Insult needn’t lead to injury

Enough people will be writing about the horrors of yesterday’s attack in Paris that I didn’t think there was anything I could add to the many discussions that we’ll now be forced to have. The deliberate, brutal murder of human beings  for drawing another human being – albeit one regarded by many as a prophet – leaves us both speechless, and with a lot to talk about.

But then, of course, someone tweeted something stupid (is this how all opinion pieces will start in the 21st century?) and I felt there was a subject I could add to. Commenting on a news article citing the Zionist Federation on the attack, one particularly unpleasant troll began spouting off about the apparent moral equivalency between Islamism and Zionism. So let’s kill two birds with one stone.

Firstly, the idea that there is no distinction between those who bear arms in the name of an Islamic state, and those who do so in the name of a Jewish one.

The initial tweet from our troll was what they presumably thought was a controversial comparison between the terrorists who attacked Charlie Hebdo and Baruch Goldstein, the Israeli doctor responsible for the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre in 1994. This comparison between religiously motivated gunmen attacking unarmed civilians is accurate, albeit in a glib, pointless way.

Goldstein was the exception, not the rule, and his brand of violent extremism has always been shunned by every level of Jewish and Israeli society. It says something that when you want to distract from the current wave of Islamically-motivated killings, you have to go back two decades to find the nearest Jewish analogue.

We pointed this out, of course, highlighting the obvious differences between the treatment of extremism on both sides (in Israel, racist parties are banned by the government. In Gaza, racist parties are the government.) But our blinkered challenger was having none of it. Her incredulous belief that the majority of British Jews might view Goldstein as a hero, not an aberration, was only the first indication that her conception of reality is very different to mine. She went on to claim that he was in fact the inspiration for Israel killing tens of thousands of Israeli Muslims.

This isn’t the only time this reality-challenged comparison has been made. In England, as in much of Europe, there has a been the need for a serious discussion about young Muslims heading off to fight in Syria, and the need for an even more serious discussion about those same young Muslims coming back. Unfortunately, on several occasions attempts are made to derail or nullify that discussion by raising the fatuous comparison with British Jews travelling to join the IDF.

For example: a flagship news programme called us up to inquire if we could help secure such an individual who could discuss his motivations – who would appear alongside a live video link to a Blighty-born jihadi gaining work experience with Isis. Our dilemma: would an eloquent candidate show the public how wrong-headed the comparison is? Or would taking part justify that comparison on some level in the public’s mind?

In the end we didn’t take part and the item never went ahead, but if it had, I bet a lot of Jewish people would have been offended. Which leads us neatly on to bird number two: offence.

I hesitate to use that word because as I’m sure you’re all aware ‘offence’ can now carry a death sentence, and has done ever since squirmy “liberals” victim-blamed Salman Rushdie for ticking off Iranian medievalists.

I use the O word with even greater trepidation because the troll I raised at the start wasn’t just any old anonymous digital scamp : Mira Bar-Hillel is in fact a columnist who  has a regular platform for two British outlets. Despite being a property journalist, she also shares her obnoxious views on the conflict, shielded from accusations of bigotry by her Israeli heritage.

In fact, there’s quite a lot that appears in the media that offends me, as a Zionist, Israeli, Jew, and human being. There’s a whole host of columnists who know they can quickly bring in a lot of online traffic by publishing one-sided diatribes about my country. The Guardian regularly goes a step further and outsources this clickbaitery to Hamas, which as far as I’m aware is the only fascist organisation that gets to tell its side of the story at “the world’s leading liberal voice.”

Cartoons? Don’t talk to me about cartoons. In recent years, off the top of my head, there has been Bibi as a puppet master controlling British politicians. On Holocaust Memorial Day, there was Bibi as bricklayer, trapping innocents in a wall he was building with blood for cement. And who could forget Ariel Sharon as a baby-devouring behemoth, killing children as an election campaign?

This isn’t a discussion of aesthetics. I’m not complaining about poor taste. The impact of the media’s relentless focus on the ills of Israel, to the exclusion of pretty much every part of the rest of the Middle East, has had a serious impact on the welfare and security of Jewish communities in Europe and abroad. A worrying percentage of Europeans believe Israel is responsible for genocide. There’s a reason people crowd onto the streets when Israel targets religious extremists, but remain silent when other democracies do the same. A reason why students are happy to pass motion denouncing Israel with nary a care for anti-Semitism, but won’t condemn Isis in case it’s seen as Islamophobic.

But offence can never be an excuse for violence, as our response has always shown. This has evolved from letters, to emails, to social media. These are the areas where we provide skills and information training. Even this has been too much for some, with community efforts branded as part of that notorious, nebulous entity, the Israel Lobby.

One example will suffice. In the otherwise excellent examination of how the media is manipulated, ‘Flat Earth News’ recounts how one paper received so many complaints about anti-Israel coverage that a member of staff got a repetitive stress injury from opening so many angry emails. I imagine the surviving staff of Charlie Hebdo would give anything for that to be full extent of the hostility they faced.

So let’s not pretend that the inevitable response to offence is murder. That only occurs when enough people are indoctrinated into an ideology that promotes murder as a response to offence. The fact that there has never been a question of us resorting with violence to the delegitimisation of our homeland is proof that this ideology has not taken root in the Zionist community. For everyone’s sake, let’s renew our focus on the communities where that ideology tragically has.

About the Author
Paul Charney is chairman of the ZF (the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland). The ZF is the UK’s grass roots activist organisation for Israel. Each year the ZF initiates events, ranging from lobbies of Parliament to events on campuses to empower Jewish students to stand up for Israel in hostile environments. As Israel is constantly subjected to campaigns in the press to delegitimize its existence, the Zionist Federation continues to stand at the forefront to ensure the dynamic future of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.