Don’t mention the genocide

A demonstration in a street in central London, with banners featuring the Palestinian flag with slogans such as "Free Palestine" and "End Israeli State Terror"
Nakba Day procession, London, May 2024. (Source: PSC)

The last couple of weeks I saw a few articles on the Gaza genocide by Zionists, as well as a series of social media posts by a Canadian Instagram influencer who (although it’s not the main focus of her content) is also a Zionist, which reflects two particular trends in how they write about the ongoing conflict and the genocide stage of it in particular. The first was by Hadley Freeman, a former Guardian fashion writer who switched to the Times and to the right-wing opinion website Unherd after falling out with “The Left” over Jeremy Corbyn and the trans issue, and it was an overlong treatise on how “the Left had failed since 7/10” and it rehashed a number of familiar arguments. The second appeared in last Thursday’s Guardian and was by Dave Rich, which made the claim that there has been a “record rise in the UK in antisemitic hate incidents that began the moment Hamas attacked Israel on 7 October” and headlined (though this may have come from the editor or sub-editor rather than the author) “the 7 October Hamas attack opened a space – and antisemitism filled it”. You will notice that in both cases, the 7th October attack is mentioned as the turning point, rather than the genocide for which it served as a pretext.

Zionists seem to have a code of silence, an omertà, about the oppressive nature of Israel’s regime in the West Bank in particular. At most, they wring hands about Netanyahu and the settlers, but insist that Israel is more than just these ‘extremists’ despite the obvious fact that Netanyahu keeps getting returned to power. Palestinians resist Israeli domination because Israel is a Jewish state, because they have an irrational hatred of Jews, not because they do not accept being dispossessed of most of their lands and being oppressed and harassed in the diminishing archipelago of lands they are permitted to still occupy. Their overseas supporters, similarly, can only be motivated by hatred of Jews; of course they aren’t upset at seeing the litany of oppressions Palestinians are subjected to because they never complain about oppression anywhere else (even if they do). The other major tendency is to deny or play down the influence they have and the voice they have in the popular media. This is where our Canadian influencer comes in: in a highlight series about antisemitism mostly posted in the middle of last October, she complained that the only Jewish voices people heard were anti-Zionist ones like Naomi Klein’s (she suggested we listen to Hen Mazzig instead). This is, of course, rot: the popular press carries articles from Jewish Zionists often. The Guardian in London, for example, has Jonathan Freedland writing the most prominent opinion column on Saturday. Last Sunday’s Observer had a piece about “fearful Jewish students” written by a regular columnist called Sonia Sodha, who is not Jewish but her sympathies are obvious. The voices of Jewish critics of Israel are given more prominence than non-Jewish, let alone Arab or Palestinian ones; the two critical letters in response to Dave Rich’s article that appeared in today’s edition, for example, are both from Jews. She also complained that Jews were forever accused of playing the victim, while doing just that herself.

Freeman complains that the Left did not care about Corbyn’s supposed antisemitism, that they backed him despite opinion polls that claimed that 86% of them regarded him as antisemitic; one unnamed ‘prominent’ person told her that it wasn’t as if the Labour party intended to bring back pogroms. “The Left doesn’t care about antisemitism if they deem it inconvenient to their cause,” she complains. No: the Left would object to antisemitism if it was real, if it bore the slightest resemblance to what would be called racism if any other group was alleging it: violence or the threat of it, suggestions that they do not belong in this country or that they stole someone’s house or job, the use of racial slurs, to name three common examples (antisemitism does have some particular forms, including a set of conspiracy theories, but Zionists commonly stretch the definitions through the needle’s eye to slap down critics of Israel or its overseas lobby). A great many of the accusations were about things that were not about British Jews, or Jews generally, at all, but about Israel; what started it off was a social media post by Naz Shah, the Muslim Labour MP for Bradford, consisting of a meme in which Israel was superimposed on the central United States with the suggestion that the latter country accommodates Israel’s Jews rather than supporting them to occupy Palestine. As is usual with such descriptions of Corbyn’s Labour party, Freeman completely obscures the context, which is that their opponent was a Conservative party which had rounded up elderly Black British people and imprisoned and expelled them from the country. The ‘antisemitism’ campaign was in aid of that party, not an anti-racist party.

She then devotes several paragraphs to a critique of “identity politics”, which she claims “divides the world into two racial categories: ‘white’ (defined as colonising oppressors) and ‘people of colour’ (the oppressed)” and Jews are perceived as “ultra-white and therefore oppressive”, hence the ‘thriving’ antisemitism on university campuses. Again, she totally ignores the context: over the past 500 years or so, whites have indeed been the principal colonisers in the world, and a major source of oppression both in their colonies, from the slave trade to the Jim Crow system and ongoing race-based oppression, and in terms of regimes they supported as hegemonic powers after the end of explicit colonialism, designed to keep their populations poor and powerless. Not all oppressors are white, but white powers have used oppression to enrich their own ruling classes and empower their countries while impoverishing the majorities in South America, Africa and Asia. Freeman mentions Mizrahi Jews in Israel (populations which migrated or were expelled from other Middle Eastern countries in the decades following the establishment of the state of Israel) so as to argue that “Jews aren’t white”, but the majority of Jews in the UK aren’t brown-skinned Mizrahim but white-skinned Ashkenazim.

