Israel, Antisemitism & the Impossibility of Debate
In a recent article, columnist Yaniv Halili described British author Ben White as ‘anti-Semitic’. He also denounced Arab Knesset member Hanin Zoabi for writing a forward to White’s latest book, Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy.
Those of us who can see through such distorted thinking know that White is a principled writer who has never displayed a shred of racism in his work. Zoabi is very well-known civil rights leader with a long-standing reputation of courage and poise.
How could anti-racist endeavors themselves become the subject of accusation by Halili and others like him?
It goes without saying there should be no room for any racist discourse – Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, or any other – in the Palestine solidarity movement, which aims at achieving long-denied justice and rights for the Palestinian people. A racist discourse is predicated on racial supremacy, which is exactly what Palestinians are resisting in Israel and the occupied territories.
But the “Jewish and democratic state” of Israel is riddled with so many contradictions, the kind that no straightforward narrative can possibly capture.
Many scholars and rights groups have discussed the way in which irreconcilable values defined the very character of Israel from the onset. According to Adalah (meaning “justice” in Arabic), the legal center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, “Israel’s Declaration of Independence (1948) states two principles important for understanding the legal status of Palestinian citizens of Israel. First, the Declaration refers specifically to Israel as a ‘Jewish state’ committed to the ‘ingathering of the exiles.’ (Second)…it contains only one reference to the maintenance of complete equality of political and social rights for all its citizens, irrespective of race, religion, or sex.”
Adalah further asserts that there is a ‘tension’ between the two principles. Perhaps this is the case, intellectually, but in practice the Israeli political establishment has resolved the seeming quandary whereby the Jewishness of the state prevails above every other humanitarian, democratic or legal consideration. Racially discriminating legislation is being churned out in the Israeli Knesset at an alarming speed, and new laws are constantly being proposed. These include “one that would end the status of Arabic as one of Israel’s official languages and another that would punish Israeli citizens, including Arab Israelis, for refusing to pledge their allegiance to ‘Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,’” according to columnist Linda Heard (Arab News, Jan 24).
As for Palestinians living in the occupied territories, their legally enshrined political inferiority has been felt in much harsher and often bloodier ways than their brethren living in Israel. For nearly four and a half decades, the Palestinians living in these territories have been losing their land, livelihood, freedom of movement and even their very lives in the name of the racial superiority of their occupiers. Jewish settlements are illegally constructed on Palestinian land to host Jewish settlers, who use Jewish-only roads to travel between their heavily fortified colonies and the “Jewish state.” While numerous intellectuals, activists and ordinary members of Jewish communities around the world have strongly protested Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, as well as Israel’s misuse of the Jewish religion to attain political goals, Israel relies greatly on the support of Jewish communities, organizations and individuals for vital funds, political support and lobbying.
While many Jews identify with Israel as a ‘Jewish state’, “younger American Jews are more likely than their parents to be acquainted with the Palestinians and their story,” reported TIME magazine on September 29.
The TIME story references one such youth, Benjamin Resnick, 27, who decries the fact that Jewish state and American liberal democracy represent two views that are ‘irreconcilable’. On the other hand, he “continues to consider himself a Zionist,” who “quotes the Torah in support of his view that American Jews should press Israel to end settlement expansion and help facilitate a Palestinian state.” Even Resnick’s political dissent is riddled with inconsistencies, where national identity (as an American) clashes with ideology (Zionism) and religion (the Torah) is referenced as a means to resolve the discord.
The Torah is put to good use repeatedly among mainstream and ardent Israeli rabbis, whose edicts to kill Arabs are commonplace in Israeli media (although rarely discussed in US media). The so-called King’s Torah – which is endorsed by some prominent Israeli rabbis – has made it permissible to kill Palestinians of all ages, including those who don’t pose a threat. “You can kill those who are not supporting or encouraging murder in order to save the lives of Jews,” it states in the fifth chapter, entitled “Murder of non-Jews in a time of war.” The BBC elaborates: “At one point it suggests that babies can justifiably be killed if it is clear they will grow up to pose a threat” (July 19).
This becomes particularly problematic when the lines between politics, ideology and religion become so conveniently blurred. Israeli and Jewish leaders borrow from the corresponding text as they find suitable to achieve policies to further occupation, war and illegal settlement. Alan Dershowitz, a professor at Harvard Law School, came to represent the latter model. His style lacks diplomacy and logic; however, it is effective in some circles because it centers around the idea of smearing anyone who dares to criticize Israel. The greater tragedy is that Dershowitz is provided with platforms in mainstream and rightwing Israeli media, thus giving his smear campaign the means to turn any genuine discussion of Israel into a controversial hate speech.
While critical non-Jews are often smeared as ‘anti-Semites’, jurist Richard Goldstone, who lead the UN investigation into the Israeli war on Gaza., was not a mere anti-Semite for concluding that Israel and Hamas had both potentially committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. Dershowitz told Israeli Army Radio that Goldstone is a ‘traitor to the Jewish people’. ‘The Goldstone report is a defamation written by an evil, evil man,’ Dershowitz said (Haaretz, October 31).
While the case for Palestinian rights and statehood can be clear-cut – not many true-to-self intellectuals could justify ethnic cleansing, defend Apartheid and rationalize murder – delving into the political identity of Israel and its ideological and religious supporters becomes immediately ‘controversial’. The controversy is embedded in the purposeful intellectual and political elasticity by which Israel defines, or refuses to define itself. It claims to be Jewish as well as democratic. It claims to embody religious ideals but also to be secular. It claims to be liberal, while it is militarily oppressive. It claims to uphold ‘equality’ for all, while it is racially exclusive.
And if you dare to challenge these irreconcilable contradictions, you are termed an anti-Semite or a traitor – or both.
Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).