Walking the Tightrope

The ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas has sparked heated debate globally, with some accusing critics of Israel's actions of being antisemitic. In this article, Simon Pearson argues for nuance in understanding the crisis, differentiating between legitimate critiques of state policies and bigotry, and calling for ethical consistency in advocating for human rights on both sides.

 

The recent escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has reignited impassioned global debate, raising complex questions about how to understand this tragic conflict. In some quarters, there have been accusations that those who criticise Israel’s military actions or express solidarity with Palestinians are antisemitic. However, such charges conflate important distinctions.

Criticising the policies and conduct of Israel’s government is not equivalent to harbouring animosity towards the Jewish people. Globally. many Jewish people have condemned the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians, and these critics clearly do not despise Jews. For example, left-wing American Jewish activists have joined pro-Palestinian protests in New York criticising Israel’s actions, and hundreds of mostly Jewish protesters were arrested after taking over the main hall of Grand Central Station in New York to protest Israel’s bombardment of Gaza.

“Criticising the policies and conduct of Israel’s government is not equivalent to harbouring animosity towards the Jewish people.”

This weekend even saw a large anti-war protest in Tel-Aviv. A brave action when you consider the intimidation from the police and the pro-war right. Those levelling charges of antisemitism against protesters often ignore that settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank has spiked since the start of the war. In recent weeks seven Palestinians have been killed by settlers, violence is not just focused on the farmers with their families and villages also targetted. This is such an important time of year for the farmers with the crop due to be harvested (and when their income for the year is made). Instead, often with the support of the IDF, the harvest is stolen by the settlers “who are fully armed thanks to [National Security Minister Itamar] Ben-Gvir“. The threats of violence escalate, and the settlers steal the Palestinian farmers land, having already stolen the harvest it yields. Advocating for Palestinian rights (across Israel) and urgently calling for a ceasefire to end bloodshed in Gaza reflect humanitarian concerns, not bigotry.

“The threats of violence escalate, and the settlers steal the Palestinian farmers land, having already stolen the harvest it yields”.

Anti*Capitalist Resistance banner at Ceasefire Now - Stop the War on Gaza protest central London 28th October 2023. Image by Steve Eason
Anti Capitalist Resistance banner at Ceasefire Now – Stop the War on Gaza protest central London 14th October 2023.

It is vital to differentiate legitimate critiques of a state’s policies and prejudice against an ethnic or religious group. No government is above reproach, whether Israel, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, or the United States. One can denounce a nation’s actions without indicting its people or culture. Israel, like any country, must be open to good faith criticism and nonviolent activism aimed at reforming unjust policies. Automatically branding such efforts as antisemitic is often an attempt to delegitimise and silence dissent.

“It is vital to differentiate legitimate critiques of a state’s policies and prejudice against an ethnic or religious group. No government is above reproach, whether Israel, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, or the United States.”

In fact, working to end systemic injustices against Palestinians should align with progressive values everywhere of pursuing justice and peace. Of course, antisemitism remains a dangerous global phenomenon that must be vigorously opposed. However, the struggle against real Jew-hatred is not served by falsely conflating it with robustly standing up for principles of human rights.

As an anti-fascist activist who has consistently opposed far right hate groups, I am now labelled an antisemite simply for advocating for Palestinian human rights. My record of combating real neo-Nazis provides no protection from supporters of Israeli ethno-nationalism baselessly smearing me as an antisemite who would more than likely participate in a pogrom than stand up to the far right and against antisemitism. This demonstrates how disingenuously far right nationalists are weaponising false charges of antisemitism to delegitimise and silence those calling for a ceasefire and an end to human rights abuses.

Their goal is to stifle criticism of Israel’s government and its indefensible use of force. Meanwhile, these same actors demand every person unequivocally condemn Hamas’s actions while remaining silent on or excusing the Israeli military’s killing of civilians. Their blatant double standard exposes the whiff of Islamophobia underlying their bad-faith allegations of antisemitism against human rights campaigners.

The claim that pro-Palestinian activists only criticise Israel and ignore the oppression of Palestinians by other countries is false. Many activists consistently condemn (and have over many years) the Syrian regime’s atrocities (against their own people) and the Palestinians there, and stand against all authoritarian regimes in the region, whether Israel, Iran, Qatar, or Saudi Arabia. We must criticise the Pakistan government for its plan to forcibly return 1.4 million Afghan nationals to Afghanistan, where many will likely face grave risks of human rights violations. Such violations must be called out wherever they occur and regardless of the race, ethnicity, or religion of the victims and perpetrators, as defending human dignity and justice should know no bounds. The pro-Palestinian movement encompasses a diversity of views but is fundamentally motivated by opposition to horrendous and illegal dispossession and state violence, regardless of the perpetrator.

“The claim that pro-Palestinian activists only criticise Israel and ignore the oppression of Palestinians by other countries is false. Many activists consistently condemn (and have over many years) the Syrian regime’s atrocities against Palestinians there, and stand against all authoritarian regimes in the region, whether Israel, Syria, Egypt, or Saudi Arabia.”

While Israel’s oppression of Palestinians receives heavy focus given its severity and longevity, this just reflects the reality of the situation. Accusing those who call out Israeli abuses of selective outrage or antisemitism is a mere deflection. Pro-Palestinian advocacy is rooted in principles of universal human rights, self-determination, and anti colonialism, not any animus towards Israel or Jews.

The claim by some on the British right that solidarity for the Palestinian cause reflects an “un-British” or “enemy within” mentality is an extremely problematic, racist viewpoint. It relies on dangerous tropes about people of colour being inherently disloyal or foreign, echoing the racist rhetoric of the far right. In reality, advocating for Palestinian human rights aligns with supposed British values of fairness, justice, and anti-racism. These efforts represent internationalism at its best—people of diverse backgrounds uniting to promote the universal principles enshrined in institutions like the UN and Geneva Conventions.

Furthermore, such claims by the right aim to create a chilling effect on free speech and dissent. There is nothing unpatriotic about questioning a government’s policies or protesting perceived injustices. Depicting solidarity with Palestinians as suspect and subversive is an authoritarian tactic for stifling legitimate activism. A truly democratic society welcomes diversity of opinion and moral concern for marginalised groups worldwide.

The British right should be held accountable for how their toxic rhetoric damages “community relations” within the UK and harms the country’s global reputation as a defender of human rights. Instead of attacking minorities and progressives, substantive policy arguments are needed. Resorting to nationalistic gatekeeping and insinuations of disloyalty reveals the weakness of their position.

“The British right should reflect on how such toxic rhetoric harms community relations within the UK and the country’s global reputation as an upholder of human rights. Instead of attacking minorities and progressives, substantive policy arguments are needed.”

The fact that the Mayor of London publicly called for a humanitarian ceasefire last week was enough to provoke outrage from right-wing op-eds. They would have you believe their anger had nothing to do with Mr. Khan being Muslim, but after seeing past examples of racism and islamophobia from the right wing press and the Tory Party, we know better.

Ultimately, the complex crisis in Israel and Palestine demands nuanced discourse and ethical consistency. Weaponising false accusations of antisemitism only breeds more hatred and shields injustice. We must stand firmly against real bigotry and dehumanisation while advocating for Palestinian rights and an end to the occupation through nonviolent activism.

Photographs by Steve Eason


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Simon Pearson is on the Editorial Board of the Anti*Capitalist Resistance and is a Midlands-based political activist.

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