By Jamie Finfer
As a British Jew, events in the Levant are troubling. The escalation of combat on 10th May, sparked by evictions and the Al-Aqsa Mosque invasion on Eid-al-Fitr, came to an end with over 200 dead, of which only 12 were non-Palestinians. The eviction of Arab-Israelis from East Jerusalem is indicative of the most complex conflict in modern diplomacy.
I see concerned liberally conscious university peers post about the atrocities the Palestinians are suffering through. I also see members of Jewish community becoming extremely conscious, and in some cases, defensive. Joseph Gellman’s recent article for Palatinate illustrates Jewish anxieties. I hope I can clarify the origin of these anxieties and illustrate how we can talk constructively about Israel and Palestine.
The country epitomises tension. Radical Zionists see illegal squatters on their land, and the IDF’s often deadly overzealousness is infrequently reprimanded. Palestinians wait in their homes for the knock on the door to deprive them of it, armed members of Hamas hide amongst them.
The USA’s lenient support for Israel doesn’t help. In 1981 Reagan, not Bush, declared a War on Terror; Reaganism, Trump’s movement of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and recent Iranian support for Hamas have further agitated these tensions. The U.S. does not only support Israel. It supports harsh and brutal dictators – note Egypt pre-Arab Spring. It supports the Sharon Plan, prohibiting the unification of Gaza and the West Bank, seizing homes and land. Even a perceived moderate, such as Biden, has qualms in condemning Israeli hawkishness. Indeed, over 80% of countries recognise Palestine, Kosovo is recognised by far fewer: The White House recognises only the latter. The assassination of peacemaker Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1981 has only worsened divides.
The relationship between anti-Zionism and antisemitism is confusing for the lay person, and more work needs to be done to distinguish the two. Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, and Likud, his party, know this and use antisemitic accusations to deflect blame.
Yet Zionist sentiment must be understood to be engaged with; radical Zionist marginalisation of Palestine is founded on fear and anger. Fear of another genocidal-scale disaster, their perceived doom should the ‘Israel project’ fail, and anger at Palestinian resistance and the international community’s condemnation. They use the words ‘defence’ and ‘pre-emptive strike’ because for many Zionists, Jews are always only so far away from the short road between discrimination and systematic extermination.
I too, feel the discomfort of these fears. The proximal loss of family members in the Holocaust is born as a heavy ‘weight of corpses’ by successive generations, a weight translated by some into a mission – the mission of safety, of Zion, of Israel. Some of this fear is warranted: whenever conflict erupts in Israel, violent incidents against the Jewish diaspora rise; many pro-Palestinians protestors do not distinguish between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. Antisemitism is one of the oldest hatreds, stretching back far before WWII (note pogroms in Russia, or Edward II’s expulsion of Jews from England for scriptural differences regarding usury).
Part of the difficulty lies in the nature of Judaism’s ‘otherness’. It is a faith passed through the mother’s bloodline, deeply tied to race, and rarely evangelical. A historical presence for over five millennia means this otherness is entrenched to a stereotypic degree. Lack of understanding of different branches, such as Orthodox, Reform, Ashkenazi, and Sephardi, doesn’t help attempts at clarity. Disentangling this sense of ‘otherness’ is crucial in fighting antisemitism, understanding Jewish perspective is crucial in engaging their support of peaceful solutions.
Contemporary antisemitic incidents always pale in comparison to the largely Palestinian suffering in the Levant. The Holocaust’s atrocity should not be pretext for more atrocities, but nor should antisemitic persecution be tolerated. We must delineate between Israelis and the Israeli government whilst remembering that Palestinians are being evicted and killed by Western-funded weapons. The conciliatory project of Israel has birthed its own ‘weight of corpses’, in turn borne by the Islamic community worldwide.
Above all, Brits must grasp the complex geopolitical quagmire the conflict has become, whilst not letting that deter them from supporting unilateral peaceful resolutions. Conversations can never afford to be short regarding Israel and Palestine, and we must consider where we choose to have these conversations; Instagram graphics may be a good starting place, but it is our collective responsibility to employ a critical eye. It may appear pithy of the Jewish community to prickle over Zionist fractures whilst casualties mount, but only by co-opting Jewish support through a willingness to understand both perspectives can violence be quelled. Understanding the ‘weight of corpses’ many Jews still bear may help unpick opaque Zionist motivations.
This article omits many tragedies, which I hope will indicate the shibboleth-like quality of the situation. The Oslo Accords were signed nearly thirty years ago, and little progress has been made – 14,000 lives have been lost since 1987. Likud, Netanyahu, and the USA military industrial complex will continue to resist a two-state solution. A new generation must be willing to forgo fear and anger – it is too easy to forget ‘Semite’ once referred to all children of Abraham.
Image: Cycling Man via Creative Commons