By: Benjamin Jackson, MSc Violence, Conflict and Development
Supporting Palestinian rights or being a moderate activist in support of Palestinian nationalism is not anti-Semitic, nor is it a crime. Yet recent events in the US suggest otherwise.
In September last year, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) in Alabama awarded world-renowned scholar, activist and author Angela Davis the Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award. She has now had this honour stripped, and the gala awards event in February has been cancelled. The award was rescinded because of protests from the local Jewish community. A letter was also sent to the BCRI by the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center. The letter read: “Angela Davis’ recent outspoken support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, is very troubling as it targets the Jewish people excessively”.
Davis has often promoted Palestinian rights, in her book “Freedom Is a Constant Struggle” she drew parallels between the current Palestinian predicament and that of black people in the 20th Century.
This has created a dangerous zeal: anti-Semitism is condensed to anti-Zionism and thus, pro-Palestinian activists such as Davis and Tlaib are revoked
The move has sparked outrage in the US, with most backing Angela Davis, including the Jewish Voice for Peace who released a statement saying, “the decision seems to stem from a misinformed view that to advocate for Palestinian human rights is somehow offensive to the Jewish community”. The academic community has also voiced its dismay; over 350 academics have signed a letter criticising the BCRI. Three members of BCRI’s hierarchy have resigned over the scandal, and since apologised.
In a coincidentally analogous case, the first Palestinian-American woman to serve in Congress, Rashida Tlaib, has also been criticised for recent pro-Palestinian views. A well-known supporter of the BDS movement, Tlaib has been accused of anti-Semitism and an advocate of Hezbollah by tweeting that people supporting a bill protecting states that penalise Israel boycotters have “forgot what country they represent”.
These two cases are symptomatic of the propensity of the West to manipulate pro-Palestinian narratives. The Western establishment, including many corners of US society, are standing by Israeli claims that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. The issue with this is that it is a complete misinterpretation; if anything, it is anti-Zionist. However, reducing anti-Semitism to anti-Zionism is favourable: it suits the Western establishment, its foreign policy objectives, and relations with Israel.
This has created a dangerous zeal: anti-Semitism is condensed to anti-Zionism and thus, pro-Palestinian activists such as Davis and Tlaib are revoked.
European governments, especially those of Germany and Austria, are also standing by Israeli claims that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. In doing so, and through a great deal of contortion, they are able to shift the blame and ‘origin’ of anti-Semitic behaviour from their predecessors to current Palestinian movements such as BDS. Concomitantly, this also covers up continued far-right anti-Semitism in their own countries.
These stories are manifest examples of the ways in which Palestine’s voice is continuously undermined within the international community and how it is shaped into the mould of the foreign policy agendas of Western governments. This consequently damages Palestine’s nationalist struggle whilst the Zionist cause is further strengthened.