When it comes to the Israel/Palestine subject, the elephant in the room is that the only form of bigotry that is ever noticed is antisemitism.
In the British argument over whether anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism, the pro-Israel side is lumping in defensible statements, dumb or insensitive statements, and actual antisemitic statements from the anti-Zionists into one big pot. And so the well-intentioned commentator, like Gaby Hinsliff, in this Guardian piece (“Antisemitism has rocked Labour’s self-belief”) is too lazy to try and make the distinctions and then screws up herself– when she says it’s anti-Semitic to deny “Israel’s right to exist” without seeming to realize that Israel wouldn’t exist as a Jewish state without ethnic cleansing and discrimination.
Because nobody cares about anti-Palestinian bigotry.
No other human rights movement I can think of is automatically accused of being racist. The underlying assumption is that Palestinians just don’t matter that much, so anyone who expresses moral outrage or uses the normal tools of protest, like boycotts, can’t possibly be motivated by human rights concerns. They must be antisemites or at least examined very closely for antisemitism before being given a clean bill of health.
Who examines the examiners for their bigotry? No one.
The lumping in of statements is crucial to the pro-Israel effort. People like me find it exhausting and dispiriting to go through line by line what people have said, making distinctions between what is defensible, what is stupid or insensitive and what is genuinely hateful, and so lazy liberals take the easy way out and follow the lead of the hasbarists.
It is the job of journalists and pundits to make these distinctions. (Okay, stop laughing.)
But nobody in the mainstream even notices the anti-Palestinian bigotry.
Hillary Clinton’s speech to AIPAC in March is the absolute gold standard in demonstrating this. You can see the pathological bigotry in the pro-Israel movement entailed by the fact that the presumptive liberal nominee for President takes for granted she can label a human rights movement as antisemitic and not be called out on it, and now the current outrage is all about some mostly obscure Labour politicians, the most prominent being former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, some of whom have apologized for what they said.
But listen to what Clinton said about the Palestinian solidarity movement. They’re a bunch of anti-Semites.
Many of the young people here today [at AIPAC] are on the front lines of the battle to oppose the alarming boycott, divestment and sanctions movement known as BDS.
Particularly at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise across the world, especially in Europe, we must repudiate all efforts to malign, isolate and undermine Israel and the Jewish people.
I’ve been sounding the alarm for a while now. As I wrote last year in a letter to the heads of major American Jewish organizations, we have to be united in fighting back against BDS. Many of its proponents have demonized Israeli scientists and intellectuals, even students.
To all the college students who may have encountered this on campus, I hope you stay strong. Keep speaking out. Don’t let anyone silence you, bully you or try to shut down debate, especially in places of learning like colleges and universities.
Anti-Semitism has no place in any civilized society, not in America, not in Europe, not anywhere.
It’s not just that Clinton’s AIPAC speech unfairly equated BDS supporters with antisemites. It’s that in making that equation she herself was revealing anti-Palestinian bigotry. And nobody in the mainstream thinks about it that way. It wouldn’t cross their minds– even as the conventional wisdom on that speech was that she was “pandering.”
Which is another way of saying that anti-Palestinian racism is the widely accepted norm and people don’t even see it.
People need to read Jerry Haber’s post of a couple weeks back, on Anti-Palestinianism and Anti-Semitism. The only problem is that antiPalestinianism is such a tongue twister. But Haber puts his finger on it:
Anti-Semitism is considered a serious moral failing in Western society today, whereas anti-Palestinianism is not even recognized as a phenomenon to be studied.
By “anti-Palestinianism” I understand prejudice against Palestinian Arabs based on perceived negative qualities of Palestinian cultural or natural identity. Views such as “Palestinian Arab culture is a culture of death and martyrdom,” “Palestinian Arabs hate Jews because of incitement,” “Palestinian Arab labor is inferior” are examples of this prejudice. Attempts to justify these prejudices are inevitably based on selective data, generalization, and bias.
Haber explains the ways that Zionists have captured the term anti-Semitism and maligned any support for Palestinian rights:
The so-called “New Anti-Semitism” was born of the increasing identification, shared by some Zionists and anti-Semites, of Israelism and Judaism… [A]fter Israel’s capture in 1967 of territories of historical significance for Jews, the growing acceptance of ethnic diversity in western societies, and the increasing prominence accorded to the Holocaust in popular culture, Israel became an important component in the identity for many Jews.
Especially for the generation of 1967, to oppose Zionism was in effect to oppose the self-determination of the Jewish people, which was to imply that Jews as a people have less rights to self-determination than other peoples. This purported “singling out” of the Jews was seen by some to motivated by, or identical with, anti-Semitism. And because anti-Semitism, like racism, had become a term of moral opprobrium in modern society, “anti-Semite” was applied to those who wished ti replace the State of Israel with another political system, for whatever motivation, even if they thought it better for the Jews.
Today, if one rejects the claims of Jews to a state of their own in Palestine, i.e., if one rejects statist Zionism, one is considered by these people to be at best an unwitting or inadvertent anti-Semite. The same is true if one wishes to replace the Zionist state with a state that is predominantly a civic one – Muslim, Christian, and Jewish. The same is true if one thinks that founding the State of Israel in the way it was founded was bad for Jews and for Arabs.
It also follows that if one is a Palestinian and shares any of the aforementioned beliefs, one is, at best, an unwitting anti-Semite. And that conclusion is anti-Palestinianist because it says that Palestinians can have no other motive for opposing a Jewish state than implacable hatred of the Jews. And if that conclusion seems too bizarre even for those who are wont to find “anti-Semites” everywhere, it is less so when applied to Palestinian sympathizers. “After all ,why should a British Labourite be sympathetic to anti-Zionism if she is not herself related to a Palestinian – unless that sympathy is, perhaps, unconsciously, tinged by anti-Semitism.” But aside from trivializing anti-Semitism, that conclusion is also anti-Palestinianist – because it implies that the Palestinians have little justified claim to sympathy, either because their suffering has not been so great, or, worse, they have brought it upon themselves. And because the accusation of “anti-Semitism” carries with it a particular tone of moral opprobrium following the Holocaust, the accusation is hurtful in ways that “anti-Zionism” or “anti-Israelism” are not.
All bigotry should be condemned, whether the target group is powerful or weak. But there should be special concern for the consequences of bigotry aimed at the weak, since those consequences will be more dire. Anti-Semitism can never be justified, and it should be called out when found. And the pro-Palestinian movement has done that. But insufficient sensitivity to anti-Palestinianism is, under present circumstances, a greater sin for those who care about the real consequences of bias and bigotry.
To be sure, those who care for the well-being and equal rights of the people living in Israel/Palestine will not agree on how to achieve those rights. One can oppose many forms of political resolutions without being bigoted, and one can oppose tactics as inappropriate or counter-productive without bias or prejudice. Particular tacics endorsed by the Palestinian National Boycott committee have been criticized. But this opposition should be based on argument, not on bigoted insensitivity, especially when directed against the weak and vulnerable. Boycott, divestment, and sanctions are generally legitimate tactics, the wisdom of which can be debated. But delegitimizing or demonizing, much less criminalizing, the BDS movement is, in most cases, the product of anti-Palestinianist bias and should be rejected by decent people on all sides.