Saturday 1 September 2018
Anti-Semitism Row - Palestine, Israel: them and us or shared humanity?
Written by Lesley Grahame
It is hard to say anything on Israel, anti-Semitism and human-rights without risking accusations of the ‘with us or against us’ variety, and this is very damaging to debate, activism and the possibility of righting wrongs, i.e. to achieving a just and lasting peace.
However, just as US and British peace voices are vital when our countries invade Iraq, Syria, Argentina or anywhere else, so are Jewish voices when others are attacked by people who claim to speak for us, without our consent.
If we don’t speak out, we are allowing it to happen in our name, our silence will be taken as permission. If we do speak out, there is a risk of playing into the narrative that conflates Israel with Judaism with Zionism. While rejecting both, I feel a responsibility to speak out, partly based on wrong expectations from others, partly from the experience of solidarity and its absence. This is a personal view.
When Muslims speak out against Daesh, or Christians against say the alt right, they show solidarity, and reflect the extent to which they feel they should be their siblings’ keeper. Nobody deserves to be judged on the worst thing they ever do, never mind the crimes of their co-religionists.
Being Jewish isn’t like being from a country, but it is my history, my identity as a victim of history, my humanity, in the sense of identifying as and with people who have been made victims because of where or who or what they are. Victimhood may explain fears, but it does not excuse violent, illegal and discriminatory actions.
Jewish heritage comes with many things, including both a history of life-threatening persecution as well as unfair privilege of a so-called ‘Right of return’ to a country whose government wishes to rule a Jewish state, and to exclude others, even those, especially those who lived there for generations. I consider it important to keep sight of both those legacies, seeing only one side of the story generates fear and ignorance, both of which make for easy manipulation.
When Europe gifted land that wasn’t theirs to give, to get rid of a people it regarded as problem, it set the scene for predictable and inevitable conflict, and grave harm to both uprooted peoples. The story of a land without a people for a people without a land is wrong on every count, yet it’s a comforting, compelling narrative that many of us have had to unlearn, along with a lot of our trust in our sources of information, also known as our families and communities. This is difficult, but pales to insignificance compared with my Jewish forbears and my Palestinian contemporaries.
The UN recognises this, with its scores of resolutions, shamefully vetoed by those who benefit from occupation by selling weapons and by having an unsinkable aircraft carrier in the Middle East.
There is a well-founded fear that pogroms and genocides that have happened before can happen again. This makes many, many people feel the need for a Jewish state to run to. This overwhelming fear is my experience of Zionism. However the perceived need for a Jewish homeland somewhere, raises more general questions of identity, homeland, and the right of any state to select their citizens, or impose their religion.
For Sikhs in Khalistan, Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, Jews and Palestinians, and far too many others these are not academic issues but matters of life and death.
Everyone deserves somewhere to belong, be and feel safe, worship if and as they wish. Nobody achieves this by denying it to others.
Anyone who knows what it’s like to be afraid may recognize that for some of us, some of the time, fear suspends both rationality and compassion. Peace-making is therefore difficult, and those who say it is impossible deny their responsibility, and the humanity of the other
Nobody chooses their history, but we can choose some of what we learn from it. Jewish suffering in Europe before 1948 may set the scene but does not excuse suffering imposed on Palestinians ever since. Comparing the two is offensive, inaccurate, and unhelpful, since it obscures any other message and polarizes people, playing into the hands of the powers that divide and rule us. This is unwise, but not criminal.
The media attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and now the Green party’s Shahrar Ali do not come from sources that care about Jews or other Semites, but from the same papers that called for refugees to be repatriated to the countries they were fleeing from in the 1930s and are still doing so now. By stifling, sensationalizing and polarising debate their efforts can only provoke the very resentments they claim to oppose.
It cannot be racist to talk about human rights, and it would be at best patronizing to demand a different standard in say Israel or Saudi Arabia to that which is acceptable elsewhere. It is right to speak out against unprovoked violence, whoever it is perpetrated by and against. This concern means everything when applied universally, when used selectively to castigate a particular group, this can lead to various phobias and even hate crimes. The point rarely raised about hate crimes is that the relevant characteristic for study and prosecution is not that of the victim but of the perpetrator.
That the media frenzy against Corbyn have gained so much traction shows the appalling state of the media. Although I speak for myself, I am one among many Jews appalled at the collusion of an establishment that claims to speak for us.
Israel’s new Jewish State Law makes comparison with Apartheid inevitable, as do Jews only roads, settlements, and checkpoints. It shames many moderate Israelis and dispossesses Arab Israelis. More hopefully, Apartheid ended following sustained boycotts, and Occupation can too
It’s outrageous that those who preach free trade try to deny consumers information and choice about their supply chains. Many who boycott Occupation goods (often all Israeli goods, as labelling often fails to make any distinction) also boycott corporate abusers such as Nestle, Coca cola, arms investments and other unethical practices, and are right to do so, on the basis of actions that can be changed, rather than identities that can’t.
I look forward to buying Israeli aubergines with the same relish that I now buy South African oranges
Lesley Grahame is member of Norwich Green Party and a supporter of Green Left