Why defending the Palestinians is not anti-semitic

In a recent post – my first on the Israeli’s attacks on Gaza – I mentioned my reluctance to get into the debate because of the tendency of defenders of the State (and territorial borders) of Israel to equate any criticism with anti-semitism.

This is just nonsense, but it strikes a chord because the Zionist propaganda machine has done a good job of guilting us into soft-shoeing criticism of Israel lest we be seen to be being racist, or religiously intolerant.

First of all being Jewish is not a racial thing, secondly not all Jews are Zionists and not all Zionists are Jewish. Third what part of the phrase “war crime” don’t these people understand?

The logic of the “attacking Zionism is anti-semitic” position is that if you are against the existence of Israel as a geographic and political entity in the Middle East you are of the same political ilk as the Nazis.

Bullshit!

I copped some of this from an old friend of mine who, over the last 15 years, has morphed from being a Trot-sympathiser into a radical and orthodox true-believer who doesn’t answer his phone on the Sabbath.

Here’s an example of what he wrote on my Facebook page yesterday:

Nah, you didn’t deface my page Martin but you did confirm just how impoverished Leftist analysis is. Thanks for doing my job for me. :-)
Comparing body counts is simplistic and childish, treating what is a tragic situation to some kind of morbid playground game.[EM: this from someone who’s keeping “score” of the Qassam hits on his Facebook page, for fuck’sake] But such reductio ad absurdum is typical of the radical Left. Do you remember the first Gulf War, how you and your Trotskyite pals came up with the marvellous idea that the best way to oppose the war was to support Saddam Hussein?

[EM: this is actually a distortion - calling for a military victory against imperialists is not the same as backing vile dictators politically, also remember Saddam was a creature of the Americans in their war against Iran. We didn't make him, they did]

My friend continues:

And that’s why I left radicalism behind me. The Comrades cosy up to any old murderer, antisemite, genocidal loon, liar or thief – as long as they’re anti-American, anti-Israel, anti-West, or anti-capitalist. Neither Washington nor Moscow nor any sense of integrity.
I try to steer clear of politicians, no matter what their party, ideology, nationality, ethnicity or religion – don’t trust ‘em…

I should explain that I had earlier written on my friend’s page – he was posting a “rocket count” each time a Qassam landed in Israel. I thought this was rather vulgar and totally missed the point that while the Palestinian resistance (NOT NECESSARILY HAMAS) had fired a handful of rockets, the Israelis had pounded Gaza with more than 60 air strikes, including the use of chemical weapons.

I was angry and took it out on my friend’s page with a cheeky and joking comment that of course, he found “despicable”:

FRIEND: QassamCount: 12 Hamas rockets fired from Gaza hit Israeli civilian areas on Thursday morning. Donate your status: http://qassamcount.com/fb.via QassamCount 8:58pmComment
Martin Hirst at 11:16pm January 15
Just remind us again FRIEND, what’s the body count, I think your side is “winning”. More than 1000 Palestinians dead, 60 (at least) air strikes on Gaza versus 12 rockets.
Pass me the Qassam, I’ll see if I can hit Golders Green from here.
Martin Hirst at 11:17pm January 15
That’s 60 airstrikes in 24 hours, stop hiding behind religion and admit the Israeli government is totally corrupt
FRIEND at 7:03am January 16
Childish and superficial Martin. Thanks, however, for showing just how crass and cliched Marxist intellectualism can be.
My friend lives in north London, near Golders Green, I had lunch with him recently and enjoyed meeting his family and friends, even though I’m a level 7 atheist. I am actually tolerant of religious people, even if I find the whole idea of any kind of god totally absurd – no even “reductio ad absurdum”. I’m not sure what that means but it’s got to be worserer than just absurd coz it’s Latin.
But I was a bit shocked by the strength of my friend’s commitment to Israel, as evidenced in the further notes he posted on my Facebook page. This is the continuation of his earlier rant, posted in four separate comments:

So you won’t get me jumping up and down in defence of the Israeli government just because it’s the Israeli government. I owe the Israeli government no loyalty.

