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OPINION: Failures to Demarcate and the Slippery Slope to Prejudice

OPINION: Failures to Demarcate and the Slippery Slope to Prejudice

Words by Alexi Barnstone

The following is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the USU or the Pulp editorial staff.

On March 26th Israel responded to a rocket exploding near Tel Aviv with 10 missile launches into what they reported were Hamas targets in densely populated Gaza.

Israeli troops are currently mobilised on the Israel – Gaza border. Tensions continue to rise. 4 have now been pronounced dead and 240 injured in Gaza protests.

In a press briefing Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu stood together in matching ties, a form of unified symbolism. The vibrant red of the tie is only one of many similarities. Far right, an administration riddled with indictments, populist, nationalist, divisive with rhetoric.

However, where the atrocities of the Trump administration can find no escape in discourse, those of Israeli government find subversion and deviation a far easier task.

Although many factors may be responsible, the obscurity and inability to demarcate between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism plays its part. When people play on Jewish tropes they catalyze a storm around the issue of anti-Semitism and a mist over the issue at hand. Constructed in response to one of the greatest humanitarian atrocities in history, Israel often finds itself safe from critique. The veil of past suffering often bodes well when confronting current antagonisms.

The relationship between judgement of state and prejudice of people becomes an easy conflation when the two are so interrelated. However, in the face of such hardships, it is important that we recognise reprehensibility where it exists.

Nothing exemplifies these difficulties in demarcation more than the new freshman class of democrats in the United States.  With a wave of ‘radical left’ congressional representatives comes a far more severe criticism of Israeli policy. A position that has historically been hidden from the seats of power in the US.

Over time the pro-Palestine movement has begun to permeate mainstream politics, notable people such as Bernie Sanders, presidential candidate and American Jew, have spoken in favour of a two-state solution. Bernie Sanders has often voiced his concern for the human rights violations of Israel in Palestine. Ilham Omar and Rashida Tlaib, congressional democrats since the 2018 midterms, have been vocal in their condemnation of the Israeli and support for the pro-Palestine position.  

Where they lose out are in their unfortunate slips into anti-Semitic remarks. Such mistakes inadvertently discredit the merit of their criticisms. Suffering of the Palestinians is not helped.

Ilham Omar’s tweet was the most recent exemplar. In what was intended to be criticism of the US’s acquiescence to the pro-Israel lobby manifested itself in clear anti-Semitism. Sparking a fury of bipartisan condemnation from everyone in the GOP to Nancy Pelosi. Her tweet about Israel read; “it’s all about the Benjamin’s, baby”.

The distain over the remark was just. Longstanding tropes of Jews subverting democratic operations through financial back channels have underpinned anti-Semitism for decades. In the Origins of Totalitarianism Hannah Arendt describes the Nazi assault on Judaic faith as a populist movement looking to supplant a perceived group of insider elitists. In Weimar Germany Jews were perceived to be a group of opulent financiers that had rigged the system and society to benefit them.

According to Arendt anti-Semitism, unlike many other forms of prejudice, punches up. It is a form of prejudice that regards the out group as powerful, wealthy, and of social status. When placing such tropes in context it is easy to see where Omar’s comments fell short of a criticism of Israel and landed in strictly prejudicial territory.

However, as anti-Semitism should be appreciated in proper context, so should the pro-Israel lobby. Aipac, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has a long history of mechanising the opaque line between anti-Semitism and judgement of Israel to stifle the discussion around some questionable actions of the middle eastern state.

As such, the dust kicked up in response to Ilham Omar’s tweet conveniently hid her actual line of thinking. Her commentary was intended to be on the stark influence of organisations such as Aipac on US policy regarding Israel. In her subsequent apology for the remarks she also attempted to elucidate her true intentions behind the tweet, that she had attempted to say that like the fossil fuel industry or the NRA, Aipac and pro-Israel groups use money to lobby US political positions.

In as a far as this criticism goes, it stands valid and devoid of prejudice. However, this mistake will hold repercussions. Some of which have already shown. In an Aipac conference held last month podcast host Mehdi Hassan noted that Omar’s comments were an implicit theme of the convention, with everyone from Benjamin Netanyahu to republican Vice President Mike Pence alluding to the tweet.

The use of tropes may well lead to less credence being lent to her position on Palestine, and subsequently assist Israel in avoiding addressing the human rights questions around the subject. Having provided ammunition for Aipac and other congress members to label her an anti-Semite, Omar will struggle to lead the discourse on Palestine.

Omar’s comment speaks to two unfortunate truths. Firstly, of the ease by which one can fall into inadvertent bigotry and the importance of demarcation. Secondly, the threat of such mistakes, as it relegates opportunities to hold commentary on the burgeoning pro – Palestine cause.

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