Over the past few decades, I’ve actively worked to combat racism and bigotry toward Jews, Muslims, blacks, gays, and various other targeted groups. My work has included increased personal/public efforts to support and defend Islam in the hours, days, weeks, and months following the 9/11 attacks. I’ve also defended Jews in federal court against harassment.
With this current story, my intention is to explore more deeply the mechanisms, spread, and manifestations of anti-Semitism including its connections with other movements. At the conclusion of this story there are some action points for activists – regardless of your position on the Palestinian / Israeli conflict.
Understanding the Timeline
For five days, Synagogues and Jewish communities in France have been under attack. At the time of writing this article, there are only two other news agencies in the world reporting on this story (Haaretz and TheLocal.fr).
It’s not uncommon for anti-Jewish hate crimes, violence, and riots to occur during dates of significance for Jewish people. So, it’s no surprise that this recent wave of mass hate crimes was scheduled on the 16th and 17th of July to coincide with the anniversary of the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup, “a raid and mass arrest of Jews in Paris by the French police directed by German Nazi authorities, code named Opération Vent printanier (“Operation Spring Breeze”), on 16 and 17 July 1942.”
Anti-Semitism and Pro-Palestinian Connection
There is a troubling connection between the anti-Jewish violence in France and the group that launched the attacks. The most recent violence, yesterday, was organized and labeled as a Pro-Palestinian gathering to take place in Sarcelles – home to one of France’s biggest Jewish communities. Knowing that this could present safety concerns, and considering the recent Synagogue attacks, the police and the city banned this and other scheduled events — including pro-Israel events.
In direct violation of the police order, the Pro-Palestinian group marched through the streets, “burned cars, attacked a television crew, and chanted ‘Allahu akbar.’”
According to one report:
“Hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters descended upon ‘Little Jerusalem,’ the Jewish neighborhood in the suburb of Sarcelles, north of Paris, on Sunday. Rioters threw a Molotov cocktail at a religious institution next to the synagogue, setting alight a Jewish pharmacy and mini-market, burned vehicles, destroyed property and wreaked havoc at the city’s train station while police tried to secure the area.” (source)
This is one example of many where a group claiming to be politically motivated, Pro-Palestinian in this case, begins to attack Jewish people and communities half-way around the world — essentially using their political cause as a front for funding, expanding and mobilizing anti-Semitism and related hate crimes.
Impact of Religious Nationalism
Given the animosity between Israel (a predominantly Jewish state) and Palestine (a predominantly Islamic state) it’s understandable that the political/military tensions would fuel anger between these two religious groups.
When such national and religious lines blur, violence can quickly spread like a wildfire, able to traverse across rivers and oceans.
violence can quickly spread like a wildfire, able to (expand,traverse, leap) across rivers and oceans
People around the world who feel strongly aligned with one religious group will feel animosity toward the other — even within their own community thousands of miles away despite no local cause for conflict.
When a predominantly religiously identified nation does something to offend and injure another nation, then the religion represented by that nation becomes targeted for attack.
Complexities of Religious Nationalism
As a result of repeated incidents like the one described above, it’s increasingly difficult to express legitimate concern or criticism about Israeli treatment of Palestinians or Israel’s questionable expansion into Palestine without being labeled anti-Semitic — even if one’s concerns are purely humanitarian.
Certainly, it’s possible to be opposed to Israel’s military action against Palestinian citizens, and opposed to the oppressive conditions imposed on Palestinians, while at the same time being pro-Jewish and generally supportive of Israel.
However, that said, it’s important to acknowledge that a small group of people, who are primarily motivated by anti-Semitic intentions, will do anything capitalize on the Palestinian / Israeli conflict. In fact, for such people, war in the region serves their purposes. Supporting and fueling anti-Israeli/anti-Jewish sentiments and actions is their agenda.
It’s naive to assume that anti-Semitic influencers aren’t involved in and influencing attacks on Israel and attacks on Jewish communities around the world. They will seek out any emotionally distraught group and capitalize on that.
Effective, Rational, and Humane Activism
If one intends to engage in effective support of Palestine or Israel (or both), then it’s essential to fight against the anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim sentiments (on either side) that arise from what is actually a political military conflict.
During times of conflict in Palestine and Israel, the respective religions will be under attack from anti-religious opportunists. It’s even possible that misinformation could be given to those in the military to result in civilian casualties that will escalate tension and vilify one side or the other. There are likely people who are interested in vilifying and harming both sides impacted by the conflict.
