As Israel announced a ceasefire in its latest conflagration with Hamas in Gaza, the world sifted through the entrails to declare victors. In reality, neither “side” has won. Both “sides” have lost a great deal. There are, of course, implications for domestic politics on both sides, with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu apparently benefitting politically from the conflict and Hamas achieving their goal of seizing the Palestinian narrative from the Palestinian Authority. These factors aside, this conflict was avoidable and, when civilians die, it is morally dubious to discuss “winners.” We are deeply distressed by this latest round of hostilities and the loss of life and security experienced by all the people of Israel and Palestine.
We also note, once again, that the conflict between Israel and its neighbours seems to attract global interest that eclipses any other issue on earth – demonstrated, among other things, by the litany of United Nations General Assembly resolutions that single out the Jewish state while ignoring or giving short shrift to victimized populations everywhere else on the planet. Indeed, the overseas reactions to the events in Israel and Palestine over recent weeks are illuminating, as “pro-Palestinian” activists have taken to the streets in cities around the world, in large numbers.
Not unrelated, in recent days, there has been a horrific spike in antisemitic incidents around the world, including in Canada. Identifiably Jewish people, businesses and institutions have been attacked. Pro-Israeli demonstrators in Toronto have been physically assaulted, and rocks have been thrown at them in Montreal; there have been reports of people seeking out Jews to harass in cities across our country. Jews walking in New York City and dining in Los Angeles have been assaulted, synagogues have been defaced in Chicago, Skokie and Tucson.
Then there are those like the BBC journalist who posted “Hitler was right” or the CNN contributor who posted “the world today needs a Hitler.” Members of groups who invaded a pro-Israel rally in Chicago a few days ago chanted, “Kill the Jews.” The Anti-Defamation League said there were more than 17,000 tweets using variations of the phrase “Hitler was right.”
There is a phrase that Israel’s critics repeat like a mantra: anti-Zionism is not antisemitism. This supposed tautology, uttered as though the speakers can make something true simply through repetition, has always been problematic. Some anti-Zionism is absolutely and undeniably antisemitic, such as when it veers into blood libels, Holocaust analogies and stereotypical representations of Jews and power. Part of the reason that a large number of people are able to spout such words is that they lack knowledge or understanding of the expressions and permutations of antisemitism in previous eras and don’t have the self-awareness to see the bigotry they are obliviously replicating. That’s to say nothing of their complete lack of any awareness or knowledge of Jewish history, cultural and religious traditions, scholarship, heritage or epistemology.
Are these people anti-Zionists? Who knows. Are they “pro-Palestinian”? Well, if scaring Jews is pro-Palestinian, then sure. But there is no doubt about the other part. This is antisemitism, in its most recognizable form.
In the past days, we have seen more overt Jew-hatred and incitement to harm and kill Jews, from more sources, than most of us have seen in our lifetimes. Not criticism of Israel, mind you. Outright, murderous Jew-hatred. A number of Canadian Jewish leaders have said this time feels different.
Here is the bigger problem: while far too many people are screaming, tweeting or otherwise expressing explicitly antisemitic hatred, far more appear to be sitting on the sidelines, somehow convinced that there are complexities around the subject.
There are deep complexities in Israel-Palestine, yes. But, when Jewish people and institutions are targeted around the world because of a conflagration in Israel and Gaza, that conflict is not a cause; it’s an excuse.
Good people of the world should be coming to the aid of Jewish people. In a conflict with a genocidal terrorist entity that launches thousands of rockets at civilians, the world should stand with Israel, too, but let’s leave that aside for today. Some political leaders, religious figures and others have expressed disgust with the antisemitism and expressed solidarity with Jewish people. But we should be seeing a global grassroots uprising in defence of Jews – and we’re not.
We hope that the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas holds. We hope for a return to negotiations that will result in a just two-state solution with Israelis and Palestinians in their own respective homelands. We hope, as always, for lasting peace. And we should all commit to doing our part to end the occupation and secure a democratic Jewish homeland. But, in the aftermath of this latest “round” in the conflict, we have learned another lesson. There are many people in the world who look at explicit calls for the murder of Jews, the annihilation of Israel, assaults on individuals and institutions and conclude there are better things to devote their energies to fighting.
Of course, there are well-informed critics of Israel who are not motivated by anti-Jewish animus. But these people – whatever their numbers are – seem untroubled to be part of a larger movement that is absolutely fueled by the worst impulses. They have, almost to a person, chosen to welcome support for their cause whatever hateful strings are attached.
Recent events have shown how easy it is still – despite all our advances in the area of human rights – for so many people to slide right into antisemitism, whether from anti-Zionism or other perhaps not even conscious feelings about Jews.