In America, there has long existed a double standard regarding Israel, especially among the Left. This country has prided itself on fighting for democratic rights, self-determination and liberty around the world, with one notable exception: the Palestinian people. The humiliating and inhumane conditions endured by oppressed peoples around the world, from Tibet to Afghanistan to South Africa, are highlighted frequently in the American press and appropriately lamented by U.S. public opinion. Meanwhile, Americans and their government have been shamefully silent regarding Israel’s illegal and internationally condemned occupation of the Palestinian people on the precious little land left to them after 1948.
As the situation in Palestine/Israel has disintegrated into a seemingly endless abyss of senseless suicide bombings and unjust Israeli military incursions, debate and discussion about what to do and what has gone awry have intensified around the world, but in the U.S. and at Williams, the public discourse about Palestine/Israel has been remarkably one-sided. In a global context, on the subject of justice for the Palestinian people, it is American public opinion that is generally considered to be on the extremist, if not racist, fringe.
Unfortunately, this makes it difficult for those of us in this country who actively sympathize with the Palestinian quest for independence, because it often seems that the public critique of Israel is the last speech-taboo left in America. It appears that we can openly criticize anything nowadays, except Israelâ€”something which is very different from questioning Israel’s legitimate right and crucial need to exist as the national homeland for Jews. But those Americans who are advocates for Palestinian rights are often not given voice in the press, by their peers, in the workplace and even in academia. Worse, these consistent advocates for freedom and justice are sometimes unfairly branded anti-Semites.
Anti-Semitism, like any form of hate, is dangerous and wrong. It has no place in an advanced democratic society, or anywhere-else for that matter. Many, but not all, of Israel’s allies in this country hide behind a deceptive veneer of anti-Semitism on the relatively rare occasion their views and prejudices regarding the situation in Palestine are challenged. They easily accuse critics of Israeli policy in the occupied territories as having anti-Semitic motives. They automatically assume that anyone who has a modicum of sympathy for the plight of the Palestinian people must have some beef with Judaism.
They are painfully wrong.
Except for a few inevitable extremist elements, those who protest Israeli state terror are not being anti-Semitic, much in the same way that those who protest the horrific methods of Palestinian suicide bombers aren’t being anti-Islamic or anti-Palestinian. They are merely criticizing the primary source of this entire conflict (Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian land) and living true to the ideal that all peoples of the world are entitled to certain fundamental human and civil rights. Among those rights are the right to self-determination and basic liberties protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, such as the freedoms to travel freely and to live in self-governing peace, free from fear of terror, in one’s native land. Israel’s continued occupation of and aggressive settlement program in the West Bank and Gaza are in clear violation of these ideals, as are the appalling attacks by Palestinian suicide bombers in response.
Yes, there are anti-Semites out there. Much of the rhetoric emanating from extremist groups like Hamas, for example, is often latent with a disgusting anti-Jewish sneer. But the moderate position, held by most of the world’s governments, that Israel should withdraw immediately from the occupied territories and allow the Palestinian people to live in their own, genuinely independent country with a shared capital in Jerusalem, is simply a conclusion grounded in notions of morality, of right vs. wrong, of granting justice and liberty to a people who have been deprived of them for more than 50 years. It is a mere recognition that the Israeli government is in clear violation of UN Security Council Resolutions, near-unanimous General Assembly declarations, the spirit of the Oslo Accords regarding settlement expansion and fundamental tenants of a universal morality shared by Jewish, Christian and Islamic teachings alike.
Israel is a global pariah, not because it is a Jewish state, but because some of its policies are viewed by the international community as morally repugnant, much in the same way countries like South Africa, Iraq and Zimbabwe have been treated in recent history. Ariel Sharon and Yasir Arafat are both unseemly characters, but their two sides must cool down and pursue the late Yitzhak Rabin’s dream of a lasting, viable peace whereby Palestinians can live in freedom, liberated from the chains of a stifling occupation, and Israelis can live with out terror and finally gain some sense of international acceptance and legitimacy. The only way to achieve these goals is to secure a credible independence for the Palestinian people and only Israel can deliver this. In the meantime, in the face of extremism and fear, advocates for human rights and social justice from Jerusalem to Williamstown admirably show no sign of giving up the hope that one day, the Palestinian people will breathe free, paving the way for a lasting peace for future generations of Israelis and Palestinians.