By Henry Carey
November 14, 2014
The continued polarization between Israelis and Palestinians reflects growing hatred within both societies. On the one hand, Palestinian terrorists spew anti-Semitic rhetoric in an effort to stir their people to violence; while on the other hand, the Israeli government feeds into existing Islamophobia and deploys it when annexing new Palestinian territory.
Israel has certainly been accused of war crimes, including its recent attack on U.N.-schools in Beit Hanoun and Jabalya, where many displaced during this summer’s Gaza invasion had sought refuge. Another example includes the alleged massacre in Shejaiya, where nearly 90 Gazan civilians and 13 Israeli soldiers were killed. However, opposition to the Israeli government’s actions must be distinguished from attacks on Jews and/or their religion. Any criticism that is lobbied at the Israeli government should not be conflated with Jewish people or their religious identity.
Israeli military attacks in Gaza sparked not only public outrage but also a wave of hate crimes against Jewish people and institutions in major European countries, including France, Spain, and Germany. Marches, in which protestors held Nazi swastika signs occurred in Madrid, while several Paris synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses were vandalized.
What’s behind these manifestations of contemporary anti-Semitism? First, in Europe, anti-Semitic acts reflect a culture rooted in centuries of false conspiracy theories, imposed ghettos, pogroms, forced evictions, and the Holocaust. Surveys commissioned by the Anti-Defamation League suggest 24 percent of Western Europeans and 32 percent of Eastern Europeans are anti-Semites. Only 9 percent in the U.S. were deemed harbouring hatred or hostility toward Jews.
Notably, the protests across Europe, which in theory were held to criticize Israel’s actions in Gaza, almost never mentioned any of the war crimes committed by Hamas. Europe’s refusal to seriously consider the existential threat of Hamas annihilating Israel appears built on a belief, as Hamas has falsely asserted, that Israelis are the genocidal actors.
Alleged Israeli war crimes are one thing, but suggesting Israel's intent is to destroy the Gazan Palestinian people is quite another. As serious as the unnecessary Israeli war crimes have been, the Israeli Defence Forces do go to considerable lengths to discriminate civilian from military targets. Much of the collateral damage is unjustified and criminal, but it is certainly not genocidal.
Yet many in the U.S. defend what are tantamount to Israeli war crimes. Ironically, the chief defenders of Israeli policy have been philo-Semites in the U.S. In defending their fellow Judeo-Christian partners, millions of people in the U.S., mainly evangelicals and the religious right, have defended Israel during the past two Gaza wars. And some Israeli supporters go as far as engaging in religious hostility and exhibiting intolerance toward Islam and Muslims.
Among its many evils, religious intolerance gives more ammunition to those who choose to remain ignorant. Sure, religious violence and terrorism exist, but they do not represent religion. Similarly, the actions of the secular Israeli government are also separate from Judaism.
Religious extremism on behalf of either the Israelis or the Palestinians runs a risk of genocide. To be blind to these human wrongs by both communities is to prevent a basis for peace negotiations. Israelis and Palestinians have been accusing each other of misconduct for decades. Europeans and Americans do not need to conflate the issue by throwing religion into the mix.
The real way to end the gratuitous and harmful introduction of religion into political partisanship is to reduce the scope of reporting based on identity and encourage journalistic and rhetorical objectivity. Human rights and humanitarian law are not perfect, but they do provide reasonable benchmarks to evaluate the legality and legitimacy of Israeli and Palestinian actions. For a world built on decency and peace, human rights standards need to be applied without biased perspectives.
European elites need to start blaming the Palestinians, and Americans need to start blaming Israel—not in order to shame either side, but to acknowledge that peace is the only answer to a conflict. And without it, even worse consequences are in store for Israel and Palestine in the years ahead.
Henry Carey is a professor of political science at Georgia State University.