A few years back, the Egged bus company in Jerusalem announced they would end the practice of customers buying bus passes from the bus driver, and instead customers would have to replenish their “Rav Kav” bus pass cards either online or at a limited number of kiosks available in the center of the city of Jerusalem. The problem with this plan was that the poorer Arab areas had lower access to the internet relative to Jewish areas and the Haredi sections of the city in principle did not use the internet, making it difficult for large segments of the city’s population to add money to their accounts. In a similar vain, in order to park a car in Jerusalem one needed either a meter that could be latched onto the car window or an account with Pango, a parking app, and neither of these accepted payment with a foreign credit card, leaving a tourist to hunt for a rare parking space or risk receiving a parking ticket. From the above it should be obvious that things in Israel are not above reproach and can be deserving of legitimate criticism.
I am not a big fan of the term antisemite or antisemitism. The moniker itself originates in a 19th century idea that identified Jews as Semites, part of a linguistic group, and was said to connote specific racial characteristics, so as used today the term seems anachronistic. I do not care for how the term can be used as a bludgeon to silence criticism. I have no idea what alternate universe the ADL is residing in that motivated it to tweet on October 18 that “One week after Hamas’s brutal terror attacks in Israel, white supremacists continue to rail against Israel and the Jewish community, gathering in cities nationwide to promote their racist, antisemitic propaganda.”
But the loud and occasionally violent global protests against Israel and in support of the Palestinians do lead me to question what is at play here.
Right now there is war in an Arab country where civilians are being killed in large numbers. There is an ethnic cleansing from Muslim governed territory. And nearly two million Muslims are in danger of being expelled from their homes. In none of these cases do I refer to Gaza or the West Bank.
In Sudan, a war has been raging for the past 6 months, in which an estimated 9,000 civilians have been killed and another 5.6 million have become refugees. In Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh, Muslim Azerbaijan cut off supplies to 100,000 Armenians before capturing the territory, and the Armenians by and large are leaving, cleansing the area of ethnic Armenians. Four weeks ago, Pakistan announced that the 1.7 million Afghan refugees without legal status in Pakistan must leave the country within 28 days or they will be deported.
To the best of my knowledge, there have been no protests in support of the victims of these conflicts at American universities, no mass protests in major European and American cities calling for the destruction of the perpetrators, no attempts in Muslim majority cities to storm airlines from Sudan, Pakistan or Azerbaijan.
Perhaps these protesters are simply using the conflict as a proxy for other ideals. Perhaps the protesters at American colleges are protesting against Israel as a proxy against American imperialism and colonialism, irrespective of Zionism having been an indigenous Jewish movement and the U.S. offering minimal support prior to the establishment of Israel as a state or before 1967. Perhaps protesters in Ireland simply see their own struggle against the British in the Palestinian struggle against Israel, irrespective of a history in which the Zionist Mule Corp refused to go to Ireland after Gallipoli. Perhaps Muslims in Europe and the United States deem the conflict to be uniquely egregious due to the long, drawn out occupation. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. But if these protests are a proxy, then it is fair to ask why there were not bigger protests against U.S. actions that have caused an estimated 5 million excess deaths in the Muslim world since 1991, why the Irish do not rally around the cause of Jammu Kashmir or other groups marginalized in the post-British colonial structures and why Dagestanis in Russia do not oppose the occupation of Ukraine by Russia.
In Adeed Darwisha’s book Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century, he identifies Jewish migration to Palestine an the single biggest factor in the rise of pan-Arab nationalism in the 1930s and 1940s. Some number of years ago I attended an Arab-American festival at Prospect Park in Brooklyn, NY. Without a kippah, I joined a group to learn the debka dance, where participants waved Palestinian flags, and only Palestinian flags, as though this was the single unifying element from a wide region mired in conflict, civil war and despotism. Maybe the message of the Arab and Muslim criticism of Israel that ignores Hamas atrocities, mass protests by Muslims in American and European cities and the attempt in Dagestan to storm a plane presumed to be carrying Jewish Israelis is that Muslims will stand with Muslims only if Jews are involved. But if Arabs and Muslims protest for Muslims only if they are fighting Jews, what does this say about their attitudes towards Jews and the concepts of citizenship and nationhood, especially in western countries?
Missing from the all these protests in support for Gaza is a willingness to help the actual Palestinians with concrete actions. Only Scotland’s Muslim Prime Minister, whose in-laws live in Gaza, has offered to accept Gazan refugees. Neighboring Egypt and Jordanian politicians may call Israeli actions a genocide, but to date these countries insist they will not accept a single Palestinian refugee, not even on a temporary basis to allow civilians to find safety while the conflict plays out.
Some people complain that Jews overuse the term antisemitism. We are often told that anti-Zionism is not antisemitism. But if the mass of protesters globally do not protest in support of Muslims outside of the Palestinian Territories, if none of these protesters are providing tangible help to the Palestinians, if the protesters ignore the mass killings by their own countries, if the protesters would not accept missile attacks against their cities and the butchering of their own civilians but require Israelis to absorb them, if Israelis and non-Israeli Jews, wherever they are, are fair targets for protesters, then what exactly is at play here?