It’s not antisemitic to demand an end to mass murder…

As a law-abiding, retired school teacher, it came as a surprise to discover last week that I was part of the ‘mob’ that is threatening democracy – if you can believe our PM, Rishi Sunak. His Friday night condemnation of those of us who refuse to sit quietly as the children of Gaza are murdered is mainly based on the claim that marchers intimidate the country’s Jewish population by using the slogan ‘From Gaza to the Sea, Palestine will be free’.

In Westminster, as well as on Twitter, we see people arguing that questioning the existence of Israel under its current form is ‘antisemitic’. This is untrue.

The IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of Antisemitism is as follows:

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Criticism of Israel is NOT included in this definition, but the IHRA website goes on to state that examples ‘could, taking into account the overall context, include:’ 

  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

The highlighted words above are important – neither of these actions on their own is proof of antisemitism – context matters.

We all know the history of N. Ireland – trying to turn N. Ireland into a ‘Protestant State for a Protestant People’ was rightly be regarded as the road to instability and likely to encourage discrimination against minorities. To say that we can never question the current constitution and boundaries of a ‘Jewish State for a Jewish People’ seems ludicrous. (If you feel this is an unfair comparison, check out this link.)

Whatever the initial ambitions of those setting up Israel, a state that is constantly at war, fighting for its life according to its leader, is not stable; it has never been able to accommodate the Palestinian community, but continues exercise power over them. After watching the behaviour of the Israeli army towards Palestinians in the West Bank and in Gaza, it is hard to believe that the Israeli security forces could ever be trusted with the welfare of the Palestinian people.

This does not mean that Israel needs to be dismantled, or that its population (many of whom were born in Israel) should be forced to leave. What it does mean is that as Israel and Palestine move slowly towards a political settlement, the need for stability and peace is more important than maintaining the current political setup. Accusations of antisemitism should not be used to limit discussion of peaceful options, but anyone suggesting a solution that involves uprooting millions of people probably needs to be more realistic.

From the River to the Sea, what we want is peace.

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