Throughout the liberal, democratic Western world, where freedom of expression and speaking out for human rights are fundamental articles of faith, Harvard graduates have been threatened with being placed on an employment blacklist for espousing pro-Palestine views.
France’s interior minister banned pro-Palestinian demonstrations and ordered all foreign nationals who “commit antisemitic acts” to be deported. Similar measures have been introduced in Germany and elsewhere.
British Interior Minister Suella Braverman, a woman with an undistinguished record of openly voicing racist views, told senior police officers that waving a Palestinian flag or engaging in pro-Arab chants could be criminal acts.
Hamas’s slaughter of children, pensioners and civilians was disgusting, wrong and damaging to the Palestine cause. However, there have been insidious efforts to attribute these horrors to the entire Palestinian nation. Western politicians and media voices rushed to adopt the most virulently conceivable pro-Israel language, while lacking the courage to speak out with comparable moral clarity about the mass murder of Gaza civilians which is already well under way.
Western support for Israel is lauded as noble and sacred, while even equivocal support for Palestinians is suspicious, dangerous and possibly criminal. There is calculated amnesia that this is a conflict with a long, bloody history of atrocities by both sides. Every killing of Israelis to date has inevitably been avenged by disproportionate acts of collective punishment meted out by an infinitely more destructive military. Those who in recent days have uncritically embraced the Israeli political establishment are just as culpable as those who cheered Hamas’s bloodletting in fueling the hatred and setting the stage for future carnage.
We must have the courage to even-handedly hold both sides to account.
In the US, Britain and Europe, ascendant populist alt-right politicians and media outlets cynically and amorally exploit the Palestine issue as an extension of their anti-liberal culture wars. Soaring tensions fuel militancy on both sides, provoking despicable attacks on both Jews and Muslims, and targeting schools and places of worship around the world. Daesh and Al-Qaeda recruitment materials exploitatively portray Western support for Israel as the continuation of a “crusader” war against the Muslim world.
Communities are increasingly divided, with large rival pro-Palestine and pro-Israel demonstrations in cities such as New York, Paris and London. Moderate Jews have been among the most outspoken voices in raising concerns about the bombardment of Gaza, while blaming Netanyahu and his far-right extremist cabinet colleagues for driving communal tensions to boiling point, amid glaring lapses in security.
Actual antisemitism must be condemned, particularly as Arabs and Jews are close cousins sharing the same Semitic origins and intimately related languages. But there have been perpetual efforts to stigmatize and cancel all pro-Palestinian sympathies as antisemitism, when in reality support for the Palestinian plight is an inevitable consequence of the universal championing of human rights and international justice.
Those around the world who peacefully champion humanitarian causes such as Palestine, including moderate Jews who share the vision of two coexisting sovereign states, must be respected and heeded.
Among the genuine testimonies of what occurred on October 7, media and social media outlets unquestioningly hosted a deluge of unsubstantiated rumors, misinformation and fake footage, often with the systematic goal of demonizing Palestinians as “animals” and “sub-humans” who deserve extermination. Social media messages falsely claimed that Arab-Israeli “traitors” helped breach the Gaza fence, setting the stage for further anti-Arab violence. In recent days, militant settlers staged fatal revenge attacks against West Bank Palestinians.
A viral report alleging that Hamas had beheaded babies was widely disseminated through the media and the atrocity denounced by President Joe Biden, before the Israeli government and White House were forced to deny that this had ever happened, and CNN issued an apology for peddling such falsehoods. The BBC was savaged for not calling Hamas terrorists, while its studios were sprayed with red paint by pro-Palestine activists for “manufacturing consent for Israel’s war crimes.”
Within every historical rights movement, moderates coexisted alongside radical militants. That included anti-apartheid activists, US civil rights, the suffragettes, Irish republicans and indeed the Zionist movement — a cause for which numerous future Israeli leaders perpetrated terrorist attacks: including Menachem Begin’s involvement in the 1946 attack on the King David Hotel in Jerusalem and Ariel Sharon’s oversight of the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres, the latter manifesting brutality far exceeding that of recent days. Current extreme-right ministers glorified Baruch Goldstein’s 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinians in a Hebron mosque, an act celebrated by the Zionist extreme right as a model for how all Palestinians should be expunged from the land.
Testimonies of Israeli mothers who didn’t know whether their children were alive, dead or taken hostage brought me to tears because of a personal memory from Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. The school bus had been supposed to bring my two daughters home, but amid the chaos the driver conveyed them to a safe location near a hospital. For an entire day I frantically believed they could be dead, or lost for ever. Those hours of near insanity prompted us to flee Lebanon as refugees. I wonder how many Israelis who fled volatile border areas will likewise choose to never return, or depart Israel altogether.
Counterproductive attempts to carpet bomb Gaza until there are no militants left standing merely undermine Israel’s security by cultivating new embittered generations who cherish fantasies of indiscriminate revenge, thus empowering hateful factions such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Violence breeds only abhorrent, perpetual violence.
Israel’s right to self-defense, statehood and security has been loudly trumpeted in recent days, and indeed growing numbers of Arab states have already subscribed to these principles. All Palestinians modestly seek are some of these same rights accorded to them, including governing territories which according to legally binding UN resolutions belong to them.
Those around the world who peacefully champion humanitarian causes such as Palestine, including moderate Jews who share the vision of two coexisting sovereign states, must be respected and heeded. For the sake of appeasing a vengeful extreme-right Zionist lobby, the West must not overnight jettison hundreds of years of hard-won political rights, freedoms and human rights advocacy.