Bombay is still quite integrated (A response to Peter Beinart)

Peter Bienart has an article in Haaretz titled My students are considering boycotting Israel. That would be a serious mistake in which he makes a comparison between the Indian and Palestinian partitions that struck me as not quite appropriate.

Your example for the Indian case would be more apt if you’d used a city in Punjab, which is where the brunt of the migration occurred. Most Muslim families living in Bombay stayed put, though some toyed with the idea. Perhaps the most famous to depart was Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder and first President of Pakistan. His ancestral home is now the US consulate in Bombay, everyone still calls it Jinnah house (largely without resentment I might add).

The story in Punjab was very different, with violent reprisals, theft, abductions, rape. There and in other parts of North India your analogy may apply, but the policy was to directly resettle refugees in the homes of people who had fled. As you can imagine there was some corruption and opportunism but it was limited. Nothing like that happened in Palestine, Palestinians were driven from their homes, the villages destroyed and the desirable homes in cities allocated to favor Jewish residents.

This is rather different from the Indian partition. Indians (from many different regions) were also part of a far-flung diaspora in Africa and South-East Asia. Various nationalist movements led to their departure or flight as well, some came to India others migrated to the West. Kenya, Uganda and Burma are all good examples. That’s perhaps the apt analogy for the Mizrahi migration, but you also have to recognize that the bulk of those Jewish immigrants to Israel came after the Palestinian expulsions were completed, in late 1948 and 1949.

The Israeli case is very different from other nationalist movements you listed (and we could add many more) because it is an example of nationalist colonialism. I think we’re being a bit dishonest with ourselves if we do not admit that there is something rather un-natural about saying any Jewish person, from anywhere in the world, has a right to come and settle in Haifa even though his/her ancestors haven’t lived in that place (if at all) for 50 generations. Meanwhile, the children or grandchildren of someone forcibly driven from Haifa cannot return. The closest analogy for it is actually the dispossession of Native Americans in the country both of us live in.

The fact is that the root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is 1948, and the solutions you’re proposing do not really resolve it. You just sweep 1948 under the rug by claiming the same and worse happened elsewhere.

I have family from Punjab, lived in Bombay as a child, I have family who are Sikh, Muslim and Hindu and people who were directly affected by the partition. I happen to believe the partition of India was a mistake because it created a “Muslim state”. The inevitable next question after that was to define who was “Muslim enough”. That’s why Pakistan is devolving into sectarian violence and I fear a “Jewish state” or an “Islamic state” will do the same in Israel/Palestine.