When I read the article this week in the Forward by Jay Michaelson on his break with the extreme anti-Israel “left”, I knew that I had to write something about it. Michaelson has been active for years in the LGBT movement and is well-versed in the social science theories of discrimination that are popular with the far-left and that I have been reading a lot of recently, so I recognised straight away what he was referring to and really connected with the striking observations that he was making about the anti-Israel movement.
I recommend reading the full piece, but I also want to concentrate on the following points:
Just as I try to remind myself of my white privilege, my economic privilege and my male privilege in my anti-oppression work, so, too, anti-oppression activists should be aware of the reality of anti-Semitism and the way it informs political discourse. If you single out the Jewish state for criticism among all countries in the world, the onus is on you to demonstrate that your discourse is free from conscious or unconscious anti-Semitism. Even if you’re Jewish.
For those who don’t quite follow, what Michaelson is referring to is a phenomenon known as “unconscious oppression” — people who are not members of a disadvantaged group are often completely oblivious to behaviour that is actually prejudiced towards someone from one such group.
This is the source of all of the arguments against things like black people being constantly portrayed as thugs and gangsters in movies, or the amount of scenes on TV showing a woman falling apart and crying hysterically while a man comforts her, or joking about how your new Asian friend must be good at maths. It’s the kind of subtle prejudice whose criticism has certain people saying things like “come on love, we were just joking!” or “oh God, the PC-brigade are at it again!”
Michaelson makes the point that the people who champion this idea more than any other at the same time are doing precisely the same thing to Jews. This links in to another point that Michaelson made and a news item from today.
But the flattening of Palestinian society is even worse. Ironically, given the critics doing it, it’s Orientalist to depict the Palestinians … as noble victims of European colonialism, free from blemish and fault. Such oversimplifications are no different from those of noble “Indians,” noble poor people, or noble savages in general and are offensive to Palestinians and Israelis alike.
For example, in one of the accounts of an LGBT trip to the Palestinian territories last year, one participant expressed dismay at being told not to be visibly affectionate with her female partner. This naiveté is revealing. Palestinian society is patriarchal, homophobic and conservative. The Palestinian Authority has done little to prosecute so-called “honor killings” (that is, murders of LGBT people or unmarried women suspected of sexual activity), and there are hundreds of LGBT Palestinians living, legally and illegally, in Israel as a result. … There’s pinkwashing on both sides of the political fence.
As if on cue, Angela Robson had this story in the Guardian yesterday on the terrifying prevalence of domestic abuse in Gaza (my bold):
“Before the blockade, my husband used to make good money working in Israel,” she says. “With the blockade, that all stopped. When he can’t find any work and we have nothing to eat, he blames me. He is a like a crazy animal. I stay quiet when he hits me. Afterwards, he cries and says, if he had a job, he wouldn’t beat me.” …
Violence against women has reached alarming levels. A December 2011 study by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, PCBS, revealed that 51% of all married women in Gaza had experienced violence from their husbands in the previous 12 months.
Two thirds (65%) of women surveyed by the PCBS said they preferred to keep silent about violence in the home. Less than 1% said they would seek help. Mona, my 22-year-old interpreter, is astonished when I later ask what support there is for women such as Eman. “If her husband, or in fact anyone in the family, knew she had talked about this, she’d be beaten or killed. As for places for a woman to run to safety, I don’t know of any.”
Clearly, the implication is that Israel is responsible for this abuse because it imposes a blockade on Gaza. As a letter this morning from one Abdul Hamed demonstrated, this was not lost on the Guardian’s readership:
Reading Angela Robson’s depressing report (Behind the blockade, G2, 31 July), one could be forgiven for thinking that the horrors she describes are self-inflicted and largely attributable to the election of Hamas. This would be wrong, because long before that election the Israelis were systematically making any cross-border movement, particularly economic activity, unpredictable and arduous. … As a result, economic conditions in Gaza worsened, ensuring the election of Hamas. Today, that election is held up as the stumbling block to peace by the Israelis, just as Yasser Arafat was before his death.
Hamed believes that Israel deliberately stifled Gaza’s economy to get Hamas elected so that there could be an excuse not to negotiate a peace deal with a Palestinian Authority that is currently refusing to negotiate with Israel. Riiiiiight.
