Is Antisemitism Preventing Peace?

The misuse of the antisemitism charge helped created Brian's view of Palestinians

Ori Nir, over at Americans for Peace Now, has brief piece out about the idea that antisemitism among Palestinians is the main obstacle to peace.  In other words, Israel wants peace, but the Arabs don’t.  APN, naturally, finds this to be a ridiculous argument.  Nir points to the Jordanian and Egyptian peace treaties as proof that peace doesn’t rely on the extermination of antisemitism and notes that a peace agreement with Palestine would reduce the anti-Israeli sentiment in the region.  Ok, good argument.  However, Nir touches upon, but unfortunately does not adequately explain the difference between anti-Israeli sentiment and antisemitism:

And, problematically, in the Arab world anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment – fanned by images of violence and injustice that the conflict produces – are often indistinguishable.

These two ideas are, indeed, often completely indistinguishable.  Notably, because Israel works to maintain a constant charge of racism against its critics.  Those who criticize Israel are not anti-Israel, they are antisemitic and Jews who criticize Israel are self-hating.  The intentional blurring of these two completely different sentiments is both enabling Israel impunity while contributing to the false stereotype of Arabs as a backward people (hello Martin Peretz.)  Ironically, it is perhaps most important to distinguish antisemitism from anti-Israelism in the exotic backwards world of Arabia, specifically in Palestine.

As an American here, I am often the target of fun loaded questions like, “Bush or Obama?”  Such a question is quickly followed, inevitably, by a long and thorough explanation about how “I love the American people” but the government, you see, is the problem.  Is this anti-Americanism?  Or do these people simply disagree with the policies of the American government?  It is this same type of dynamic that is often at play with antisemitism and anti-Israelism.  While there are certainly, and unfortunately, antisemitic feelings in Palestine (as elsewhere) most Palestinians have no problem with Jews as people (perhaps a major factor in the growing popularity of a one state solution here.)  To be sure, there is nothing  but animosity for the occupation, the brutal tactics of the IDF and the annexationist policies of the government, but most Palestinians are able to distinguish between Jewish and Israeli – a skill that many in America and Israel lack.

[tweetmeme] A prime example of this occurred several weeks ago.  My housemate (and occasional NFAM contributor) Chris, who is pursuing a master’s degree at Hebrew University brought a classmate to Ramallah.  Brian is an American Jew who came with Chris to Ramallah, to discover Ramallah and to see first hand “the suffering of Palestinians.”  I suggested leaving Ramallah, though he preferred to stay.  After a while, we ended up at a local coffee shop with my friend Ahmed, playing cards and smoking.  Curious to finally meet and speak with a Palestinian, Brian had many questions.  The first of which was: “So, what do you think about Jews?”

Unaware that Brian was Jewish himself, Ahmed’s answer could not have been better: ” Um, what does that mean?”

Almost as though he was pry some unconscious antisemitism out of Ahmed, Brian continued to belabor the point.  Are you angry at Jews?  So you don’t hate Jews?  Do you know people who hate Jews?  Ahmed simply kept repeating that he hated the occupation and the Israeli government, but had no problem with Jewish people.  Brian seemed to be in disbelief.  There was a Palestinian who didn’t want to drive him into the sea.

It seemed as though Ahmed and Brian shared the same level of surprise; Brian because Ahmed didn’t hate him and Ahmed because Brian was trying to force antisemitism on him.

To me, this little anecdote displays a very important point that was both ignored by Nir.  While antisemitism and anti-Israelism are often indistinguishable, it is essential to note that Palestinians are, often, very good at making this distinction.  For coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians, it is just as essential for the former to understand the capacities of the latter to spurn antisemitism.  The relentless charge of antisemitism in reflexive response to any criticism of Israel has cemented the idea of victimization in the minds of many Israelis and Jews from around the world.

Brian was not stupid or ignorant, though he seemed convinced that Palestinians – Ahmed in particular – must have inside them some genetic disposition towards antisemitism.  This belief is significantly strengthened by Israeli government and its constant conflation of antisemitism and anti-Israelism.  Nir is right: peace is possible even if there is hatred.  Yet, by not highlighting the fact that Palestinian hated is driven mainly by a deep hatred of the Israeli occupation, not by a hatred of Jewish people, he is unfortunately propagating beliefs like those once held by Brian.

Photo from Sabbah

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