[EM, well actually friend, you are totally loyal and go to reductio ad absurdum lengths to prove your fealty, such as the Qassam count bollix]

But I do know the difference between right and wrong and that’s why I support the current attempt to crush Hamas. Like every Israeli I’ve spoken to (and I’ve been speaking to quite a few in . recent days who live within Hamas rocket range), I am saddened by the loss of innocent lives. But, in general, the ultimate responsibility lies squarely at Hamas’s door.

Your comment about firing Qassams at Golders Green is despicable. Again, typical of the antisemitic rhetoric that is now so common in Leftist circles. The good thing about all this is that the anti-Jewish bile that has always existed in the heart of Marxist ideology (and spare me the stuff about Marx being Jewish etc) is now out in the open. The sad thing is that so many people in mainstream society absorb these sentiments thinking they’re kosher because their diet of Hollywood history has led them to associate antisemitism with the Nazis…

And because the Nazis are generally associated with the Right, with Fascists, and the Left is traditionally associated with anti-Fascism so the logic goes that the Left must be anti-antisemitism. WRONG! Go far enough to the Left and you end up on the Right. All just a bunch of power hungry thugs, keen to destroy and utterly incapable of being constructive. All of them squeezing the square peg of reality up the round holes of their respective ideologies. It’s a shame all that energy going to waste.

So Marx was a Jew-hating Jew? It actually wasn’t, and never has been Marxists who have attacked Jews. As my friend well knows it was Jewish communists who actually protected Jewish communities from pogroms while their more conservative and Zionist leaders tacitly supported them as a way of fulfilling a reductio ad absurdum destinty to return every Jew to the promised land. Fuck me for religious idiocy!

It is my friend’s religious bigotry that blinds him to the honourable history of Jewish socialists. For example the General Jewish Labour Union which was secular and opposed Zionism and the takeover of Palestine. Perhaps my friend wouldn’t think they were not Jewish enough.

My friend’s rant is very typical of the way pro-Israel zealots attack their opponents. No real appeal to reason, just emotive and highly charged language. But my friend is not alone in employing this rhetoric, rather than facing up to the facts.

There’s a whole slab of the Interwebs devoted to helping foster the myth that anti-Zionism as the same as anti-semitism. See for example The hidden history of anti-Zionism, which starts with this tortured gem:

Anti-Zionism is opposition in principle to the idea that the Jews are a people, or opposition in principle to the idea that the Jewish people deserve a state.

Sort of, but it is actually political opposition to the formation of the modern state of Israel on stolen land that forms the basis of anti-Zionism. Just as Zionism is a political movement dedicated to the formation and defence of modern Israel.

The Jews are a people in the same way that Mormons are a “people”, but no one’s suggesting we given them Utah.

The state of Israel has nothing to do with Jewishness, except as an excuse, a blind, a cover for theft and thuggery.

This commentary by Irfan Usuf in New Matilda takes issue with a neo-con Australian journalist Paul Sheehan whose written anti-Muslim screeds for many years and admits to being a “friend of Israel”.

If you didn’t know that civilians were being killed in Gaza, and think that all criticism of Israel is simply about hating Jews, it may be that you’ve just read a Paul Sheehan article. [Not fit to print]

I’ve linked to the Sheehan piece too, it’s important to read stuff for yourself, not just rely on bloggers with an axe to grind (of which I am one). I actually think the Sheehan piece is just rubbish, it’s hardly worth noticing or commenting on, but it does rely on the lie that if you’re anti-Israel you are, by definition anti-Jewish.

This is the conflation of historical and religious discourses as away of cleansing history of the real hard truth.

