Between Palestinian misery and antisemitism, a way out of despair

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Aerial view of the Temple Mount showing Al-Aqsa mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem. Image credit: Andrew Shiva/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 4.0

When strong and brave Jewish voices in support of Palestinian rights, such as those of Judy Rebick and Judy Haiven, feel the need to speak out against antisemitism you know something's going on.

On social media, Judy Haiven, a member of Independent Jewish Voices, a group that calls for sanctions against Israel, shared an article called "How to Talk About Israel Without Being Antisemitic."

Among author Mallory Mosner's recommendations:

  • do not conflate Israel with the Jewish people;
  • do not deny the Holocaust or the many other historic cases of anti-Jewish violence;
  • do not hold every Jew accountable for every action of the Israeli government;
  • and never equate Israel's actions -- however objectionable -- to those of Nazi Germany.

Halifax activist Rana Zaman has shared much information critical of Israel and supportive of Palestinian rights on social media. A few days ago, she also shared a post warning of fake accounts set up to sow hatred, and added:

"I have become aware of disturbing antisemitic posts in Halifax and would like to say antisemitism, racism, bigotry and hatred of any kind is unacceptable. One cannot advocate for human rights of one group while taking away the rights of another."

Another person who describes themself only as "a Palestinian" posted these thoughts:

"If you are pro-Palestinian with antisemitic intentions … we don't want your support … Palestine is a human-rights cause. If you are using this to intimidate members of the Jewish community … then you are defeating the purpose of our cause …"

These general comments are borne out by some firsthand accounts. A woman in London, England, describes troublemakers driving through Jewish neighbourhoods shouting, "Fuck the Jews and rape their daughters."

Others, including a number in Canada, recount physical confrontations between Jews -- some quietly minding their own business, some openly supporting Israel -- and notional supporters of the Palestinians.

Mind you, at least one of these accounts turned out to be false. In that now-notorious case in Toronto, what was portrayed as a Jewish bystander being mobbed by pro-Palestinian demonstrators turned out to be something quite different. It was, in fact, a confrontation between a knife-wielding member of the violent and extremist Jewish Defense League and a pro-Palestinian group trying to demonstrate peacefully.

CBC had broadcast the original false story, including some spurious and selective video that had been shared on social media. Then, to its credit, the broadcaster published the correct version.

Humiliations and provocations without end

By contrast, there is also the reality of what the New York Times describes as the "continuing [Palestinian] misery at the heart of the conflict."

As the Times put it in a feature piece on May 22, after the ceasefire had taken effect:

"Even in supposedly quiet periods, when the world is not paying attention, Palestinians from all walks of life routinely experience exasperating impossibilities and petty humiliations, bureaucratic controls that force agonizing choices, and the fragility and cruelty of life under military rule, now in its second half-century … And the provocations do not stop when the fighting ends."

Among the many cases Times reporters David Halbfinger and Adam Rasgon relate is one of how Israeli authorities razed the East Jerusalem home of a Palestinian family in order to "improve views of the Old City for tourists."

The reporters explain how, as part of a general rightward movement in Israel, settlers who seek to expand Jewish control over the West Bank and East Jerusalem have taken control of bodies such as the Israeli government's park authority. That body cited an "old plan for a park encircling Jerusalem's Old City … and set about clearing one unpermitted house after another."

Halbfinger and Rasgon also describe the many military check points and barriers that make life a constant humiliating exercise in fear and frustration for thousands of Palestinians who merely want to get to work and back alive.

And so, the plight of the four extended families who still face eviction in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood is hardly a unique case. It turns out this threatened eviction case was simply one humiliating prod too many for the Palestinians.

As Jon Allen, Canada's former ambassador to Israel (and, like this author, a Jewish Canadian), writes in an opinion piece for The Globe and Mail: How long did Israel think Palestinians would put up with their current situation?

As Allen sees it:

"The occupation is 54 years long. There has been no path toward peace or even a glimmer of hope in that direction for 12 years -- since Mr. Netanyahu became Prime Minister. How long did Israel think Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza would put up with military rule and military courts, house demolitions and evictions, settlement expansion and daily settler violence ignored by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and severe restrictions on their movements? How long would the Arab residents of Jerusalem -- many of whom have been denied Israeli citizenship -- accept their third-class status? For how long do Israelis think this situation is sustainable?"

Among those of us here in Canada who feel some connection to the beleaguered region, whether because we are Jewish or Palestinian or just because we care, despair often seems like the only possible response.

Many, nonetheless, continue to persist in believing a just settlement is possible -- and that includes, here in Canada, many Jews.

Affection for Israel and support for Palestinian right to return

Independent Jewish Voices has existed for many years, with chapters in many parts of Canada. Now, there is another group, with a similar outlook, but a somewhat different approach.

The new group is called Drachim. Carleton professor Mira Sucharov launched this group as a personal initiative, on Facebook. Her aim is to "combine Palestine solidarity with an affection for Israeli/Hebrew culture, with the aim of supporting a reimagined polity where both communities can flourish."

Among Drachim's goals are an end to the West Bank occupation and to Israel's siege on Gaza, legal reform in Israel to bring about equality for Palestinian citizens, and, most contentiously, "recognition of the right of Palestinian refugees to return, with the right to restitution for property expropriated by Israel."

Drachim does not share one of the predictable goals of those who seek to promote a peace settlement, the so-called two-state solution. They put it this way:

"We do not demand particular post-justice state arrangements, namely whether the outcome is one state or two, or a confederation arrangement … Calls for a two-state solution have served, if inadvertently, to entrench the status quo … As the two-state solution has become less of an apparent possibility, the demand for it …implies that Palestinians should be patient."

"We feel we cannot demand patience from Palestinians for wanting to exercise their basic human rights."

Drachim's ultimate goal is for "a society that nurtures and elevates the cultural and linguistic traditions of Israeli Jews and of Palestinian Arabs … We want to see the support and funding of new projects that continue to produce fine Hebrew-Israeli and Arabic-Palestinian cultural products … Both communities and cultures must be encouraged to flourish."

If Drachim's mission sounds utopian that's because it is.

Then again, there was a time when it seemed the Berlin Wall would stand forever and South Africa's apartheid system would endure far beyond most of our lifetimes.

Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble's politics reporter.

Image credit: Andrew Shiva/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 4.0

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