Anti-Semitism in pro-Palestinian networks

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.


Filed under Human rights, Middle East, Social comment

33 responses to “Anti-Semitism in pro-Palestinian networks

  1. Pingback: My journey in tackling anti-Semitism | Hynd's Blog

  2. Pingback: 2013 and the future of Hynd’s Blog | Hynd's Blog

  3. Elaine Matthews

    I will take seriously your vapid pronouncements of how misunderstood all of the snow white innocent “anti-zionists” are and how low level is the anti-Semitism of the anti-Israeli brigade when you have read and properly digested David Nirnberg’s new book, “Anti-Judaism.”

    Just because you, personally, don’t want to push naked and starving Jewish children into the gas showers doesn’t mean that you are not an anti-Semite.

    Don’t want to be called out as an anti-Semite, then stop being one.


  4. Greg

    One reason pro-Israel supporters dismiss Pro-Palestinian organisations as anti-Semitic is because the latter frequently ignore the rampant anti-Semitism in the OT’s (and Arab world more generally). Similar to Hynd’s point about the ISM worker. Make no mistake, Hezbollah and Hamas are balls-to-the-wall anti-Semitic and the Pro-Palestinian community will never win anything other than contempt from Jewish communities by standing next to them. Any Pro-Palestinian supporter genuinely interested in improving the lot of Palestinians should oppose Hezbollah and Hamas as vehemently as Israel does. The fact that they never do (in fact, your Palestinian activist is more likely to support them) is telling.


  5. Blanca

    Dear Steve,
    Thank you for writing this article. I always try to go one step further in all my beliefs, I tend to question my prejudices and strive to find more info about everything. But I feel very alone in this. Not only in the issue of Israel/Palestine. It happens to me a lot in the fields of politics/economics. After years of trying, now I tend to avoid discussing these situations with people who feel very passionate about either side, as they will find my criticism of “their side” as an attack. It is usually a matter of: if you are saying this is wrong, it means you are supporting the opposite. If you condemn something we do, we will consider it an aggression. Or they’ll think I’m just playing devil’s advocate. It is sad, it is tiring. Very few people want to listen to criticism, their stance is inflexible and they will probably pigeonhole you rather than listen or discuss.
    It’s a brave article, I hope more people read it.


  6. Chris

    I pretty much agreed with what you said so didn’t think I had much to add, I have been told qby someone who was entirely certain they were rught that Amnesty never criticises Israel, and I was once called anti Semitic because I was handing out a leaflet where the para about human rights abuses carried out by Israel was above the identical length para about human rights abuses carried out by Palestinian authority and terrrist attacks by Palestinians in Israel. You cannot have a sensible argument with someone who sees the world in this way, and sees criticism of the actions of a government even when accompanied by discussion of what ” the other side ” are doing as a slur on an entire race and/or religion, and unfortunately some people just resort to a tit for tat in the face of this reaction and either they start believing their own rhetoric, be it due to sloppy arguments, sloppy thinking or being taken in by the conspiracy theorists on both sides of the argument. I do not think I Am a racist because I have criticised government s of countries in Africa of human rights abuses, and have never been called one, the same holds for Israel and Palestine. Organisations like amnesty have ended up in the situation with Israel and Palestine where we frequently feel obliged to mention the faults of bothIsrael andPalestine in a way we do not with other parts of the sometimes giving the impression that any criticism of one or the other was partially excused by the actions of the other lot.


  7. richardmillett

    In one of your blogs you mention that activists are shouting “Free free Palestine, from the river to the sea, free free Palestine”.
    What do you think that means, Steve? do you think that is anti-Semitic or not?


  8. richardmillett

    Oh dear Steve you have fallen for all the Geneva Convention stuff without proper analysis. In your book Israel is a criminal. Fine, but I think you need to look deeper. There is more than one side to the interpretation of “international law”. Jews were allowed to live on what is now the West Bank according to the British Mandate (now incorporated in the UN Charter btw) and the partition resolution. So, now Steve goes against all that and wants Jews out? Why? What is the standing of the UN to make any such claim that Jews are suddenly illegal?


    • Richard,

      Regardless of whether you or I agree – Israel has,in the eyes of Int community violated IHL on numerous occasions (and still does).

      Do you want me to list them? If you are happy to read elsewhere then this isn’t a bad starting place… Although I am not a lawyer – I know many of the guys at Diakonia are.

      It is fine for you to have your opinion, but you have to be aware that it stands in stark contrast with the vast majority of the Int community (not just the UN).


  9. Jeff Nguyen

    You’ve made some good points here. I agree that its important to distinguish when one is critical of the actions of a government rather than its people. The mirror can be turned on ourselves in America, many Americans disagree with the current policies, extrajudicial assassinations, drone warfare, brutal economic sanctions. There are undoubtedly many throughout the world who despise America for these actions and justifiably so. I do believe that there are many in the general population of Israel that disagree passionately with their governments actions toward the Palestinians but like in America, their voices are marginalized and drowned out by the loudest and most bellicose among them.


