This year the world is changing, and great calls for social and political reform have been heard everywhere. After the murder of George Floyd, the strongest calls were for equality for the Black community, inspiring many other groups to join the fight. Unfortunately, some have tried to hijack this momentum for their agenda. Anti-Zionist groups have attempted to tie these popular causes to their own, blaming many of the world’s problems on the only Jewish state. These groups shoehorn anti-Zionism into progressive causes to exclude Zionists, which most Jews identify as – it being the Jewish national liberation movement for self-determination in the Jewish ancestral homeland. This tactic is a blatant attempt by anti-Zionists to label Israel as an inherently racist, illegitimate and temporary state.
In June for example, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign attempted to blame racist police brutality in the USA and by extension the death of George Floyd on Israel. According to the PSC website, a ‘deadly exchange’ exists between Israel and America to ‘reinforce practices of surveillance of public space, racial profiling and the excessive use of force’. In reality, Israeli emergency services train their counterparts all over the world in how to deal with mass casualty incidents and terrorist threats. It’s no surprise considering how familiar Israel is with these kinds of threats. There is no technique used by Israeli police to kneel on the necks of those being arrested, and police brutality obviously did not originate in Israel. The mere suggestion that Israel is behind racial profiling in America ignores all government-sanctioned racism in the USA before 1948 and reinforces antisemitic tropes concerning international control. PSC’s statement goes on to address this and clarify that this isn’t the case, but still erroneously condemns Israel as a guilty party.
Likewise, at an Oxford anti-racist protest calling for the removal of the statue of Cecil Rhodes, President of Leeds Palestine Solidarity Group, Adam Saeed suddenly began talking about Israel and various alleged crimes. Rhodes was key in the British colonisation of Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia, after himself), and his credentials as a colonial oppressor and slaver are indisputable, unlike his non-existent connection with Israel. After complaints, the Equality and Diversity Officer at Oriel College condemned the speech as antisemitic, citing conspiracy theories relating to Israeli complicity in American racism as well as ‘bringing Israel in where Israel is not relevant’. The speech reflected an old habit of antisemites, to blame the Jews for everyone’s problems.
More recently, Leila Khaled was invited by San Francisco State University onto an online panel that honoured her as a ‘Palestinian feminist’. Firstly, it is quite difficult for anyone to seriously describe Khaled as anything but an antisemitic terrorist. This is a woman – in fact, the first woman – who carried out that most quintessential modern terrorist activity, hijacking planes. Is being the first woman to hijack a plane really a great stride forward for the feminist movement? More importantly, Khaled hijacked the plane in order to threaten innocent lives, not to prove that women are capable of hijacking planes. While the event was cancelled by Zoom and Facebook, few people saw it as problematic, including President Lynn Mahoney of SF State, who wrote a letter alleging that the university was being unfairly censored by tech companies. Last month Khaled was invited to speak at a Leeds Palestine Solidarity Group event, as part of a campaign opposing the no-platforming of Khaled by Zoom, Facebook and Youtube. She was once again billed as a feminist icon, sending the unfortunate message that Jews are unwelcome in the feminist movement.
There are also those who use the feminist and LGBTQ+ movements to accuse Israel of “pinkwashing”, i.e. using queer rights to seem progressive so to distract from atrocities. The word was coined in a New York Times op-ed entitled ‘Israel and Pinkwashing’, purely to delegitimise Israel. One BDS article defines it as an ‘Israeli government propaganda strategy that cynically exploits [LGBTQ+] rights to project a progressive image while concealing Israel’s occupation and apartheid’. Anyone who has been to Tel Aviv, the biggest centre of gay life in the Middle East, knows this to be false. Tel Aviv Pride is one of the biggest celebrations of queer identity around the world, not a fake photo op. Israel is the most welcoming country in the region to queer people and calling that ‘pinkwashing’, is a clear attempt to erase any good things about Israel. The article goes on to suggest that ‘queer and trans liberation cannot be separated from Palestinian liberation’. This sentence illustrates clearly the message of the piece; that if you want to be an ally to LGBTQ+ people, you are not allowed to be pro-Israel. This excludes all Zionists (even those identifying as queer) from fighting for LGBTQ+ rights.
What could be the motivation of pro-Palestinian groups such as Apartheid Off Campus and the PSC in coopting so many progressive causes? Obviously, it helps to make any liberation movement all about Palestinian liberation, but surely this strategy isn’t as useful as a universal call for Palestinian liberation? The remaining explanation is the fact that this method excludes Zionist (or “bad”) Jews from the liberal movement, leaving only the anti-Zionist (or “good”) Jews. This is like the antisemitic practice of asking any Jew one meets for their opinion on the Israeli-Arab conflict in order to give Jews a loyalty test because, as the old trope goes, Jews are only loyal to each other. Regardless of intention, these occurrences amount to an effort to characterise Jewish people as “the enemy”, not belonging in a progressive movement and not on the right side of history.
Ben Harari is the CAMERA on Campus Fellow at the University of Nottingham.