Antisemitism smears are being used to silence criticism of Israel. But supporters of Palestine won’t shut up.

Mahmoud Sawalhi
Eliza Egret

Content warning: This article contains graphic descriptions of violence that some readers may find disturbing.

Take a look at this image of 11-year-old Mahmoud Sawalhi, a Palestinian boy from Gaza. In 2018, an Israeli sniper shot him in the eye. The bullet went through his brain and shot through the top of his head. Yes, you read that correctly: the bullet went through his brain and shot through the top of his head. When his father rescued him off the ground, he said that part of Sawalhi’s brain was in his hands. Unbelievably, Sawalhi survived.

An Israeli sniper is trained to target victims with absolute precision. So it’s highly unlikely that Sawalhi was shot by mistake.

Sawalhi was transferred from Gaza to the West Bank for treatment. I met him laying in hospital, without his mother. The Israeli authorities had banned her from travelling with him. Imagine how terrified he must have been, laying in that room, surrounded by strangers.

My meeting with Sawalhi will be forever etched in my memory. But there are thousands of children like him, injured by Israeli forces. At least 25,503 Palestinian boys have been injured by Israel since 2008. And there are more than 1,000 children who didn’t survive.

All the while, governments around the world look the other way. Or, even worse, like the UK, they are complicit in these murders.

The UK is complicit in the murder and displacement of Palestinians

If you’re visiting Palestine, and you tell a Palestinian person that you’re from the UK, they’ll immediately respond with the words “Balfour Declaration“. They’ll remind you of Britain’s historical role in the Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

But the UK’s role isn’t just historical. The UK government, and its mainstream media, continue to be among Israel’s strongest allies. The government attempts to shut down any criticism of Israel by loudly accusing human rights activists of antisemitism when they dare to criticise Israel or Zionism. At the same time, the UK continues to arm Israel to the teeth. After all, there are big profits to be made.

Antisemitic? Really?

Keir Starmer’s sacking of Labour MP Rebecca Long-Bailey has caused controversy in the UK. Starmer told Long-Bailey to step down after she tweeted an interview with Maxine Peake in which Peake stated:

The tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck…was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.

The interview, published in the Independent, was later amended and now states:

UPDATE (25.06.20): A previous version of this article reported that a 2016 Amnesty International report had found that hundreds of US law enforcement officials had travelled to Israel for training. Our article also implied that this training could have included neck kneeling tactics. While it is true that US law enforcement officials have travelled to Israel for training, there has been no suggestion that this training involved the tactics referred to in the article. The article has been amended accordingly.

A spokesperson for Starmer called this an “anti-Semitic conspiracy theory”. This is yet another misuse of the term ‘antisemitism’, labelling any critical mention of Israel as being antisemitic.

The Israeli police claimed that “there is no tactic or protocol that calls to put pressure on the neck or airway”. However, there is ample photo evidence showing Israeli forces using this exact technique on Palestinians:

And in 2019, Middle East Eye reported that the US police were being taught brutal Israeli “military-style policing tactics”.

Fady Khoury, an attorney at Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, said:

There is plenty of documentation out there of violent arrests that involve kneeling on detainees’ heads and necks.

We have seen this not only in the occupied territories when soldiers perform arrests, but inside Israel by police officers as well.

Keir Starmer is a Zionist

But, in fact, the purge of Long-Bailey shouldn’t come as a surprise. Starmer has been labelled a Zionist by The Times Of Israel. The Israeli newspaper quoted Starmer as saying:

I do support Zionism. I absolutely support the right of Israel to exist as a homeland. My only concern is that Zionism can mean slightly different things to different people, and… to some extent it has been weaponised. I wouldn’t read too much into that. I said it loud and clear — and meant it — that I support Zionism without qualification.

Starmer also came 14th in a poll – made by Israeli PR experts Social Lite Creative – of the Top 50 Zionist Influencers of 2020.

Moreover, The Canary has previously reported that Starmer accepted a £50,000 donation from a pro-Israel lobbyist during his leadership bid.

Weaponising antisemitism

Of course it’s possible to be a supporter of Palestinian human rights and to also be antisemitic. But being critical of Israel is not, in itself, antisemitic. And arguments like this actually dilute the term and detract from the fact that real antisemitism exists in the UK.

In 2019, The Canary’s Nancy Mendoza responded to the smear campaign against Corbyn and the Labour Party. Mendoza said:

I’m getting sick of non-Jewish people hijacking and misrepresenting my experience for their own gain. These days, that seems to be mainly for political gain against Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. …

Just to be really clear: The row over antisemitism in the Labour Party is actually fuelling antisemitism, whilst simultaneously weakening the term as it’s applied to genuine antisemitism. And it seems it was never really meant to be of service to Jewish people, anyway, so nobody gives a damn what impact it has on us. That is a very frightening development, for me.

The Canary has also been accused of antisemitism, even though a number of its staff are Jewish. Canary writer and editor Emily Apple, who is Jewish, expressed her opinion:

Honestly, it’s getting boring having to say it, but being anti-Zionist is not being antisemitic. Questioning Israel’s aggressive policies, Palestinian deaths, and illegal land occupations does not make anyone antisemitic. Protesting Israeli interests and supporting the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign does not make someone antisemitic. Being Jewish is not being Israeli, and we need to stop conflating the two.