  10. Interesting – I’ll be intrigued to see other responses to your post from different sides. I think my parameters and definitions are a bit different from yours, and I’d be happy to class as antisemitic (at least the discourse, if not the person) what you might just call sloppy or careless. Similarly – I have heard negative reports of brushes with EAPPI from people whose views are less decided than Melanie Phillips’s. But – different people can experience any complex and dispersed organisation in different ways, depending on individual encounters, and it’s good that they seem to be trying to respond to some of the criticisms. I find those who apologise for antisemitism, ignore it or gloss over it almost more worrying than people who have bought into ridiculous conspiracy theories. It is my experience, like yours, that sometimes accusations of antisemitism are misplaced or exaggerated – though i generally do not believe they are insincere, and sometimes I have at first thought an accusation was mistaken and then realized that it was in fact, in my opinion, correct.


  11. Steve, I think you need to set out what you understand antisemitism to be, I mean how do you define it? At one point you say, “I have personally been accused of being anti-Semitic, hating Israel and such forth”. But if we assume that “Israel” means the State of Israel, hating Israel isn’t of itself antisemitic. Many people are coming to the conclusion that peace and justice in Palestine can only come about through the abolition of the State of Israel as a state for the world’s Jews. Is that hating Israel? And is that therefore antisemitic?

    My concern here is that at a time when zionists are making concerted efforts to have various (perhaps all serious) criticisms of Israel outlawed, the same zionists will be able to draw on Palestine solidarity and even Palestinian sources to make their point. And if we include “hating Israel” in a definition of antisemitism we might be forbidding the condemnation of colonial settlement, ethnic cleansing and segregationist laws.

    Don’t get me wrong, I still think this is a very good article in particular for calling out zionists on the bad faith allegation of antisemitism, of which Melanie Phillips is only an extreme example. They all do it, without exception. But I do think you need to clarify what antisemitism actually means and what it means to hate Israel?



    • Andrew Halper

      Levi9909, I don’t agree with you that hating Israel is not anti-semitic. Well, let me put it another way — I suppose that it might in some circumstances not be anti-Semitic.
      Someone with very strong feelings may decide to hate a country, but if one’s “hatred” is reserved for one country alone, that certainly raises suspicions (rebuttable, perhaps, but I’d need to be convinced) as to why a person “hates” that country and only that country. Hating a country is pretty strong stuff — as opposed as I am to the Russian actions in Chechnya or the horrible Iranian human rights abuses, I don’t “hate” Russia or Iran as countries.

      You state that “zionists are making concerted efforts to have various (perhaps all serious) criticisms of Israel outlawed” . I dont see this. First let’s consider what you mean by “Zionists”. I am a Zionist if by that we mean I support the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, long persecuted or the subject of prejudice in much of both the Christian and Muslim worlds, to establish a homeland in its historic homeland, which movement began in the waning decades of the Ottoman imperium and continued until recognition by the UN in 1948. “Zionism” does not automatically include a wish or program to eliminate the Muslim and Christian cultures and populations from Eretz Israel, although there are some reprehensibly extremist Zionists who have taken and continue to take that view. THey are no more definitive of “Zionism” than the National Front here in Britain is definitive of British nationalism. One can be a British nationalist without being a racist, and one can be a Zionist without being a racist too. “Zionism” is not co-terminous with “racism”.

      I have no wish to see criticism of Israel outlawed and although there may be some people who hold such views, they are surely a small minority of Zionists. What I do wish is to see unfair, unbalanced criticism of Israel fought and defeated in the court of public debate and opinion. Legislating against criticism of a country — any country — sounds like idiocy to me. My friends who are supporters of Israel hold the same view — I know no-one who would seek to outlaw criticism. This is a gross exaggeration on your part — nay, it is pure fantasy or in any event a failure to hear what people are saying.

      I for one am sick & tired of those who claim that we supporters of Israel are constantly “playing the anti-Semitic card” every time we object to some expression of overt or implicit anti-Semitism. Yes, some supporters of Israel have a kind of knee-jerk over-reaction engendered by years of hearing “dog whistle” comments or even overt anti-Semitism. You are entitled to criticise that but you might well consider where it comes from — on this point, Christian civilisation should be looking in the mirror to seek the truth about how this arose. The reality, in my view, is that it is the anti-Zionists who play a card — the card of facile accusations against supporters of Israel that we are playing the anti-Semitic card. Isnt there a hell of a lot of anti-Semitic commentary in the public space? If you cannot see it I suggest you look more closely. Perhaps some of the articles by Mark Gardner on the CST blog might help you.


      • I’m not wasting my time arguing with someone who demonstrates their bad faith from the outset. I merely wanted Steve to clarify what he meant by “hating Israel” and if he believes that seeking the abolition of the State of Israel is antisemitic. The question still stands as I don’t think anyone else can answer for him and responses on twitter couldn’t possibly address it.


        • So to clarify, I have added an update at bottom of the blog. Also, I don’t think there is anything inherent about wanting the abolition of the state of Israel and being an anti-Semite. But, and this is one very big but, it would seriously raise my suspicions.


