Capitalist "Coexistence" and the Politics of Apoliticism: Zionist Memories of Arab Labor after 1948

By Liora R. Halperin
Submitted to Session P5756 (Zionism and the Palestinians: Violence and Co-Existence, 2019 Annual Meeting
Israel; Palestine;
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
In the 1950s and 1960s, Israel towns and cities that had grown from Ottoman-era private Jewish agricultural colonies (moshavot) expressed nostalgia in two contradictory ways. On the one hand, they fondly recalled having had positive relations with their Arab workers until these workers and their villages “disappeared” in 1948. On the other hand, veteran members of these communities actively justified the destruction of those villages and even named new Jewish towns, built on the literal ruins of villages, after iconic settler figures. These dual moves, I show through research in moshava archives and the Zionist press, reflect the contradictions inherent in what I call the “capitalist coexistence narrative.” Capitalist Zionist elements, who flouted Labor Zionist orthodoxy by continuing to hire Arab labor throughout the mandate period, referred to their real, though always hierarchical connections with Arab workers as evidence that they enjoyed positive intercommunal relations that transcended politics. At the same time, they justified their labor practices through an appeal to “apolitical” pragmatism. That is, it simply made economic and security sense to employ their neighbors. This “politics of apoliticism,” as I call it, helped them justify the destruction of those same communities on similarly “apolitical” grounds: the pressures of the moment simply demanded these steps. Within a historiography of Zionism focused on ideological and partisan divides, especially between Labor Zionists and Revisionists, capitalist centrists, their discourses of apoliticism, and the power of such claims to shape collective consciousness have been disregarded. This paper is part of a project, informed by a scholarly turn toward histories of capitalism, to restore these Zionist communities and their particular forms of claims-making to the center of our historical discourse.