By Mona Abuamara
Israel has been hard at work to generate an atmosphere where even the mere mention of the cataclysmic event, the Nakba, which is responsible for its creation, and the horrors that the Palestinian people had to endure and live through ever since became taboo. This arrogant brutal power determined to monopolize pain, entitled itself to be the judge to who is permitted to express grief and who should be punished for doing so.
This intent to squash criticism has manifested with the creation of the controversial IHRA working definition of antisemitism; a definition which unfortunately did not end up generating any clear or useful definition for antisemitism, despite what the title would lead you to believe. What it did do is provide a tool to easily label those who support the Palestinian right to self-determination, the fight for Palestine’s sovereignty and freedom, and the human rights of the Palestinian people, as antisemitic, and puts the burden of protecting the occupier on the occupied.
Several Jewish organizations and intellectuals, including the lead drafter of the “IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism,” Kenneth S. Stern, have voiced their concern about the misuse of this definition and its supporting examples. These organizations have rejected equating the support for Palestinian liberation with antisemitism, or anti-Zionism with antisemitism, and thus asserted that one can fight antisemitism and be a supporter of Palestinian rights simultaneously.
IHRA craftily includes eleven examples that are not formally part of the definition but meant to guide a reader through what would be considered antisemitic. Of these eleven examples seven of them cite the STATE of ISRAEL. SEVEN! More to the point, IHRA’s Working definition claims, “Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”
Israel declares itself a Jewish state, and it uses that to attack any criticism of its racist, discriminatory policies, by conveniently portraying them as targeting the Jewish religion and community. So, how many Israeli crimes would be disguised within that category? You have guessed right, a great deal.
And what does “similar to that leveled against another country” mean anyway? If France wakes up tomorrow to start an apartheid regime, or Switzerland decides to go on an ethnic cleansing rampage, I am quite sure that anyone and everyone would be able to call them out on that. So why in the world would there be a rule created to protect a nuclear superpower and a settler-colonial state that is committing these crimes from standing to be accountable for them? Why would any state be protected from any sort of criticism?
And how would shielding the State of Israel help defend the Jewish community from antisemitism? No one would allow such safeguarding from accountability to be enjoyed by any other state, so why would Israel be yet again an exception to the rule?
Imagine the U.S. launching a campaign claiming that it does not have any racial discrimination issues and then starts targeting anyone who speaks out for racial equality by labeling them anti-American! Of course, you would laugh at such rhetoric because it is absurd and does not make any scene, but neither does labeling anyone calling Israel an apartheid state or a racist state as antisemitic. Such discourse only serves Israel, and so does the IHRA working definition of antisemitism in its present form.
Antisemitism is real and it needs to be fought along with every other type of racism. For years now, states, provinces, cities, universities, organizations, etc., have been urged and pushed to adopt and incorporate -guided by its examples- the controversial IHRA working definition of antisemitism to show a solid commitment to ending it. Unfortunately, the only tangible outcome of that definition was its “chilling effect.” By equating legitimate criticism of Israel and its crimes with antisemitism, anti-Zionism with antisemitism, or even pro-Palestinianism with antisemitism, the extreme pro-Israel lobby and its right-wing groups had a blast using this new tool. As a result, a grave number of worldwide cases concerning intellectuals, speakers, teachers, students, organizations, etc., are harassed, bullied, labeled, and threatened for their support and advocacy for Palestinian rights. Events have and still are being cancelled, conferences banned, and institutions advised to fire or, in some instances, not to hire those who advocate or have in the past voiced their support for the Palestinian cause, its people’s human rights, and their battle for liberation and justice. All while alluding to the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism and its examples as the principal guide and determiner.
Calling for a free Palestine is not antisemitic — it is a right. Holding Israel accountable for its crimes, is not antisemitic, it is what a universal rule-based international order should look like. But denying Palestinians the right to defend themselves even by reaching out to the UN, ICC, ICJ, etc., and then accusing these institutions of biased and antisemitism for merely doing what they were created to do, is anti-Palestinian racism.
Had every victim in every past struggle waited for the aggressor to give them what is rightfully theirs (or in the case of Palestine, a fraction of that), then no wrong would have ever been corrected.
Palestinians are being shamed into appeasing their occupier. Shamed using selectively constructed norms, like the one just mentioned above, that have been gradually pushed to redefine the Palestinian struggle in a way that would fit the Israeli whitewashing attempts.
A horrendous act, and significantly more so considering Israel’s daily flagrant disregard of international and human rights laws, with impunity, nonetheless.
These new norms also reveal how little, if any, will the international community has when it comes to ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine. To be frank, if the Western power block decides to exercise its duty towards Palestine and the Palestinian people tomorrow, commanding Israel to adhere to international law and implement the relevant UN resolutions, this permanent belligerent occupation will crumble in a matter of hours, not days. But instead, the Western powers are helping Israel whitewash why the Palestinians are in this position in the first place. They are allowing Israel to re-write history in a way that would portray the Palestinians as the cause of their own demise. If they were to do so it would help them brush off their ethical, and even legal responsibility, with this new falsified history.
Unfortunately for them such hopes can never be materialized, first and foremost because Palestinians, even though a forgiving bunch, have no intention of forgetting who they are and where they come from. For this re-writing of history to work Palestinians would need to forget who they are, what was done to them, and what they are fighting for (which they will not). Forgetting though is a pivotal premise to the Zionist settler-colonial plan. In fact, that same Zionist establishment responsible for the Nakba continues to write the same history today. You see, Palestinians do not have to “incite” their kids against Israel based on the crimes it has committed in the past for the mere reason that it has never stopped committing them to this day.
It does not matter if you speak to a Palestinian child from a refugee camp in Lebanon, or one in Jordan, or a refugee camp in Jenin, or a child living in Gaza, Ramallah, Australia or the United States; trust me when I tell you this, in one way or another, they have all experienced this settler-colonial occupation’s effect firsthand.
Consequently, if Israel cannot even face its crimes being called by their true names and must cry antisemitism every step of the way, maybe it is time it cuts the charade and stops committing them in the first palace. Liberation is the essence of the Palestinian struggle, and no number of false claims of antisemitism could change that.
Palestinians will keep on advocating until they are free. Along with them will be hundreds of organizations, thousands of politicians and intellectuals, tens of thousands of Jews, and millions of supporters for the Palestinian cause worldwide.
If history has taught us anything, it is that victor’s justice and unilaterally dictated peace could never produce neither justice nor peace. Palestine has existed since before this painful story has begun, and it will still exist when the story ends with its liberation.