The only visible part of the child’s body is her hand. It’s paper white. An ugly brown stain of blood runs along the wrist. It twitches once, twice. Then it goes still. A pale scar in the grey rubble. Soon we won’t see videos like this. Israel has banned independent journalists from Gaza. But children will almost certainly continue to die. One can (and should) fully condemn terrorism and still believe that kid should be alive today.
Israel could be a beacon for the world. Established in the shadow of genocide (in spite of the bungling of a declining British Empire), it became the Middle East’s first democracy. Israel was a homeland for a people persecuted for centuries. It could be those things again. Yet, in recent years, Israel has descended into the politics of an authoritarian far right.
The Israeli government and its supporters brook no dissent. Western politicians seem almost afraid to criticise Israel. There is an increasing trend to label any criticism of Israeli policy “antisemitic”. The UN General Assembly was “the most antisemitic organisation in the world” because it called for a ceasefire. Amnesty International was so branded for saying that both sides in the Gaza conflict have likely committed war crimes. The hundreds of thousands who marched through London every Saturday, demanding nothing more than peace, are supposedly part of a vast antisemitic conspiracy.
Antisemitism is real. Both antisemitic and Islamophobic violence has increased in the UK since 7 October. Ironically, many of the loudest voices supporting the obliteration of Gazans also promote the antisemitic conspiracy theories. Douglas Murray, one of the Israeli regime’s most loyal defenders, also embraces the “great replacement” conspiracy theory (a global elite is secretly causing Europe to commit “suicide” by using Muslim immigration to undermine white, Christian culture). The theory originated as an antisemitic trope. Suella Braverman, who described demonstrators calling for a ceasefire as “hate marchers”, also espouses the “cultural Marxism” conspiracy theory.
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Separating criticism of Israeli policy and government from antisemitic hatred is not only possible but necessary. As the International Holocaust Memorial Alliance points out:
… criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.
Rejecting antisemitism means acknowledging Israel’s legitimacy and statehood. But that also requires us to hold Israel to the same standards as other states.
There is, at the very least, a case to answer. Israel is fighting a terrorist group which explicitly calls for its annihilation. But that doesn’t absolve Israel from the rules which apply to civilised states. Israel’s leaders have been quite explicit about their intentions. They are fighting “human animals… [so] will eliminate everything” (Defence Minister Yoav Gallant), “there is one and only one solution, which is to completely destroy Gaza…” (Politician Moshe Feiglin). Benjamin Netanyahu publicly quoted 1 Samuel 15:3, a verse generally interpreted as calling for genocide. When combined with the IDF’s indiscriminate bombing, and mass killing of civilians, Israeli actions begin to look like “the total or partial killing or forced removal of an ethnic group with the aim or intention of wholly or partially destroying that group”. The definition of genocide.
Israel’s immediate default to carpet bombing, humiliation and torture of prisoners, setting fire to civilian food and water supplies, and firing on civilian ambulances may all be prima facie war crimes. They breach the Geneva Conventions’ prohibitions on indiscriminate killing (even in self-defence) mistreatment of prisoners, and duty to protect civilian life. The IDF claimed that parading almost naked prisoners on camera with their trousers around their ankles was a necessary precaution to check for suicide vests. This was quickly debunked by military experts.
The killing or persecution of part of an ethnic group (even if there is no intent to eliminate the group as a whole) is a crime against humanity, the most serious international crime after genocide. Even Israeli NGOs, like B’Tselem, accuse the Israeli regime of unlawfully persecuting Palestinians. Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s declaration that “There are no innocent civilians in Gaza…” certainly smacks of an authorisation for collective punishment.
Israeli regime advocates often complain that Israel is unfairly treated in international bodies (again alleging antisemitism). Some of these accusations are undoubtedly true. There is strong evidence that some states use their positions on organisations like the UN Human Rights Council to attack Israel through diplomatic channels. But the death toll in Gaza is not an antisemitic conspiracy theory. It is chillingly verifiable.
It is difficult to imagine that any decent person would not support the punishment of the Hamas terrorists who invaded Israel on October 7th. But, by the same token, those responsible for Israeli crimes against Palestinians must also be punished. Israel must exist. Antisemitism must be stamped out. Those responsible for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity must be stopped and brought to justice. These should not be contradictory statements. Those of us who believe in the importance of Israel must also be ready to hold its leaders to account.
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