Many valid reasons for increased criticism of Israel
I do not ask these questions in order to justify any wrongdoing by Israel. Crimes have been committed and injustice continues to exist. Criticism of Israel is on the rise for many valid reasons. Netanyahu's Israel is ultranationalist, at times openly racist, and shows zero interest in moving towards a resolution of the conflict. Quite the contrary: it benefits from the Fatah-Hamas schism, and goes to great lengths to help preserve it.
It continues to deepen its hold on the occupied West Bank while releasing inflammatory statements about annexation. It is prolonging a cruel siege over Gaza’s population, having long since ceased to argue that this policy is aimed at toppling Hamas' rule. Israel’s current government colludes with radical right-wing organisations and it passed the "Nation-State law" – a humiliating gesture towards its non-Jewish citizens.
I do understand the urge to align with, and amplify, voices of the oppressed – and Palestinians are oppressed. Anyone is entitled to make concrete demands of Israel. But educating Jews as to where they are (and aren’t) indigenous, or urging them to "de-colonise" their own identities, is not a concrete demand. Furthermore, it has no moral validity when coming from members of societies that have expelled or murdered their ancestors, such as Germans or Austrians. It's that simple.
Finding other ways to care for Palestine is neither impossible, nor is it too much to ask. Criticism based on knowledge and recognition of the conflict's complexity might help. Projections, simplifications and prejudices hinder the prospects of finally resolving this tragic conflict and preventing more deaths and dispossession.
It’s clear that most Palestinians have no understanding for Zionism. Its realisation eventually came, to a large extent, at their expense. Their national nemesis indeed happens to be a Jewish one. Some Palestinians are willing to consider the points I raise; some are even noble enough to find empathy for their adversary’s perspective. Most do not, and that’s understandable.
People who are not Palestinians, however, do have a moral obligation to reflect on the questions that I pose before denouncing Israel as merely "colonial". This is not about silencing Palestine solidarity or policing its language, it's about urging everyone to examine the situation critically, rather than repeat bite-sized slogans. Just like I expect people to question the idea that everything Israel does in Gaza is "self-defence". It's no different.
Activist jargon excludes most Jews
Activists should understand that wearing "Israel is colonialism" as a banner alienates them from most Jews. Within Europe, that means small communities of descendants of genocide survivors, exposed to increasing anti-Semitism. It creates an atmosphere that condemns most of them, including peace-seeking moderates, for not subscribing to "anti-colonial" jargon vis-a-vis Israel.
It sets up a litmus-test that they must pass in order to earn their place in the "community of the good". It baffles me that there’s a vocal part of the Left, renowned for its sensitivity towards minority groups, that simply doesn’t seem to be bothered about that. The politics of Jeremy Corbyn and other "anti-imperialist" movements are emblematic of the phenomenon.
And one last note: no, the situation is not symmetrical. Israel is a sovereign state and a military superpower, and that must come with responsibility and accountability. But ending the occupation does not necessarily guarantee peace. It could be followed by conflict between two states or civil war within one state. Therefore one symmetrical element does exist: genuine, enduring reconciliation must be based on the mutual acceptance of the other collective's legitimate existence here.
Both peoples have very good reasons to feel bound to nowhere else but this land. Israeli Jews will never leave, nor will they ever internalise that their presence and self-determination in the region is nothing but brutal colonialism, no matter how many "open letters" are published by scholars. Palestinians will never leave, nor will they ever accept a future as second-class "guests" on exclusively Jewish soil. Both are right. If you care for the future of people here, stop fuelling these fantasies.
© Qantara.de 2021
Noam Yatsiv is a Haifa-based teacher and tour guide working with educators, academics and other visitors to Israel. He graduated from a regional studies programme at the University of Haifa, and also holds a degree in Music Composition from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.