I stepped decidedly out of my comfort zone this past weekend. As a strong supporter of Israel, Palestine Expo was hardly a standard Saturday for me. But I have always valued listening to the other side, and a friend of mine was interested in the cultural element. So, to Kensington Olympia I ventured.
First the good. On arrival we were presented with samples of Palestinian medjoul dates. To describe them as some of the best dates I’ve had would not be too generous. Indeed I went on to purchase a weighty box (more of a crate) from the Yaffa stand. My friend was slightly puzzled – “doesn’t this go against your beliefs?” she asked. I found this a jarring question – I am absolutely in favour of supporting Palestinian farmers, Palestinian workers, Palestinian products. I am also in favour of supporting Palestinian self-determination.
What I am not in favour of, is anti-Israel, and anti-Jewish hatred. Regrettably it was that which dominated the day.
Entering the vast space, it was a surprisingly barren affair. Turnout was poor, and stalls were fairly sparsely distributed around the space. What dominated were the thoroughly bizarre installations in the middle of the hall – with one depicting the separation barrier as quite literally (and entirely falsely) bifurcating family dining tables.
Having explored a few of these installations I decided to go to the talk: “Nation State Law: Israeli Apartheid State”.
Full disclosure: this was the only talk I went to; my friend was so disturbed by the proceedings she insisted on not attending another, and I was scarcely more keen. So perhaps the other talks were defined by reason and proportionality. But I suspect not.
By no means the most egregious, but certainly the most jarring statement of the talk was that of Nelson Mandela’s grandson Zwelivelile Mandela when he said Israeli “apartheid” is “the worst apartheid we have ever seen.” He uttered these words while Youssef Jabareen (another speaker) looked on. Youssef Jabareen is an Arab member of the Knesset, representing an Arab party, elected by Arab voters. A country with full voting rights for its minority groups is a strange form of apartheid.
Then there was the really nasty stuff. The claim that Zionists have the same view of Judaism as the Nazis; the idolisation of Palestinian “martyrs” (individuals who have died committing acts of terrorism) as the “Mandelas of the Palestinian people”; and perhaps most chillingly: “no state has the right to exist.” All against the backdrop of a supportive crowd.
The problem was that the speakers were not just railing against Israeli policies in the West Bank (legitimate) or Israeli policies towards its Arab minority (also legitimate). One of the most ferocious attacks, was on the prevalence of Jewish symbols and Jewish holidays in the State of Israel. In other words, an attack on the very Jewishness of the nation (illegitimate).
The use of the menorah, the Star of David, the national celebration of Jewish holidays and festivals were thus characterised as representative of an oppressive ethnocracy.
The whole point behind the conspicuous adoption of Jewish symbols by Israel was precisely because for so long open displays of Jewishness were viewed with contempt by European (and to a lesser extent Islamic) society.
Many Jewish intellectuals in the 18th and 19th centuries called on Jews to assimilate, to remove evidence of their Jewishness, in the hope of being accepted. It didn’t work. Instead, in the 1930s and 1940s in Nazi Germany Jews were forcibly marked with the letter J on their passports and a Star of David on their arms. The Star of David became a symbol of genocidal dehumanisation.
But Israel reclaimed this symbol, and other Jewish symbols, as a source of heritage and pride, much as other oppressed groups have done.
Yet here we are, in 2019, with the “woke” left whooping and cheering as speakers condemn conspicuous displays of Jewishness by the world’s sole Jewish state.
Nevertheless, the dates really were magnificent.