          • That means you have to support or accept Jewish privilege and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians or be (at best) suspected of antisemitism, doesn’t it?

            Obviously this raises issues relating to the legitimacy or not of the State of Israel which is possibly beyond the remit of the post here but when you raise the spectre of anti-zionism being motivated by antisemitism rather than by anti-racism you leave the whole movement to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians under occupation open to being undermined by the same false allegation.

            My own view has been that the only consistent anti-racist position is to seek the abolition of the State of Israel though Magnes Zionist whose opinion I respect said this recently;

            The real dispute is not between the one-staters and the two-staters, but between those who hold that the collective right of a settler people to self-determination trumps the human and civil rights of the indigenous natives, and those who do not.

            Either way, the abolition of privilege for Jews under the law is the only position anti-racists can take. If this is antisemitism then as some wag once said, antisemitism has moved from being a vice to a virtue.


        • Andrew Halper

          oh really?! Do tell us what comment of mine demonstrates my bad faith.


          • It was the whole thing. You presuppose that hating Israel is antisemitic. You make the State of Israel out to be just another country when it’s existence is predicated on on-going colonial settlement, ethnic cleansing and segregationist laws. You make zionism out to be simply a “national liberation” movement and yet the movement was founded outside the country it intended to “liberate” at a time when Jews were less than 10% of that country’s population and less than 10% of the world’s Jewish population. Having made out that zionism is the “national liberation” movement of just another “country” you assert a special case by reference to Jews having been “long persecuted”. Anywhere could be described as a historic homeland of Jews but to assert the,/i> historic homeland of the Jewish people is emotive nonsense.

            Now, if by zionism we mean the movement to establish a state specifically for Jews (which Israel insists on being recognised as) then zionism is indeed racism. Regarding British nationalism, you can be British if you are Jewish and British if you are not Jewish, you cannot be Jewish if you are not Jewish, therefore Jewish “nationalism” is inherently discriminatory. Of course there are fascists who assert that to be British you have to have common ethno-religious ancestry in order to consider Britain your “historic homeland”. These have far more in common with zionists than you seem to realise.

            I don’t do fantasy, pure or otherwise. Not when I’m discussing politics anyway. Perhaps you’re confusing me with the All-Party Parliamentary Committee on Antisemitism. Here’s a link to their report 2006:

            Click to access All-Party-Parliamentary-Inquiry-into-Antisemitism-REPORT.pdf

            And here is a quote:
            We recommend that the EUMC Working Definition of antisemitism is adopted and promoted by the Government and law enforcement agencies.

            I don’t know if you saw a debate involving Ben White and Dr David Hirsh of BICOM and Engage at Birmingham University but the uni has adopted the EUMC working definition of antisemitism and on account of that no one was allowed to use the word apartheid in the debate, not even to ask if Israel should be considered an apartheid state.

            Richard Bartholomew also expressed concern about the recourse to law involving the EUMC working definition here:

            I don’t think Mark Gardner is in much of a position to give lectures about antisemitism. I think he might be more interested in defending the State of Israel but have a read of this:
            and this:

            I hope that wraps it up because I didn’t intend to engage with anyone other than Steve here.


      • I think Levi’s answer to you rather proves your point Andrew, and your analysis seems spot on. He makes accusations of bad faith for no reason at all as far as I can see. I agree that there seems to be a lot of unfair criticism of Israel, some of it antisemitic. Israel also, as is often remarked, seems to attract disproportionate – and disproportionately harsh – scrutiny. This may indeed encourage a reflex of slight over-sensitivity – but this is *not* (as far as I can see) insincere – I suppose it must be once in a blue moon, but I don’t generally get that impression. And that’s a pity if it stops important stories being reported well and attended to. So I think it’s good that Steve combines reporting injustices suffered by Palestinians, with acknowledging that it I/P a complex issue, not dehumanising Israelis, taking antisemitism seriously – and doing this within the context of a wider concern for human rights. I don’t always agree with him, but I don’t always agree with anyone I don’t suppose.


  12. richardmillett

    Maybe you could also expand on the “terrible suffering” that you witnessed as well as what you perceive to be “Israel’s crimes”?


  13. richardmillett

    Steve, you underestimate the amount of anti-Semitism in the anti-Israel networks (they are not pro-Palestinian in the slightest).

    “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.”

    Well then why are they not so passionate about speaking out against gays being hanged in Iran, women being oppressed in Saudi, people being slaughtered in Syria, 3m children who die every year in Africa from malaria, Darfur…..?


    • Hi Richard,

      From my experience most (if not all) people active on ‘Palestinian rights’ ARE also active on other issues. Take for example the people I was with in EAPPI – they are all, in one way or another, social activists working hard on a plethora of issues. This is not that all who work on I/P but that (from my experience) most do.

      In terms of pro-Palestine or anti-israel. There isn’t much more I can say other than I guess our experiences might be different.

      Thanks for your comment tho.


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