It has certainly not been a slow week for news, as the pundits say. Military conflict between India and Pakistan, threats of war against Venezuela from both ruling parties in the US, as the empire slides ever faster towards open fascism. Trump met Kim in Hanoi while simultaneously making new threats at Iran and Cuba while his former lawyer testified in Congress. Scandal continues to embroil the governor of Virginia and other politicians there, one of whom says he's the victim of a right-wing witch-hunt. Parts of California that were on fire last fall are now underwater, the Catholic church is holding hearings on the sexual abuse of children and nuns by priests and bishops, a new proxy war threatens to break out in Mozambique, and Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel has just made an alliance with a party/hate group called Jewish Power, made up of followers of the preacher of mass murder, considered a terrorist even by the Israeli and US governments of his day, Rabbi Meir Kahane. And now the prime minister is being charged with corruption by his own Attorney General. He says it's a left-wing witch-hunt.
I didn't even touch on most of the major international news stories of the week in that list, nor do I intend to. But occasionally surfacing in the headlines, in some places more than others, are a number of more or less national-scale scandals, ostensibly involving anti-Semitism.
Almost never surfacing in the headlines of the western press, but covered constantly on some Arabic networks, is the fact that last Friday Israeli troops committed yet another massacre of unarmed civilians at the fence walling off the open air toxic prison known as the Gaza Strip from its occupier, the country that controls and lays siege to all of its borders and prevents its access to the sea to the west or to the air above, Israel. You in the west hearing my voice may be surprised to know that the IDF has committed such a massacre every Friday since March of last year, leaving hundreds dead and thousands in wheelchairs for the rest of their lives.
But this missive is only partially about that hidden piece of weekly news, that after-every-Friday-Prayers massacre most of us are unaware of. I say only partially because it's actually impossible to separate these massacres from the aforementioned anti-Semitism scandals -- and that is by design, as I will explain.
In the US, a Congresswoman made a reference to US foreign policy being influenced by one of the largest donors to US Congressional campaigns, AIPAC. In England, the leader of the Labour Party and some of his associates are being smeared as anti-Semites because of a visit to a PLO cemetery during an official trip to Tunisia. And in France the entire political class along with the entire mainstream media are frothing at the mouth over their efforts to paint the Gilets Jaunes as anti-Semites.
In Paris, a group of Yellow Vest protesters called a self-described Zionist philosopher a Zionist. The word "Zionist" was preceded by an expletive, so this is apparently now to be understood as that old corporate media trope known as veiled anti-Semitism. Which is usually a label for things they wish were anti-Semitic, but aren't. This was clearly also the case with Jeremy Corbyn in England and Congresswoman Omar in the United States: opposition to Israeli policies of weekly massacres, embargoes, bombings, indefinite detention of children and wanton legalized bribery of American politicians is all construed somehow as anti-Semitism.
How is it possible to conflate opposition to the theft of Palestinian land or the bribery of American politicians with hatred of Jews? Here are some bits of history and some word definitions necessary to understand the convoluted logic involved with these accusations which are wrapped up with the discussion of what is and what isn't anti-Semitic speech and behavior.
- For much of European history, as Jews were being kicked out of southern European countries, they were emigrating to eastern European countries, where in some cases the sophisticated new migrants became disproportionately wealthy and thus despised by much of the general population who lived in poverty. Therefore ever since that time, any criticism of wealthy people, bribery, usury, lobbyists, capitalism, and especially banks are seen by some as anti-Semitic or at least veiled anti-Semitism.
- Throughout its existence, leaders of the state of Israel have referred to Israel as "the Jewish state" and AIPAC has referred to itself as "the Jewish lobby." However, when non-Jews use terms like "the Jewish lobby" these days, this is often seen as some kind of anti-Semitic generalization. A generalization it is, and an incorrect one, but one that AIPAC and the Israeli government both encourage us to make as often as possible.
- Although millions of Jews proudly refer to themselves as "ardent Zionists" and support Zionism -- the successful movement to settle on and steal Palestinian land in order to form a state controlled explicitly by Jews, now known as Israel -- if a non-Jew calls someone a Zionist (whether there is an expletive preceding the term or not), this is now understood to be yet another form of veiled anti-Semitism.
