'We ease our conscience by sending weapons to Israel and financial aid to Palestine'

In February, KU Leuven professor Nadia Fadil called for the immediate termination of all partnerships with Israeli universities. She also speaks out against Israel's colonial practices on social media. 'Israel spreads lies, and does so mostly undisturbedly.'


'I'm actually not sure if I even identify as pro-Palestinian', Fadil quickly retorts when we ask her why she openly defends the Palestinian cause. 'I simply act from a profound concern for human rights.' 

Nadia Fadil works as an associate professor at the KU Leuven Anthropology department where she researches religion, race and colonialism. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she sees not only a clash between two peoples but also the result of decades of European colonial history. 'Europe is inextricably linked with the conflict.' 

To get straight to the point: is Israel a settler colonial state? 
Fadil: 'Of course. The power dynamics are unmistakable: Israel stands as one of the last colonies in the world. Even Israel itself admits to as much. It considers the illegal West Bank settlements as part of its expansion project. Its colonisation process is unfolding as we speak.' 

'Because the State of Israel is not a stable one, it is rapidly advancing to guarantee its existence in the long term. A significant number of Israeli citizens support this approach. They want to see the "job" finished and "expel" the Indigenous Palestinians "posing danger" to the Jewish character of the State. That is the internal logic of the war they are waging.'

But Jewish people are also Indigenous to the land.
'The Indigenous status of Jewish people is an undisputed fact. Jewish people have always been part of the region. They also held administrative positions in the Ottoman Empire, for instance.' 

'Palestinians have become second-class citizens in their own territories'

'However, those Indigenous Jews did not establish Zionism (nationalist movement supporting a Jewish State in today's Palestine, red.). It was conceived by European Jews who had never lived in the Middle East, seeking to escape antisemitic Europe. They began associating Jewish life with the necessity of a nation-state, drawn from the nineteenth-century model emerging in Europe at the time. Thus, it's important to dissociate the history of the Zionist movement from the Arab world.'

Israeli occupation

Extremists from both sides seemingly want to completely eradicate their 'opponent'. Is peaceful coexistence still possible?
'That's your interpretation. I however am seeing a lot of discussion on both sides on potential paths to coexistence. Even Hamas issued a new charter recognizing the Green Line (borders demarcating the State of Israël and two Palestinian territories, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, red.), but Israel dismissed it as "implausible".' 

'Palestinians have become second-class citizens in their own territories. This is why they have consistently opposed the colonial State of Israel. When they express the desire to abolish Israel, they are referring to that version. This doesn't imply a desire to eradicate Jewish people.'

Is Israel currently on a mission to expel Palestinians from Gaza?
'You could say that. Palestinians in Gaza have been confined to a small portion of the territory. If Israel were to invade Rafah, where would those people go?' 

'The Western world as a whole holds on to a sense of moral superiority'

'The fundamental question is whether Israel can maintain itself as a Jewish state while also upholding democracy. To achieve this, it would need to distance itself from its apartheid policies, and grant Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homeland. But it refuses to take this step, fearing it would disrupt the demographic balance in the region. For Zionists, preserving stability is paramount.' 

What about people like Maarten Boudry, who argue for the moral superiority of Israel as a democratic state?
'Maarten Boudry isn't alone in this perspective. The Western world as a whole holds on to a sense of moral superiority, despite the fact that nation-states like the US have disrupted entire regions, resulting in millions of civil casualties. Still, we pretend "our" wars are "humane" and "justified", and "their" wars are "dirty" and "barbaric".' 

'Besides, Israel spreads lies on a regular basis, and does so mostly undisturbedly. "We need to control the narrative by all means necessary", they say. I don't think we can consider this behaviour morally superior.'

Europe as mediator? 

How should Europe react?
'By recognising that the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is not a war between two nations or peoples. I find that narrative very frustrating. Europe is not an external mediator, but is inextricably tied to the conflict because of its history as a colonising power. Palestine was under British mandate when the Palestinians allocated a portion of it to the Zionists.' 

'People lose their jobs because they speak out against Israel'

'Also, providing the Jewish people with their own land proved to be a convenient solution to the "Jewish problem" antisemitic Europe faced. The conflict thus emerged from a racist sentiment that has been externalised onto the Middle East.'

'On top of that, Europe upholds the conflict by supplying weapons to Israel and delivering development aid to Palestine. It is remarkable how it thus tries to ease its conscience.' 

What are some concrete steps we should take?
'A good starting point would be to impose a trade and weapon embargo on Israel, cutting off financial support flowing into the country. Also, we must stop the criminalisation of pro-Palestinian voices in Europe. At the moment, people are losing their jobs because they are speaking out against Israel. Is that really something we want to normalise?' 

Why does the EU not intervene?
'Too many geopolitical interests are at play. Israel is considered the only democracy in the Middle East, and as such serves as Europe's ally and outpost. If we lose Israel, we also lose our entry in the region.'

'Universities seem unable to formulate a clear demand for the respect of human rights'

'However, sometimes, I think this support comes at the expense of Zionists also. By giving the country carte blanche in its crimes, Europe actually makes Israel's position more difficult. Israel has never been this unpopular.' 

Double standards 

Do you receive criticism from your colleagues for your views?
'Those are not only my views. The American Anthropological Association (AAA), the largest professional organisation of anthropologists, has voiced its support for the boycott.' 

But anthropology is considered to be ideologically biassed by some.
'Yes, because anthropologists are close to the realities they study. The further you're removed from a certain reality, the easier it is to be swayed by emotions or prevailing propaganda.' 

KU Leuven has come under fire for its partnerships with Israeli universities. What position should it take?
'When Russia invaded Ukraine, everyone was convinced that a business-as-usual approach was impossible. Despite Israel's clear history of aggression, the situation is different now. We seem unable to formulate a clear, decisive demand for the respect of human rights.' 

'In any case, the problem is not individual, but structural partnerships. By collaborating with institutions like Hebrew University, you are effectively funding settler colonial politics. That is where I draw the line.'

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