Alex Hearn

You can’t say anything about Israel any more

It is true that people are being silenced in this debate, but it isn’t the people you think

March 02, 2023 15:20

When the Labour official Vivien Burke’s social media account was recently exposed, her posts contained both an extreme focus on Israel and claims that “no one is allowed to criticise Israel”. Burke blamed her imaginary silencing on “a very powerful smearing machine”, which sounds like a cross between something you buy at B&Q and Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene’s fantasy about Jewish space lasers.

It is a claim beloved by antisemites and unwittingly contains a grain of truth, because some people have indeed been silenced. But first, let’s take a look at a few of those who appear to have miraculously escaped the censor.

First are the “hate washers”. These are people for whom Israel can only ever pretend to do good things, so that it can secretly do evil, selfish things. Alongside Israel’s immediate aid and rescue efforts following the recent devastating earthquake affecting Kurdish regions in Turkey and Syria came the inevitable conspiracy fantasies about the Jewish state. Some people imagined that Israel was somehow responsible for the death toll, orchestrating events in order to improve their image on the international stage by rescuing people trapped under rubble.

The positive effects of liberal values in Israel are frequently depicted as a devious lie. Rights for gay people have been called “pink washing”, rights for women “purple washing”, ecological efforts “green washing” and veganism “vegan washing”. Al Jazeera reported that Radiohead’s concert in Israel was “art washing”, Jacobin magazine that the beverage industry was “wine washing” and the Guardian that a cycling competition was “sport washing”.

This approach means that everything Israel does can be interpreted as immoral or wicked.

Even abiding by the law can be criminal. An Israeli who gave a talk at a US university recounted how a professor had condemned the Israeli Defence Forces as racist because they didn’t rape Palestinian women.

Then there are the straightforward hypocrites. Barcelona’s mayor recently decided to cancel the twinning of Barcelona with Tel Aviv, citing Israeli human rights violations. Israel has its problems, but the Human Freedom Index, which measures rights and liberties globally, showed it scoring in the middle of the list of countries Barcelona has twinning arrangements with. Meanwhile, the mayor didn’t halt Barcelona’s twinning arrangements with cities in Russia, China and Iran.

There is a permanent inquisition against Israel at the UN. Breaking their own rules for impartiality, the commissioners have records of extreme anti-Israel positions and for antisemitism. The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) includes regimes with the worst rights records like China, which enjoys immunity while obsessively condemning Israel. The UNHRC has even blamed Israel for Palestinian men beating their wives, while omitting to mention that official Palestinian TV has regularly broadcasted preachers instructing men on how to beat their wives.

So who has been silenced from speaking about Israel? In reality it is those who defend themselves from anti-Jewish hatred — mainly Jewish people in the diaspora — who are often compelled to remain silent. You can’t easily criticise the actions of the Israeli government if you’re constantly fighting off preposterous allegations that treat Israel as uniquely evil and veer into classic antisemitism. Most Jews support the existence of Israel and don’t want their views distorted, supplying cheap ammunition to those who want to dismantle the Jewish state.

Many diaspora Jews, for example, are upset and angry about the far-right elements in the latest Israeli government, to the extent that some won’t even visit until they are replaced. But where is the space to express those concerns in non-Jewish spaces, when Israel has been accused of being an illegitimate fascist or Nazi state for decades?

Getting Jews to shut up has been a particular success of anti-Zionist ideology. It doesn’t help Palestinians or pressure Israel into making reforms. It does the opposite, cheerleading hate and silencing Jewish voices because it has made it so difficult for rational criticism to be voiced.

The Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC) recently posted a digital pamphlet to their 18,900 followers, claiming that Zionists (almost all British Jews) are a “racist minority” who are immoral, insane and responsible for “genocide”. They called on people to get “Zionists” sacked from their jobs. This campaign of demonisation and exclusion has echoes of 1930s Germany, serving to remind us exactly why a Jewish state is necessary.

Amnesty used Valentine’s Day to accuse Israel of a “war on love”. A week later, Hulk actor Mark Ruffalo told his 8.3 million followers that Israel was “dangerous to world peace”. Yes, you can’t say anything about Israel anymore.

Alex Hearn is a director at Labour Against Antisemitism

March 02, 2023 15:20

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