- The term "Jew" is not an insult, any more than the term "Christian" or "Muslim" is. About 20% of the population of the Jewish State is not Jewish, however, so when Palestinians are being attacked by Israeli soldiers they don't say "the Israelis are coming," because it's specifically Jewish Israeli soldiers coming to kill them. They don't say "the soldiers" are coming because these are not just any soldiers, they are not Jordanian or Egyptian soldiers, they are Jewish Israeli soldiers. So they say "the Jews" are coming, when the Jews are coming. This may be a profoundly uncomfortable reality, but it's also a profoundly real one.
The constant massacres, bombings, bulldozings, rampant torture of children and other nasty habits of the self-proclaimed Jewish state give it a bit of a credibility issue among normal humans who aren't in the US Congress or the British Parliament and aren't Germans drowning in guilt for the fact that their recent ancestors are largely responsible for Zionism becoming so popular among the Jewish diaspora in the first place, with all the death and destruction it has wrought. (Though in truth even with the Nazi Holocaust to encourage Jews to flee Europe -- which my extended family in Minsk unfortunately failed to do back then -- most Jews didn't want to go to Palestine, they wanted to go to the US. But because the great humanitarian Roosevelt administration didn't lift the quotas on eastern European refugees until 1944, they had to go somewhere else if they could. Or just die, as most of them did.)
But to the extent that the settler-colonial Zionist movement did gain popularity among Jews, and, with backing from the big, supposedly former colonial powers of the day, did successfully take over the neighborhood by force of arms, kick out the inhabitants, and never let them back in, it did so with support from all sorts of different varieties of Zionists. Yes, there's not just one brand of Zionism, but to complicate matters, there are many.
It has long been the case that the best friends of the state of Israel around the world have been other settler-colonial states (Australia, South Africa, the US), so-called former colonial powers (Britain, France, Germany), and a selection of the most far-right, torture states that happen to be in power in the world at any given time (currently including countries such as Hungary, Guatemala and Brazil).
However, there are other factors that cause the whole question of Zionism and anti-Semitism to get truly complicated. One is the fact that although there are among the ranks of those around the world who oppose Zionism lots of principled, ecumenical enemies of oppression in all its all forms, the ranks of anti-Zionists also include actual fascists who hate Jews for being Jews.
The other, probably far more destructive factor in the whole equation, is the fact that among the ranks of those who support the Zionist project – that is, the state of Israel, and all the disenfranchisement and slaughter of Palestinians that necessarily goes along with maintaining power over an occupied people who don't want to be occupied and aren't dead yet -- are people who otherwise appear to be progressive.
Which then brings me to the title of this little rant. Who are these long-time Labour Party members attacking Corbyn as an anti-Semite on my Facebook page? Who are these otherwise sophisticated French philosophers who can't tell the difference between hatred of apartheid and hatred of all of his fellow Jewish people? Who are these union and civil rights-supporting Americans making oblique references to "anti-Semitism on the left" on the basis of a Muslim Congresswoman's anti-lobbying tweet?
First of all, they're real people. Yes, some of them are working for intelligence agencies who make those posts -- this has been well documented and in fact the Israeli government is proud of their propagandists on social media, as are lots of other government agencies globally. But there are real people -- lots of them -- who live with what to most of us seems like an impossible disconnect. In this case, we're talking about people who, for one reason or for many reasons, have developed a worldview where for them it is consistent to go out on the streets to oppose the US carpet-bombing of southeast Asia or even of Iraq, but when it comes to Israel, they support emergency military assistance when Israel runs out of bombs as it's destroying Gaza for the seventh time in the past decade (this is a reference to Bernie Sanders, among others).
Unfortunately, with so many otherwise progressive supporters of Israeli apartheid -- Zionism -- among us, particularly in places like the US and England -- we end up in a situation where far too many people are intimidated by what is, admittedly, sometimes a complex and multifaceted debate.
What's not complex, or shouldn't be, are the following points:
- Only a minority of Jews identify with Israel or live in Israel, and Israel does not and has never represented the entire Jewish diaspora.
