Anti-Semitism exists within ‘pro-Palestinian’ networks and must be tackled. But labelling everyone who speaks out against Israel’s crimes as ‘anti-Semitic’ is as unhelpful as it is untrue.
In a brave and powerful article in the New Statesman, Mehdi Hassan took on what he referred to as the “the banality of Muslim anti-Semitism” in Britain.
I am sure it wasn’t an easy article for him to write but it was an important article for at least two reasons. Firstly, it tackles a form of prejudice that has been left untouched by many. Secondly, it made me and I suspect many others, reflect on the prejudice that sits within our own social circles.
As I was reading the article I could not help but to draw parallels with the low-level anti-Semitism that exist within the ‘pro-Palestinian’ activist networks that I have dipped in and out of in the last few years.
Please stick with me here. What I am about to write involves me wading through a quagmire of politics, misinformation and high emotion.
From my personal experience, most of the ‘internationals’ (ie not Palestinians or Israelis) that are passionate about the ‘Palestine issue’ are so because they have a deep rooted empathy with other human beings that have been, and still are, suffering terribly.
I have however come across the occasional individuals who self identifies as ‘pro-Palestinian’ who has also held anti-Semitic views and used the conflict as context and cover to express these views.
The problem is that a significant minority of those in the former category – the well intentioned empathetic individuals – have not been vocal enough or clear enough in condemning these views.
In addition to this I have come across lazy and sloppy language often confusing the state of Israel with that of Jews worldwide – not anti-Semitic in itself but a line of thought that when combined with vocal criticism of Israel’s actions in the occupied territories, can too often lead to anti-Semitism.
In addition to all of this in the international activist community, I also came across wide-spread anti-Semitism within parts of the Palestinian population living in the West Bank.
Part of what triggered me to write this article was Mehdi writing about the conspiracy theories he had come across in the British Muslim community. With obvious sarcasm he wrote:
“What about 9/11? Definitely those damn Yehudis. I mean, why else were 4,000 Jews in New York told to stay home from work on the morning of 11 September 2001?”
A conspiracy theory that is as repulsive as it is without truth. A conspiracy theory however that I heard on four separate occasions from Palestinians in the West Bank and once from an international working in the there.
What was also interesting and perhaps equally as depressing was a conversation I had with an ISM volunteer in Nablus. I told her about hearing these conspiracy theories and she responded saying that (and I paraphrase from memory) ‘you can’t blame Palestinians for thinking like that. Wouldn’t you if you had lived under occupation for the last 45 years?’
At the time I didn’t know where to start. I gave my answer, “No” and walked off. In retrospect it clearly highlights to me a deep rooted problem -That too many who self identify as pro-Palestinian become apologists for a form of anti-Semitism.
In short I can see three issues that we as peace activists need to face up to:
1) A tiny minority of those who campaign for Palestinian rights do so holding unacceptable anti-Semitic views.
2) Too many of those who campaign for Palestinian rights, also too often turn a blind eye to anti-Semitism amongst fellow activists and amongst Palestinians.
3) A significant minority of Palestinians express anti-Semitic views and are left unchallenged (it goes without saying that this does not describe the majority of Palestinians).
On the flip side of this of all this is an equally important challenge that anyone serious about tackling anti-Semitism has to face up to.
I have personally been accused of being anti-Semitic, hating Israel and such forth**. All utter codswallop. Equally, I know good friends who have had similar accusations thrown at them. This not only cheapens the accusations but it makes seeing the actual anti-Semite amongst the false accusations much more difficult.
Equally, it is worth noting that it doesn’t just apply to individuals.
EAPPI –the organisation that I travelled to the West Bank with – has also had every criticism you can imagine thrown at it.
Melanie Phillips writing in the Mail quoted the following remarks about EAPPI:
“[EAPPI is] nothing but an insidious front for a pro-Palestinian campaign to propagate the partisan lie that, while Israel is besieged by child killers, infiltrated by suicide bombers, surrounded by Islamist propagandists and endures almost daily missiles launched at civilian areas, she is the aggressor, the terroriser, the occupying force.’
‘… the EAPPI ascribes Palestinian misery to apartheid Israel alone, consistently turning a blind eye to Palestinian aggression, corruption, rejectionism and incitement (not to mention Islamism, homophobia, racism and the oppression of women). The EAPPI is blind to antisemitism and deaf to the numerous overtures to peace which have been offered. They are ignorant of Israel’s need for security, and oblivious to the fact that she alone in the entire region is a vibrant, tolerant, multiracial, multi-faith society.’
This description of EAPPI is so far from what I experienced that it dissolves any sense of credibility that the author might have tried to project.
In short, I and many others cease to take it seriously because it bears no resemblance of the truth.
Our ability to tackle the low level anti-Semitism within the ‘pro-Palestinian community’ (a term I feel uncomfortable using but do so for the sake of ease) is hampered by those who aim to smear all involved as anti-Semitic.
I, like many others, have learnt to ignore such criticisms. The severity, sensitivity and frequency of this anti-Semitism though demands that we start taking this seriously. The roles of those who dedicate themselves to highlighting anti-Semitism has to be to begin to work with the progressive majority within ‘pro-Palestinian’ circles to tackle anti-Semitism– not blindly attacking. It helps nobody when these progressives spend their time having to defend themselves from false accusations.
Like Mehdi this article has not been easy for me to write. Removing prejudice and encouraging a greater degree of human empathy has to be the starting block of any future peace.
I am sure that this article will win me no friends from either side of this polarised debate. So I finish with a plea to the moderates who might quietly agree – speak out. Publically stand up for those falsely accused of anti-Semitism and condemn in the strongest terms any hint of true anti-Semitism you experience. The foundations of any future peace depend on it.
**Update** After receiving feedback I’d like to clarify that when I listed ‘anti-Semitism’ and ‘hating Israel’ next to each other I was seeking to illustrate some of the false accusations thrown at me, not to conflate the two as being the same.