By Iqbal Jassat
Since the pages have turned in commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Nakba, do new headlines and reports covering stories other than Palestine suggest that its business as usual in Israel?
Indeed it would be an injustice to confine solidarity activism to calendar events such as “birthdays” for this will overlook other dimensions underpinning the creation and support of Israel by Western colonial powers. One such intriguing chapter in the narrative of the Nakba is the forgotten role of Israeli involvement in opposing anti-colonial struggles in the region.
This hidden history possibly accounts for the reason why former theaters of liberation have by and large abandoned the unfinished anti-colonial battle against Israel and instead have embraced the faulty rationale of Zionism through diplomatic, military, economic and other channels.
Is it not strange that for many nations in the Third World gaining their independence in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Palestine which had become a symbolic issue for them – matched only by the issue of apartheid South Africa in the intensity and frequency with which it had been raised – has all but forgotten?
Is it really amnesia? Or are their other issues providing a different form of justification to explain why the Palestinian quest for liberation has been marginalized and tragically reduced to a series of commemorative events?
Perhaps it is fear of being labeled as anti-Semitic? Heribert Adam and Kogila Moodley in “Seeking Mandela” point out that the majority of the Jewish diaspora rallies behind Israeli government policy, regardless of that policy’s consequences. This results in an “uncritical ethnic solidarity that falsely equates critiquing the government with denying Israel’s right to exist – or, with harboring anti-Semitic views”.
This tool has undeniably been used as an effective counter-measure to silence anti-Israeli critique. Many legitimate voices have been targeted, as indeed has been the experience of credible commentators such as John Pilger, Robert Fisk and Johann Hari. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has also been smeared in the past and such vindictiveness has surfaced yet again to tarnish his personality and discredit his current probe of the 2006 Gaza massacre by the Israeli regime.
Even my colleagues and I in the Media Review Network (MRN) have not been spared. We have been accused of promoting anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. These charges have emanated from mainstream Jewish and Zionist organizations in South Africa and documented as “fact” by the Stephen Roth Institute in Israel. These libelous lies and deliberate fabrications have been pedaled in order to deny us space in the public domain – especially the media.
The puzzle for them though which confounds them profusely is our intensely close relations with Jewish activists, academics and politicians who are as determined as we are to oppose Israeli apartheid and violations of Palestinian rights. For instance, they find it perplexing that “supporters of terrorism” – a euphemism used for MRN – would join hands with an Israeli human rights activist such as Uri Davis and publish works motivated by a common value orientation.
In his seminal book “Israeli Apartheid” jointly published by MRN and Zed Books, Davis outlines this vision: “The vision is the vision of justice: the desire to contribute to the removal of the institutions of colonization, dispossession and occupation imposed by Israel on the Palestinian Arab people, and the replacement of these institutions with a better and more just, social and political order.”
They are also confounded by our close relationship with Ronnie Kasrils, who apart from being Jewish, was actively involved with the banned African National Congress (ANC), its military wing Umkhonto we Sizwe and the South African Communist Party (SACP). In keeping with his struggle credentials, Kasrils has consistently campaigned against the idea of a mono-ethnic exclusivist Jewish state that he correctly viewed as akin to apartheid and an injustice to Palestinians.
How could MRN as unashamed agitators for Palestinian rights who regularly question the legitimacy of Israeli statehood enjoy public endorsements and acknowledgements from a Jewish hero of the anti-apartheid struggle?
Indeed Kasrils’ understanding that Israel had come into existence as a settler state through the forceful dispossession of the land of a people who had lived there for centuries, and whose description of Israel as a “hijack state” which he shares with John Rose the author of “The myths of Zionism,” has had a profound impact on a group of 300 SA Jews leading to the formation of “Not in my Name”.
However as is evident in the wider global reluctance by nation-states to confront Israeli intransigence, Kasrils correctly argues that the legacy of the Holocaust has left far too many people in the world “woefully silent in the face of Israel’s crimes”. Being Jewish did not automatically equate with being Zionist or pro-Israel. Neither did criticism of Israel imply anti-Semitism.
Hence the following scathing observation by a UK-based rabbi Dr David Goldberg about Israel as the “last colonial power in the world” ought to galvanise a sustained campaign to restore Palestinian sovereignty without being handicapped by lies and smears.
– Iqbal Jassat is the chairman of the Media Review Network – www.mediareviewnet.com. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.