antisemitism in pro-Palestine spaces
I want to talk about this because I have never once said this. There are numerous Palestinian groups and individuals doing incredible work on the ground to (1) improve the lives of Palestinians, and (2) encourage dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis.
However, it’s a fact that antisemitism runs deep in the Arab world, as well as among Palestinians, and it long, long predates 1948 (see my posts NAZISM IN THE 1947-1949 ARAB ISRAEI WAR, A HISTORY OF POGROMS IN PALESTINE, and WHAT WAS BEING A JEWISH DHIMMI LIKE?). 74 years of Israeli statehood do not undo millennia-worth of systemic antisemitic abuse and massacres. There will never be a peaceful AND just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict until, among other things, the Arab world has a reckoning with its antisemitism problem. That is not to say Israel does not play a role — of course it does, a major one, and Israel is certainly currently in the position of power — but unless we talk about the antisemitism in these spaces, the cycle of violence will only continue the day that Palestine is “free.”
Let’s make one thing abundantly clear: antisemitism in Southwest Asia (the Middle East) and among Palestinians long, long predates 1948, modern political Zionism (i.e. starting from the First Zionist Congress in 1897), and the establishment of the modern State of Israel. Of course, tensions over the last 74 years have significantly exacerbated the issue, but to blame Israel or Zionists for Arab or Palestinian antisemitism is a laughable cop out if you know anything about the history of the region.
It’s virtually impossible to squeeze in the history of antisemitism in Southwest Asia into a single slide or even a single post. It’s also important to recognize that antisemitism in the region long predates the spread of Islam and/or the Arabization of the Levant (Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria). That said, with the Islamic and Arab conquest of the Land of Israel in the 600s, Jews became “dhimmis,” or second-class citizens. I have a post dedicated to this topic: WHAT WAS BEING A JEWISH DHIMMI LIKE? Subsequent empires, such as the Ottoman and British empires, also systemically oppressed the Jews in the region.
Then there is the issue of pogroms, or anti-Jewish massacres or riots. Those also predate 1948 by centuries, if not millennia. I also have a post on this: A HISTORY OF POGROMS IN PALESTINE.
Finally, it’s important to reconcile a difficult fact: according to most historians, Jewish and Palestinian alike, the emergence of a cohesive Palestinian identity (or a “nation”) separate from a wider Arab identity can be traced back to the interwar period between the two world wars. Like it or not, this Palestinian nationalism, in many ways, developed in direct conflict to Jewish nationalism (i.e. Zionism). From the outset, Arab nationalists in Palestine were not only deeply anti-Zionist, but also deeply antisemitic as well. The Arab Higher Committee in Palestine, the Arab leadership during this period, extensively collaborated with the Nazis (see my post NAZISM IN THE 1947-1949 ARAB-ISRAELI WAR). Does this mean all Palestinians are antisemitic or that the fight for Palestinian sovereignty is inherently antisemitic? No, of course not. Does this mean many of the early political Zionist leaders were not anti-Arab? No, of course not; many certainly were, and as Jews, we need to reconcile with this as well.
But it’s simply ahistorical and intellectually dishonest to ignore that the radicalization of many early modern political Zionists was a response to anti-Jewish massacres in Palestine (i.e. the extremist/radical Irgun and Lehi). It’s important to note that this anti-Jewish violence targeted all Jews, whether their families had lived in Palestine for millennia (see the 1929 Hebron Massacre) or whether they’d recently arrived from elsewhere.
POLARIZATION VS DIALOGUE
Most of the popular pro-Palestinian organizations (e.g. BDS), Instagram pages, and activists (e.g. Mohammed El Kurd) promote anti-normalization versus dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. Notably, many of these organizations, pages, and people are not based in Israel-Palestine, but rather, in the West. This anti-normalization not only results in increasing polarization between Palestinians and Israelis, but it also demonstrably leads to the radicalization of both societies, which ultimately manifests as very real violence that takes people’s lives.
Many Palestinians argue that encouraging discourse between Israelis and Palestinians is akin to, say, forcing an abused wife to negotiate with her abusive husband. There are two issues with this argument: (1) Jews actually have a historic legitimate claim to the land and legitimate grievances and trauma at the hands of Palestinians (e.g. the trauma of the Second Intifada or missile attacks), and (2) research consistently shows that when Israelis are involved in dialogue groups, there is a significant increase in their empathy and understanding of the Palestinian cause (and vice versa).
The way I see it, there are two options here: Israelis and Palestinians fight to the death until one group is completely obliterated, or Israelis and Palestinians talk. There will be no satisfactory solution to the conflict or end to the military occupation without change that occurs from the ground up. Otherwise, even if politicians miraculously come to a solution, the cycle of violence will continue (for example, violence between Israeli and Palestinian individuals drastically rose in the aftermath of the Oslo Accords).
ERASURE, DISTORTION, & REVISIONISM
To deny any group — particularly any marginalized group and a main target of white supremacy — their history is bigoted and oppressive. “Activism” that denies 4000 years’ worth of well-recorded Jewish history as well as Jewish identity is antisemitic. Groups that distort Jewish culture in their activism are antisemitic. Unfortunately, this is increasingly common among pro-Palestine groups.