Military Action is Counter Productive
The current Israeli military action against Palestine, while stated to be defensive, is resulting in significant civilian casualties, and wide-spread suffering. In one Gaza community alone, “1.8 million [are] residents facing an imminent water crisis.” (source)
Whether with terrorist acts or military action, any group trying to defend itself and advance its cause through violence is engaging in counter-productive activities.
When terrorists injure and kill civilians in cafes, hotels, shopping malls, places of worship, and elsewhere, they are increasingly marginalized and rejected. The religious group they claim to be aligned with is quickly branded as a terrorist religion.
When traditional military action results in damage to hospitals, schools, homes, public utilities, and causes the deaths of women, children, and hundreds of civilians, such actions result in justifiable opposition.
In the case of Israel, the current military campaign against Palestine is either sloppy or intentionally cruel in how it is harming women, children, and civilians. The outcome of this is contrary to the best interests of Israel and world Jewry (as has been illustrated by the article above).
One must really ask if those waging the war have Israel’s best interests in mind, or if the conflict is being influenced by the military contractors and war profiteers who benefit from and depend on unceasing wars around the world.
Israel is killing hundreds of innocent Palestinian civilians in the current conflict. Each person who is killed is someone’s child, sibling, or parent. Those left behind will likely hold onto a level of perpetual unforgiveness, hatred, and rage that is unimaginable. Those who live with lost limbs or those who are permanently disfigured and maimed, these people will live the rest of their lives with an unescapable daily reminder. The questions will always come, “How did you get injured” and the answer might be, “Well, you know those Israeli Jews, they killed and maimed hundreds of innocent civilians.”
Forget about the leaflets and membership drives of anti-Jewish terrorist organizations. The recruitment outcome of Israel’s military actions is far greater than any terrorist recruitment campaign.
This is, indeed, the same problem faced by the United States when drones bomb schools, homes, and funerals of innocent civilians in Pakistan, 10 terrorists are created for every innocent civilian that’s killed or injured. This is why any sloppy “war on terrorism” only creates more terrorism.
Palestinian Reader Response
The following is a comment from a Palestinian Facebook reader (21 July 2014):
The fact of the matter is that this conflict is not Muslims against Jews or vice versa. It is Israeli occupation against occupied people. It is a human struggle that is sometimes expressed in a religious language. [Yet] The Israeli propaganda and it’s media friends in America like to frame it this way.
If the occupiers who took the land and drove Palestinians out of their homes and killed hundreds of thousands and made millions of them refuges were Muslims the Palestinians will fight them in the same manner.
It is a lot more complex than the media tries to simplify it to the average American as Muslims just hate Jews.
Other Reader Response
The following feedback is from another Facebook reader (22 July 2014):
An interesting read.
While I think the title appropriately describes what inspired your article in the first place (the riots), it further incorrectly solidifies the dominant narrative in the U.S. that somehow the State of Israel is the victim in the current wave attacks on Gaza, undermining what you are trying to say through the rest of the piece a bit.
I think you are trying to set the right tone for the discussion of this topic, but there isn’t always a need to balance things; some actions carry more weight than others. We should always, as you point out, keep from diminishing the weight of our position by resorting to slurs and stereotypes, but this should be a point of order in resolving this, not the focus.
Nit-picky me would also change slightly to this “violence can quickly spread like a wildfire, able to (expand,traverse, leap) across rivers and oceans”.
Action points for effective activism:
- Acknowledge, respect, support, and embrace the dominant religious and cultural traditions of both Israelis and Palestinians.
- Insist upon respectful dialog.
- Don’t align with or receive support from anti-Jewish or anti-Muslim groups even if it seems to advance your cause.
- Support the Jewish people’s right to a home land and to defend it.
- Support the Palestinian people’s right to a home land and to defend it.
- Do not participate in or support ‘peacetime’ land-grabbing in Israel or anywhere else in the world. In fact, denounce such activities.
- Denounce inhumane militant violence and acts of unfounded targeted aggression toward any civilians (sometimes referred to as terrorism).
- Do not participate in or support any kind of prosecution or oppression of peoples based on anything (race, gender, religious beliefs, etc.).
- Learn, promote, and defend the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
For additional information about the Palestine-Israeli conflict, read “Palestinian and Israeli Narratives of History and Conflict.”