Monjed Al-Tarifi examines some of the accusations of terrorism and antisemitism levelled at activists, artists, and human rights bodies in recent weeks, and asks if it’s all a ploy to censor the Palestinian cause.
In January this year, B'Tselem, an Israeli NGO, declared Israel as an Apartheid state, and described it as "a regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea''. Three months later, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a similar declaration, and said: "A Threshold Crossed". I’m not sure to what extent Palestinians should welcome these reports, as they came after over 70 years of their struggle with a discriminatory and oppressive regime.
Palestinians’ problem is not just that they are suffering, but with the denial of that suffering, and the denial of their right to express and fight against dehumanisation. Palestinians have tried, and are still trying, to combat colonisation and dispossession of their land; from armed struggle to peaceful protests to reporting human rights violations. They face demonisation at each level of their struggle: armed resistance is terrorism, peaceful protests are riots and Human Rights groups are ‘terrorist organizations’.
I’m not sure to what extent Palestinians should welcome these reports, as they came after over 70 years of their struggle with a discriminatory and oppressive regime
Israeli defence minister Benny Gantz declared six prominent Palestinian Human Rights organizations as “terrorist organizations” on October 22nd. The designation is a way to silence the Palestinian voice. For decades, the reports from Addameer, Al-Haq, Union of Agricultural Work Committees, Bisan Centre for Research and Development, Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees and Defense for Children International - Palestine all offered important documents that revealed the inhumane treatment of the occupied people. Silencing such organisations opens the door for more atrocities against Palestinians in the occupied territories.
The designation tests the funders of these organizations, including the Irish government. It questions whether or not they are financing “terrorist organisations,” as designated by Israeli authorities. On the other hand, it questions them, in the eyes of human rights activists (and in front of anti-Aparhied activists), if they will respond firmly towards the designation, and show their support for those NGOs or not. So far, the official responses show the “concern” and they will talk with Israeli authorities to “learn” about the motives of the designation. Clearly, the responses did not support who’s under attack.
Simply put, the ‘terrorist’ designation is one of the Israeli tools to shut up the Palestinian voice. Another tool is the fake accusations of antisemitism.
Since its establishment in 2005 by Palestinian civil society organisations, the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement has gained momentum at the grassroots level around the world, and it has received solidarity on the academic and cultural levels. Despite its peaceful path, the movement faces backlash of several types. There are laws that limit the movement’s activities in Germany and many states in the USA, but the worst attack on the BDS movement and BDS actions are the false accusations of antisemitism.
the worst attack on the BDS movement and BDS actions are the false accusations of antisemitism
The latest example came after a decision made by Sally Rooney. She decided against selling the Hebrew translation rights to the Israeli publisher Modan to translate and publish her latest novel Beautiful World, Where Are You. The announcement caused a storm of comments that accused her stance as antisemitic, despite her stating that “it would be an honour for me to have my latest novel translated into Hebrew”. Nevertheless, a major part of the campaign against her claimed that she boycotted the language itself, which is connected to Jewish people. She was clear that she had chosen "not to sell these translation rights to an Israeli-based publishing house". So, she decided to boycott an Israeli institution in support of the cultural boycott of an Apartheid regime.
Rooney's stance raised the Palestinian issue again up in the media and in political discourse. In addition to the Palestinian issue, it also provoked discussions about antisemitism. Unfortunately, pro-Palestine activism is accused continuously of making an environment of antisemitism in the discourse of the Palestinian liberation struggle. The opposite is true.
On Oct. 20th in the Dáil, TD Thomas Byrne, Minister of State for European Affairs said: "I appeal to Deputies, when speaking about antisemitism, to keep that issue and Israel-Palestine separate." I agree with this statement, and the main Palestine solidarity activism is aware of this. The BDS movement is an anti-racist one, in opposition to the policies of an Apartheid regime. Activists and politicians who call for BDS are mature enough to realise the difference between opposition to Apartheid and antisemitism, and Sally Rooney’s statement is a practical example of that distinction.
The academic and cultural boycott is a major tactic to help isolate that old-fashioned system of racial discrimination. In the case of Palestine, many cultural institutes are complicit in whitewashing the Aparhied crimes. Using cultural figures to whitewash crimes is a well-known tool, as former Israeli deputy director-general for cultural affairs Arye Mekel said after the 2008/2009 war on Gaza “We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theatre companies, exhibits, … This way you show Israel's prettier face”.
The environment that some try to enforce makes it almost impossible for Palestinians to represent their political aspiration to return to their homes and live in dignity on their land
The complicity of Israeli academic institutes in Israeli suppressive tools is also undeniable. A lot of research and studies done in those institutes are funded by Israeli state organisations, and many weapons used in Israeli wars are developed in those institutes. In addition, many Academic institutes are built on the land of villages and towns where Palestinian refugees originate from and are waiting to return to them. Tel Aviv University is an example, where part of its campus lies on the land of the displaced village of Sheikh Muwannis. On the other hand, Israeli policies are suppressive to the academic environment in occupied territories. The Israeli warplanes attacked the Islamic University in Gaza in 2008, and again in 2014. The occupation forces raided campuses several times in the West Bank. Actually, we can’t count the violations of academic life in Palestine, as the violations of every aspect of life.
The main question I want to raise is this: why should Palestinians be criminalised for their opposition to the colonisation of Palestine? The environment that some try to enforce makes it almost impossible for Palestinians to represent their political aspiration to return to their homes and live in dignity on their land. Sally Rooney's position reminds us that normal people stand against Apartheid, and the search for a beautiful world should go through justice.