So you and I could be anti-Semitic, and we didn’t even know it. Part two

This article can be read as a stand alone. But, as the designation ‘Part two’ suggests, there is merit in visiting Part one for useful, additional background. In particular, Hasbara is explained, as is the inept and damaging IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of anti-Semitism along with its supposed examples.

Give or take a minute, each article is about a five minute read.

Israel’s current ascendancy

At present, and for some time now, Israel and supporters of its racist, apartheid state have been in the ascendancy at least so far as mainstream media and political opinion is concerned. In more tangible terms, this is evidenced by Israel’s involvement in bi-lateral and other trade deals (e.g. with the EU), arms deals, joint academic research projects, joint military enterprises, and much more.  There are, too, the massive transfers of USA dollars and European Euros to Israel. Taken together, all this helps keep Israel afloat, free to daily colonise more and more Palestinian land whilst working to empty the stolen land of its indigenous Palestinian inhabitants.

Hasbara’s aim is to deflect attention from all this. To put it out of sight, to direct our focus elsewhere, to project Israel as a perfectly normal Western-type state. The sort of state that can host a European Song Contest. The sort of state replete with pavement cafes in Tel Aviv or West Jerusalem, where one can relax, drink coffee, oblivious to the fact that British JCB bulldozers are demolishing Palestinian homes; children are being shot by the ‘most moral army in the world’;  that the Israel Defence Force (the inapt name for Israel’s army)  ‘makes its presence felt’, as a matter of policy, by breaking into Palestinian homes in the dead of night, armed, no warning given, often dragging some or all the inhabitants – mum, dad, brother, sister, uncle, aunt – away, traumatising all, but children in particular. All this a mere twenty five miles away from Tel Aviv’s cafés where people sit unconcerned, the facts unacknowledged, or wilfully ignored.

If the truth was acknowledged

An inherent difficulty for any hasbara effort is that there are few facts to hand that, in truth, point to a state and society that one would admire or aim to emulate. Beneath the surface glitter of normality, there is a highly militarised, colonising, corrupted state and corrupted society. It would not take a visitor long to verify this should they care to bother.

The real and present danger

Hasbara, and the actions that flow from it, must be understood as a highly aggressive, counter-democratic programme that not only camouflages Israel’s perpetual law and rights-defying behaviour, but also attacks and corrodes democratic discourse here in the UK, and in the West more widely. 

Hasbara and its associated policies and practices, is working to diminish and close down the public spaces available for critiquing Israel, its policies and practices towards Palestinians.  This, as I have made clear, is not accidental. It is the outcome of deliberate strategy.  And it’s been, and is, remarkably successful, here in the UK, in Europe and the USA as the following examples demonstrate:

Gavin Williamson, the UK Education Secretary, has threatened university with cuts to their funding if they do not adopt the IHRA definition.

Leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, has imposed a blanket ban on constituency parties discussing Jeremy Corbyn’s, its former leader, suspension; and David Evans, Labour’s General Secretary, has forbidden discussion on Labour’s adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

In USA, Zoom, YouTube and Facebook censored an online class featuring Palestinian, Black, Jewish and South African activists at San Francisco State University. The open classroom event “Whose Narratives?: Gender, Justice & Resistance” featured Palestinian activist Leila Khaled and was scheduled to take place at 12:30 PDT before being erased from Zoom, Facebook and YouTube.

Mike Pompeo, for the moment still USA Secretary of State, has said:  ‘As we have made clear, anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism’. On the back of which the USA intends to identify and sanction organizations that engage in or support the non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

A non-binding Bundestag resolution, adopted by a large majority on May 2019, condemned the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions movement targeting Israel as “anti-Semitic” and compared it to the Nazi regime’s demands not to buy from Jews. The resolution also called for denying public funding and public spaces to individuals and organisations which support BDS.

Profoundly mistaken

Anti-Semitism has been weaponised, aggressively deployed to support the Israeli State.  This is its main, indeed arguably, its only purpose.  It does not mean it is good for Jews in general, in fact it is potentially damaging. Damaging because the impression can all too easily be given – has already been given? – that anti-Semitism must be given special regard, divorced from the wider, most urgent, most necessary, struggle against racism in all its forms –Islamophobia, anti-black prejudice and discrimination, anti-Roma prejudice and discrimination.  This point is well made in a letter to the Guardian from 122 Palestinian and Arab academics, journalists and intellectuals who expressed their concerns about the IHRA definition:

‘To level the charge of antisemitism against anyone who regards the existing state of Israel as racist, notwithstanding the actual institutional and constitutional discrimination upon which it is based, amounts to granting Israel absolute impunity. Israel can thus deport its Palestinian citizens, or revoke their citizenship or deny them the right to vote, and still be immune from the accusation of racism. The IHRA definition and the way it has been deployed prohibit any discussion of the Israeli state as based on ethno-religious discrimination. It thus contravenes elementary justice and basic norms of human rights and international law.’

‘The suppression of Palestinian rights in the IHRA definition betrays an attitude upholding Jewish privilege in Palestine instead of Jewish rights, and Jewish supremacy over Palestinians instead of Jewish safety. We believe that human values and rights are indivisible and that the fight against antisemitism should go hand in hand with the struggle on behalf of all oppressed peoples and groups for dignity, equality and emancipation.’


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