How to support the Jewish community without being anti-Palestinian

Supporting Jewish Left Labour Event ‘L’Chaim’ in December 2019. Photo: Alice Lubbock

JVL Introduction

Nat Sims (Natalie Stecker), from the “sleepy” Channel Island of Jersey works against racism and injustice. She abhors antisemitism, racism towards Black people, Islamophobia and the injustice that Palestinians suffer at the hands of the state of Israel.

She helped to set up and spoke at the Black Lives Matter rally on the island.  When she set up a Palestine Solidarity Campaign branch on the Island, she reached out to the Jewish community, tried to engage with the synagogue. Yet (non-Jewish) pro-Israel opponents even called for her to be sacked. (Thankfully she was not).

She is clear that “(t)here is no room in the anti-racist movement for anti-Palestinian sentiments, nor apathy towards their plight.  So as anti-racists we must commit ourselves  both to protecting Jewish communities and also to ensure that we stand against Israel’s and its supporters’ racist oppression, in all forms, against the Palestinian people.”

[This article was amended on 01/07/2020 in order to include an article by pro-Israeli Propaganda medium: ‘Honest Reporting’ in which the author features alongside Dr Ghada Karmi.]

This article was originally published by Medium on Mon 29 Jun 2020. Read the original here.

How to support the Jewish community without being anti-Palestinian

And my experiences of the weaponization of antisemitism in Jersey

2020 has continued our clear descent as an international community into neo-fascism. There are many excellent articles, that I could not hope to improve upon that have been written on this subject, so I will not cover this issue, but will recommend a brilliant book I read last year by Jason Stanley — ‘How Fascism Works — The Politics of Them and Us’. What I do want to take the time to highlight, however, is that as would be expected during such an ideological ascendancy, we are witnessing the predictable rise in hate crimes and the targeting of marginalised and various ethnic and religious communities, including Jewish communities.

In Charlottesville we saw white supremacists holding confederate flags and other symbols of white supremacy chanting “Jews will not replace us”, we have witnessed an increase in violent attacks on Hasidic and Orthodox Jews in New York, London and other European countries, some resulting in deaths. Antisemitism is rising to levels not witnessed since Europe in the 30s and 40s.

Antisemitism, like any other form of racism and bigotry, is a scourge, an evil that we must root out of all of our communities. We have a problem, however, that is endangering Jews further by using them as political footballs and it is the weaponization of antisemitism in order to silence Palestinians and protect the apartheid state of Israel, a state that, whether we can understand why people sought its creation or not, was built on ethnic supremacy and the settler colonialist model of the 19th and 20th Century. I had originally planned in this article to go into depth about the dangers of this weaponization; however, having just read the brilliant and nuanced article by Jewish writer, Barnaby Raine, in Novara Media, I have decided not to and rather attach his article.

Instead, I will share my experiences of the weaponization of antisemitism in Jersey in an attempt to make the subject of Palestine toxic, and my fears around the potential consequences of our local government capitulating to the demands of the Board of Deputies, who should not be exacting any influence over our domestic affairs.

In 2015, following a few years of supporting campaigns online, I came to the decision that I wanted to set up a Palestinian solidarity group in Jersey. The reason that I had not considered this previously was because, if I am completely honest, I was scared of how Islanders might respond and more so, how a dear and one of my oldest friends, a Jew, might react. I need not have worried in this regard. I had begun to see online what happened when individuals came out in support of Palestinian rights, it was a huge shock to me. I realised over time that I had been incredibly naïve. Having campaigned in a small way with letters since I was a teenager for the rights of others and animals, I assumed the situation would be the same, that some would wonder why I spent my precious time on such things, but that was it; after all I had only one demand — that Palestinians be treated in accordance with international law and enjoy the same fundamental rights of any other human: freedom, justice and equality. I was not anti anybody, just pro-humanity. I was wrong, so very wrong!

