It is not about Israel

There is a war between Israel and Hamas which has been at the centre of people’s attention for over a month despite it not being the only war fought right now, not the most tragic event in terms of lives claimed and not the most repugnant in terms of methods used. As the media blames Israel for what is happening in Gaza (despite Hamas being the one who started the war and the one who kept rejecting all cease-fires), the Middle East and the world in general is in turmoil.

More than 40 people were burned alive in Odessa in May, a civil airplane was hit by a Russian missile in July and we are now on the verge of a bloodthirsty war between Russia and Ukraine.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have killed all men who oppose their extreme Wahhabi view of Islam and have taken women and children as slaves to sell and abuse physically, sexually and emotionally. More than 20,000 Yazidis and more than 100,000 Christians are fleeing in an attempt to save their lives, being faced between choosing to convert or to be brutally killed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). ISIL has conquered big areas of Syria, Iraq and have now reached Lebanon where a war is imminent. Qatar, Iran, USA are all involved and playing various roles in this as well. However, protesters in Europe are too busy accusing Israel of having caused the current war in Gaza.

Boko Haram keeps their terror wave going in Nigeria, where recently hundreds of people escaped their attack and are now starving on a mountain.

The Syrian civil war is raging on and has now claimed more than 170,000 lives; Assad’s forces have used and keep using chemical weapons on their own population. Approximately 2,000 Palestinians were murdered in Syria during the conflict and Jordan is currently denying entry and deporting Palestinians fleeing Syria’s war.

The UN has documented North Korean torture chambers and prison camps holding between 80,000 and 120,000 people. The human rights violations are of such gravity that they “reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world,” says the UN report.

Fighting in Libya between rebel forces has intensified and the country is now on the verge of collapsing.

This list could go on, but I hope that by now the reader has realised that the media is giving the conflict between Israel and Hamas disproportionate attention and so are protesters and various organisations around the world.
Examples of this are holding not one but two protests in London, each consisting of tens of thousands of people and the UK National Union of Students implementing a boycott on Israel, ostracizing Israeli and Jewish students. No other group of students of any other nationality or religion are chastised and ostracized solely on the basis of political policies or wars occurring in their countries. Yet we are an unfortunate exception, to such an extent that it is hard to find an annual General Meeting at a university in London where a motion to boycott Israel is not proposed.

I have until now been silent on the particular issue concerning the fine line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, but it is a type of silence that keeps ringing in my ears and waking me up at night. Because you see, I am one of the people that believe not all anti-Zionists are anti-Semites, but most are. I believe that hating Israel so vehemently is just a legal way of displaying anti-Semitic sentiments. After all, the ones who are so quick to hate Israel consider it the Jewish state and hate it for being so (overlooking the fact that it is actually a democracy where anyone can live and prosper) and are quick to forget any distinctions between Zionists, Israelis and Jews.

Maybe instead of convincingly marching on the streets of London with banners reading “We are all Hamas now”, people should ask themselves some questions. Hamas is an internationally recognised terrorist organisation, which not only calls for the destruction of Israel, but in Article 7 of their Covenant calls for the killing of all Jews and in Article 13 does not allow for a negotiated settlement to be possible, seeing Jihad as the only answer to the Palestinian problem. People protesting should dig deeper into the reasons for which they are only interested in protesting against Israel, its people and its politicians. It might as well be that Israel is the only Jewish country in the world. This will hopefully in turn make them come to the conclusion that the reason for joining such protests is either because of anti-Semitic feelings, or because they are ignorant people with no idea about this conflict whatsoever who nevertheless blindly follow what is fashionable at the moment.

Many people will still say that this general uprising for Gaza on streets throughout the world is all to do with Israel being evil and nothing to do with negative sentiments towards the Jews. I stopped believing that, because when the following things happen during the war between Israel and Hamas, it becomes clear that this war is simply the perfect excuse to finally express anti-Semitic sentiments that have for so long been cultivated in the hearts of many. Unfortunately I believe that French PM Valls’s assertion that a “new, normalised anti-Semitism that blends with the Palestinian cause, Jihadism, the devastation of Israel, and hatred of France and its values” is true for more countries than just France.
When the following things happen, it is not about Israel.

It is not about Israel when protests turn violent in France, Germany and Italy Synagogues are attacked, sieged and vandalised.

It is not about Israel when “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas” chants are heard and Orthodox teens are punched in the face in Germany.

It is not about Israel when “Khaybar, Khaybar ya Yahud” chants are heard in Antwerp, Belgium.

It is not about Israel when “Don’t buy from the Jews” signs are seen in Rome and Jewish shops are vandalised with swastikas.

It is not about Israel when the Jewish film festival is banned by the Tricycle London theatre.

It is not about Israel when a reporter in London, mistaken for a Jew due to his physical aspect is told “F*ck off Jew, you’re not welcome here”.

However when questioning why the UN, media and protesters around the world seem so obsessed with Israel and insinuating that the reason behind this obsession is likely to be anti-Semitism, some of my acquaintances remind me of the following points, which I discuss below.

Saying anti-Zionists are anti-Semites is unfair, as there are people who truly despise Israel, but nevertheless they are actually friends of a number of Jews.

