that PAL is really an anti-Israel initiative where the welfare of animals is only secondary, and decries that white Westerners think of it as a normal Western-style animal rights group.

PAL rejects patronising and neocolonial interventions by well-intentioned international animal NGOs (see Safi 2017b) and proposes a unique form of animal politics with Palestinian national liberation as its guiding principle. In the context of a literal war zone, PAL’s platform envisages a decolonial and decolonised politics of animal liberation as an integral part of Palestinian self-determination. It therefore puts the Palestinian struggle for justice, and boycott of the Israeli State at the centre of its activist engagement.

In short, there is really no Palestinian animal rights group and there is not a single vegan restaurant in the territories. The one and only animal rights NGO uses animal rights as another tool to generate hatred against Israel – much like this academic paper does.

In the end, these sorts of papers which are increasingly being published without any fact checks or objective editing are part of a huge anti-Israel push in academia. Cutting out the pseudo-academic language, the “laundry” literature all has in common a thesis that Israelis do not have the right to have any pride in their people or their state. Israeli pride is simply a subterfuge for covering crimes against Palestinians, which is the only valid discourse about Israel that is allowed. Any other discussion must be silenced by accusing it of being a means to divert attention from what they believe is the real topic. It is psychological projection: it is not Israel that is so obsessed with Palestinians that they embrace liberal causes to distract the world from them, but these pseudo-academics are the ones who cannot look at Israel with anything but their occupation goggles.

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