Tag Archives: Ali Abunimah

March against racism towards peace

Heads of state take part in the march. Photograph: Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images

Heads of state take part in the march. Photograph: Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images

Against the background of the unity march in Paris, which brought two million people together in support of liberty, freedom of expression, and in opposition to terrorism, some people found an additional element of hope in the proximity of Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas among the marching dignitaries.

Children of Peace, an organization that helps “Israeli & Palestinian children build friendships through the arts, education, healthcare & sport in the hope this will lead to a peaceful future,” Tweeted a message of hope, reading the photo as a picture of potential peace. It would of course be lovely to be able to read into the solidarity expressed at the march a renewed solidarity between the leadership of Israel and Palestine in the struggle for peace.

But Twitter isn’t such a forgiving space, hardly a site for dialogue and reconciliation. Almost as soon as it was noticed how close Abbas and Netanyahu were to each other, other Tweeters were quick to condemn both of them as murderers.Capture

Very soon afterwards, one of Netanyahu’s office’s Tweets with a photo of the scene that cropped out Abbas prompted comments from various bloggers who read it as a snub throwing cold water on any hope for renewed negotiations. Alternately, another shot caught what appeared to be the coldest of visual exchanges between the two.Capture

Indeed, Netanyahu’s motivations for attending the march have nothing to do with hopes for peace. First, there are the reports that in spite of the wishes of the French government, he decided to travel so as not to lose face in his upcoming electoral competition with other Israeli politicians who announced that they would travel to Paris. So, the French invited Abbas.

More significant are a flurry of comments about the cynicism and opportunism of Netanyahu’s solidarity not with the radical, universalist values of the French republic – liberty, equality and fraternity – but with the victimhood of the French Jewish community. Netanyahu went to Paris not in human solidarity against racism and bigotry, but as an advocate of particularist Jewish nationalism, of Zionism in the form of emigration to Israel as the solution to anti-Semitism. Even before Netanyahu has spoken at Paris’ central synagogue, French Jewish leaders called on him not to treat the occasion as a platform for a call to emigration. Chemi Shalev in Ha’aretz echoed French Prime Minister Valls’ sentiment that France would not be France without its Jewish citizens, adding that a ‘Judenrein’ France would be a victory not only for the terrorists but also for the Nazis and Vichy regime. In the same newspaper Anshel Pfeiffer pointed out how the insecurity of French Jews played into the hands of the Israeli right-wing. And Allison Kaplan Sommer, blogging on the same Israeli site, accused Israeli politicians of “insensitive self-serving opportunism that infantilizes and undermines Diaspora Jewry” by calling for emigration in face of the anti-Semitic attack, the murder of Yoav Hattab, Yohan Cohen, Philippe Braham, Francois-Michel Saada by Amédy Coulibaly. Their comments – even if not their tone – were not far from Ali Abunimah’s blog on Electronic Intifada in which he wrote that “the idea that Jews are always alien and that hatred against them is eternal and immutable … is a fundamentally anti-Semitic one,” pointing to a “tacit alliance between anti-Semitism and Zionism,” by citing Columbia professor Joseph Massad. The writers in Ha’aretz I’m sure wouldn’t go as far as that last point (and neither would I), but in this context there is a deplorable confluence between Netanyahu’s almost direct call on French Jews (others were more direct) to abandon their homeland and move to their “historic homeland – the Land of Israel” and the anti-Semitic violence that undermines their sense of security. Just as it is vital at this time to ensure that the efforts of the terrorists, to drive a racist wedge between French Muslims and non-Muslims, be defied, so is it vital to reassert that French Jews are French citizens in every regard and for all time.

CaptureIf there is a picture of peace to be seen here, then, it is not that of Netanyahu and Abbas linking arms by a few degrees of separation. It is, rather, in the outpouring of solidarity that allows each person to bear their identity without antagonism to the identity of the other. What is true for the streets of Paris today is true for the streets of Israel and Palestine. There will be peace only when racism is confronted, when Palestinian Israelis are not blocked in their struggle for civil equality because they are “the enemy,” when the assertion of Jewish-only rights to the land is repudiated, when the demonization of Israelis by Palestinians (and others) as Jewish oppressors is dispelled, and when all have the opportunity to claim their rights, first and foremost, as citizens of the world.

Ceasefire on social media (part one)

Golda Meir saying on Arabs’ lack of love for children

Anti-Semitic images posted by GYBO on 19 November

Lior Arditi’s cartoon of “Israel in the jungle”

It is wearying, dispiriting, often sickening to be immersed in social media these days, as the Gaza “pillar of cloud” war is waged through it. There is nothing new in the media being used as weapons of war, the display of blooded bodies of dead babies as justifications for the righteousness of our way and the demonization of the evil enemy. As the state of Israel and the armed groups in Gaza battle each other, unevenly and unsymmetrically, with rockets, shells, bombs and missiles through the sky, each is also fighting and mobilizing its supporters to capture as much as possible of that vague territory called “world public opinion.” Or maybe that’s not the best analogy, as much of this propagandizing impacts only those already allied to one side – the tweets you follow and your facebook friends. Anshel Pfeffer, writing in the liberal Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, refers to Israel’s “electronic propaganda (hasbara) army” acting as a “virtual ‘Iron Dome’,” responding rapidly to criticism of Israeli military attacks on Gaza, yet only persuading the persuaded.