Israel is occupied Palestine. Israel only exists because of the terrorist acts of its founding fathers. Israel is not the promised land of some mythic religous “race”. Jewishess is not race, Jewishness is not an ethnicity. Jewishness is a religion like Catholicism and, like Catholicism, it has blood on its hands, it is reactionary, steeped in mysticism and very bad for children.

No one would ever consider a Methodist or an Anglican to have any special claim to The United Kingdom.

What the Zionists have to realise is that, like Muslims, Jews come in all shapes and sizes and they only have a “right” to live in Israel because of the military strength the Israeli State gains from its close relationship with the world’s leading imperialist power – the USA.

Opposing Israel’s military action in Gaza, or illegal occupation of Palestinian land, is not anti-semitic, nor is it racist, or anti-Jewish.

Nor does it make one automatically an uncritical supporter of Hamas. I have as little time for Muslim fundamentalism as I do Zionist fundamentalism. However, I’m also clear that I support the military resistance of the Palestinians in the occupied territories. If this means throwing stones, Qassam rockets or suicide bombings, so be it.

I do not support suicide bombings, nor indiscriminate attacks on civilians as a general poltical method, but in the occupied territories the settlers there have taken a political decision to be part of a military push to squeeze the remaining Palestinians off their land.

They are heavily armed – not for defence – in order to instil fear into local Palestinians and to enforce their illegal occupation. They should not be there. The Palestinians want them out.

As Malcolm X used to say: “By any means necessary”

I support the socialist position on Israel:

Self-righteous sermons about Israel’s “right to exist” are among the most common attacks made on defenders of the Palestinians. But a state based on systematic racism and dispossession has no such right.

The militant spirit that animates the millions who follow Hezbollah and Hamas is wholly positive. It embodies the defiant anti-imperialist determination to resist that has dogged the imperial overlords of the Middle East for almost 100 years.

But in terms of a strategy to defeat imperialism, Islamism is sorely lacking.

So this poses the question: could the Arab working class, if freed from the shackles of class-collaborationist politics, lead a struggle to defeat imperialism and Zionism in the Middle East?

There need be no equivocation in answering “yes”. Contrary to some Western conceptions, the Arab world is no un-industrialised rural backwater. You just need to list some of the major cities to get a sense of this. Alexandria has 5 million people, Damascus 6 million, Aleppo 4.5 million, Casablanca 3 million, Amman 2 million. And of course there is Cairo with its staggering 17 million people – almost the whole population of Australia. It is in such huge metropolises that the great social revolutions of the 21st century will be fought out. Not only is the social power of the core sections of the industrial working class centred in and around these cities, but their sheer concentration of people makes it possible for workers to lead the masses of the oppressed, particularly the urban poor, behind them.

As the world economic crisis deepens, the class struggle will come ever more to the fore around the world, not least in the Middle East. But for the Palestinian struggle and the broader anti-imperialist and working class struggle in the Arab world to win, organisations will have to be built that champion an independent workers’ movement that fights not only around economic issues, but determines to lead the resistance against imperialist domination that for so long has had its enormous potential derailed by the politics of class collaboration and compromise.

[Socialist Alternative, Australia]


15 Responses to Why defending the Palestinians is not anti-semitic

  1. Josh Gale says:

    Thanks for the article Martin, it’s helped me to marshal my thoughts and thus clarify my position on this issue. The oppressed has become the oppressor.

