For sure Malaka Shwaikh is not an antisemite, nor any other kind of racist, nor is she advocating violence. When I first came across this saga, the account I read was all about this tweet, ‘If terrorism means protecting and defending my land, I am so proud to be called terrorist’, with the further quotes about the Holocaust. I’m not 100% clear that these particular tweets were Malaka’s or the work of the hacker, but I think it’s the former case, and I note that she also states that her posts ‘were written in an incredibly emotional state when my very existence and that of my loved ones were in danger’. All perfectly understandable.
As everyone knows, we live in extremely fraught times in which political rhetoric has reached extraordinary levels of acrimony and bitter hostility. People find it difficult simply to express disagreement, even justifiably sharp disagreement, but have to impugn the character and motivation of opponents to the point of slander. There’s little goodwill and less capacity for empathy — or even tolerance for what might be mistakes in the use of words.
And certainly rhetorical devices such as irony are totally out, being far too dangerously open to being miscontrued, if not sometimes actively misrepresented.
A possible analogy occurred to me. If someone said I was being an antisemite for criticising Israel harshly, I wouldn’t reply, OK if that makes me an antisemite, so be it, I’m proud to be an antisemite. I’d say, no, I’m criticising Israel for its criminality and I totally reject the false categorisation.
If I try to imagine empathetically what it’s like to be a Palestinian whose loved ones, family or friends were uprooted or killed by Israeli forces, I can easily feel the inspiration to protect and defend my land, and do so without any intention or desire to use violent methods, indeed I might oppose them perhaps on moral grounds, or perhaps out of consideration for the sheer disparity in power (remembering that, as Chomsky once put it, terrorism is the weapon of the strong).
But what I would not do, having seen what can happen to the most careful of writers whose words have been decontextualised and warped into meanings the polar opposites of those originally intended, what I wouldn’t do is accept my enemy’s definition of the word ‘terrorist’, even to use it ironically, or in an attempt to redefine it. Terrorism as commonly used and understood really does include the idea that uncommitted, peaceful civilians, perhaps far from the scene of the original state violence and injustice that provoked it, will be injured and killed. Our enemies may try to label us as terrorists, but to accept and wear the label in an attempt to turn obloquy into triumph, is to further lay ourselves open to further misrepresentation, and worse.
But in the end I’m not a Palestinian, I’m a Jew who doesn’t believe there are any gods or ever have been, who understands, I hope, the original reasons that some had for supporting Zionism as an answer to (mainly) European Christian antisemitism but who now believes the entire enterprise was a tragic mistaken answer. I even go further and claim that although true antisemites never needed any peg on which to hang their antisemitic hats, Israeli crimes and brutalities do offer, however unintentionally, such pegs. As definitions of antisemitism broaden and become so elastically stretched as to become not just misleading but categorically erroneous in dangerous ways, it becomes increasingly difficult to talk about Israel, and difficult too to avoid finding oneself having crossed blurred boundaries, wandering into overlapping circles.
Spokespersons, religious and secular, talking and writing as diaspora Jews in support of Israel, in opposition to BDS, give the impression — wrongly — that all Jews are associated with and complicit in Israel’s crimes. Israeli politicians say that Israel is acting in the name not only of Israeli Jews, but of all Jews everywhere.
If as a result of those sentences, someone were to accuse me of antisemitism, or of being a self-hating Jew, I wouldn’t accept the accusation, not even ironically. I would say to the contrary, I’m with those who are trying to rescue the good name of Judaism, of the Jewish people, who want to see Israel become what it was always supposed to have been, ‘A Light unto the Nations’. If Israel and Israel-apologists want to accuse us of antisemitism, they should instead look in the mirror.