Supporting Palestine Is Not Anti-Semitic

Violence committed against Palestinians by Israelis is considered self-defense.
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TKC Humanities Portal

Two years ago in the spring of 2015, a site called Canary Mission was launched. Like the Islamophobe Daniel Pipes’s Campus Watch site, Canary Mission keeps a long list of people it seeks to discredit by accusing them of, in the case of Canary Mission, ”promoting hatred of the USA, Israel and Jews on college campuses in North America.” The language is reminiscent of Campus Watch’s. Supporters of both Israel and Palestine have condemned Canary Mission for its McCarthyism.

A four-part Alternet report by Max Blumenthal argues that Canary Mission is a project of professional Islamophobe, David Horowitz, and Campus Watch’s Daniel Pipes. That said, the site’s owners and staff remain anonymous and they work hard to cover their tracks:

The Web domain is registered in a way that hides its ownership. Though the site says that Canary Mission “is a non-profit organization,” no group called Canary Mission is currently registered with the IRS as eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions, and the website indicates no fiscal sponsor through which it can accept donations. The group’s MailChimp account identifies its ZIP code as 10458, a corner of the Bronx that includes Fordham University.

The site does not, however, shy away from not only listing college students’ names and photographs, but also screenshots from their social media accounts, and quotations couched in editorializations that demonize every individual as anti-Semites out to eliminate Jews and Israel. The site’s “ethics policy” is a list of offenses that can land you in its roster:

a. Anti-Semitic according to the U.S. State Department’s Definition

b. Supporters of terrorism, terrorists or terrorist organizations e.g. Hamas, PFLP, Hezbollah, Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS, Al Qaeda

c. Violating the personal safety of Jews or supporters of Israel

d. Disrupting Jewish or pro-Israel speakers or events

e. Inciting violence or hatred towards Jews, Israel or supporters of Israel

f. Using language or speech that demonizes Jews, Israel or supporters of Israel

g. Promoting BDS in any of its forms, including:

– BDS against the State of Israel, Israeli products or Israeli companies

– BDS against individuals, companies or institutions that trade with or have a working relationship with Israeli companies or institutions

– The academic or cultural boycott of Israel

Before briefly touching on the parts about “promoting BDS” (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions), I would like to point out that on this same page it states it “does not intentionally apply embellishments or opinions in addition to the facts,” and, yet, it lists the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.

Despite efforts by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) to designate the Brotherhood a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), it is not currently listed as such, and isn’t likely to be. Its argument for the Brotherhood’s inclusion is riddled with inaccuracies and partial information, including its reliance on a thoroughly debunked conspiracy theory about a global Muslim plot to take over the West via “civilization Jihad”.

As for point “a”, on the State Department definition of anti-Semitism, like Islamophobia, anti-Jewish hate is a social ill, as is racism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination and prejudice that afflict entire groups of people for their skin color, ethnicities, orientations, or religious identities. It follows then that the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism is:

“Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” ―Working Definition of Anti-Semitism by the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia

With respect to Israel, the State Department’s page includes the following forms of anti-Semitism:

  • Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, the state of Israel, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.

  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.

  • Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interest of their own nations.

  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism to characterize Israel or Israelis Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis Blaming Israel for all inter-religious or political tensions

  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation Multilateral organizations focusing on Israel only for peace or human rights investigations

  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist

However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.

The idea that criticizing a democratic state, like Israel, for specific policies qualifies as anti-Semitic, is a problematic application of the term “anti-Semitism” by the terms of the definition above. Again, we’re talking about level-headed, fact-based criticisms of Israeli policy. Not of the right of Israel to exist or of the right of Israelis and Jewish people everywhere to safety and security - a right that all human beings should enjoy equally but that is specifically emphasized in the case of Jewish people in appropriate remembrance of the horrific events of the Holocaust.

With respect to the use of the term “apartheid” apartheid is defined in just about any dictionary as (in this case Merriam-Webster):

  1. : racial segregation; specifically : a former policy of segregation and political and economic discrimination against non-European groups in the Republic of South Africa

  2. : separation, segregation cultural apartheid gender apartheid

Can “apartheid” be used, then, to describe Israeli policies toward Palestinians? In a 2015 Haaretz article, Bradley Burston argues that it can and should be:

“Apartheid means fundamentalist clergy spearheading the deepening of segregation, inequality, supremacism, and subjugation.

Apartheid means Likud lawmaker and former Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter calling Sunday for separate, segregated roads and highways for Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank.

Apartheid means hundreds of attacks by settlers targeting Palestinian property, livelihoods, and lives, without convictions, charges, or even suspects. Apartheid means uncounted Palestinians jailed without trial, shot dead without trial, shot dead in the back while fleeing and without just cause.

Apartheid means Israeli officials using the army, police, military courts, and draconian administrative detentions, not only to head off terrorism, but to curtail nearly every avenue of non-violent protest available to Palestinians.”

According to the State Department definition, “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.” South Africa is certainly a country. So, criticizing Israel for apartheid policies is based on criticisms that were first lodged against South Africa. Beyond that, apartheid is a word with a definition that applies to systems of legal separation and segregation anywhere. People have used the term to criticize self-declared Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia without being accused of supporting genocide against all Saudis, Arabs, or Muslims, or of calling for the destruction of Saudi Arabia. In fact, Saudi Arabia is frequently pressured to address human rights concerns. While some may critique certain perceptions of Muslim societies, it is another matter to accuse the UN or other human rights organizations of anti-Muslim sentiment or even the desire to exterminate Muslims. But the UN has been pressured to recant critiques of Israel, including, recently, for using the word “apartheid.”