  2. Stefan says:

    Thanks for all the attention Martin!
    I don’t have time to go through your comments now but let me at least start:
    My recollection of you and your comrades’ stance in the ISO re the first Gulf War is NOT a distortion. I attended one of your party meetings at the time – you were present – with a friend. After the meeting we discussed with you how wrong your party platform of supporting Saddam Hussein was. You argued against us. However, I don’t think we were the only ones that challenged you on this point because a couple of weeks later your party changed its tune and made a point of opposing the war while NOT supporting Saddam.
    I do not equate criticism of Zionism with antisemitism. I myself am deeply critical of secular Zionism – you know, the jumble of nationalists, socialists, communists and anarchists who spearheaded the re-establishment of the Jewish State in Eretz Yisrael. But someone who talks about lobbing a missile at one of England’s largest Jewish communities is not being ‘anti-Zionist’ he is being anti-Jewish pure and simple.
    Posting the Qassam rocket attacks on Israel is there merely as a reminder of why Israel has had to go to war in the first place. Like any Jew (even those who have been copping Hamas rockets for the past eight years) I am grieved by the loss of any innocent life. But Hamas’s tactics make such losses inevitable. The Left’s cynical policy of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ highlights the hole where your heart should be. You are happy to support a genocidal death cult against a liberal democratic state in which Arabs enjoy more rights and a better standard of living than in most Arab countries.
    I support Israel because it is a legitimate state. I support Israel because I am a Jew who doesn’t want to see his fellow Jews murdered. I support Israel because, despite its many faults, it strives to behave ethically depsite continuous existential threats.
    Israel has at least as much right to exist as Syria or Lebanon – articial constructs courtesy of the British and French imperialists. It has at least as much right to exist as Australia – a colonial relic built on genocide – or the USA, or any other state. The fact is that you do not recognise Jewish nationhood and you do not recognise the legitimacy of the State of Israel. Therefore, to you, anything the State of Israel does can not be legitimate. I, on the other hand, recognise that Israel can be right sometimes and wrong at other times. I would say that makes me rather more balanced in my appreciation of the situation. Perhaps if you steered clear of the martinis you could achieve some sense of balance and attain a sense of ethical clarity.
    Communists not attacking Jews?! Bwahahahahaha. No, they didn’t discriminate against, torture or kill Jews in the Soviet Union or Poland, did they? Oh, I forgot, you conveniently claim that they weren’t communists but Stalinists. They’re just Marxists who managed to grab hold of power. Fortunately I think the chances of you and your comrades ever achieving such power is pretty close to nil.
    Your comments elsewhere about white phosphorous are another fine example of prejudice over research. You ‘believe’ its use consitutes a war crime. On what basis? The ICRC and even HRW both admit that the munition is not illegal and that Israel is not using it in an illegal way. But Martin Hirst QC begs to differ. With no legal foundation.

  3. You’re right, I don’t recognise Jewish nationhood. In what sense does being of any particular religion equate with the right to have a political State structure in place?

    You’re right too about lines on the map – in the Middle East and elsewhere – the whole construct of nations in the modern world is built on a foundation of blood and Israel is no different.

    In what sense is Israel “liberal” or “democratic”, it’s a theocratic monstrosity that relies on discrimination and its military ties to the US for survival. Where the living standards of the middle class hide a huge depth of poverty, particularly if you happen to live there and are NOT Jewish.

    On the white phosphorus, you’re just delusional. It is being used as a lethal weapon against civilian and military targets. That is a clear breach of the CWC.

    As for your wonderful memory of one particular meeting some 18 years ago and what I said, that’s fantasy and a neat retrospective overlay. I have never supported the politics of the Baa’thist regime, but the ISO at the time and the IS tendency globally today is clear on its support for a military victory by the forces opposing Israel.

  4. Andrew says:

    Hi Martin
    Apologies if you’ve already mentioned this in one of your postings, but I think some of your readers may be interested in the Glasgow University Media Group’s fascinating study,” Bad News From Israel”

    This gives valuable insight into how the mainstream media’s failure to provide any historical background to the conflict clearly favours Israel. For instance in their study they found that only about 8% of people knew that the Occupied Territories was Palestinian land illegally occupied by Israel. A slightly higher number actually thought it was Israeli land being occupied by Palestinians!

    Medialens.org also have an excellent two-part alert this week on media coverage of the conflict.

    Thanks,
    Andrew

  5. William says:

    First of all being Jewish is not a racial thing????

    This would certainly come as a surprise to the Israelis – prior to 2005 the Israeli Internal Identity card included a reference to the bearer’s ethnic group – the main ones being: Jewish, Arab, Druze and Circassian.

