JEWS and Muslims are both minority communities in the West. Just as Muslims have had to face Islamophobia, Jews have been victims of antisemitism. The politics of the Israel-Palestine conflict, though bound to influence perception, should not make us oblivious to this fact.
While both communities have suffered religious persecution and racism at the hands of white supremacists, it is particularly sad when they target each other. On May 18, the official Arabic language account of the Israeli foreign ministry used verses from Surah Fil to justify its bombardment of Gaza. A follow-up tweet implied that the Israeli Defence Forces were righteous and had hence prevailed over Hamas’ falsehood. The tweet not only ascribed false meaning to Quranic verses but was meant to be hurtful as several innocent Palestinian women and children had died.
On the other hand, a couple of days earlier, four pro-Palestine protesters were arrested in London for shouting abuse at Jews, including calls for ‘raping their women’. As is often the case, misogyny intersects with racism.
It is not beneficial to the Palestinian cause to conflate Jews with Israel
While there is little expectation of humanity from Netanyahu’s regime — in fact many Israelis feel he manufactured this war to detract from his electoral woes and corruption charges — it is troubling to see those protesting a violation of human rights calling, in turn, for their abuse.
Although, in Pakistan, there is a tendency to lump the West as one entity and to consider Western media as a monolith, the reality is far more complex. Like Pakistan, Western countries may be more polarised today than in the past. There is far more willingness to challenge entrenched narratives and confront imperialist and racist histories amongst the younger generations.
Europe, in any case, was never as blindly supportive of Israel as the US, and France 24, for instance, covers the Palestinian cause far more sympathetically than CNN. Even in America, however, critiques of Israel have become much more acceptable than they were previously. Those supportive of movements like Black Lives Matter have also begun to say that Palestinian Lives Matter. Some of these people are Jews.
Therefore, it is not beneficial to the Palestinian cause to conflate Jews with Israel. Not all Jews are Zionist, and of those who are, some are far more sympathetic to Palestinians than others. Bernie Sanders, a past presidential aspirant of the Democratic Party, is a case in point. His recent op-ed in the New York Times called for the US to “stop being an apologist for the Netanyahu government”. In his piece, he focused on the rights of the Palestinian people, and lamented the “inequality between Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel”. For his introspective honesty and calls to rethink US military aid to Israel, he has been labelled a ‘self-hating Jew’ by the likes of Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor known for his representation of sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.
In Pakistan, we are familiar with such labels. Those willing to introspect are labelled ‘ghaddar’, or worse, ‘kafir’. But while America continues to sell arms to Israel, which it uses to pound Palestinians, it also allows a Palestinian-American congresswoman, Rashida Tlaib, to speak out against US foreign policy. Thus a commitment to free speech and democracy ensures that dissenting voices are heard, even if not yet heeded.
In the UK, the head teacher at a school in Leeds was forced to apologise after he described the Palestinian flag as a “symbol of anti-Semitism”. The acceptability of Palestine is gaining ground and Islamophobia is being confronted. Just recently, an inquiry was held on Islamophobia within the Conservative party and the report named Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his junior minister, Zac Goldsmith, as culprits. Johnson has since apologised for his racist characterisation of Muslim women in burqas as “letterboxes”. However, Goldsmith, named for his Islamophobic campaign against London mayor Sadiq Khan, remains unrepentant but has had to delete a tweet in support of the Israeli military, as it deviated from the UK government’s official line.
In Pakistan, however, one wonders if the support for Palestinians and purported concern for Islamophobia goes beyond domestic political point-scoring. Can the OIC really help Palestinians if Muslims aren’t free enough to ask tough questions of their governments and leaders? Can we ask Prime Minister Imran Khan why he supported Zac Goldsmith when he claims to fight Islamophobia? Can we honestly talk about what role then Brigadier Ziaul Haq played in Black September against the Palestine Liberation Organisation at the behest of Jordan’s King Hussein?
Similarly tough questions must be asked in Egypt, UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. As long as Muslims remain shackled by authoritarian regimes and are denied the right to question freely there is little hope for the OIC.
The writer is a lawyer who lives in London.
Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2021