The problem with this reasoning is that Jews are expected to completely disengage from Israel, yet they are part of it. Our culture, language, religion and common history all started in the Land of Israel more than 3,000 years ago and throughout this time we have had a connection to the land. Nowadays Israel is the heart of Jewish life and approximately half of the Jewish world population lives there, so virtually any Jew has family and/or friends there.
Moreover, with half of the Jewish world population living in Israel, it is probable the people mentioned above know someone who, as an Israeli Jew, has served in the IDF. If they truly have Jewish friends, they should stop and think for a minute: the narrative that sees Israel deliberately committing genocide in Gaza, killing Arabs and targeting schools and hospitals matches with the Jews they know? Do the Jews they know seem like bloodthirsty animals looking for or supporting genocide? Or do they rather seem like people who value life and grieve every innocent death irrespective of a person’s nationality? Did the aforementioned people ever doubt there might be a different narrative to Israelis supporting indiscriminative killing, a narrative which knows that it is Hamas who started the current war and uses UN schools as weapon stocks, fires from densely populated civilian areas, close to UN facilities, hospitals and schools and does not allow its civilians to flee but instead uses them as human shields (and kills those who try to oppose Hamas). This narrative sees Israel sending warning leaflets and phoning civilians to evacuate and it is aware of the fact that if Israel really wanted to commit genocide in Gaza, it would have razed Gaza to the ground in a matter of days, leaving 2 million dead and it is something that even Jordanian-Palestinian leader Mudar Zahran has acknowledged. It is a version of the story that sees Israelis as the ones who had no intention to start this war and are left with no choice but to defend themselves if they want to survive.

If people keep choosing not to believe this narrative and instead prefer to believe that Israel is committing a genocide in Gaza right now, it really makes no sense  to me how they can be friends with Jews, some of whom they believe are genocidal murderers. It also makes no sense for such people to pretend they only hold Israel accountable and not Jews and trying to separate Jews from Israel, as Jews are all, in one way or another, tied to Israel like mother and child.

There are lots of people out there who truly believe their hate and anger is targeted towards the Israeli government only and not its citizens and it is therefore legitimate.

No sane person agrees with everything their government does. Israelis with our fragmented views on politics are a perfect example of this. However, every sane person will agree with a government that at the moment is doing everything possible to defend its people and it is even doing what it can to prevent civilian casualties in Gaza. Government and people are not two unrelated entities, as in a democracy it is the people that elect the government. It is our government who is investing money into sirens, Iron Dome and building shelters to save our lives. Of course, it is not perfect, but equally so are all other governments in the world, yet media and protests around the world focus solely on Israel.

You can’t blame people for only protesting against Israel as if it were an obsession, as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is all they hear about.

This would hold true if the people marching in protest on the streets of France, Germany, Italy, the UK, the USA and so on lived in totalitarian countries. In such countries, media channels would theoretically censor any other ongoing conflict in the world or any other narrative except the “Israel should stop bombing Gaza” one. However, we all know the countries I listed are democracies where the internet is filled with articles, videos, discussions on what is happening around the world. People are able to see two sides of any situation. It is not true they do not hear about other conflicts or points of view; they actively choose to ignore them, which is an entirely different thing and for which they can and should be held accountable.

The only ones caring about this conflict are Jews and Muslims: Jews are pro-Israel and Muslims are pro-Palestine as they are respectively deeply connected to Israel and Palestine.

Firstly, if no one actually cared or had an opinion about this conflict, there would not have been protests all around the world blaming Israel, asking to stop the war with Gaza. However it seems that there are no protests for any of the terrible things happening around the world which I mentioned in the second paragraph, as peace “faketivists” are too busy with Israel.
Secondly, by watching reports from protests it becomes clear that not all protesters are Muslim. Nevertheless, even assuming they were, it is not true that Jews and Muslims are respectively connected in the same way to Israel and Palestine (Palestine as a geographical region, as Jordanians only started to identify as Palestinians in 1988 when their fate was handed over to the PLO). As I previously explained Jewish culture, Judaism and Hebrew stem from the Land of Israel and Jews have always maintained ties to their homeland. The same cannot be said about Muslims: Islam did not start in Palestine, the Arabic civilisation does not stem from there nor does the Arabic language.  Muslims are as connected to Palestine as to any other Muslim country, so why would they only protest for Palestinians and not for their brethren in of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and so on?

Clearly to me, there is a lot more than politics behind this modern and fashionable outspoken hatred toward Israel, reflected in the fact that Jews, especially around Europe, are facing increasing hostility.
It is a collective shame for any country in which Jews were born and have contributed to, to allow those same Jews to feel unwanted.
It is a collective shame that so many Jews feel that their identity is an obstacle to their lives and well-being in any country that is not Israel.

Last but not least, it is a collective shame that Jews are leaving Europe once again, despite people’s repetition of the words “Never again”. As Edmund Burke once said: “All that is required for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. It seems to me that words acquire meaning when accompanied by actions and for now “Never again” remain void of meaning, two words said in an automatic fashion, not truly meant. Jews are being reminded once again that we should only rely on ourselves to survive.

From a young age I was taught by my parents that no matter what happens, hope is the last one to die. This teaching was passed on to me through a larger Jewish tradition of never losing hope, even in the most adverse circumstances. Had our ancestors lost hope during the first Diaspora, during all persecution of Jews throughout history or during the Holocaust, I would not be here writing this.
Although I am aware of this notion, right now it is hard for me to believe or even hope for the existence of a viable future for Jews anywhere but in Israel.
From my ancestors I have learnt that hope is the last one to die, but at this moment in time it is really hard to keep the flame of hope burning inside me.

About the Author
Luisa Peress has dual citizenship and is now living in London. Currently she is in her fourth year of medicine at Barts & The London, having just completed a year in Neuroscience and Mental Health at Imperial College London.
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