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War of words stokes furnace of Middle East

Date

Danny Ben-Moshe

This week's chants about gas chambers and Hitler mark a shocking new low in hateful attacks on the Jewish people.

Illustration: Andrew Dyson

Illustration: Andrew Dyson

The latest Israel-Palestinian conflagration has led to the crossing of new anti-Semitic thresholds with the potential to take us down a dangerous path. It is a path laid not with bombs and bullets, but with loose and manipulative language. Anti-Israel arguments no longer just criticise Israeli policy, which is of course legitimate, but have morphed into an anti-Semitism where the nature and consequence of the putative criticism of Israel has turned into a pretext to attack Jews. 

Fuelling this anti-Semitism is the insidious false notion that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza – however terrible the fighting and loss of civilian life in Gaza, it is not genocide. Redefining genocide to suit an anti-Israel agenda paradoxically opens the way for genocide to be repeated. 

If Israel is “Nazi” and “genocidal”, Israel’s self-defence is immoral and illegitimate, while attacks on Israel and her co-religionists supporters around the world become moral and legitimate. 

This is evidenced by the cacophonous chants of anti-Israel protestors in Europe: “Hamas, Hamas, gas the Jews” and “Hitler was right”. Several Jewish organisations in Australia have turned on their answering machines and opened up their Facebook pages to be greeted by messages of this nature. 

The Gaza War has thus provided us with a new form of Holocaust revisionism that deflates what genocide is and inflates what is not genocide. Tied to passions of the Middle East conflict, it resonates among a broader audience than David Irving’s denial of gas chambers ever could. Indeed, this new Holocaust revisionism has created an unlikely alliance uniting progressive leftists, the far-right and many Islamic and Arab groups.

The inappropriate application of Holocaust imagery desecrates the memory of the Holocaust and is a form of anti-Semitism that denies Jews their right to own and mourn the Holocaust. As British Jewish writer Howard Jacobson said: “it is to … punish them (Jews) with their own grief ... by a reversal of the usual laws of cause and effect, Jewish actions of today prove that Jews had it coming to them yesterday ... the Jews have betrayed the Holocaust and become unworthy of it, the true heirs to their suffering being the Palestinians.” 

The language invoked in current anti-Israel protests has taken a more threatening form. The nexus between words and deeds was seen in Paris where Jews were trapped inside a synagogue as anti-Israel protesters bayed for blood. In Belgium a sign appeared on a café saying dogs were allowed entry, but Jews were not. Jews have been viciously assaulted across Europe, North America and Australia. In a Melbourne suburb known for its Jewish residents, a man of Jewish appearance was physically attacked by Arabic-speaking assailants who abused him with words about Gaza as they ploughed in their punches. These incidents would be as logical as attacking local Palestinians in reprisal for Hamas rocket attacks on Israel, but the precedent for physical violence and exclusion of Jews has been set. 

Another dimension of this language of hate is the way “war crimes” allegations are directed at Israel. What is unsettling is not just Israel being erroneously accused of war crimes – international law provides for self-defence and it is not a war crime if civilians are killed while military targets are attacked – but that so little is heard about the actual war crimes being committed by Hamas, as it explicitly targets Israeli civilians. It is a disconcerting thought that the reluctance to criticise Hamas war crimes is because putative human rights activists sympathise with them. 

As we ponder this we should not forget that the Hamas charter calls for the destruction of Jews everywhere, something that anti-Israel protesters remain deafeningly silent about. 

When a left-wing Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo says he would personally like to “shoot those bastard Zionists” and a prominent British DJ Andy Kershaw "likes" a comment that that regurgitates a traditional anti-Semitic canard arguing that media coverage of Gaza is affected by Jewish control of the media; when a mainstream Turkish newspaper, Yeni Akit, questions the right of Jews to stay in the country; and when a Jewish school in Perth is daubed “Zionist scum”, the writing is literally and metaphorically on the wall. 

The Jewish condition has been profoundly affected by these deleterious events, with fear returning as a feature in Diaspora Jewish life. The sense of belonging and acceptance in multicultural societies now feels undermined and potentially conditional. It would be like the Egyptian Diaspora being excluded because their Homeland government outlaws and persecutes the Moslem Brotherhood. 

This growing sense of alienation felt by many Jews, including those supporting a two-state solution to the conflict, is reinforced by those refusing to accept Israel’s basic right to self-defence in response to thousands of missiles. If every nation but Israel has this right a double standard is at work, and it is double standards that have always provided the litmus test of anti-Semitism. 