We need to be able to call out injustices wherever they occur and to use the correct language to do so. Apartheid is apartheid and if its being practiced to separate Israelis from Palestinians, then the word needs to be used. Israelis have debated the use of this term in great detail. It’s a complicated situation, but there are policies and laws that treat Israelis different than Palestinians.

Palestinians who are not Israeli citizens are also not considered citizens of any other state because of Israel’s unwillingness to recognize the state of Palestine. That unwillingness is based on a set of objectives and reasons, yes, but until there is a Palestinian state, as long as Israelis are administering or occupying a land with a people who it treats different from other people it administers, that is a form of apartheid.

Now, the debate should not be about whether we use the word “apartheid” or not. It needs to be about recognizing a Palestinian state and improving the quality of life of Palestinians. Why should the following part of the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, not apply to Palestinians?:

Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist

Is it OK to deny the Palestinian people their right to self-determination, and to deny Palestine the right to exist?

Debates about Israeli “apartheid” have gone on for too long and have accomplished nothing other than distracting from the issue of how Palestinians living under occupation are treated.

End the Double Standard on Violence

I don’t think I understand yet why any violence committed against Palestinians by Israelis is considered self-defense no matter the age or status of the victims or the disproportionately large number of Palestinians killed, but violence by Palestinians is always terrorism. The at times quite vicious and indiscriminate killing and destruction of the former (Israelis against Palestinians) is protected, legitimate, even argued to be moral in the most superlative terms, but that of the latter (Palestinians against Israelis) is always and incontrovertibly portrayed and denounced in the strongest terms as inhumane, criminal, and reflective of the undoubtable evil and inferior nature of their entire religion and culture. If killing and destruction are evil then let it all be condemned and described in equal terms. But if they are not, then how do we justify the existence of different sets of standards for different groups of people? A further explanation would be needed than the happenstance of one or the other’s claimed religious identity, language, and ethnicity. Otherwise, rather than law and justice, the criteria would rightfully be described as tribalism or darwinism.

It is irrational to describe in positive or neutral terms the brutality of the IDF, the occupation, settlements, blockade of Gaza, and the seven decades long exodus and exile of Palestinian refugees but to then express disbelief and disgust at violence and hatred perpetrated and harbored by Palestinians. The proposition we must abide by and uphold is that hate and violence are always wrong no matter who carries them out or to whom they are directed.

Palestinians should never resort to indiscriminate violence or hateful ideologies and, when they do, those individuals and/or the organizations responsible should be condemned and subject to the appropriate legal penalties. But the Israelis are guilty of crimes against Palestinians too. We must acknowledge this. Both of these statements can be true without denying the right to exist of either party. Israeli policies robbed and continue to rob the Palestinians of their homes in the names of God and security. The Palestinians, and Arabs in general, are often treated as a monolith of violence, extremism, militarism, and Islam(ism) but the religious dimensions of Israeli violations against Palestinians are automatically erased from the headlines - there is no mention of “Judaeist terrorists” or “Judeofascism”, nor should there be, but there shouldn’t be such accusations or neologisms designed to essentialize Palestinians or Muslims as the ever-violent, malicious other either. The underlying argument structure, or topos, is Orientalist. It essentially asserts that the conflict is one of inherent good and inherent evil: the democratic state of Israel versus the barbaric Islamic fascism of the Palestinians.

But why is it “Islamofascism” when Palestinians talk or write about or fight for their perceived right to all of historic Palestine or refuse to use the word “Israel”, but it is democracy when Israelis talk of ‘restoring’ all of ‘historic’ or ‘Biblical Israel’ and refuse to utter the word “Palestine” and instead refer to the illegally occupied territories by their Biblical names (Judea and Samaria), thus implying the eventual and putatively righteous expansion of their vision of justice and of the holy land into that of Palestinians? Are not both sides then equally extreme and myopic and ethnocidal?

Unequal Footing

Israeli soldiers are called “soldiers” because they have a state that is acknowledged as such. They then have the ability to set and collect taxes and to train, dress, and arm a military. The Israeli state can legally protect itself through both offensive and defensive measures. Israel can kill and jail, detain and torture, and humiliate Palestinians every single day and it is not terrorism because Israel is thought to exist and to then have the right to use lethal force.

Palestinians have no state. And they have no state because Israel, or at least the ruling Likud party, has no interest in recognizing Palestine. Anything Palestinians do is therefore questionable. All of their violence is terrorism because they cannot have armed, fatigue-clad soldiers. They are not allowed to legitimately, legally defend themselves or their land. Israel questions whether Palestinians have the right to any land to begin with and because of its superior force, wealth, and status as a recognized state, Israel’s disputations carry weight while the Palestinians’ are immaterial. Some, on both sides, take matters into their own hands and do unspeakable, unforgivable things. Of course, not all on either side are guilty of such atrocities but some on both certainly are - terrorists and terrorism exist on both sides but only one side has a legal army and a legal territory. That is quite significant.

Condemning Palestinian violence without criticism of Israeli violence is grossly unfair and irresponsible. The lives of both communities are equal in value and should be regarded as such. That should be the basis for peace, for recognizing Palestine, for condemning and ending all violence on both sides. That has not been the case though.

An article from early January by Norman Finkelstein calls on Palestinians to find better leadership who can use the momentum behind new and existing international legal documents to non-violently rally support for their just causes and finally realize the changes they need so badly so that they, and Israelis, can get on with living normal, peaceful lives.

Lastly, I pray for peace and love to overcome violence and hatred everywhere. For Israelis and Palestinians, for Israel and Palestine, for human beings and their homes and societies everywhere, always.

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