Around the middle of last month, John Cusack, the popular Irish-American actor and Golden Globe Award winner, long known for his support of Palestinian rights, retweeted a meme depicting a hand, stamped with the Star of David, pushing down a group of people. The meme included the quote, To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticise.
Predictably, that caused an uproar in the American media. After Cusack initially brushed criticism that the meme was anti-Semitic, saying he mistook it for an account advocating Palestinian rights, he deleted the image and apologised.
I lost a large extended family to fascism and racism. By endorsing the motion alleging that BDS is anti-Semitic, you [German parliament] are criminalising the right to free speech and dissent, along with those who choose to exercise it, which is exactly how fascism takes over. You also trivialise the real meaning of ant-Semitism.
Then two weeks ago, in an even more high-profile case, the Open Source Festival in Dusseldorf, Germany, disinvited the black American rapper Talib Kueli, which led to the cancellation of his Germany tour, after he refused to denounce the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement. That prompted 103 notable figures in the United States, including musician Peter Gabriel, director Boots Riley, actor Mark Ruffalo, and author Naomi Klein, to send an open letter to The Guardian registering their outrage at the treatment meted out to the popular rapper, and dismay at the position, officially embraced by the German government, that identifies support for BDS as an act of anti-Semitism.
The signatories reminded readers of an address that Dr Sarah Roy, of Harvard University, a leading Middle East scholar and a descendant of Holocaust victims, had recently delivered to the German parliament: “I lost a large extended family to fascism and racism. By endorsing the motion alleging that BDS is anti-Semitic, you are criminalising the right to free speech and dissent, along with those who choose to exercise it, which is exactly how fascism takes over. You also trivialise the real meaning of ant-Semitism.”
But from the very outset — from day one after Israel was established in Palestine — that was the invidious intent of that entity’s founders: To squash dissent by equalising criticism of Israel with the harbouring of racist sentiments against Jews, that is, anti-Semitism. And what self-respecting individual wants to go around bearing a cross — a stigma — like that? Thus, mum is the word.
That, I say, has been the intent of the founders of the Zionist experiment in Palestine. Consider how Abba Eban, once Israel’s foreign minister and its ambassador to Washington and the United Nations, who died in 2002 at age 87, did not, in this context, mince words when he reminded his fellow Zionists: ‘One of the chief tasks in the dialogue with the Gentile world is to prove that the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is no distinction at all.’ A Gentile critical of Israel is anti-Semite. A Jew critical of Israel is a self-hater. Case closed.
Take the case, in Britain, of the legally non-binding definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). No one in his liberal right mind would disagree with the definition of anti-Semitism, namely, a centuries-old form of discrimination against and hatred of Jews. The Labour Party, including its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, adopted the definition in IHRA in full, rejecting only the addenda, known as Illustrative Examples, which were perceived to stifle debate about, including criticism of Israel, since “targeting Israel” is defined therein as being anti-Semitic. That didn’t go down well. (Corbyn, you must by now know, unless you live on Mars, is dismissed as an anti-Semite by leaders of the Jewish establishment in Britain.)
David K. Adler, writing in the distinguished literary and political quarterly, Boston Review, last September, said: “One striking feature of the anti-Semitism panic [in Britain] is how seamlessly British pundits and Parliamentarians take Judaism … to be synonymous with the political project of Zionism. Sometimes this effort is implicit, as in the Daily Mail’s smearing of Jeremy Corbyn’s secretary, Nicolette Peterson, for speaking out against ‘Israel-supporting MPs’. Other times it is explicit, as in Jewish writer David Hirsh’s recent column in the Jewish Chronicle [where he asserted that] the trashing of Israel is a trashing of us all.”
Adler, who is Jewish, continued, hitting a personal note: “From the outside, it can be difficult to appreciate how hard it is for Jews to develop a full-throated critique of Israel. My religious community considered my own criticism myopic, or sociopathic or — most commonly — evidence of self-hatred.”
Meanwhile, let’s not forget the law of unintended consequences, positing the notion that certain actions taken by people, and often by polities, ironically always ends up having unanticipated, often at times perverse effects. In the long run, it appears Zionists are in for a surprise.
Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.