The current wave of protests against Israel has also brought to the fore what many Jews regard as double standards in the manifestation of human rights concerns. The current conflict has coincided with killings in Syria dwarfing those in Gaza, and an actual genocide has taken place against Christians in Iraq, yet there have been no mass street protests and minimal media comment, leaving Jews like myself to wonder whether something other than an altruistic concern about human rights underlies many of those who protest against Israel.

There are legitimate grievances on both sides of the debate in the Arab-Israeli conflict, but there is no excuse to vilify Jews and caution needs to be exercised in the language we use. While criticism of Israel does not inherently mean it is anti-Semitic, that doesn’t mean, as France’s Prime Minister recently said, that it can’t be. It is time to recognise that when terms like Nazi and genocide are levelled at Israel they denigrate their meaning and open the way for these actions to be repeated. 

Danny Ben-Moshe is an Associate Professor in the Centre for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University and a documentary filmmaker.  Twitter: @dannyb_m

254 comments so far

  • Why does The Age publish this opinionated garbage but fail to have any article representing the facts of whats been happening? 200 children are dead. Thousands are injured and stranded with no supplies. Israel has bombed homes, schools, ambulances, hospitals, power plants, journalists, mosques and even playgrounds. No where is safe and everything is being destroyed.

    It is the systematic destruction of Palestine over not just 3 weeks but many years before. This is the true definition of genocide.

    For us to not describe these action accurately but to excuse it as self defence, is what opens the way for these actions to be repeated.

    Commenter
    Damien
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    August 01, 2014, 12:55AM
    • 45 years of oppression by the Israelis' over the Palestinians with inhumane conditions which the Palestinians are forced to live in by their Military superior Israeli occupiers.

      Effectively the Gaza strip is an open air prison wit Israeli's controlling the level of food, medical aid and other important infrastructure required to maintain a decent level of human existence.

      The intricate, sprawling architecture of deception that shapes understanding of the Israel-Palestine conflict is probably unique in history. For over six decades, the U.S. Congress, successive presidents, media, public opinion, all have supported a story which portrays Israel as wholly good and innocent, while painting those resisting its violence and injustice as anti-Semites, Nazis, and terrorists. The myth that Israel is the victim of unprovoked attacks by uncivilized Arabs persists, even in the face of Israel’s brutality and violations of international law in its 45-year long occupation of the Palestinian Territories.

      Propaganda produced by Israel and the American Jewish establishment inverts reality. This is crude stuff, manifestly false to anyone who would look up information published by a multitude of respected media and human rights organizations. But omissions and outright lies are probably a deliberate tactic: deny, deny … confuse, confuse … Like Israel’s building of “facts on the ground” (settlements, roads, etc.), it gains time; the hope is that Israeli power will eventually be so entrenched in the land of “Greater Israel” that nobody will remember Palestinians ever lived there.

      Israel is the true aggressor in this conflict- the World has grown tired of Israel's pretence for Peace it's time they lived up to their beliefs

      Commenter
      George
      Location
      East Melbourne
      Date and time
      August 01, 2014, 8:19AM
    • Ah damien- no mention of the attacks on Israel by hamas eh.
      Would that be because the 2000 odd rockets they've fired don't fit your agenda?

      Hmm, no mention of the kidnap of the 3 Israeli Teens and their murder either- once again it doesn't fit with your agenda.

      Wait, wait let me guess- when arafat died and his personal wealth was discovered to be over a billion dollars you believed that he was deserving of such wealth and that the people 'he was fighting for' deserved to live in squalor?
      All the money donated from the West to the palestinian people and yet he manages to hoard it.

      Or wait, no, you believe that soda stream operating a factory that employs palestinian workers is bad because the palestinians should be getting handouts and not have to work?

      # PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE LEFTIES, do make palestinians your cause once again and do focus your energies on fixing their plight because we sooo badly need Aus money going to fund terrorism or into the pockets of ratbag leaders.
      And as for all the problems we have in Aus, just keep on ignoring them- we need local politicians who know what is best in the Middle East to make those pertinent issues their local platform:

      We need more of this from the left:
      Q "What is your position on welfare dependency in remote aboriginal communities?"
      A "I support tax dollars going to palestine... sending it direct to this mail address I have.

      Ha ha haha, oh it's too funny- You don't know how to fix prob's here but as always you know what's best for others.

