Israel, Palestine and ‘Selective Antisemitism’

Protest against the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of Antisemitism in London. (Photo: Video Grab)

By Paul Salvatori

The pro-Israel lobby is not genuinely concerned about antisemitism. If it were, the lobby would also be defending Jews who are expressly pro-Palestinian and, on the same basis, attacked as a “self-hating Jew.” The implication is clear: to be Jewish is to be anti-Palestinian. Following this warped logic and knowing what we do about the oppression and misery Palestinians face daily at the hands of the Israeli state, Jewishness is also callousness.

This is antisemitic. We must condemn and reject it outright.

The lobby is not defending Judaism. It is instead defending the Israeli state. And since the two are so often conflated by the lobby we must not back down from emphasizing there is a difference between the two. To be Jewish is not to necessarily support the Israeli state and vice versa. The converse is racist essentialism: Jewishness, without exception, involves endorsing the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

The mere idea is deplorable to any person of conscience.

When we talk about Judaism we are talking about what is righteous. Like other major world religions, it honors and respects the life of Jews and non-Jews alike. It is grounded in love for humanity. How does this square with the Israeli state that is constantly—through its routine violence and brutality against the Palestinian people—demonstrate the opposite? When the lobby charges “antisemitic” for defending Palestine we must challenge it: How is Judaism being denigrated in showing solidarity with fellow human beings, fighting for dignity and freedom from state terror? On what appalling grounds do you dare imply our Jewish brothers and sisters endorse this?

Moreover, where was the lobby when Jewish-American Bernie Sanders was called by Alan Dershowitz a “self-hating Jew”? The degree of antisemitism here is astonishing. The attack occurred during last year’s siege on Gaza, claiming the lives of over 200 Palestinians by Israeli aggression. Sanders was calling on Israel to show ‘restraint’, speaking to the greater legal and moral necessity of protecting human life. And for that—there must be no confusion—he was maliciously framed by Dershowitz for loathing his religious identity and, in turn, the person he is. The lobby, if it cared about antisemitism, would have rebuked Dershowitz but said nothing.

The lobby at best endorsed what might be called “selective antisemitism.” That is, the idea that what offends the positive image of perception of Israel is hateful of Jews. Materially this makes no sense at all. Israel like most other states ultimately does not function as a religion. It operates as a system of coordinated power and control. What makes it perhaps and regrettably unique is how it imposes that system to the detriment of Palestine.

There is nothing Jewish about this. Jewishness is and must be understood as entirely separate from Israel’s behavior, in the same way that the harrowing abuses of the Vatican, for example, are not reflective of actual Christianity. It is no secret that presently and historically institutions have co-opted or hijacked what is good—various religions, cultures, etc.—to “justify” what is bad. Worse than falling for this trick is seeing it and doing nothing about it. Similarly, we are complicit in Israel’s crimes if we pretend it honors human life, let alone is the exemplary “democracy” the lobby presents it as.

The lobby has been successful in branding Israel. For many nothing of the anti-Palestinian violence, it is responsible for comes to mind when the country’s name is invoked. Rather its positive qualities come to mind—cuisine, scholarship, religious sightseeing, arts, culture, etc. But they can never erase the reality the lobby’s branding has overshadowed: Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine. This is a political and human rights matter and, like Amnesty International recently (its investigation into Israel as an apartheid state) and several other international bodies before it, must regard it as such.

Religion—in so far as Israeli killing, abuse, harassment, brutality, and destruction is concerned—has nothing to do with it. Behind such horror is the evil of people, intent on erasing Palestine on account of territorial greed. Co-existence between Palestinians and Israelis, different as they might be, would perhaps have long ago been possible if it weren’t for this.

Ending the illegal occupation of Palestine requires all to contest the rapacious and colonial nature of Israeli state power. We must not allow ourselves to be held back by the lobby’s antisemitic lie that being Jewish is to support that power. Such hatred undermines our shared humanity and so must vanish from the world.

- Paul Salvatori is a Toronto-based journalist, community worker and artist. Much of his work on Palestine involves public education, such as through his recently created interview series, “Palestine in Perspective” (The Dark Room Podcast), where he speaks with writers, scholars and activists. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.
(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
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