Friday, July 9, 2010

What the debate over Israel means

David links to this article in the Forward. His comments are well worth reading. I'd like to add my comments on one particular line, and put that one line more clearly in context.
“Malmo reminds me of the anti-Semitism I felt as a child in Poland before the war,” she [Judith Popinski] told the Forward
Frightening, and I don't doubt it's entirely true. In part, I don't doubt it because I know something about how people described Poland before the war when they actually described it before the war. (Not quite the same as after.) But consider this:
During an interview in his office, Imam Saeed Azams said it was wrong to blame Swedish Jews for Israel’s actions. The wheelchair-bound Azams stressed the importance of teaching young Muslims to stop equating the Jews of Malmo with Israel. But this seemed to include an assumption that Jews, in turn, should not permit themselves to be seen as pro-Israel.

“Because Jewish society in Sweden does not condemn the clearly illegal actions of Israel,” he said, “then ordinary people think the Jews here are allied to Israel, but this is not true.”
I am pro-Israel because I care about having a place to go if things get as bad as Poland before the war. Won't happen here in the Good Ol' US of A? No one would think it would have happened in Sweden. By coincidence, I was born in Lund, according to Google Maps only about 20 minutes away from Malmo.

And I am pro-Israel because I care about having the right to speak out in defense of my life, a right which has been traduced and effectively if not formally restricted in every other society but Israel. That doesn't mean I support every action of the Israeli government or that I am anti-Palestinian, but I certainly support Israel's existence and Israel's right (see David's point about supporting a two-state solution) to provide for it's own defense against very real threats even when I disagree with the decision (as I often do).

Consider if I disagree with this imam on what actions of Israel's are "clearly illegal"? I've seen almost everything Israel does described as illegal and often disagreed. I've seen changes to road signs described as "ethnic cleansing." But should that mean it's a simple and understandable mistake for people to try to kill me, because I was insufficiently rabid in my hatred of Israel? That's certainly a recipe for silencing me and making it easy for various people to falsely claim, "but this is not true" that "the Jews here are allied to Israel." I'm guessing most of the Jews of Sweden, and particularly those fleeing Sweden for Israel, are like most other Jews in the world and see themselves very clearly as "allied" (whatever that means) to Israel. At least every bit as much as anti-Israel activists who attempt to murder Swedish Jews are "allied" to Palestine.

But this conflation, wherein people who support Israel in any visible fashion are responsible for everything Israel does, is not just the framing of one Swedish imam. I won't say who, except that this person will surely have a much bigger effect on the progression of antisemitism in America than that Swedish imam, but I will quote something from a recent Racialicious conversation:
Maybe you would like to elaborate on how arguing that the term “Israeli Apartheid” bars Israeli people from participating? The only way I can see it barring people from participating is if they themselves identify entirely with the Israeli government, something that you yourself go to a great extent to point out is a dangerous assumption about Israeli people.
Of course, the very point of the word Apartheid is to destroy the middle ground on which peace can be built. It is a word about which one is not allowed to have moderate feelings. The word entirely in that quote is entirely meaningless. One is not allowed to have the tiniest positive feelings about Apartheid anything. That's not just the fact of how people understand the word, but it is explicitly the point and argument of the BDS movement that pushes the use of the word and openly declares the aim of making "pariahs" of those who support Israel. Including those who support Israel by living or visiting there. Or performing music or accepting literary awards there. Or even trying to bring Jewish and Palestinian children together to learn conflict resolution skills at summer camp. Think I'm exaggerating on that last one? Sadly, no.

So, of course, one is not allowed to defend Israel from even the tiniest of slanders. One is simply not allowed to disagree. To do so would be to present oneself as allied with ethnic cleansing, as a fair target for hatred and discrimination. Perhaps as a target for murder. (And we're accused of bullying tactics and silencing debate!)

It's not just my life which is potentially at stake in this conversation. It's my right to live, my right to have my life protected by something other than lesser antisemites, my right to speak out in defense of my life. Somehow, dying does not frighten me nearly so much as having these rights taken away. No wonder, when so many people think they can tell me what I'm allowed to think, that the debate over Israel is so emotional and difficult and scary. And when "anti-racists" try to spin that as privilege because my skin is white, fuck that.


M.S. said...

The points you critique are all, sadly, too common. This "us or them! You can't be one of them (pro-Israel) and be one of us, and you have to prove you're one of us though we don't ask that of anyone else because that would be unspeakable!"
crap is getting old, and is certainly, as your post illustrates, pervasive.

By the way, Racialicious b.s. that you posted about previously seems to be cropping up again in other forums.
At feministing for instance:
""Pinkwashing harnesses global gays as a new source of affiliation, recruiting liberal gays into a dirty bargaining of their own safety against the continued oppression of Palestinians, now perforce rebranded as "gay unfriendly". This strategy then also works to elide the presence of numerous Palestinian gay and lesbian organisations, for example Palestinian Queers for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (PQBDS).""

Which I uh, have thoughts on as a queer Israel supporter.

*sorry if this got a little too tangental at the end there.

Matt said...

Tangential? Nah.

Certainly, I have seen right-wing Zionists say things that I've taken to mean 'Palestinians don't deserve statehood until they become more enlightened.' I hate that. But leftists and particularly anti-racists ought to have better responses to that than just 'Israelis don't deserve statehood until they become more enlightened.'

There are more links on pinkwashing here at Bob from Brockley.

Matt said...

I see you follow Bob, so you've probably already seen that. :)

M.S. said...

I actually hadn't noticed there was anything up regarding"pinkwashing", thanks for pointing it out.