Assertions of Palestinians’ rights are now routinely met with a barrage of antisemitism charges. The noise doesn’t deter protest. As we write, two dozen artists have pulled out of the Sydney Festival to protest its Israeli embassy sponsorship. Still, equating protest with racism is harmful to everyone.
Having enlisted racism, the Holocaust is now being harnessed to politics.
Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan this week replied to Emma Watson’s statement of solidarity with Palestinians by calling her a Jew-hater. Later this month, the New York Jewish Week reports that Ambassador Erdan “will introduce a resolution opposing Holocaust denial and Holocaust distortion.” He says that he will base his resolution on the most sweeping definition of antisemitism – a definition which equates criticism of Israel with the hatred of Jews (See our resource page on this definition).
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has disqualified the Israeli government as a protector of Holocaust truth. He falsely claimed that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was inspired to extermination of Europe’s Jews by Jerusalem’s then-grand mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, a Palestinian nationalist. His government’s willingness to manipulate the Holocaust in the interests of illiberal allies is well documented by Sylvain Cypel. One cannot abuse and protect the truth on alternate days of the week.
To call Palestinian solidarity racist is to try to discredit the speaker by associating them with racism. It’s also a distraction from the genuine mainstreaming of far Right / white supremacist ideas which include racism.
Three distinct things are happening within the language of protest. We need to distinguish between them, so that we can pursue both justice and antiracism.
Zionism has attracted openly antisemitic fellow travellers since Richard Spencer began calling himself a ‘White Zionist’ admirer of Israel’s ethnic supremacist regime. Trump supporters openly wore Nazi symbols to storm their Capital building, hoping to prevent a democratic handover of power.
Extremist and hateful memes were bundled into protests against COVID public health measures by the American Right. That noxious bundle has now been imported to Aotearoa.
Of the COVID protest in Wellington on November 9, Nicky Hager warned, “When people I know march down the road with white supremacists, Trump supporters, fundamentalist Christians, people who are pro-guns, anti-UN, anti-immigrant and anti-Jewish, people who believe a powerful “them” want to kill millions and enslave the earth, things have got totally out of hand…. I strongly suspect the Covid resistance is being actively used by some on the right of New Zealand politics to try to destabilise Jacinda Ardern and the Labour Government.”
A separate tactic of name-calling can enlist Holocaust references to undermine valid political speech. For example –
- In June, the Israel Institute of NZ accused union members of somehow “promoting the murder of Jews” by protesting Israel’s violence against Palestinians. The IINZ webpage features a collage in which a protester morphs into a uniformed Nazi.
- On December 28, 2020, a Stuff OpEd vaguely wondered whether the memes could be blamed on Green MP Golriz Ghahraman. When challenged on Twitter, the writer attributed to Ghahraman a statement that Israel has committed the “grossest of war crimes, crimes against humanity and, I would say, genocide.” Ghahraman stated her opinion as a lawyer who has worked on war crimes trials. Although the remark does not refer to the Holocaust at all, this OpEd writer accuses her of ‘Holocaust revisionism.’ Stuff published his view uncritically.
There is also a third category of Holocaust reference. Genocide and apartheid may be referenced in protest to name the very worst actions. ‘Genocide’ and ‘apartheid’ are categories of crime – essential subjects which create obligations for us and our government. However, to invoke the Holocaust, rather than the crime of genocide, is misleading and distressing to many people.
We are being desensitised by evermore extreme language. Alternative Jewish Voices will not adopt it, and we will not be moved by it. Instead, we will dig our heels into ground truth.
- The expansive linkage of antisemitism with support for Palestinian liberation is based on a definition which has no standing in Aotearoa. We must not let this overreach go unnoticed. Solidarity with Palestine is not per se antisemitic. The rights of Palestinians are not about Jews.
- We protest any denial or distortion of the Holocaust for the same reason that we protest any denial or distortion of the ongoing Nakba. These real, lived experiences belong with us, intact, to spur progress toward human equality and freedom.
- Genocide is a category of crime, like apartheid. The discussion of crimes against Palestinians, Uighurs, Rohingya or others is not anti-Jewish (nor is it anti-Cambodian or anti-Rwandan). On the contrary, vigilance honours history and we are all obliged to act on crimes against humanity.
- Notwithstanding the existence of racism anywhere in society, the systematic use of Nazi memes characterises white supremacist movements and the far Right.
This last point has been made before but it bears repeating: when anyone is racist, they are wrong. When a white supremacist is racist, they are explaining a core component of their world view. Racism, including antisemitism, fuels their resentment and justifies their violence. No racist gets a pass, but the one is wrong while the other belongs to a demonstrably, repeatedly dangerous cohort.
That is a danger from which we must not be distracted. Look Right for trouble.
Alternative Jewish Voices of Aotearoa – New Zealand