Catherine Perez-Shakdam

The case for Israel: A retort to fresh accusations of manipulation

Image Generated with AI technology - courtesy of Catherine Perez-Shakdam
Image Generated with AI technology - courtesy of Catherine Perez-Shakdam

In an age where the written word can traverse the globe in the blink of an eye, carrying with it the power to uplift or condemn, the responsibility borne by those of us engaging in the grand dialogue of our times has never been weightier. It is within this context that I find myself compelled to address the allegations and assertions made against the State of Israel, as outlined in a recent open letter entitled: ‘Open Letter to the Israeli and U.S, Government and Others on Weaponising the Issue of Rape’ – a document that paints with a broad brush the actions and policies of a nation embroiled in one of the most enduring and complex conflicts of our time.

In the discourse surrounding the recent conflict, the silence from the international community in response to the violence Israelis faced, particularly from Hamas, is palpable and telling. Amid the onslaught, the voices offering immediate support and condemnation of the atrocities unleashed on civilians by Hamas were conspicuously few. This reticence speaks volumes, painting a stark picture of the global stance – or lack thereof – towards these acts of aggression against civilian populations.

The open letter in question appears to navigate this complex landscape by adopting a posture of self-victimization, a tactic that not only deflects from the immediate and unvarnished reality of aggression faced by civilians but also attempts to reframe the narrative. This approach seeks to rationalize a conspicuous lack of international care or concern under the guise of defending human rights, exploiting the Palestinian cause as a shield for this rationalization. The effect of this strategy is twofold: it not only obscures the genuine suffering and fears of those directly impacted by the violence but also co-opts the legitimate struggles and hardships of the Palestinian people for a political agenda.

The charge against the Israeli government of weaponizing the issue of sexual violence is particularly egregious. Sexual violence, in all its forms, is a grave and heinous crime, leaving behind a trail of devastation and scars that may never fully heal for the victims. To allege that such a profoundly serious issue is being manipulated for political ends by any entity is to wade into deeply sensitive and potentially harmful territory. Yet, the accusations leveled seem to rest more on a constructed narrative than on a foundation of substantiated evidence. This narrative, which casts the Israeli state in the perennial role of the aggressor without due diligence or comprehensive examination of the facts, does a grave disservice to the very real and profound suffering of sexual violence victims worldwide. Utilizing their pain as a mere rhetorical flourish in the broader political discourse not only trivializes their experiences but also detracts from the urgent need to address and combat sexual violence in all its forms, across all contexts.

Thus, the approach taken by the open letter, and by extension, its signatories, underscores a troubling trend in the discourse surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It reveals a willingness to exploit sensitive and critical issues – such as the rights and welfare of the Palestinian people and the grave matter of sexual violence – for political points scoring, rather than engaging in a nuanced, fact-based, and empathetic dialogue aimed at fostering understanding, addressing grievances, and ultimately, moving towards a resolution that honors the dignity and rights of all individuals involved.

The invocation of terms such as “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” in the discourse surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict demands a pause for reflection. These words, laden with the weight of historical atrocities, are not to be used lightly or without a deep understanding of their implications. The conflict, marked by loss and suffering on both sides, cannot and should not be simplistically characterized using such terminology without clear, incontrovertible evidence to support such claims. To do so not only misrepresents the reality on the ground but also hinders the possibility for dialogue and peace by entrenching positions and vilifying an entire nation.

The letter’s focus on Israeli policies and actions, to the exclusion of a critical examination of Hamas, is notably unbalanced. Hamas, with its charter calling for the destruction of Israel and its history of targeting civilians, is not merely a resistance movement but a group designated as a terrorist organization by numerous countries and international bodies. Critique of Israel’s military and governmental actions is both valid and necessary in a democratic society. However, failing to equally scrutinize the actions and ideologies of Hamas is to present a skewed narrative that obscures the complexity of the conflict and the culpability of all parties involved.

In addressing the contentions of the open letter and its heralds, who claim to stand unjustly accused of antisemitism for their critiques of Israel, we find ourselves entangled in a web of sophistry and misdirection. The assertion, draped in the garb of righteous indignation, that to criticize Israel is to risk the scarlet letter of antisemitism, demands not just scrutiny but a robust and unapologetic counter.

First, let’s slice through the fog: The right to criticize a state – any state – is not only fundamental to free expression but necessary for the health of any democracy. Yet, this principle does not grant immunity to those whose critiques morph, whether by design or negligence, into the perpetuation of antisemitic tropes. There exists a line, finely drawn yet unmistakably clear, between legitimate political discourse and the veiled venom of prejudice. This line is crossed not when we question the actions of a government but when we embark on a campaign of delegitimization, demonization, or hold one nation to standards we cheerfully disregard for others.

The trifecta of delegitimization, demonization, and double standards is where much of the purportedly noble criticism goes awry. To delegitimize Israel’s right to exist, to demonize its people or leaders as uniquely malevolent, or to apply a hypocritical standard of judgment, is not the stuff of high-minded critique but the hallmark of a darker, more insidious sentiment.

We must then consider the question of intention versus impact. While the architects of this criticism may well fancy themselves champions of justice, cloaked in the armor of intellectual and moral superiority, the fallout of their words often tells a different story. The distinction between intent and consequence is a fine one, indeed, but it is no shield against the propagation of antisemitic sentiment, however unintentional.

The path forward does not lie in muzzling critique but in elevating it. It is entirely possible – and necessary – to engage in rigorous debate over the policies and actions of the Israeli government without descending into the mire of bigotry. What is required is a commitment to precision in language, to fairness in judgment, and, perhaps most importantly, to an unwavering vigilance against the age-old prejudices that too often poison the well of public discourse.

In the end, the measure of our critique is not found in the volume of our condemnation but in the integrity of our approach and the truth of our arguments. Let us then proceed with both the courage to speak and the wisdom to listen, ever mindful of the thin line that separates the advocate from the zealot.

The issues at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are deeply complex and fraught with historical grievances, pain, and loss. The path to understanding and, ultimately, to peace, is paved with nuanced discourse, critical examination, and a refusal to accept oversimplified narratives. It is our duty, as participants in this global dialogue, to approach such discussions with the gravity, respect, and honesty they deserve. Let us not be seduced by the simplicity of broad strokes and sweeping accusations but instead commit to the painstaking task of untangling the knotted threads of truth.

About the Author
Catherine Perez-Shakdam - Director Forward Strategy and Executive Director Forum of Foreign Relations (FFR) Catherine is a former Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society and consultant for the UNSC on Yemen, as well an expert on Iran, Terror and Islamic radicalisation. A prominent political analyst and commentator, she has spoken at length on the Islamic Republic of Iran, calling on the UK to proscribe the IRGC as a terrorist organisation. Raised in a secular Jewish family in France, Catherine found herself at the very heart of the Islamic world following her marriage to a Muslim from Yemen. Her experience in the Middle East and subsequent work as a political analyst gave her a very particular, if not a rare viewpoint - especially in how one can lose one' sense of identity when confronted with systemic antisemitism. Determined to share her experience and perspective on those issues which unfortunately plague us -- Islamic radicalism, Terror and Antisemitism Catherine also will speak of a world, which often sits out of our reach for a lack of access.
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