Is It Antisemitic To Protest Israel?

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Workers and young people have continued to take to the streets in solidarity with the Palestinian masses, as the people of Gaza continue to suffer the catastrophic damage caused by the Israeli regime’s ground invasion which began in October. The Israel-Palestine conflict is a highly polarizing issue, particularly for Jews and Arabs in the US, and there are widely varying views  within both communities. Young people who are radicalizing around a program for peace and Palestinian liberation, often face vicious attacks from those who subscribe to the outright lies of the Zionist right wing.

One of the most used weapons by the Zionist right is rampant accusations of antisemitism against anyone critical of the Israeli state. Republicans in Congress have asserted the notion that “anti-Zionism is antisemitism” in a dangerous resolution put forward to the House this month. But it is abundantly clear that students, workers, and ordinary people speaking out against Israel are moved to do so not by hatred of Jews but in horror at the indiscriminate mass slaughter of civilians in Gaza. The buildings that people called home have been leveled, with unaccounted for civilians trapped under the rubble. People are trapped in hospitals without power, medicine, or anesthetic to perform life saving surgeries. Those locked outside the hospitals are starving, lack running potable water, and are dying of illness while looking upon the bodies of their loved ones in the streets. It only seems the most rational response to view these acts as a horrific injustice that ordinary people should never be subject to.

Need For Clarity In The Movement

There is of course, a section of the movement who put forward the idea that Hamas has played a progressive role in the conflict. “From the river to the sea” is also a chant many have heard at demonstrations, but some may not understand that this can be seen to mean “driving out the settlers.” In other words, implying that ordinary Israelis are themselves colonizers who should be made into refugees. In the absence of a clear internationalist working class program, people can be pulled towards ideas that assert that the Jewish population are one reactionary mass.

With a general ramping up of reactionary ideas in society it is reasonable for Jewish people to fear a growth of antisemitism, and putting forward a position that supports Hamas can push Jewish people out of the anti-war movement. In this sense it is crucial that the ongoing movement for Palestinian liberation makes crystal clear its rejection of antisemitism. The organizing work of thousands of young Jewish Americans has gone a long way in this regard.

Many of the demonstrations in the US have been organized by Jewish groups alongside Palestinian groups and coalitions, such as Jewish Voice for Peace. This cuts across the reactionary lies of the Netanyahu regime that claims to act on behalf of all Jewish people, and seeks to stoke divisions between Jews and Arabs around the world. Regardless, taking part in protests and speaking out has put anti-war protestors in the crosshairs of not only the pro-Israel lobby, but also the whole of US imperialism which relies on Israel to protect its interests in the strategically important Middle East. 

The political establishment seeks to portray this as between Jews and Arabs, in an attempt to blur the fundamental questions of war and occupation. While it attempts to posture as anti-oppression, there should be no mistake that the myth of Zionism, that a capitalist state of Israel would be the safest place in the world for Jews, creates a never-ending cycle of bloodshed between working class Jews and Arabs. The reality is we can find no real liberation for the masses of Jewish people under capitalism, no escape from genuine antisemitism. This is understood by many young Jewish people, despite unavoidable and relentless propaganda claiming the contrary.

Activists Being Targeted

Educators and students have been on the chopping block most recently for outspoken opposition to the Israeli state. Teachers like Maha Almasri in South Florida have been terminated over public social media statements against the war. Ivy League administrators have overseen the harassment of student protesters, like at Harvard University where Black and Arab organizers  have had their faces and names plastered on campus trucks labeling them as “antisemites.” At the same time, university leaders have come under ferocious fire from the right for “not doing enough” to weed out antisemitism on their campuses. This goes hand in hand with the far right’s wider assault on college campuses, and their battle against “wokeness” in higher education.

Yet figures like Elon Musk, who genuinely spread anti-Jewish sentiment and conspiracies, have been served no repercussions. Since Musk’s takeover of X (formerly Twitter) there has been a massive influx of hate speech on the platform. According to TIME, tweets referring to LGBTQ+ as slurs rose by 119%, and on average only 28% of antisemitic tweets reported to the ADL were removed from the site. Last month Musk personally agreed with a post defending the sentiment that “Hitler was right” and saying Jewish communities have been “pushing hatred against whites.” Shortly after, he was warmly welcomed and escorted by Netanyahu on his trip to Israel. The lesson here of course is that pushing antisemitic conspiracy theories to 166 million followers is okay, as long as you are sufficiently deferential to the Israeli regime afterwards.

The cynical attacks on anti-war activists make it harder to recognize, confront, and fight actual antisemitism, which we must be able to do. Of course, there is absolutely no place for genuine antisemitism in the antiwar movement, which is marginal but has reared its head in some instances. The narrative that ordinary Israelis are inherently “colonizers” is not only false, but will only act to throw disillusioned Jews into the arms of the reactionary right, which paves no path to a world free of anti-Jewish hate. Working people and educators who have illusions in the Israeli state should not be targeted either. The left should not be boxed into defending Hamas’ slaughter of ordinary Israelis – as this is playing into the hands of the Netanyahu regime. Socialists need to expose artificial divisions in the working class, which only obscure the real heart of any capitalist society. Israeli workers and Palestinian workers have far more in common with each other than either does with the capitalists of their countries.

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