Monday, 11 August 2014

10 points on Palestine, Islamophobia and anti-semitism

Glyn Secker, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, in Hyde Park.
1. Anti-semitism, like all forms of racism, is wrong, divisive and should be condemned. It has no place in the movement for Palestine, just as it has no place in wider society. Opposition to Israel is not in any way opposition to Judaism or Jewish people.

We build a diverse movement, including Jews, united by opposition to Israel's vicious inhumanity, and in support of justice for Palestine. For many of us, who support a one-state solution, our aim is a single, secular state in which everyone - Muslims, Jews, Christians and those of other faith groups or none at all - can live together peacefully. This is a vision entirely opposed to Israel's apartheid state: built around discrimination and exclusion, it breeds extreme racism.

2. The terrorist atrocities of 11 September 2001 in New York and 7 July 2005 in London, and also Lee Rigby's murder in 2012, led to a sharp rise in attacks on Muslims here (these incidents were also used by the state as a pretext for harassment, increased surveillance and abuses of civil liberties, accompanied by lurid media demonisation). However, there is no evidence to suggest a rise in attacks on Jewish people - in the wake of Israel's assault on Gaza - which is comparable in scale, either here or elsewhere in Europe.

All racist attacks - whatever the target group - are abhorrent, but we should avoid exaggeration about the scale. Anti-Semitic attacks happen, here in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. However, they are not on the scale of anti-Muslim attacks. Suggesting that they are is a distortion of reality that denies the centrality of Islamophobia to modern racism.

3. The claims that there is now a 'surge' or 'wave' of anti-semitism in Europe are not backed up by evidence. It is of course central to pro-Israeli propaganda to demonise opponents of Israeli violence as anti-Semitic. The equation of 'pro Palestine' with 'anti-Semitic' is one of the two main ideological props for Israel and its cheerleaders - the other is Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism.

Israel's supporters aim to de-legitimise critics and protesters by tarring them with the brush of anti-Semitism. The tactic is as old as Israel itself. The left should completely reject joining the chorus of claims there is a 'surge' in anti-Semitism, retaining a sense of perspective on the scale of what is happening. Across Europe, Palestine solidarity movements emphasise that their opposition to Israel is political and humanitarian, and has nothing to do with attitudes to Jewish people.

4. Anti-Semitic voices can occasionally be found supporting Palestine, in protests or elsewhere. Yet one of the striking things about the movement of recent weeks has been the marginalisation of such voices. There have been extremely few reported instances of anti-Semitic conduct - placards, chants, intimidation etc - in the movement. When such incidents have happened they have justifiably been greeted by condemnation, with a re-iteration that all forms of racism are not welcome in a united movement for peace and justice.

The extremely marginal and small-scale nature of such behaviour refutes the neo-conservative and pro-Israel myths about our movement. It is also testament to long-term campaigning and political work.

5. It is also grossly inaccurate for commentators to assume that any problems of anti-Semitism in Europe are associated with opposition to Israel. In countries like Hungary and Ukraine the phenomenon of anti-Semitic abuse is not linked to Israel or the Middle East, but is instead part of a long tradition of European anti-Semitism and far-right politics, given new vitality in conditions of economic crisis and often encouraged by the anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies of mainstream politicians.

Historically, anti-Semitism has been an overwhelmingly European phenomenon - with extreme and terrible consequences. It is now an integral part of pro-Israeli rhetoric to characterise it, without justification, as an Arab phenomenon.

6. Racism is not only about physical attacks and harassment. That is one aspect - a particularly nasty one for the victims. It is also systemic and institutional. In this broader sense, there is a marked difference between contemporary Islamophobia and contemporary anti-semitism.

Islamophobia is part of the ideology of the British state. It is expressed through media scare stories, police harassment and discrimination in the jobs market. Islamophobia today has more in common with the anti-Semitism of the 1930s (though not, thankfully, reaching the most extreme stage of Nazi Germany) than the anti-semitism of today: a domestic accompaniment to imperialist adventures and the drive to war. Traditional features of anti-Semitic prejudice - like characterising Jews as 'other' or 'alien', or seeing 'their' culture as incompatible with 'ours' - are now applied to Muslims with equal virulence.

7. Islamophobia today is linked to imperialism and war. Muslims at home and Muslims abroad are both demonised. The enemy without is also the enemy within.

Racism towards Muslims remains central to the British state and to British society, precisely because it has been (and will continue to be) necessary as justification for waging wars on Muslim countries, for clamping down on civil liberties at home, and as a convenient scapegoat for economic crisis and permanent austerity.

8. The anti-war movement - including but not limited to Palestine solidarity - has for over a decade provided a vital counterweight to Islamophobia in British society. The movement has provided the framework for many British Muslims becoming politically active and assertive.

Joint work between Muslim communities and the wider movement has been a powerful vehicle for unity and solidarity, breaking down barriers. Anti-war mobilisations have in effect served as anti-racist mobilisations. This is one of the movement's great contributions and it continues to be the case.

9. The current wave of protests is the best way of building alliances between different communities, including British Jews, and overcoming all kinds of racist division. Our movement has been, remains, and always will be anti-racist at its core.

This is not merely because of the principled opposition to anti-Semitism which unites the various organisations working for peace and justice in Palestine. It is because Israel is a violent settler-colonial state which gains ideological coherence from its commitment to anti-Arab racism. Ethnic cleansing - and all the vile attitudes and rhetoric which accompany it - is integral to Israeli history and politics. The struggle for Palestine - by the Palestinians themselves and by the global solidarity movement - is a simultaneously anti-colonial, anti-racist and anti-apartheid struggle.

10. Campaigning against Israel's war on Gaza is also crucial for anti-racism here in Britain because, as I noted above, it involves Muslims - who are on the frontline of the effects of racism - working with non-Muslims in a united movement. The EDL and other far-right elements have, unsurprisingly, hated the latest wave of protests, which embody everything they despise.

But, more broadly too, the movement is an antidote to racist divisions in British society. Building such a movement isolates Islamophobic racists, anti-Semites and the tiny separatist or fundamentalist elements in the Muslim community all at the same time. It is primarily necessary because we need to stop Israel's killing in Gaza and provide on-going solidarity with Palestinians, but it also helps create a stronger anti-racist pole in British society.


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