As the death toll in Gaza mounts and Israel shows no signs of relenting, netizens across the world have taken to the internet to express their outrage or support for Operation Protective Edge. Unfortunately, these passionate arguments often degenerate into Islamophobia, anti Arab racism and anti-Semitism. As a Muslim and a supporter of the Palestinian cause I find the collective indictment of the entire Jewish race for the war crimes of Israel deeply disturbing. Skim through the comments section of any major online paper and you will invariably find several sickening anti-semitic insults insisting that Jews are the scum of the earth and deserve to be wiped off the planet or something to that effect. These slurs are occasionally peppered with cherry-picked verses from the Quran misinterpreted and taken out of context to claim that Jews are the eternal enemies of Islam. And most disturbing of all is the citation of alleged quotes by Adolf Hitler and veiled praise for the Holocaust. It is disgusting to realize that some people obviously think praising a mass murderer is a legit way of countering viewpoints they are opposed to.
Most of such crass anti-semitism is rooted in the conflation of Judaism with Zionism. Zionism is a political ideology which although a product of a particular Jewish tradition should not be equated with Judaism. This fact has been stressed repeatedly by anti-occupation Jewish activists across the world who are struggling to reclaim their religious identity and faith from the deafening Zionist propaganda. There is great diversity within the global Jewish community with regard to Israel where some advocate for an end to Israeli occupation and apartheid against Palestinians while others insist on a dismantling of the Jewish state altogether. We as Muslims should understand better than anyone else the injustice of attributing a singular nature to a global religion and demonizing a community based on the actions of a sub-set. How many of us have had to clarify that Islam does not preach extremism and all Muslims should not be censured for the actions of a few. Is it too much to expect that we extend the same courtesy and understanding to those of another faith?
By indicting all Jews for the Zionist occupation of Palestinian lands we do a gross injustice and risk alienating the many religious and secular Jews across the world who have joined hands with Palestinians in opposing Israeli policies. Jewish Voice for Peace is a prominent voice of dissent in the US and is composed of activists who are inspired by Jewish tradition to work against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Its advisory board includes rabbis, writers, actors, teachers as well as public intellectuals like Noam Chomsky and Judith Butler who have risked the ire of their community to speak out against Israeli atrocities. Independent Jewish Voices in Britain, Canada and Australia are examples of other Jewish groups seeking to wrest control of the Jewish narrative away from the Zionist lobby. Many of the most scathing pieces on the Israeli apartheid that manage to find their way into mainstream western media are authored by Jewish writers like Max Blumenthal and Norman Finkelstein . Within Israel, this is a small but significant group of activists seeking to oppose the occupation of Palestinian lands. Since the outbreak of the recent attack on Gaza dozens of anti-war activists have protested in major Israeli cities in spite of being attacked verbally and physically by right wing Israelis. The group Jews Against Genocide recently held memorial services for slain Palestinian children in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem, the Israeli Ministry of Defense in Tal Aviv and in front of Israeli Consulates and embassies across the world. Other groups like Anarchists Against the Wall regularly coordinate with Palestinians and the International Solidarity Movement to protest against the apartheid. Let’s not damage the Palestinian cause by pushing away some of its most outspoken allies.
Equating Judaism with Zionism and invoking misplaced religious references to condemn the entire Jewish community distorts the reality of the Middle East and reduces the conflict to a simplistic Jews vs Muslims binary. Those invoking the specter of the Muslim ummah up against the much vilified Jew would do well to remember that the daily plight of those living in Gaza is compounded by the Egyptian blockade of the strip. Palestinian refugees in countries like Lebanon and Egypt face major obstacles when it comes to employment and accessing basic government facilities like free education as a result discriminatory laws and public bias. Others like Jordan have admitted to barring entry of Palestinian refugees fleeing the Syrian war. A recent open letter calling for a military embargo on Israel signed by six Nobel peace laureates as well as many notable figures from across the world was not endorsed by a single Muslim recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. And let’s not forget the role played by our very own Mard-e-Momin, Mard-e-Haq Zia ul Haq in butchering thousands of Palestinians in Jordan during the Black September offensive in 1970-71.
The Palestinian crisis is a complex ethno-religious political conflict over land and resources. Reducing it to merely a religious clash plays into the hands of Israeli propaganda which claims that the sole reason for Arab opposition to Israel is the Arab hatred for Jews. It is not a question of Islam vs Judaism but of the human rights of the Palestinian people who are living under a brutal occupation. As pointed out by a popular meme doing the rounds of Facebook these days, you don’t have to be Muslim to support Gaza. You just have to be human.
Moreover, resorting to anti-semitism delegitimizes the Palestinian cause and actually strengthens the very popular Zionist strategy of branding any criticism of Israel as anti-semitism. Making vile references to Hitler only makes it easy for the pro-Israel lobby to deploy the Holocaust to amass sympathy and support for its theft of Palestinian land. Not to mention the fact that basic decency demands complete and unqualified condemnation of one of the most horrifying events of the 20th century.
The people of Palestine have been struggling for dignity and sovereignty for 66 years. Let us help them through prayer, aid, advocacy and education on the Palestinian perspective. The Palestinian people have truth on their side. The last thing they need is Hitler quoting twits screeching ‘Death to all Jews’ on the internet!
A version of this article was published in Dawn (website) on 21st July 2014