By Jacob Winter, BA Politics and International Relations
With Israel’s invasion and occupation of the Gaza Strip continuing well into its 103rd day (as of the writing of this article), people have continued to take to the streets across the world to protest what is being referred to as a genocide of Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli state. Within regimes supportive of Israel, state repression has been severe, with arrests and public condemnation for anybody seen to be not duly respectful of Israel and its government. In Britain, people have been arrested on both public order violations and for “hate speech”, with the state determining heavy-handedly what qualifies as an antisemitic hate crime and what is legitimate freedom of speech. In Germany, Palestinian prisoner solidarity organisation Samidoun has been banned, while in France protests for Palestine have been banned altogether, despite Emmanuel Macron’s positioning of himself as a “neutral party” in the conflict.
One group of protestors that has faced extraordinary legal and social ramifications for their activism has been those who live within the state of Israel itself. Palestinians who live within the boundaries of 1948 Palestine, recognised internationally as Israel, have always been faced with severe repression for any form of political organisation, which has been exacerbated since October 7th. Arab Israelis who held “unauthorised” protests in Haifa were arrested, with chief of police Kobi Shabtai claiming that “Anyone who wants to identify with Gaza is welcome – I will put them on buses that will send them there.” A newer phenomenon has been strict repression of Jewish Israeli citizens who have been protesting the government. Meir Baruchin, a “grey-haired, soft spoken history and civics teacher” according to the Guardian, who posted on Facebook opposing Israel’s military operations in Gaza, was fired and arrested, detained in a high-security prison while he was investigated. Although this treatment would be not surprising for a Palestinian citizen of Israel, for Jewish citizens this treatment is unprecedented. The protests against Benjamin Netanyahu last year were noticeably absent of violent state repression, but protests against Israel’s conduct in Gaza have led to arrests and violent attacks by Zionists against these protestors. One such protestor is Tom, a friend of mine who I’ve been in regular correspondence with for several years. The following is an interview I conducted with Tom about the repression of anti-zionist Jews and peace demonstrators within Israeli society.
Would you describe yourself as an Anti-Zionist?
“Yes, I reject the idea of the state of Israel.”
As a Jew born in Israel, how does that factor into your aforementioned politics?
“I identify as an Anti-Zionist and while ultimately, I am against the idea of nation-states, I advocate for one Palestinian state from the river to the sea as an alternative and a solution to the current existing occupied Palestinian territories by Israel.”
Following October 7th, has the experience of Anti-Zionists in Israel changed?
“Yes, very much so. Following the 2022 Israeli general elections and the re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu, and later his move to override the judicial system to save himself from prison and grant his position even more power over the country, the anti-Netanyahu protest movement was gaining momentum. This movement, which was comprised mostly by Center right to more left-leaning Zionists, contained in it what is popularly referred to as the “Anti-Occupation bloc”, a coalition of left and far-left groups whose main objective was to bring the occupation and plight of the Palestinian people to the forefront of political discussion in Israeli society. This movement within the larger protest was itself growing and ‘riding on the wave’ of anti-Netanyahu sentiment to increase discussion and awareness of the occupation. For a while, just weeks before October 7th, it seemed as if the tides were finally starting to shift, as more and more people began realising the criminal actions of Israel against the Palestinians. Unfortunately, After the October 7th attacks, a counter-wave of Zionists flocking rightward has begun, justifying the starvation and relentless bombing of the Gaza ghetto. This included many who identified as “leftists” and “Left-Zionists” including journalists and politicians. In retrospect, this was to be expected of anyone who identifies as a Zionist, but still, there was hope, for example, that the people who refused to enlist to reserve duty because of the Netanyahu judicial reform would follow up on their word. Sadly, when push came to shove, they donned their uniform and carried out criminal attacks in the name of the Israeli state and unity between Zionist factions.
Unsurprisingly, the war only increased Israeli state repression against the anti-Zionist groups in Israel tenfold. Where previously meetings and protests of these factions were at the very least, permitted, now they’re not approved, and even when they are, they’re not without the police checking every individual sign at a protest to make sure no message is too radical.
The attitude of the average Israeli to anyone who identifies as a leftist has also worsened. It should come as no surprise that “leftist” has been an insult in the eyes of Israelis for decades now, but following the war, it has become normal to attack and send death threats to anyone who publicly voices their support to the Palestinian people or even the mildest anti-war stance. Even though I am speaking from my own experience, it is important to mention this situation is even harder for the Palestinians of the 1948 territories, who are being fired from workplaces, attacked in the streets and arrested for any social media post that is interpreted as praising Hamas, this can even come down to sharing a line from the Quran.”
What sort of hostility, if any, have you faced as a result of these politics?
“During peacetime, I mostly felt hostility from the side of my family and friends, who were at least disapproving of the ideas I believed in, and at most stopped talking to me altogether. But now during wartime, I can say that me and my friends have been attacked once in the street recently, and I know of other activists who are threatened way more often due to their faces being somewhat recognizable and themselves being more known in the country as Anti-Zionist activists.”