I have friends and family who have been mobilized into the Israelis state’s electronic army, who share facebook postings from the Israeli military and other sources, while I also follow the sites of Palestinians in Gaza and elsewhere, as well as Israeli and Israeli/Palestinian peace groups who forward reports and postings from Palestinian sources. The latter are vital for getting a fuller picture of what’s going while in Israel, since the mainstream media here are also mobilized for the war effort, as the Israeli Keshev organization for democratic media points out in its Hebrew blog.

Yet, along with the stream of disturbing, painful reports about the terrifying sounds of Israel’s ongoing aerial attack on Gaza, civilian casualties, destroyed homes and public infrastructure – of a whole, trapped society hostage to violence –  there is also a flow of angry hatred that leaves little room for the negotiation and dialogue needed to stop the violence. It’s understandable that Palestinians – and Israelis – subject to attack respond with hate and disgust themselves. Fear, violence, and grief nurture hate. But much of the condemnation, hatred and racist demonization directed against Israelis and Palestinians in this electronic propaganda war is promoted and circulated by “victims by proxy,” identification with the pain of others, but only those who are “the same side.”

A key trope of the demonization of the Other – Palestinian or Israeli – is to figure “them” as full of hatred, not “us.”  Palestinian blogger Ali Abunimah titled a blog that I’ve been following in which he posted a video report of a demonstration against the war in Tel Aviv organized by Hadash, as well as right-wing counter demonstration, on November 14th, as: “’May your children die, you dogs’: As Gaza burns, Israelis bay for blood in streets of Tel Aviv.” He focused on the right-wing messages of hate – to Israeli leftists as much as to Palestinians – at this event, not the often repeated slogan chanted at this and other Hadash demonstrations; “Israelis and Arabs refuse to be enemies.” Ali Abunimah is right that “much of the Israeli Jewish population stands behind Israel’s attack on Gaza, believing the government propaganda that Palestinians are firing rockets at Israel unprovoked while Israel seeks peace and quiet.” I and the other Israeli demonstrators there don’t speak for a consensus, even if we outnumbered the right on this occasion. And the world should be aware that such murderous speech circulates freely in Israeli culture and politics. But amplifying the message of racist hate at the expense of the voices calling not only for a cease fire but a negotiated end to the whole conflict misses an opportunity – however slight – to bring an end to the killing and injury.

On facebook I’ve been following the page of Gaza Youth Breaks Out. On Monday most of their posts were simply the names of the Palestinian casualties in Gaza – names that seldom appear in the Israeli press – as well as reports about where and whom Israeli air strikes were actually hitting. But they also posted an unattributed image, containing a stereotypical anti-Semitic image, to draw attention to the huge disparity between Israeli and Palestinian casualties.  It’s a fair point to make, given that the Israeli media directs attention only to Israeli casualties. Tens of comments on GYBO’s facebook page objected to the anti-Semitic imagery while expressing sympathy with Palestinian plight, as well as pointing to the damage such racist imagery does to the Palestinian cause. But the picture is till up there.

Such imagery and discourse does circulate in the Arab and Muslim world, providing plenty of ammunition for the Israeli electronic army’s charge that Hamas and the Palestinians are driven by racist hatred, being by nature implacable enemies of Israel and Jews. An image and saying of former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir circulating among the Israeli electronic army illustrates clearly the sense of moral superiority that accrues from considering the other to be hateful and oneself peaceful. It goes further than to say that the main obstacle to peace is “Arab” (Meir notoriously refused to acknowledge the existence of the Palestinian people) hatred. It dehumanizes all Arabs by implying that they don’t love their children the way “we” do, an absurd and foul generalization.

Another example of racist dehumanization in the Israeli electronic army’s arsenal is to figure Israel as the civilized human living in a dangerous jungle. While the cartoon by Lior Arditi uses Disneyesque figures rather than depicting Arabs as frightening wild beasts, and unwittingly lends support to the argument that Zionism is colonialism by picturing the Israeli in a pith helmet (as Arditi later realised), it’s racist connotation that justifies killing the “Arab animals” is clear.

Lost in this exchange of hostile, hateful imagery is the capacity to feel the pain of others, of those on the “other side.” Without empathy for suffering across the lines of hostility, without the capacity to imagine our foes as deserving peace, we are condemned to continue to justify our own hate, anger and violence by projecting all that ill-feeling onto the other side. Without dwelling on the grounds and contexts for the levels of hatred, fear and mistrust that do exist, we trap ourselves in a cage with an enemy we believe to be hateful by nature. So, along with a ceasefire of rockets and bombs between the actual (but asymmetrical) armed forces, we also need a ceasefire of the exchange of hostile imagery. No more warfare, no more image-fare.