An Interview with Scholar and Activist Ronit Lentin

Ronit Lentin1.    Tell us a bit about your early life, being born in Haifa and migrating to Ireland.

I was born in Haifa, Palestine, in 1944, before the establishment of the state of Israel. My parents came to Palestine from Bucovina, northern Romania, my father in 1926 as a boy of 13 and my mother in 1940, as a 20 year old; many members of her family were deported by the Romanian fascists to Transnistria and some perished. My British Mandate birth certificate lists my parents’ nationality as ‘Palestinian’, but of course this does not make me a Palestinian. I grew up in the State of Israel in a Zionist family and there was nothing in my education that made me question Zionism. I did not serve in the army (for medical reasons, not my choice at the time) which thankfully made me different to most Israelis. I studied at the Hebrew University, but did not complete my first degree for a variety of reasons.

My ‘road to Damascus’ moment happened shortly after the 1967 war when I followed Matzpen, the first anti-Zionist socialist group to analyse Israel as a settler colonial imperial power and to speak about the dispossession of the Palestinians in the 1948 Nakba. By that stage, I was no longer a Zionist. In 1968 I joined the newly founded Israel Television, where I met my husband, television director Louis Lentin, with whom I migrated to Ireland in 1969. I worked in television and in journalism before I embarked on a late academic career, working as a lecturer in sociology in the University of Dublin, Trinity College, where I founded a masters programme in Ethnic and Racial Studies (later re named ‘Race, Ethnicity, Conflict’), teaching Race Critical Theories and Gender and Race. I published extensively on Israel-Palestine, gender and violence, and race and migration in Ireland.

2.    How did you come to be involved in the Palestine solidarity campaign, and why do you feel it’s important for others to do the same?

I formally joined the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign only recently, although I was active in debating Palestinian issues and organising conferences on Palestine for many years, bringing speakers to the university, and supervising PhDs on Palestine. In 2007 I organised a conference on Palestine in a global context, the proceedings of which were published in an edited collection Thinking Palestine (Zed Books, 2008) with chapters by Ilan Pappe, Honaida Ghanim, Raef Zreik and several UK and US scholars. In 2010 I published Co-Memory and Melancholia: Israelis Memorialising the Palestinian Nakba (Manchester UP, 2010). Over the years I have written many newspaper articles and spoken publicly about the question of Palestine.

I plan to get further involved with the IPSC, particularly working on the academic boycott. Recently, we have been discussing establishing a group of Jews for Palestine – I am aware of the impact made by Jewish people working for Palestine, but I am yet to be convinced about organising ‘as Jews’.

There is broad public support for Palestine in Ireland culminating recently in the Irish lower house, the Senate, voting to recognise the state of Palestine (though personally, I wonder whether such recognition, despite its strong symbolic value, is actually about bringing the two state solution in by the back door). The IPSC is articulate and effective and is also clear about opposing any signs of antisemitism, of which we are accused by Israel and its representatives and supporters.

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