- To use terms that people proudly identify with, such as "Zionist," is not anti-Semitic, if we are describing a supporter of the state of Israel.
- The United States government is run by the highest bidder, it is an auction, this is well-known, and pointing this out is not anti-Semitic, any more than pointing out that the United States is in North America is anti-geographic.
- Israel is an apartheid state that has been recognized as such by all rational visitors to the occupied territories, including me, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, all kinds of UN human rights commissions and other human rights groups, and a lot of other people.
- The fact that Israel calls itself the Jewish state, is run by Jews and has an almost entirely Jewish army that kills Palestinians every day will tend to cause some confusion in the world about what all this means. Some people will draw the erroneous conclusion that this self-proclaimed Jewish state represents all Jews and that because an army of Jews kills unarmed Palestinians every day, that this Jewish army represents the Jewish diaspora. It doesn't. Just a lot of them. (Like for example some of my Zionist relatives who no longer speak to me because they think I'm an anti-Semite.)
This degree of fear hopefully provides some idea why the Jewish people are now so divided around the issue of Israeli apartheid. There are so many reactions to trauma, and there was probably no trauma suffered by humans in the known history of the planet as terrible as the Nazi Holocaust. There were many victims of this holocaust, and Jews from across Europe were principal among them. People so deeply traumatized had three main reactions:
- Many, like my nanny, hid, assimilated, lived in fear, tried to be someone else. Untold millions of people in many different situations have done this in the history of humanity, including Sephardic Jews many hundreds of years ago (from whom I'm also descended). This is where the term "living in the closet" came from. That's where they kept their menorahs.
- Many embraced the idea that the horror of Nazism should never destroy any other society, either. This is partially why the radical left in so many countries is so disproportionately full of Jews.
- Many others embraced Zionism, which you can translate as the idea that "never again" means "never again to us." Zionism was an escape further into sectarianism.
Unfortunately, there is ultimately no safety or security on stolen land, surrounded by millions of resentful, impoverished, desperate refugees that you've created. Safety and security for Jews was really never the interest for the outside powers that have always been the benefactors Israel has depended on to make such a go of it up til now. For the great powers, it was always about having a European colonial outpost in a part of the world that Europeans have never been able to successfully colonize.
But the progressive Zionists are able to repress all that awareness. It's hard to do that, so they're generally not much for rational conversation when it comes to the question of Israeli apartheid. Even calling apartheid apartheid upsets them. I think they're still calling it "the only democracy in the Middle East," in fact, despite the fact that the millions of Palestinians living under Israeli military rule in the West Bank and Gaza are unable to vote in the Israeli elections that determine their fates.
Unable to defend the indefensible, they attack. This is how you end up with supposed Labour Party progressives calling Jeremy Corbyn an anti-Semite. According to their narrative, those PLO people buried in that Tunisian cemetery are all terrorists. They killed innocent Israeli Olympic athletes, among others. And so for them, the entire, bloody Israeli occupation, the theft of all those homes, the millions of refugees and squalid refugee camps, this is all just irrelevant to the point that terrorism -- the killing of innocents -- is wrong. So if you lay a wreath in a cemetery where some of those who died in the course of this national liberation struggle are buried, you are then associated with the worst things any of them ever did, of course. So then if you lay a wreath at a cemetery with dead RAF pilots in it, does that mean you're endorsing the killing of each of the 50,000 civilians who were asphyxiated or crushed when the RAF bombed Dresden? If you lay a wreath on the graves of Israeli soldiers who died in their "War for Independence," are you endorsing the permanent expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians from their homes by Jewish terrorists who induced fear through massacres and the threats of massacres?
Few people would say so, but in the convoluted logic of the progressive Zionists, it can be nothing but anti-Semitic to acknowledge the suffering of the Palestinian nation by laying a wreath in a cemetery or to express anger at a famous, self-proclaimed Zionist philosopher for being a Zionist at a time in history when the army of Zionism -- the Israeli Army -- has today just committed another massacre. Or to point out that the American Israeli Political Action Committee has undue influence on US politicians -- it most certainly, verifiably does. 'Cause it's all about the Benjamins -- like Omar (and Puff Daddy) said.
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