I learned that the Palestinian issue, unlike say the issue of Tibet, was somehow deemed controversial and was a minefield, where at any moment you could be accused, as an antiracist, of being a racist. I had to learn fast that there were all these tropes that existed that I had not been aware of previously, frankly, because I was never taught about them. Prior to becoming involved in the movement, there were 2 things I knew about the Jewish community: that the Nazis attempted to annihilate them during the Holocaust, along with the Roma and that many did not celebrate Christmas. In terms of tropes, I only knew of the crude jokes & stereotypes around having big noses and being tight, although being from Jersey the latter was also applied to islanders and actually the Scottish! However, I also came to realise that even if you had come to be educated about tropes and did what you could to ensure you did not accidentally fall foul of any of these, this was not enough to safeguard you from accusations of antisemitism. In fact, what you quickly come to understand when you take a stand for Palestine is that not even being Jewish will protect you! The weaponization of antisemitism has created a situation very similar to McCarthy’s ‘Reds under the bed’! Being in the ‘wrong’ cemetery or retweeting an article with one casual, poorly considered and constructed comment, is enough to damage or even destroy your career.

I am delighted to say that I have managed to keep my day job, but that does not mean people have not attempted to have me removed from it, they have only failed so far.

In June 2015, with the help of a local politician, a meeting was set up inviting islanders interested in the cause to attend to discuss the creation of a Palestinian solidarity group. Our meeting was attended by around 40 people, we were initially surprised at such a turnout for a small and generally politically apathetic island, but it turned out we again had been naïve. Around 25 of those who attended were staunch supporters of Israel, the vast majority were Christian Zionists with only one, we later found out, being from our local synagogue.

Despite trying to be sensitive about the issue and underscoring that our intentions were exclusively related to advocating for Palestinian rights in accordance with international humanitarian law, we had to endure being screamed at in the face by these attendees some of whom wrapped themselves in Israeli flags. I have learned from that experience, to always have a camera ready to film!

Immediately after the meeting, one of these self-proclaimed Zionists, wrote to our Chief Minister, our most senior politician, stating that my views on Palestine/Israel meant I was not fit to hold my position in the Public Sector and that I ought to be sacked. To be fair to our Chief Minister of the time, he did not take up this suggestion and acknowledged my right to freedom of speech and thus I was free to act in accordance with my conscience. Although I was required to attend a meeting with senior management to discuss the subject and how to proceed.

Following this, I was targeted in our local newspaper several times by a number of individuals, including several high profile Christian Evangelicals and the president of the local synagogue; this despite my having written to the synagogue attempting to reassure the congregation regarding my aims, recognising again the sensitivities and offering to meet them for a coffee should they feel this would be helpful.

I also had the enjoyment of reading an article by proud politically incorrect commentator, Tom Ogg, who I had met twice before. Once as a new journalist when he interviewed me on my return from my first trip to Palestine, which to be fair to him in the article, despite having made a couple of ignorant comments in our meeting, had recorded my thoughts and experiences fairly accurately and the second time, when he had been assigned with interviewing former Knesset MK and Palestinian, Haneen Zoabi and her Jewish Israeli parliamentary consultant, Yudit Ilany. Tom never wrote up this article, though I often wonder if that was because both Haneen and Yudit had denounced violence and had not been flag flyers for Hamas and rather focused exclusively on the suffering of Palestinian civilians. Tom in a later article, following clearly pinning his flag to the mast of Israeli occupation and apartheid, although not naming me, but ensuring I was easily recognisable, referred to me as a “self-righteous bore” and “rabid anti-Semite”.

I also experienced being invited for an interview with the BBC on the understanding it was about the reasons for setting up the group, only to find out later that the interview had been edited and been reframed to the subject of antisemitism and featured interviews with representatives of the local synagogue, which I felt to be deceitful and dishonest.

Since writing this article, another example of this weaponization has been highlighted to me in connection with a report in our local paper regarding my taking part in actions with Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) in September 2019.

I, alongside Dr Ghada Karmi, who visited our island to deliver a public talk on the subject of President Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’, were featured in well known Israeli propaganda resource: ‘Honest Reporting”. The article, alongside making a number of false claims, stated:

“That a Jersey branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign even exists is testament to the disproportionate and frightening amount of attention that even people on a small island give to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Demonstrating that any campaigning for Palestinian rights is deemed by some to be evidence of antisemitism. Simon Plosker, author of the article, incidentally once worked for the Israeli Military’s ‘spokesperson’s unit, as highlighted in an article by Electronic Intifada.

In addition to the aforementioned, I have also found myself ironically being accused of this form of racism by members of ‘Jersey First’, who incidentally happily promote proven anti-Semites, Viktor Orban and Donald Trump. An interesting moment for me was being called a “f*cking c*nt” by 2 of them as I walked to a work appointment, another threatened me physically online.

