On January 2nd, Emma Watson’s Instagram account posted a graphic in support of Palestinian liberation. The image included various pictures of individuals holding the Palestinian flag or signs in support of the Palestinian cause with the phrase “Solidarity is a verb” overlaying the pictures, accompanied by a poem in the caption. The Jewish sphere of Twitter — JTwitter, as the community calls it — soon erupted in flames to accuse the Harry Potter actress of antisemitism. Some called the post tone deaf, other accused her of supporting a terrorist regime. Even Former Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon joined the conversation, tweeting “10 points from Gryffindor for being an antisemite.”
I’ll be the first to admit it — I hold a pro-Israel bias. I lived through the outbreak of the 2014 Israel-Gaza Conflict, two military operations against Hamas, have been in the crosshairs of a suicide bus bombing perpetrated by a lone wolf, and had an Iron Dome system stationed near my home in Israel. I’ve lived and breathed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since childhood, having grown up with stories of war and terror from my parents and grandparents. Even today, as an Israeli-American, most of the antisemitism I experience first-hand is rooted in my nationality — whether it’s having been called an apartheid apologist on one of my first days of university or being compared to a Nazi because I’m Israeli. I repeatedly find myself on the receiving end of antisemitism packaged as anti-Zionism, both in-person and online. With this, I can definitively say that Emma Watson’s Free Palestine graphic was not antisemitic.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, my Israeli uncle was the general manager of a towel and robe factory located in Jordan. During my last trip to Israel three years ago, my family went to the Dead Sea as part of a large family vacation. While we all came from Tel Aviv, my uncle met us after one of his visits in Jordan. As he was telling us about the factory and his time in Jordan, I asked him if the Jordanian workers cared that he was an Israeli Jew. His response shocked me — as long as he gave them their paycheck on time so they could feed their families and keep a roof over their heads, they didn’t care who he was. When he first told me that was their answer, I laughed, but then it dawned on me. A resolution to this decades-old conflict will not come from land swaps or never-ending peace talks — more than being a conflict of sovereignty and nationalism, Israel-Palestine is a conflict of narratives. What we need is dialogue. Palestinians and Israelis must listen to one another for there to be any hope for peace. Watson’s post lacked any nuance to one of the most complex geopolitical conflicts in the world. Instead of blocking any hope for conversation the motivation behind Watson’s graphic, those criticizing Watson and calling her an antisemite should extend an arm to educate and inform her of the many complexities surrounding the conflict.
Make no mistake, if Watson’s graphic contained any actual antisemitic rhetoric, such as “from the river to the sea” or another message in support of Hamas, I would be the first person to condemn such a call for the ethnic cleansing of the Jewish people from their ancestral homeland and the support of a terrorist organization. But that’s not what was posted. Heck, Emma wasn’t even responsible for the post — a third party activist page called “Feminist Collective” was. The graphic expressed support for a people who are governed by multiple governing bodies (Israel, Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority), subjected to horrible living conditions, and deserve a better education system, not to mention dignity and human rights.
The Jewish community has already faced antisemitism from pop culture figures in the name of criticism of Israel — such as Bella Hadid’s reposting of an infographic claiming all Israelis were settlers, or Dua Lipa’s repost of a graphic claiming that the Israel Defense Forces enjoyed killing Palestinian children. We have bigger fish to fry — antisemitism is rising globally, college students are facing hostile environments on their campuses, and Holocaust denial seems to be all too common. There isn’t a shortage of antisemitism masked as anti-Zionism (just ask any college student) but crying wolf about Watson’s post delegitimizes any future real incident of antisemitism disguised as criticism of Israel. If we continue to demand that the world, and Palestinians, to normalize dialogue with Israel, then we must do the same for Palestinians. Just as Jewish creators don’t want to find Palestinian flags in their comment sections, we shouldn’t be asking “what about Israel” on posts about Palestinian culture and history. Just as I expect respect as an Israeli Jew, the same respect should be lent towards Palestinians.