Anti-Palestinian racism is widespread and must be tackled
One of the clearest imbalances in the debate surrounding Israel and Palestine is that, while the issue of anti-Jewish prejudice, anti-Semitism, gets full attention, anti-Palestinian racism is just ignored. Worse, it is not even acknowledged as an issue. You will barely find any references to this in Western political speeches or media output, just as any references to the broader and also widespread issue of anti-Arab racism is absent.
This needs to be addressed. A step in the right direction would be to agree on a proper description of anti-Palestinian racism. Stepping forward to advance this, the Arab Canadian Lawyers Association has published a telling report into anti-Palestinian racism, including how to describe and frame it. The description drawn up through a consultative process and survey is a decent attempt to encapsulate the challenge but, as ever, may be improved over time and further consultation. It certainly represents a building block for a wider global discussion.
It situates anti-Palestinian racism as a form of anti-Arab racism. The challenge here is that the wider form of racism is totally ignored as well. As much as discrimination against Palestinians needs addressing, at some point anti-Arab racism must be too. You cannot really deal with one and not the other.
Have Palestinians been silenced? Do they endure stereotypes? Have they been dehumanized? The answer to all these questions is unequivocally yes.
Many even today deny Palestinians exist as a people. Former US House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich described Palestinians as an “invented people” — a comment that did no political harm to him whatsoever. All Palestinians are frequently presented as being intrinsically violent and anti-Jewish as opposed to being against their oppressor, with the dehumanization, particularly in Israel, at dangerous levels. One Israeli commentator referred to “the culture of death and evil which saturates dominant aspects of Palestinian life today.”
Another classic is blaming the oppressed for the actions of the oppressor, the occupied for the crimes of the occupier. Palestinians are somehow meant to be responsible for the security of the occupier. Many politicians refer to Israelis’ right to live in peace and security, yet do not extend that right to Palestinians, who have been living under military occupation for 55 years.
Take Jared Kushner, who was tasked with devising the Trump peace plan, on the issue of Palestinian rights. He was clear: “I do think they should have self-determination.” But he added that the Palestinians were not yet capable of governing themselves. This is a classic racist trope depicting the natives as backward and useless, typically used to justify colonialism and the superiority of the oppressor over the oppressed.
The Arab Canadian Lawyers Association report emphasizes that anti-Palestinian racism “is experienced by: Palestinians; those perceived to be Palestinians or inherently pro-Palestinian; and non-Palestinians who express support for Palestinian rights.” One British member of Parliament referred to pro-Palestinian demonstrators as “primitives.” Imagine if he had described anti-Palestinian protesters as such (my preference is to use the term anti-Palestinian rather than pro-Israel in cases where the overwhelming motivation is not about helping Israel but perpetuating the oppression and subjugation of Palestinians). The MP was not in any way reprimanded. Pro-Palestinian activists are typically maligned as terrorist sympathizers.
Many Palestinians also report that this affects them in their personal lives. They have found discrimination in terms of getting jobs, posts at university or sponsorship for projects.
It is no shock to discover that successive Israeli governments have indulged in anti-Palestinian racism on a daily basis. Nakba denial is standard for starters. Palestinians in Gaza get collectively punished for the crimes of Hamas due to the way they are systematically dehumanized in the Israeli media. There is also the appropriation of Palestinian culture and heritage.
The global human rights community has reached a consensus that Israel is perpetrating the crime of apartheid against Palestinians. According to Amnesty International, Israel has established “a system which is designed to privilege Jewish Israelis at the expense of Palestinians.” In short, from the Mediterranean to the River Jordan, Israeli Jews have superior rights to any Palestinian, whether they are citizens of Israel or live in the occupied West Bank or under siege in the Gaza Strip.
The detailed human rights and legal reporting into this should have merited a thorough political discussion. What occurred was a vile shoot-the-messenger hate campaign smearing the human rights groups without engaging with the substance. Anti-Palestinian groups just dismissed these reports as lies. Many who have raised the crime of apartheid are accused of anti-Semitism.
What this means is that European and Western politicians are not concerned at this situation of systematic oppression against Palestinians. Almost universally, these same politicians have, in the case of Ukraine, backed the politics and positions Palestinians have been calling for over decades, including an end to occupation and accountability for Israeli crimes. Boycotts, divestment and sanctions are lauded and encouraged to tackle Russian crimes but criminalized in the case of Israeli crimes.
Palestinians and indeed all Arabs must be given the confidence to report, document and speak about the racism and discrimination they suffer.
If you apply the Arab Canadian Lawyers Association’s description of anti-Palestinian racism to many Western government statements, press releases and positions, it would be alarming. Perhaps more alarming is what is not said — the absence of criticism and accountability for Israeli actions when oppressing Palestinians.
Yet, as the report argues, any definition should not be weaponized, as definitions of anti-Semitism have all too often been used to suppress debate on Israel-Palestine. Healthy debate is vital. Some comments on Palestinians may well be motivated by politics, not racism, or might be offensive or ill-considered but not racist. It is also no excuse for people to make anti-Semitic comments.
This report should be embraced. The issue must be explored, the bigotry recognized. Palestinians and indeed all Arabs must be given the confidence to report, document and speak about the racism and discrimination they suffer.
Palestinians talk about the racism they suffer. The concern is why nobody else does. The refusal to do so is further evidence if any were needed of just how widespread the issue is.
- Chris Doyle is director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding. Twitter: @Doylech