David Sheen, an Israeli who needs no introduction, is, understandably, irked that I would call him a “Native Informant.” I am not going to pretend that I did not mean it as a pejorative, but I selected that specific term because of its history. In other words, I used the term as an academic would. It is often used in Post-Colonial Studies and other Humanities disciplines, especially in relation to how narratives and perceptions held or controlled by a dominant group are originally formed. Since then, in our brave new world of doublespeak, it has also become a part of a well-equipped demagogue’s arsenal.
Simply put, a “Native Informant” is someone who is accepted as the expert about a group or location solely by virtue of belonging to that group or coming from that location. This is often in the context of western audiences “learning” about non-western or even western groups on the margins of their societies, and rarely the other way round. Speakers are introduced, for instance, as “here to tell us what it is like to be a woman in African society.” The fact that there is no such thing as “African society”, even a single country on the African continent will have within its borders some 200 diverse nations and cultures, is conveniently ignored. While priding themselves in their pluralism, western audiences of the Native Informant have no problem at all with endorsing the narrative of a single representative of any non-western audience, even one that displays a broader spectrum of diversity than their own. African writers, such as Nigeria’s Chimamanda N. Adichie, who have the attention of western audiences, have highlighted the danger of the Single Story. Why would anyone refuse to listen to her impeccable argument?
Well, here is the thing with Native Informants: they do not tell us what we do not already accept as fact or valid opinion. We only give them a platform because they will repeat or reiterate an opinion that we already hold. In fact, informants from the same society who offer a contradictory perspective are suppressed. I know what has happened to me for calling out compatriots who have distorted Zimbabwean culture and society in return for all the money the NGO-industry doles out. In other words, Native Informants are also what are called “useful idiots.”
This is why David Sheen takes his tour only to those Black people who already strongly believe that Israel is a “White country” and Jews part of a global White supremacist apparatus that includes White policemen in Baltimore. He did not put that idea in their heads. The credit for that idea has been earned by a long line of people and groups, going all the way back to the original Blood Libel. But when Sheen says these things, he makes them all the more real. After all, he is from Israel. He has inside knowledge. However, very few of those who attend his talks would dare to explore the alternative voices out there. Associative Dissonance. In the glorious and arduous battle against White Supremacy/Racism, any such alternative voices can only come from the enemies of Black Liberation and Social Justice, right? Such a narrow, absolutist view looks creepy on a horror movie about an isolated community in America’s Bible Belt, yet it has found fertile ground to flourish on university campuses around the western world.
As a country, the State of Israel is not sure at this stage how to react to the potential of Native Informants to damage the country’s image. There have been calls for punitive measures, and proposed legislation to curtail their activities. However, as long as they are simply preaching to the converted, my view is that the authorities should leave these Native Informants. They have not divulged any sensitive information or military secrets. Perhaps Israeli companies have lost international business, but they have lost it to markets they were going to lose it to anyway because the BDS movement is a lot bigger than Sheen. To date no African government has cancelled any bilateral agreement in reaction to Sheen’s claims of a “war on Africans.” None of the African or African Diaspora groups that support the State of Israel have reconsidered their position. The fact that for all his efforts, for all the people turning up to hear him speak, David Sheen has not significantly changed the public perception of Israel means that even his most avid listeners will eventually get tired of his travelling act. This is why I used “Native Informant” as a dismissive pejorative.