And for me, this is where the real danger lies. Calling people antisemitic for questioning Israel creates the real problem of dismissing the rise of antisemitism; it replaces actually doing something to stop the real nastiness with a witch-hunt.

No, we won’t shut up

These constant accusations of antisemitism are an attempt to shut down all criticism of apartheid Israel. But no matter what you throw at us, supporters of Palestine won’t shut up.

To those of you who are defending the Israeli government, you’re on the wrong side of history. Future generations will look at you in horror, wondering how you could have defended such vicious apartheid. It’s time to wake up.

Featured image via the International Solidarity Movement, with permission.

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  • Show Comments
    1. In Feb RLB saying it’s antisemitic to call Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians racist. How has it worked out for her with this Zionist controlled Labour party, just asking as a non party member who resigned when they all signed up for the Board of Deputies dictat.

    2. Like every argument based upon lies, Zionism in its hunt for all critics will end up eating its own kind. Its claim that some Jews are racist anti-Semites or self-hating Jews is eating its own kind already, so what follows that will approach the absurd.

    3. RLB thought she was being politically clever by supporting the BoD’s anti-Palestinian bigotry. She learnt nothing from Corbyn’s failure; appeasement doesn’t work. Bluntly, I’m sorry she’s gone but it’s her own fault. And, by the way, she’s still trying to appease even now.

    4. Whenever I hear of “antisemitism”, I automatically assume it is someone criticizing Israel. If those who bleat on the most about it actually cared about antisemitism, they would not be crying wolf. In fact, many instances of what even the left call “antisemitism” are people who are angry at Israel, and if the Zionists say all Jews support Israel except a few “self haters”, is it any wonder?
      I also can’t rule out that some of the swastikas painted on Jewish Gravestones were done by Zionists. Zionism needs antisemitism, so they will create it where it does not exist.

    5. For a long time I have read much that says criticism of the Israeli state equates to anti-Semitism. This has always seemed wrong to me. I have no issues with other people based on their racial type and have always treated everyone the same way. Of course I have issues with the actions of governments and of specific individuals where these impact on others.
      I have tried to give the new Labour leader the chance to prove that he will champion the things that I believe but it is just not happening and I have been teetering on the edge of leaving for some weeks now.
      This article has given the final shove I needed and I will be cancelling my membership today.
      I wish that Jeremy and his allies would also quit and start a new party. In the meantime, if you feel as I do, have a look at what Chris Williamson is creating in terms of community based activity. It may be the only way to push a real socialist agenda to the fore again.
      There is nothing socialist about Keir Starmer or the party under his leadership.

    6. Maxine Peake specifically criticised the Israeli security services, albeit without evidence, but it was the Israeli security services which she targeted, and not without reason. Amnesty International has distanced itself from Maxine Peake’s claim that the Israeli security services trained US police in the stranglehold technique with which a policeman is being charged for the murder of George Floyd, and indeed Maxine Peake retracted that claim, but this is from Amnesty International’s website:

      “But what hasn’t received as much attention is where Baltimore police received training on crowd control, use of force and surveillance: Israel’s national police, military and intelligence services.

      Baltimore law enforcement officials, along with hundreds of others from Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California, Arizona, Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Georgia, Washington state as well as the DC Capitol police have all traveled to Israel for training. Thousands of others have received training from Israeli officials here in the U.S.

      Many of these trips are taxpayer funded while others are privately funded. Since 2002, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs have paid for police chiefs, assistant chiefs and captains to train in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

      These trainings put Baltimore police and other U.S. law enforcement employees in the hands of military, security and police systems that have racked up documented human rights violations for years. Amnesty International, other human rights organizations and even the U.S. Department of State have cited Israeli police for carrying out extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings, using ill treatment and torture (even against children), suppression of freedom of expression/association including through government surveillance, and excessive use of force against peaceful protesters.”
      https://www.amnestyusa.org/with-whom-are-many-u-s-police-departments-training-with-a-chronic-human-rights-violator-israel/

      Whilst Maxine Peake made a claim she couldn’t back up, both her and Amnesty International were criticising Israeli government services. To conflate this with an attack on all Jews is the eleventh example given of antisemitism by the IHRA definition: “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.” Keir Starmer has used a classic antisemitic trope by conflating Israel with Judaism in order to remove a political opponent for antisemitism that she did not express. But it’s her own stupid fault for appeasing these lunatics.

    7. If socialism is defined as getting the workers in the rich countries a fairer share of the spoils of colonialism, then, like colonialism itself, it is racist. This is Starmer’s position. He will not challenge the unjust world order created by colonialism and its underlying racism. The first principle of socialism must be to reject colonialism and to assert the equality of all people. Zionism, however you look at it, is a messianic creed of entitlement through superiority. That’s why dissident Zionists like Judah Magnes rejected it; but they were defeated. Zionism as we know it is racist and Starmer supports it without question. The Labour Party has a racist leader.

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