Friday, 29 April 2016

Antisemitism and Israeli apologism

The suspension of Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone from Labour for making allegedly antisemitic remarks has brought the problem of antisemitism in anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist discourse to the fore of public debate. The problem with antisemitism on the left is that it takes a much more subtle and covert form compared to antisemitism promoted by the far-right.

neo-Nazis and other assorted fascists and reactionaries advocate obvious and hardcore forms of anti-Jewishness, such as antisemitic racial purism and Holocaust denial (or celebration). It is much easier to identify and combat. In contrast, antisemitism on the left is generally mired in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and criticism of government policies, military actions and political trends in Israel, and the perceived bias of Western media outlets in how they cover Israeli actions in and towards Palestine, which includes well-documented ethnic cleansing and war crimes. This more pernicious antisemitism manipulates these arguments to promote theories and rhetoric such as political and media control by Jewish elites and an inherently sinister nature of Jewish character, by proxy associating all Jews with the consequences of Israeli government actions.

Apologists for the Israeli government use the spectre of antisemitism to undermine and deflect criticism of Israeli war crimes and human rights abuses, and actually conform to the antisemitic worldview by collectively appropriating the name of all Jews to their cause. Actual antisemites, in turn, use the narrative conflating criticism of Israel to antisemitism, and the interchangeability of Israel and Jewish people, to justify their antisemitism. They portray opposition to antisemitism as a mere tactic to defend Israeli policy, rather being opposition to a specific and unique form of racial hatred. These pro-Israelis and antisemites have different agendas, but on the axis of hatred and bigotry they are both groups of extremists. Their relationship is symbiotic and mutually supportive: between them is both the Jews and Palestinians suffering under the distinct manifestations of persecution and racism their mutually reinforcing narratives maintain.

Jews across the world, including survivors of the Nazi Holocaust, are among the opponents of Israeli war crimes and human rights abuses against the Palestinians. They have a unique perspective of persecution and injustice but their voices are trivialised and erased by the pro-Israelis who use the name of the entire Jewish people to justify Israeli actions. Their presence also inherently negates the legitimacy of the antisemites who facetiously claim to stand for the justice and dignity of the Palestinians but are actually committed to inciting prejudice and hatred towards the Jews. Again through the symbiotic relationship of both extremists, the protection of both peoples is diluted. It is therefore the duty of all of us who believe in human rights and anti-fascism to equally commit to the supporting cause of the Palestinians while combating the ever-present cancer of antisemitism wherever it lays.

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