Sunday, 2 August 2020

Why Antisemitism Weaponisers are Racists

Palestine was never a hill  I chose to die on. For most of my life, it was never an issue I was confronted with. I had my own problems and my politics grew from solving those, but things rapidly changed...

I remember years ago, watching a documentary by Ross Kemp on the Israel/Palestine situation. I can't remember what it was called, but it was one of the most compelling documentaries you will ever see and you really should look it up, if you can.

Ross Kemp first visited Israel, speaking to military figures and ordinary citizens and portraying a harrowing picture of the Jewish situation. Whatever you think of the rights and wrongs of the Israeli occupation, it's absolutely impossible not to feel enormous empathy for those Jews who've lost family in suicide bombings and the holocaust. There is a very real and visible pain that so many Jews in Israel are feeling to this day. Kemp captured this poignantly and highlighted the many good Israelis who just want to live freely alongside the Palestinians. Most of these people are not monstrous occupiers, they are ordinary people who were born in Israel and were never given a choice in the matter. Israel is the only home they've known and I think that needs to be respected, whatever your politics.

What Kemp did next was something I'd never seen before and that is a damning indictment of British journalism. He ventured into Palestine, taking his cameras among the rubble and the bullet-riddled buildings and speaking to ordinary people and even those who are called terrorists. The reality of what the Palestinian people were (and still are) facing truly defied belief - it was like an apocalyptic movie scene. We're taking Israeli soldiers stopping ordinary people at gunpoint, kicking in doors whenever they felt like it, even shooting people dead for no reason. Kemp, visibly shaken, pointed to a man lying in the rubble who was shot by an Israeli sniper, just yards in front of him, while minding his own business. We heard from a bereaved father whose child was killed by the Israeli military and I could not help thinking if I lived in this hell, I would be a terrorist too.

To be clear, I'm not justifying violence against civilians here. Hell no. Terrorism is unquestionably among the worst crimes a person can ever commit. I'm just saying at that moment, I understood how some were driven to commit horrific acts, especially those bereaved fathers.

The Kemp documentary changed my outlook on the Israel/Palestine situation forever. I still felt enormous empathy for the ordinary citizens of Israel who'd suffered unimaginably, but I could not look past the Palestinians who'd also suffered unimaginably, mostly at the hands of Israel.

Since watching that documentary, I've become far more educated on the subject, and the key reason has ironically been the recent efforts to silence Palestinian activists. The constant denouncing of people as antisemites for making a principled stand is what compelled me to dig deeper.

Now I understand the Israeli position, I really do. I understand how they desperately wanted a homeland in order to finally feel safe. I understand why they built a border wall to keep out the relentless suicide bombers. I even understand why they send soldiers into Palestine, even though I disagree with this course of action. I get the fear and suffering.

But here's the thing, Israel will not officially declare its borders. It annexes any part of Palestinian land it wants and acts like it has a right to decide which parts of Palestine the Palestinians can or can't control. The Israeli government only lets Palestinians control tiny slivers of their own land and talks as though they should feel grateful. It refuses to recognise Palestinian statehood. Its soldiers are everywhere, stopping children at gunpoint, throwing five year olds in prison, terrorising old ladies in the middle of the night, shooting pregnant women, bulldozing houses and stealing farmland. It's all real. 
Spend five minutes on Google and prepare to be horrified by the human rights abuses inflicted by Israel on the Palestinians. What you find will change you and probably scar you.
Nobel Peace Laureate and former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu visited Palestine and described the situation as worse than apartheid South Africa. He urged a boycott of apartheid Israel.

"People who are denied their dignity and rights deserve the solidarity of their fellow human beings. Those who turn a blind eye to injustice perpetuate injustice. If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.

"I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing in the Holy Land that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under apartheid. I have witnessed the systematic humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces. Their humiliation is familiar to all black South Africans who were corralled and harassed and insulted and assaulted by the security forces of the apartheid government.

"We could not have achieved our democracy without the help of people around the world, who through... non-violent means, such as boycotts and disinvestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the apartheid regime," Tutu said.

I hope the above has painted a clear and accurate picture of what we're dealing with here - apartheid. And that's true, whether your sympathies lie more with Israel or Palestine, whether you think the situation is justifiable or not - the situation is an apartheid situation. And it's recognised as such by the United Nations.

Now as I said at the start of the article, Palestine was never the hill I chose to die on, but today I find myself pulled into the conversation, primarily because I've witnessed the targeting of Palestinian activists by the media and politicians. This targeting resulted in people who were not even involved in the conversation like myself being caught in the crossfire and branded antisemites.

The reasons for this targeting seem to be two-fold: firstly, some would prefer public awareness of the apartheid situation remained low and people were kept in the dark as I once was. Secondly, many Palestinian activists are associated with the Labour Party and this presented the opportunity to attack socialism and the pro-Palestine former leader Jeremy Corbyn. This targeting has proven very successful, of course. We now have a situation where the Labour leader and other prominent Labour figures proudly call themselves Zionists and fall silent on the Palestine issue. 

We also have a situation where anti-Zionism is conflated with antisemitism. This ironically is antisemitic in itself because it supposes all Jews are Zionists which is patently not the case. Zionism is a political ideology which, whatever its founding ideals, has led to the current apartheid situation and can therefore be legitimately opposed. It's surely insensitive to Palestinians for non-Jews to describe themselves as proud Zionists, given how the Palestinians are suffering. 

I'm not even saying people should be anti-Zionists. I'm not sure I would describe myself as anti-Zionist. I did once in a conversation with a Zionist who politely explained he did not consider me anti-Zionist because I believe in a two-state solution. He explained I was simply anti-expansionist and that might be a more accurate term. But what I cannot and will not tolerate is anti-Zionists being denounced as antisemitic, as racist, when their position is clearly the opposite.

Zionism is a political ideology, just like conservatism or socialism or communism or any other political ideology, and all political ideologies must be subjected to criticism. Yet we see constant smears, false accusations of antisemitism, against anyone who is either anti-Zionist or simply anti-expansionist like myself. And let's be clear: those attacks are racist. 
Anti-Zionism is not racism. Anti-Palestinianism is racism.
If, for example, you tell a Palestinian they cannot be anti-Zionist, you are being racist. You are erasing their suffering and their right to oppose their subjugators. 

If you tell a pro-Palestinian activist they are "obsessed" with the Israel/Palestine issue, you are being racist. You are belittling support for Palestine.

If you distort every word of support for Palestine into an "antisemitic conspiracy theory," rather than a call for freedom, you are being racist. You are weaponising antisemitism.

Political discourse has taken a very sinister turn in recent years to the point where only those who are proudly Zionist can be portrayed as the good guys. Where the plight of the Palestinians is minimised or erased. Where anti-racists are terrified of speaking out for fear of being branded racist. 

And branding anti-racism as racism to minimise the suffering of apartheid is unquestionably one of the most racist things you can do.

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