  6. Well William, doesn’t that just reinforce the point that the Israeli government is racist? The conflation of religion with culture or ethnicity is actually part of the whole problem in the middle east. I don’t think “Arab” or “Druze” is a religious identification, Circassian I’ve never heard of.
    EM

  7. Andrew, many thanks for this tip. I’ve linked to the GUMG Study More bad news from Israel and to Medialens.org

  8. Stefan says:

    Martin, at last we can agree on something!
    Your comment on the delineation of state borders being ‘built on blood’ proves my point that Israel is every bit as legitimate a state as any other. I await you and your friends’ condemnation and boycott of ever other country at the UN and your consequent refusal to recognise the legitimacy of the UN and all its instruments.
    Being Jewish is not only about religion. It is also an ethnic and national identity. Since the Jews left Egypt they have been a nation and that nationhood started to create the first Jewish State on crossing the River Jordan into Eretz Yisrael. Dig into the ground of Israel and you won’t find ‘Palestinian’ relics; you will, however, find a wealth of Jewish artefacts dating back thousands of years. This is something that Arabs, with all the historical acumen of the Adelaide Institute, try to deny. And, let’s face it, they wouldn’t try so hard if they didn’t recognise that the long and continuous ties of Jews to the Land of Israel bolsters the legitimacy of the present incarnation of Jewish statehood.
    Amazing that you (incorrectly) dub Israel a theocratic state and condemn it on that false premise – all the while dancing with Hamas which has introduced sharia law on the hapless Gazans with such imaginative features as crucifixion for blasphemy and the usual run of amputations for various misdemeanours. And you wouldn’t want to be gay, or Christian, in Gaza.
    Israel is liberal and democractic in that all its citizens have the right to vote, whether Muslim, Druze, Christian, Jew, Circassian or anything else. That you’ve never heard of the latter is not surprising as you really do know next to nothing about Israel. Your ignorance is further exemplified by your assertion that ‘Druze’ is not a religious identification. For goodness sake Martin you claim to have a PhD so presumably you know how to conduct even rudimentary research. So try it.
    Shock: racism exists in Israel. Shock: discrimination occurs in Israel. Shock: the number of poor in Israel has grown even though the country as a whole has enjoyed good economic growth in recent years. And so, unfortunately, Israel is like just about every other liberal democracy – minorities (including Jewish sub-groups) struggle for social justice, increased socio-economic polarisation with the wealth increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few (and Chareidi Jews being amongst the country’s poorest residens). Unlike most other liberal democracies, Israel has been trying to deal with these problems in the face of continued existential threats from its Arab and Muslim neighbours. While some 600,000 Jews fled – or were forced from – Arab and Muslim countries since 1948 and many of them built new lives for themselves and their families in Israel and elsewhere (my wife’s family among them) it is a sad fact that many Arabs have signally failed to show a similarly constructive and forward-looking spirit. Instead, having rejected a two-state solution in 1948, and having failed in their attempt to massacre the nascent Jewish State out of existence, the Arabs forced the refugees of that war to live in perpetual dependence on foreign aid in shanty towns. Only Jordan extended citizenship to any significant number of these refugees. The rest, in Lebanon, Egypt and elsewhere were relegated to statelessness and hoplessness. With friends like that… Instead, despite its vulnerability and the reasonable concern of a fifth column, Israel extended full citizenship to the hundreds of thousands of Arabs within its borders. While Saudi women aren’t allowed to drive, Israeli Arab women vote; while Arab countries bled their citizens through political corruption and economic incompetence, Israeli Arabs – and even Arabs in the disputed territories (until the Intifada) – enjoyed higher living standards than most of their bethren in the Middle East. Despite the discrimination that does exist in Israel, its Arab citizens enjoy greater personal freedom and more secure civil rights than Arabs in just about any other country in the Middle East. So you end up with the situation that while most Israeli Arabs are critical of, if not outrightly hostile towards, the State of Israel, most of them would balk at the opportunity of being ruled by fellow Arabs.
    Re white phosphorous: I have not imagined the ICRC’s or HRW’s recognition that Israel has done nothing illegal with its apparent use of white phosphorous in Gaza. The only delusion here seems to be your thinking that you know what you’re talking about.
    I’m the first to admit that my memory is not the best. But I distinctly remember that IS meeting during the first Gulf War and your party’s stance at that time because it provoked a lot of soul searching on my part that ultimately led to my re-evaluating my political outlook. A look at back issues of your party rag might shed some light on this argument.
    Thank you for clearly and unambiguously stating that you and your party support Hamas in its attempt to destroy a sovereign State that you have also admitted is no less legitimate in its existence than any other country in the world. That would, I assume, include your host country New Zealand. Would you and your party support similar terrorist action against New Zealand? Under what conditions?
    You will, I’m sure, relish having your prejudices and lack of knowledge of Israel reinforced by the Glasgow Uni Media Group. The statistic quoted by Andrew is telling: the disputed territories have never been ‘Palestinian land’ which helps to explain why they are in fact disputed. The territories in question were, in fact, illegally occupied by Jordan and Egypt until 1967 (NB. no hint of allowing ‘Palestinian’ autonomy let alone statehood during that time), their having acquired possession through aggression. Arguably, Israel, having acquired the land through a defensive action (and under international law, a pre-emptive strike is perfectly legitimate) in 1967, has the best claim to the territory, there never having been a ‘Palestinian’ state in history.