‘Traditional’ post-war racial doctrines defined ‘white’ as excluding Jews. This definition should have been revisited long before now, as it’s stuck in the mid-20th century. It is true that the Far Right does not consider Jews to be ‘white’ as they consider themselves, but the Far Right we knew in the 20th century as represented by the likes of the National Front, the BNP and their splinter groups is a tiny and dwindling extremist minority. The mainstream Left and Right both in the UK, the US and the rest of the English-speaking world treat white Jews as no less white than other white people. Why were complaints about “antisemitism in the Labour party” never out of the headlines the entire period of Corbyn’s leadership? No other racialised group would get such indulgent treatment when complaining about racism whether in a political party or by the police or any other institution; no other group would see people expelled from a party for simply questioning whether the volume of claims reflected the reality, as an accusation came to be treated as proof in itself and to defend oneself was deemed to be a further offence. No other religious minority has its established, ‘mainstream’ bodies accepted as arbiters of who belongs and who does not, and what thought should be associated with that community and what should not; other minorities face prosecution for using language such as ‘coconut’ to refer to disloyal members, or are at least condemned for using such language as “house Muslims”, while dissenting Jews are treated the same as non-Jews, by non-Jews, for questioning the word of the established groups and, for example, expelled from the Labour party for disputing their word on Zionism or the Labour “antisemitism crisis”. I do not dispute that prejudice exists, but Jews do not constitute a racially oppressed group in modern western society precisely because modern western society thinks of race as colour. A folk memory of oppression, fostered by families and communal schools, does not constitute oppression itself.

Freeman tells us of her ‘struggles’ with the progressive Left about the transgender issue and compares women’s oppression with that of Jews. She writes:

When we explain why we might not want trans women in our single-sex spaces, referring to past experiences of male violence, we are accused of “weaponising our trauma”. When we talk about our fear of Hamas, because Jews have some experience when it comes to genocidal fascist groups, we’re accused of “weaponising the Holocaust”.

It’s a fact that Hamas have not struck beyond the borders of Palestine; they are a product of decades of Israeli brutality against Palestinians in their own country. British and American Jews (mostly descended from Jews who migrated from Russia when the Tsars were still in power, not from Holocaust survivors) have nothing to fear from Hamas unless they choose to join the occupier. In both cases they are often weaponising other people’s trauma, not their own, as there are plenty of female trans allies and they include survivors of rape and other kinds of male violence.

Women in general — like Jews — tend not to be believed when they describe violence committed against them; according to a recent annual report from the victims’ commissioner for England and Wales, only 5% of reported rapes result in charges being brought, never mind convictions. So, when stories started to emerge fairly soon after October 7 that Hamas had committed horrific sexual violence during the pogrom, I knew the reaction would be bad.

That few reported rapes result in prosecution is not in dispute (the party that benefited from the “antisemitism crisis” has slashed funding to both police and the court system while they have been in power, resulting in reduced resources and increased delays, as well as prisoners released who are a danger to the public). As already discussed, the mainstream media and major party politicians readily believe Jewish claims of antisemitism, especially if it is against anyone on the Left (less so if the antisemite is a Tory). The reason many people were reluctant to believe the claims about atrocities committed by Hamas and Palestinian irregulars in October 2023 is because they were being made by an oppressive, racist state that was already openly preparing for genocide; there is no comparison between a woman coming forward to report rape and any claim made in wartime atrocity propaganda.

The Unherd article is an extract from an essay, Blindness, which appears in the most recent Jewish Quarterly in Australia, whose blurb brings us back to our opening theme: the silence on the Gaza genocide, on Israel’s oppression, on settler violence: 

This issue of The Jewish Quarterly explores the response of the left to the Hamas attacks in Israel of October 7 and the willingness of progressives to abandon values that they purport to represent. In this crucial essay, author and columnist Hadley Freeman examines the equivocations, contortions and hypocrisy displayed by elements of the left, including many who were unable to name, acknowledge or condemn the atrocities of Hamas. Freeman looks at the beliefs and mindsets that have swept across sectors such as universities, politics, media and the arts, and resulted in a fervour that blinds its adherents to the realities and complexities of history and justice.

Freeman and the editor of this publication write as if they have no idea of why people might not be that concerned about an atrocity that is alleged to have taken place seven months ago which is dwarfed both in numbers and in sheer brutality (documented both by the perpetrators and victims) by the genocide which followed. We would all be horrified if someone was raped and/or murdered in our neighbourhood, but if relatives of the victim then went on a killing spree against people of the same ethnic background as the attacker or who just live in his neighbourhood, we might well forget about the original crime quite quickly. Palestinians are an oppressed people who have been living under a jackboot since the 1970s, experiencing military and settler harassment, an unequal legal system consisting of military kangaroo courts and a regime of arbitrary imprisonment, unaccountable murders, capricious curfews and home invasions, water theft, crop vandalism and numerous other persecutions aimed at forcing them out of their country (and any Gaza Palestinian will remember all this from the period before 2005 when Gaza also had Jewish settlements). No middle-class white woman in the London or New York suburbs, Jewish or otherwise, least of all one with a cushy media job, who thinks they are ‘oppressed’ really knows the meaning of the word.

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