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A response to 'Israel Shabbat: Bedouin Style'

Duke Students for Justice in Palestine would like to bring to the attention of the Duke community an event that is taking place this Friday, titled ‘Israel Shabbat: Bedouin Style’. We are deeply offended in the framing of Israel Shabbat as “Bedouin Style” and see it as blatantly offensive cultural appropriation. Not only were there were no efforts made to incorporate Arab voices, but the elements that were intended to portray Bedouin culture are “Bedouin” tents, blankets and a rented camel. Such actions, no matter how well intended, treat Bedouin culture as a gimmick rather than a historical and nuanced culture and people. Notions that can perpetuate damaging stereotypes are already apparent in the language used in the event’s advertisement:

“What is Bedouin-style you may ask? Well, it means that we will be enjoying our dinner on the floor with comfy pillows and blankets just like a real Bedouin tent!”

The Bedouins are, in fact, a group of nomadic Arabs spread across the Middle East who have faced impoverished conditions and political alienation for many generations. In Israel, particularly, the Arab Bedouins are a minority within a minority who face state policies that result in dispossession, displacement and forced relocation that has prompted condemnation from governments, organizations and human rights groups worldwide.

The rich cultural traditions and the ongoing struggles of Bedouins in Israel are topics deserving of serious and factually informed discussion. The fact that the organizers of the event failed to see any problem with the theme and representation of Bedouin people is reflective of the power dynamics in play and the normalization of the unequal treatment of minority groups in Israel.

We have reached out to faculty members, and six professors from the Jewish Studies department wrote a letter of protest to the organizers of the event. Despite the letter and various emails voicing individual concerns, we have yet to receive promise that the theme of the event will be cancelled or altered to respect cultural sensitivity. The use of such a vulnerable minority group's cultural symbols for a dominant group's cultural expression is insensitive and not only disrespectful to the Bedouins, but taints the dignity and respect we should have for indigenous groups everywhere.

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