For instance, Jewish Voice for Peace (see my post WHO IS JEWISH VOICE FOR PEACE?) consistently distorts Jewish culture (e.g. changing the practice, history, and meaning of ancient Jewish holidays such as Tisha B’Av, Passover, Hanukkah, and most recently, Mimouna) and history, going so far as to deny the ethnic cleansing of nearly one million Southwest Asian and North African Jews. Denial is, according to Genocide Watch, the final stage of genocide (and ethnic cleansing, which often goes hand in hand with genocide).
Many popular pro-Palestine pages and activists consistently spout the lie that relations between Muslims, Christians, and Jews were peaceful before the State of Israel. This is an erasure of millennia-worth of antisemitic oppression in Israel-Palestine. To deny Jews our history is antisemitic. It’s triggering, offensive, hurtful, and will never result in productive dialogue.
For millennia, antisemites have used dogwhistles to target Jews. Dogwhistles are used because they subtly spread bigoted messages while maintaining plausible deniability, meaning that antisemites can deny accusations of antisemitism because they never explicitly mention Jews (see @gabitalksback post DOGWHISTLES: SILENTLY SIGNALING HATE). Some of these dogwhistles include: the use of ((( ))) online as code for “Jew,” globalists, imperialists, lizard people, Zios, and, yes, Zionists (see my post EVERY NATION THAT HAS EVER OUTLAWED “ZIONISM” THEN WENT ON TO PERSECUTE ITS JEWS).
Whether the average well-meaning person knows it or not, calling to “punch Zionists” or “ban Zionist professors on campus” not only is reminiscent of historic campaigns to alienate Jews from public life (e.g. Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, even the United States during the Jim Crow era) but also statistically results in very real violence that targets Jews, both inside and outside of Israel. The fact of the matter is that studies consistently show that 87%-97% of Jews feel a significant level of connection to Israel; banning “Zionists” from spaces is banning virtually all Jews from spaces (worth noting that the biggest donors to the conservative pro-Israel lobby in the United States are evangelical Christians. And yet pro-Palestine activists target synagogues, not evangelical churches).
Recently, the pro-Palestine group Within Our Lifetime held a protest where protestors wore red arm bands, a dog whistle to the red arm bands that the Nazis wore. To top it off, this protest happened on Hitler’s birthday (I can’t say for certain whether the latter was on purpose or not, but regardless, it’s certainly a dogwhistle for knowing antisemites).
INCITEMENT TO VIOLENCE
In recent years, pro-Palestinian groups in the West have called to “globalize the Intifada” (see my post THE HORRORS OF THE SECOND INTIFADA). While the word “intifada” in Arabic means “rebellion, uprising, to shake off,” in the context of Israel-Palestine, it’s intellectually dishonest to claim that “globalizing the intifada” is a call to nonviolent resistance. “Globalizing the Intifada” is a dogwhistle promoting violence against Jews in Israel and the diaspora alike. Increasingly, many pro-Palestinian activists (including Mohammed El Kurd and Let’s Talk Palestine) openly admit that they support violence against Israeli civilians (which is a war crime under the Geneva Convention).
This incitement to violence not only takes Jewish lives, but it’s also absolutely counterproductive to the Palestinian cause. So many of the Israeli policies that drastically worsen the quality of Palestinian life — such as the checkpoints, the West Bank fence/wall, and the Egyptian and Israeli military blockade of Gaza — were enacted directly in response to Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians. It was the Second Intifada that caused Israelis to vote right for the first time since the 1980s; the 140+ Palestinian suicide bombings, the stabbings, the kidnappings, and the shootings decimated the Israeli left wing.
Violence against Israelis does not distinguish between ethnicity and religion. A high percentage of missiles fired from Gaza misfire and kill Palestinians within the Gaza Strip. Suicide bombings have taken the lives of Israeli Jews and Arabs/Palestinians alike.
Please note that this slide is nothing more than my own reflections. Like everyone else, I’m always growing and learning.
I don’t have all the answers. But I do know that Palestinians experience the ongoing trauma of the military occupation of the West Bank, war, and the Nakba. As I advocate for dialogue, I too need to be able to have these difficult conversations. For example, for Jews, Zionism means one thing, while for Palestinians, it has developed a different meaning. Some will argue that only Jews should define a Jewish movement, and while I agree, I think it’s counterproductive to shut Palestinians off because of their understanding and experience of Zionism. I think it’s harmful to dismiss an opportunity for dialogue, change, justice, and reconciliation over semantics.
Having a conversation with mutual trauma at the hands of the other is painful and difficult, but having done this work for a while now, I do believe it’s worth it.
That said, I do have my limits. I will not engage with people who dehumanize Jews or Israelis (antisemitic and xenophobic), support the murder of Israeli civilians (a war crime), or deny Jewish and/or Israeli trauma (ableist). I also refuse to engage with people that, after presented with historical facts, will continue to erase, deny, and/or revise Jewish history and identity (antisemitic and oftentimes racist, anti-Indigenous, and xenophobic).
Sweeping antisemitism in the pro-Palestine movement under the rug won’t free Palestine, but it will continue the cycle of violence, regardless of which group is in power.
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