Putting to one side the crazy conspiracy theories and the argument over whether or not Israel is justified in blockading Gaza, Hamed seems to be implying that Hamas is responsible for all these abuses anyway. Well this is true to an extent, but unfortunately the other side of the Palestinian divide does not seem to be faring much better:
The brutal killing of a battered wife in front of horrified witnesses in an open-air Bethlehem market prompted angry accusations Wednesday that Palestinian police and courts ignore violence against women. Nancy Zaboun, a 27-year-old mother of three, had her throat slashed Monday after seeking a divorce from her abusive husband of 10 years. …
Zaboun was regularly beaten by her husband … at times so severely that she had to be hospitalized … Even so, [he] was never arrested. Police only made him sign pledges he would stop hitting his wife …
But see, the PA are better than Hamas. Sure they do nothing to prevent husbands from beating their wives, but they at least punish husbands for killing their wives rather than killing the wife for speaking-out about being abused.
Last year, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed a decree that ended a long-standing practice of treating killings within a family with leniency. Justice Minister Ali Mohanna said such killings are now treated as any other slaying, and claims of assailants that they were protecting “family honor” are no longer taken into account.
Before I make my final point, I want to note these disgusting comments by an Arab-Israeli Member of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) and the Jerusalem Post editorial accompanying it:
It sounded quite unthinkable, but Knesset member Haneen Zoabi (Balad) blamed Israel for the recent slaying of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. “Israel is not a victim, not even when civilians are killed,” she declared in an interview with Channel 10.
Zoabi elaborated: “Israel’s policy of occupation is at fault. If there was no occupation, no repression and no blockade, then this wouldn’t have happened.”
This, again, is a common theme amongst anti-Israel groups that has been adopted by the anti-Israel “left” — the idea that innocent Israelis and Jews who are killed by terrorists claiming to act on behalf of the Palestinians somehow had it coming to them because of what Israel does. (I say “and Jews” because, as Mohammed Merah made very clear a few months ago by shooting some kids at a Jewish school in France to “avenge Palestinian children”, most terrorists do not see any difference.)
Remember that line I highlighted before where the abused wife’s husband blamed his unemployment for his beating her? Could there be a parallel mentality, in that the criminals are represented as the victims?
Put it this way, in blaming all evil on Israel and absolving the Palestinians of any of their own wrongdoing, the narrative of the anti-Israel “left” is horribly similar to the way the Nazis used to blame all of Germany’s woes on the Jews using many of the same tropes.
In saying that, however, I am opening myself up to the very common accusation of trying to silence critics because “to Zionists, any criticism of Israel is antisemitic”.
This is why Michaelson’s criticism was so incredibly perceptive and on-point. For the feminist movement — with which most of the anti-Israel “left” identify — “lighten-up love, we were just joking” is one of the worst things that a man can say. No one knows better when they are being discriminated against than the victim and, often, no one knows worse than the perpetrator. Discrimination is not something that is always done consciously, it flows from internalised preconceptions of how a group of people “must be”.
The anti-Israel “left” know this, and yet they still dismiss every charge of antisemitism that is raised at them.
Hamed’s letter effectively absolves Palestinian men from the horrible abuse that they are perpetrating and encouraging. Worse, it lays the blame on a group of people who have historically played the role of scapegoat for all manner of crimes: Jews.
That Michaelson quote that I began the piece with spoke of putting-aside his privilege to see the discrimination that he was really perpetrating. As most feminists would tell you, the way to end domestic violence is for men to be able to put-aside their societal conditioning and stop seeing women as weak objects to serve and be controlled by men.
Sadly, it seems that these same people are unable to put-aside their societal conditioning that when things go wrong it is the Jews that are to blame. In fact, they refuse to even recognise it.
UPDATE: I’ve been accused of not practising what I preach/being full of unconscious anti-Arab prejudice/not acknowledging Palestinian suffering. I did quote a few people speaking about this without contradicting them, but I guess that wasn’t enough for some people.
So apparently I need to say this: Israelis are responsible for a lot of Palestinian suffering, there is a lot of racism in the Zionist movement and here are some things that I have written on that subject. It just wasn’t the focus of this post.