Calling Emma Watson antisemitic makes it harder to fight bigotry

Making hyperbolic accusations only emboldens those who insist that supporters of Israel use allegations of Jew-hatred in order to silence criticism of the country’s government

January 06, 2022 09:20

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times, and quite often from perfectly good people. That this or that accusation of antisemitism is likely to be false because the charge is so often used simply to silence the critics of the Israeli government. Then, painstakingly (if you’re even given the opportunity) you can explain why using this trope or that characterisation is in fact as anti-Jewish, as are those other tropes and characterisations about black people or the Irish or gay people. Criticism of Israel as a country, its government and its policies are not antisemitic. That’s not the problem here.

So that’s our stage. That’s where we find ourselves. At which point this week entered two characters. Our first is the popular actress Emma Watson. Ms Watson has millions of fans worldwide. Far more people the world over can name her than can tell you who the current prime minister of Israel is. She has 28.8 million followers on Twitter. Mr Bennett has 470,000. When you tell her fans that Ms Watson is a thing, many of them are likely to assume that this is a good thing to be.

Anyway Emma Watson is an activist thespian in the George Clooney tradition. Finding herself with both absurd amounts of fame and money at a young age, and probably being all too aware of how absurdly easily it was gained, she too is in permanent paying-back mode. Her causes are many. She has promoted education for girls in places where men prefer the women to be chattels. She is active in the movement to save the planet. She has campaigned against bullying. Stopping briefly to do some acting and meditating, she has pursued her many causes with a high level of commitment.

If such a person had not supported the Palestinian cause (ie the desire of Palestinians not to live under Israeli occupation and to have their own state), then the Palestinians could justifiably have felt left out. She supports just about everyone else.

So it was that she tweeted the sentence ,“solidarity is a verb”, over a picture of what clearly was a peaceful demonstration in support of the Palestinians. This was accompanied by a quotation including the sentiment that solidarity involves, “the recognition that even if we do not have the same feelings or the same lives or the same bodies, we do live on common ground.” The woman could be a reform rabbi.

Two things then ensued. Number one was a pointless discussion as to whether Watson had made a grammatical error.

Number two was engendered by our second actor. Danny Danon, former MK and for five years Israel’s ambassador to the UN, thought it both useful and witty to counter-tweet, “10 points from Gryffindor for being an anti-Semite. @EmmaWatson”. Thus ensuring, if nothing else, that the actress would be the recipient of a certain amount of highly critical tweetery, almost certainly including the routine death and rape threats.

Unlike Ms Watson, Mr Dannon is not a legend in our household and I had to look him up. His record did not recommend him to me. Before he went to the UN, he was known as one of those who was so adamantly opposed to there ever being a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish one that he advocated chucking anyone of a different view out of his party.

Once upon a time, there was a lively Israeli centre left and human rights movement that took on these questions. Hamas, easy nationalism, cynicism and apathy have eroded that strand in Israel. These days, too many Israelis are content not to think about the Palestinians at all. Outside it looks different to many of those good folk I began with.

So when Mr Danon calls Ms Watson an antisemite for apparently merely suggesting solidarity with a people one of whose tribulations is to live cheek-by-jowl with Mr Danon and his political comrades, the word “unhelpful” springs to mind. Because he isn’t convincing anyone out here that she is an antisemite, but he certainly is doing a great job of convincing maybe hundreds of thousands that yes, it’s true, the accusation “antisemite” is used against anyone who criticises Israel. Or maybe just anyone who thinks that Mr Danon and his ilk are very much part of the problem and not part of the solution.

January 06, 2022 09:20

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