Anti-Israel protests, self-deceit and antisemitism

Being against the State of Israel has been for a long time the default position of the enlightened and progressive; in my academic circles, very few would dare be openly pro-Israel. “Israel critique” they stressed over and over again, is not antisemitism. One must clearly differentiate between being critical of the state of Israel and being antisemitic. However, precisely this mantra can be questioned in face of the massive worldwide protests against Israel on November 4th: “Israel critique” and antisemitism is by no means clearly differentiated in these protests.

Protesting the deaths of innocent Palestinian civilians is not clearly differentiated from antisemitic calls to destroy the State of Israel when decent, humanity loving individuals march side by side with antisemites and adopt the same symbols. When protesters “redefine” antisemitic slogans such as “Free Palestine” as “fight for freedom” and “liberation of the oppressed” we end up with something that is even more insidious than an open call for destroying the State of Israel: Hamas’ antisemitic agenda becomes socially acceptable by being conflated with humanitarian discourse. This allows well-meaning persons to ignore the violence perpetrated by Hamas and deceive themselves into believing that they are doing the morally right thing by supporting Hamas. 

Consider the people who tear down posters of kidnapped Israelis. Why would any decent person do such a thing? As a friend of mine observed, the posters challenge these persons’ black and white view of Israelis as powerful oppressors and Palestinians as weak and oppressed; acknowledging the violence perpetrated by Palestinians against innocent Israelis does not sit well with their unconditional condemnation of Israel as evil. The same applies to the tendency to ignore the October 7th terrorist attack, to explain it away as a “fight for freedom” or to blame it on Israel. It is more comfortable to deny the facts than to challenge one’s own preconceptions. 

Consider how progressive and educated persons are willing to completely ignore the openly acknowledged antisemitic agenda of Hamas and its supporters. Consider how Hamas’ instrumentalisation of its own people, its culture of martyrdom and its abuse of humanitarian aid never figures as quickly and prominently in headlines as the actions of the Israeli military, which often become unintelligible without this background. Consider the allegations taken for granted in the news and social media that Israel is conducing genocide and ethnic cleansing, despite the fact that Israel’s army distinguishes between civilians and combatants and is bound by international law. How is all this possible if not by choosing to close one’s eyes to any evidence that could challenge one’s firmly held beliefs?  

The State of Israel has a special social contract. Given the history of the Jewish people, the state of Israel embodies the promise that Jews will be able to live somewhere safe from the constant threat of extermination. Israel is a promise of safe haven for Jews worldwide, and yet this safe haven is constantly under threat. Israel is also the only democracy in the Middle East, a fact that is often ignored by many people. Palestinians must find a way towards the statehood and self-determination they need and deserve; but erasing the State of Israel is not an option. This should be common sense. The willingness to compromise requires the acceptance that despite all its problems, Israel should be treated like any other country. Like other countries, Israel also has the duty to protect its own people, within reasonable constraints. Normalizing the State of Israel in the Middle East and the world is the first step towards peace. This is what Hamas is desperately trying to prevent. This should be clear to anyone who really wants to see.

About the Author
Alice Pinheiro Walla is Associate Professor of Philosophy at McMaster University, Canada. She was born in Brazil. She is a Kant scholar by training and held academic positions in Germany, Austria and Ireland before moving to Canada. She is an active member of her synagogue, where she helps as gabbait, leads religious services and reads torah.
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