      Commenter
      Alex
      Location
      Finley
      Date and time
      August 01, 2014, 8:52AM
    • yeah, yeah, yeah... I hate to see innocent people hurt as much as anybody. But Hamas should NOT have started an argument they cannot finish ! Everybody knows it is using these civilian casualties to put Israel in bad light. If not for Israeli umbrella defence, their civilian casualties would have been just as bad. So don't go boo-hoo because Israel pack a heavier punch! Also, I feel every young Palestinian boy and girl would have been brain-washed into a global hater by age 10 !

      I am not a Jew, I just cannot help admiring them. They have done much much more for the world than all their adversaries combined !

      Commenter
      ycleong
      Location
      3840
      Date and time
      August 01, 2014, 8:56AM
    • Damien, I know about the many deaths in Palestine from reading lots of articles in The Age. The Fairfax press has in fact been heavily criticised in some Australian Jewish media for some elements of its coverage of the conflict. The publishing of this piece, which does not seek to defend Israel but to lament manner in which some have chosen to vent their displeasure, hardly constitutes evidence of bias on the part of The Age.
      By the way, according to the Oxford dictionary, the definition of genocide is “The deliberate and systematic extermination of an ethnic or national group.” It is a word of Greek etymology, combining “genus” (relevantly defined as a kind, class, order, tribe, etc) and -cide (meaning the killing of). Israel is certainly killing people in its (I think heavy handed) attempts to stop attacks by Hamas. It is true that, as those attacks are coming from areas populated by Palestinians, the casualties are Palestinians. It is appalling (and Israel is doing its own interests great harm in the eyes of met of the world). However, I can see no way in which the Israeli response can be characterised as an attempt to systematically destroy all Palestinians. That is unquestionably (unless you're David Irving) what the Nazis expressly intended to do to the Jews. There is a big difference.

      Commenter
      Desafinado
      Date and time
      August 01, 2014, 10:01AM
    • Alex please stick to facts before you go off on a random lefty bashing rant. The three settlers were not kidnapped by Hamas. Israeli officials have admitted this. The Hamas rockets started firing after Israel used this random murder to start torturing and killing Palestinians, arresting thousands and preventing many hundreds of thousands from going to work. These 2000 rockets have killed at worst 2 Israeli Civilians and 60 military, compared to over 800 Civilians and 600 Hamas by Israel. Who are the real terrorists here?

      Commenter
      damien
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      August 01, 2014, 10:13AM
    • Palestine is being destroyed, but not by Israel. It's being destroyed from the inside out by the Palestinians & by other Islamic nations whose interest it serves to use the Palestinians as war fodder. The Palestinians have had many chances to form a nation but have steadfastly refused, citing the existence of Israel as in impediment to forming the nation of Palestine. Warped logic? I'd say so.

      Commenter
      chrissy
      Date and time
      August 01, 2014, 10:14AM
    • Yes, why does not media shows terrorists using children as live shields,and hiding rocket launchers in schools.

      Rudolf

      Commenter
      Rudolf
      Date and time
      August 01, 2014, 10:38AM
    • Sorry, but contrary to your claims, ALL The Age has been representing is how many civilians are dead and how many of them are children in UN schools. This is likely what has contributed to your view. You are barking up the wrong tree, and it's not because you're unintelligent, it's BECAUSE of the anti-Israel media in Australia.

      The fact is, rockets were found hidden in UN schools on.. not one, not two, but THREE occasions! What did the UN do? Gave them right back to Hamas - a terrorist organisation! You won't see that reported here, but it is fact and has been confirmed by the UN itself. Google it.

      Commenter
      RBB
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      August 01, 2014, 11:44AM
    • "Hmm, no mention of the kidnap of the 3 Israeli Teens and their murder either- once again it doesn't fit with your agenda."

      Alex,

      In retaliation, Zionist zealots randomly captured a Palestinian youth and burnt him alive.

      The dead youth's cousin was later brutally beaten to a bloody pulp by Israeli soldiers then arrested - this was captured on camera.

      After the Israeli targeting of schools, hospitals and designated UN mandated safe zones killing civilians, a doctor working for Medicins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders) spoke on Lateline recently about how there was no safe place for Palestinians to flee to, despite the Netanyahu government's claims.

      “Israel shouldn't feel guilty for protecting citizens”
      (ABC Lateline 30 Jul 2014)

      "First of all, the UN's Chris Gunness has told the BBC just in the last few hours that Israel had been warned 17 times that the school in the Jabaliya refugee camp was housing people who'd been forced to flee from their homes."

      www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2014/s4057586.htm?site=adelaide

      Commenter
      Tristan
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      August 01, 2014, 12:31PM

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