  9. You’re right that there is a growing trend towards labelling anyone who dares criticise the Israeli government as an anti-semite.

    I was recently foolhardy enough to attempt to hold a serious discussion on two notoriously anti-Islamic blogs (Jihad Watch and Biased BBC) – and was immediately labelled an anti-semite for my trouble. When I retorted that I in fact had some Jewish heritage, I was informed that I am a self-hating Jew.

    I’m new to blogging and this is perhaps the worst thing I’ve learnt about this environment: when idiots club together and form groups, they validate each other’s opinions and accelerate the radicalisation. It’s worrying.

  10. I disagree with your statement that Jewishness is not a race, though. The Jews of 2,000 years ago were a distinct ethnic group with distinct ethnic features, just in the same way that Somalis, Scandinavians, Chinese etc have distinct ethnic traits. That is genealogical fact (and why I said I have Jewish heritage).

    Jewishness is both a religion and an ethnicity (though of course, they don’t have to coincide). More here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jew#Genetic_studies

  11. Martin ,I don’t doubt that the there are distinctly ethnic variations of “Jewishness” that go back thousands of years in the Middle East.

    My point is that today Jewishness is a religious identity – hence large numbers of Jews from Europe and South Africa etc who have migrated to Israel. Ethnically they are Slavic, or whatever else, religiously they’re Jewish.
    The whole conflation of race/religion and national identity tends to confuse people. It tends to make statements like this sound reasonable:

    Zionism is the national self determination movement of the Jewish people. Zionism is the belief in a Jewish homeland for the Jewish people, in Israel. Zionism is the Jewish people’s instantiation of the human right of self determination. 99% of Jews are supportive of the existance of the Jewish state – that makes them Zionists. http://www.zionismontheweb.org/antizionism/Against_Zionists_not_Jews.html

    This book review argues the alternative: http://socialistworker.org/2008/07/10/jewish-and-against-zionism

  12. Racial conflation is a staple feature of national identities though – Israel is nothing exceptional. Many people speak of an indigenous British population, for example, but at the same time they see no contradiction in labelling a first-generation Pakistani a Brit provided that he has an English accent etc.

    So what I’m saying is having a multi-ethnic population no more excludes Israel from the right to statehood than it excludes Brits

  13. [...] Bullshit! [Why defending Palestinians is not anti-semitic] [...]

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