Is my daughter’s pro-Palestine activism turning antisemitic?

Ethical and political dilemmas abound these days. Seems like we’re all in need of a New Internationalist perspective. Enter stage: Agony Uncle

Credit: Emma Peer

Q: A couple of years ago my 21-year-old daughter travelled to the West Bank in Palestine to volunteer with an environmental organization. Since she came back, she has been incredibly vocal about Palestinian rights – organizing protests and fundraisers, posting on social media. I was supportive, but over the past year I’ve started to wonder if I should be worried. She often complains that accusations of antisemitism are used to silence people speaking for Palestinian rights. After everything that has happened with the Labour Party here in the UK and what you hear in the media, should I be worried that she’s in fact antisemitic? There are Jewish people in her life and I’ve never been worried that she’s had that tendency before, but now I’m confused.

A: There are ways of thinking in certain corners of the Left that echo antisemitism. I’m talking about the world view that sees the economy as controlled by a handful of shadowy individuals. You’ve perhaps come across parts of the internet where the ‘Israel lobby’ is blamed for all the criminality of Western foreign policy. As if it were nefarious lobbying, and not geopolitical interests in the Middle East, that determines US support for Israel.

If you hear your daughter talk in crude generalizations that sound conspiratorial or risk de-humanizing her political opponents, then call her out. It would be good to remind her that the settler-colonial ideology underwriting the Israeli project is just one of many ideologies playing a role in injustice across the world right now. Speaking out against this is not the same as antisemitism; but it can be motivated by and articulated in the language of anti-Jewish hatred.

I understand though that this conversation is coloured by suspicion and resentment. In Germany, a 2019 parliamentary resolution that falsely equated boycotting Israel with antisemitism is having a chilling effect on solidarity with Palestine. In Britain, supporters of Jeremy Corbyn couldn’t help but see some of the accusations of antisemitism against his Labour party as coming in bad faith. They found the notion that the Left was characterized by antisemitism vexing, especially given the Right’s weak record on antiracism.

But the task is to be clear-eyed in an analysis that is grounded in politics and rights: the occupation in Palestine and associated abuses are a violation of international law and an egregious abuse of human rights. It is also a present-day example of colonialism, with West Bank settlements being built on conquered land.

What your daughter does is fundamentally good for the world. So, let’s end by remembering why her activism matters. The situation for Palestinians is the most perilous it has been for years. The illegal expansion of West Bank settlements continues apace. Recently, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem described the country as an apartheid state. Israel has been refusing to properly help Palestinians get vaccinated against Covid-19. As for Palestinian resistance, Israel continually jails nonviolent activists, sending the signal that it won’t even put up with peaceful agitation for a better life.

Antisemitic tropes have no place in society, including in campaigns for Palestinian solidarity. Internationalists act and think internationally because a common humanity demands it. Echoing racist thought while doing so – unconsciously or otherwise – isn’t just discriminatory but also sets back the cause.

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