During my journey in Palestine solidarity I have found myself frequently asking, in what other situation would the call for rights of one people subjected to racism, be used to claim racism against another?

Things have become even more concerning in Jersey. In 2018 our government started looking at long overdue ‘hate crime’ legislation, this is something to be welcomed and could not come soon enough. When this first started being looked at by the Ministers and Law Officers, the controversial IHRA definition of antisemitism came up, the Chief Minister, however, decided that the government would not be implementing this definition as they felt that the discrimination related policies being drafted would sufficiently cover all forms of racism, including antisemitism.

This was not to be tolerated by the Board of Deputies who were consulted by parties on the island and the government was condemned in the ‘Times of Israel’ & in the ‘Jewish Chronicle’ for their decision. Following subsequent lobbying by at least this group and the president of the local synagogue and without any debate in our local parliament, the IHRA definition was accepted with all its examples by our government and there is now the suggestion it will be one of the policies looked at when considering whether a ‘hate crime’ has taken place and this of course is concerning because it criminalises everything but the weakest condemnation of Israel. Kenneth Stern the creator of the IHRA has stated emphatically that not only was the definition not to be used in this manner but additionally that it was clearly being abused in order to chill freedom of speech on Palestine/Israel.

When talking about Palestine to people of note, who may not necessarily be interested in the plight of the indigenous population, I have always argued that there is a danger to us all if we make international irrelevant, it puts all of our lives at risk because it sets a precedent. If we are unsure about this, we can look to India and comments made by their Prime Minister Narendra Modi in respect of Kashmir. It is the same principle with freedom of speech. People may not care about what happens to Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation and apartheid practices, they may not agree that Palestinians should have the same equal right to self-determination and a life of dignity in the region, but almost all will agree that Orwellian style suppression of freedom of speech is something we should avoid at all costs, because as with anything, it may start with Palestine, but it may end with any stand or opinion any government in power may disagree with and that is the thin end of the wedge.

So I will repeat what I said at the beginning; antisemitism is a scourge, as all other forms of racism and bigotry, it must be rooted out of our communities, we must not provide any space for it. We must never allow history to repeat itself, that is why Auschwitz was allowed to stay standing, as a grim and vital reminder of what happened in those dark days of fascist Europe.

In order to understand antisemitism, in the same way we learn to understand racism towards our black communities, we must educate ourselves about the true history of Europe. We must call out antisemitism and racism in general, every time it rears its ugly head. When necessary, we must find the courage to go out on the streets, as people did before us in the Battle of Cable Street and protect our Jewish and other minority communities and we do not allow neo-fascist ideology to take root, we counter it every time we see and hear it.

We keep in mind that our grandparents did not sacrifice their lives and wellbeing so that we could allow this same evil to come and decimate our society again. That is what we do!… What we don’t do, however, is allow antisemitism to be hijacked by those who support another form of ethnic supremacy, political Zionism, in order to silence Palestinians who, on the basis of their ethnicity, have suffered seven decades of incremental genocide in all its forms, including the attempted erasure of their history and very existence and who at this very moment are facing the complete loss of their land through illegal annexation, a move that will formalise what is already a de facto apartheid, an act that will permanently entrench their brutal oppression and turn the Palestinians into a people who ‘once were’.

We must be wise enough to understand that although we can appreciate why Zionism came into existence; following Jews suffering centuries of persecution in Europe, and that it meant different things at different times to different people, today in practice for the Palestinians it ALWAYS means racist segregation and oppression. It is for this very reason that many of the most racist elements and individuals in our society from the English Defence League (EDL) to Donald Trump, Viktor Orban, Narendra Modi, Steve Bannon, Katie Hopkins, Richard Spencer and Tommy Robinson identify as Zionists and hold the political ideology up as a model for white supremacists around the world.

It is also the reason why so many Jews reject Zionism, although their voices too are silenced. It is for this very reason Zionism should be open to criticism and why we must reject the conflation of Zionism with Judaism, because it holds all Jews responsible, irrespective of their views & beliefs, for the crimes being committed as a consequence of that ideology. This means we do not ignore the conflation and call it out each and every time we witness it, such as when Keir Starmer, in reference to Maxine Peake’s article in the Independent, effectively states that the Israeli Military and global Jewry are one and the same thing, which incidentally is antisemitic even according to the IHRA.

If we are truly committed to anti-racism, then it is time for us to be inclusive in our stance and recognise that we cannot allow Palestinians, nor anti or non-Zionist Jews to be hung out to dry in this debate. There is no room in the anti-racist movement for anti-Palestinian sentiments, nor apathy towards their plight. So as anti-racists we must commit ourselves both to protecting Jewish communities and also to ensure that we stand against Israel and its supporter’s racist oppression, in all its forms, against the Palestinian people.

Palestinian, as black lives, matter, precisely because ALL lives matter!

This article was amended on 01/07/2020 in order to include an article by pro-Israeli Propaganda medium: ‘Honest Reporting’ in which I feature alongside Dr Ghada Karmi.


Comments (12)

  • DJ says:

    Good stuff..The plight of the Palestinians needs to be heard. Their lives matter.

  • Benny Ross says:

    Thank you for this excellent account. You are so right about our (non-Zionist Jews) voices being silenced.

    You refer to a “brilliant and nuanced article by Jewish writer, Barnaby Raine, in Novara Media, I … attach his article. ” — but I couldn’t find the attachment. I’d like to read this too, on your recommendation.

    We reposted the Barnaby Raine article on this website here: Long-Bailey’s Sacking Shows How Antisemitism Has Been Dangerously Redefined

  • Si Denbigh says:

    Well said Nat, very well said. Thank you

  • Mary Davies says:

    Excellent article.

  • Paul France says:

    That is why I joined the JVL!!!

  • Naomi Wayne says:

    That’s a really good, brave piece, all the better for being down to earth and about real life and real campaigning. And I am lost in admiration for the author’s bravery and commitment. So it is a measure of my respect that I am going to argue with her use of one word – when the author talks of ‘seven decades of incremental genocide in all its forms, including the attempted erasure of (the Palestinians’) history and very existence’. What Israel is doing is bad enough – it doesnt help to accuse Israel of something it isnt going anywhere near doing.The 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention, defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such” including the killing of its members, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately imposing living conditions that seek to “bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”, preventing births, or forcibly transferring children out of the group to another group. The focus is clearly on killing and destruction. Even the category of ‘causing serious bodily or mental harm’ has been applied to cover situations of rape, sexual violence, sexual slavery, torture, and being forced to watch any of these. The vast majority of Palestinians have not been killed or even wounded since 1948 . They have been treated abominably, having their national identity and right to self determination destroyed, being driven from their homes, having their land stolen, being subject to dreadful contraints on their lives – in fact, the author herself provides a list. But genocide: for acknowledged examples look to Rwanda, Darfur, the Rohingya, the Yazidi, Armenia, and the treatment of Jews and Roma during the Holocaust. The Palestinian experience is of that order.

  • david bradley says:

    The next step will be the same as America where you can lose your job for criticising the Israeli government for illegal practices towards Palestinians. I believe that the Tory government along with Starmer’s Labour want to bring this in. If this happens then this country is finished.

  • RH says:

    “The 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention, defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such”

    Indeed. Just study the core of this statement; it isn’t just about physically destroying a group.

  • Philip Horowitz says:

    I suspect that most users of this site, like RH, would not agree with Naomi Wayne’s view. Indeed, it seems her own fingers disagree. Her last sentence was clearly intended to read: “The Palestinian experience is NOT of that order”.

  • Kuhnberg says:

    Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is not a single policy of event but an evolving situation that approaches closer to genocide with every passing decade. Netanyahu’s rise to power saw a significant escalation of the process, as did Donald Trump’s election and the involvement of the US evangelical Christians. The proposed US-led annexation of the West Bank is a further escalation, whereby Palestinian land will be absorbed into Israel without any compensating conferring of citizenship. In this way the Palestinians are being herded into an ever-shrinking parcel of land, subject to brutal occupation by the Israeli military. It only needs one further step to make the Palestinian genocide into a fact that no-one can ignore or deny.

  • DJ says:

    I am not an expert on this. However we need to be careful not to give any ammunition to the Israeli lobby. They could twist this to suggest we are accusing them of being like the nazis. Claims of ethnic cleansing and apartheid are undeniable.

  • William Johnston says:

    Excellent article.Thank you, particularly for this:

    “We must be wise enough to understand that although we can appreciate why Zionism came into existence; following Jews suffering centuries of persecution in Europe, and that it meant different things at different times to different people, today in practice for the Palestinians it ALWAYS means racist segregation and oppression.”

    Seeing and understanding that perspective is absolutely vital.

Comments are now closed.