West’s anti-Arab racism exposed by Israeli war on Gaza
In 1898, Emile Zola wrote an open letter to the president of France that was titled “J’Accuse.” In it, the famous writer launched a deserved attack on the French government, accusing it of antisemitism over the Dreyfus affair.
My weary keyboard is no match for the mighty pen of this French literary giant. Yet, in 2023, it is time to say “J’Accuse” once again. Practically the entire political echelons of the European and American leaderships are mired in deep-rooted anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim attitudes, which the Israeli pummeling of Palestinians in Gaza in response to the Oct. 7 atrocities has highlighted.
A strong focus has rightly been placed on antisemitism, which exists, has increased and needs to be addressed. But nobody speaks out about the other forms of hatred that are on display. Worse, those that try are frequently silenced or demonized.
The West treats the colossal loss of Palestinian civilian life in Gaza, which is now in excess of 13,000, as acceptable. More than 5,000 of these victims are children. Nearly 2 million have been forcibly displaced in a month. UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini summed it up by saying: “Today, Gazans feel dehumanized and abandoned.” Asked whether Israel’s military response in Gaza was “proportionate,” UK Defense Secretary Grant Shapps claimed it was, comparing it to Britain’s 1945 firebombing of Dresden, which killed 25,000 people. The attack on Dresden was perhaps one of the most appalling actions of the Second World War.
Every Western leader has failed to call out the statements of genocidal intent uttered by the Israeli leaders
Massive breaches of international law are ignored, even condoned. Palestinian civilians have been collectively punished, deliberately denied water, food, medicines, electricity and power, while civilian infrastructure that is indispensable to their survival has been reduced to smoking rubble. The last vestiges of healthcare in much of Gaza is done in candlelight and without anesthetic as incubators are switched off and patients who can barely walk are forced to flee.
Israeli leaders, as I outlined last month, have uttered a slew of genocidal comments, culminating in an Israeli minister backing the use of a nuclear bomb on Gaza. Many have been calling for a second Nakba or even a “Gaza Nakba,” as another Israeli minister did last week. The latest threat is to promise to turn Lebanon into Gaza if Hezbollah goes too far — a threat of ethnic cleansing and mass destruction.
I have not heard one major Western leader condemn any of this. Every one of them has failed to call out the statements of genocidal intent uttered by the Israeli president, prime minister, defense minister and others. This is not new. “Death to Arabs” marches have been a feature of Israeli life for years, but they are rarely called out by the Israeli leadership or stopped.
The genocidal comments are not limited to Israelis. US Sen. Tom Cotton said: “As far as I’m concerned, Israel can bounce the rubble in Gaza.” Michelle Salzman, a Republican Florida state lawmaker, was at a speech where the question was asked: “We are at 10,000 dead Palestinians. How many will be enough?” “All of them” was her response. She has not been thrown out of her party.
The reality is that Western politicians have remained silent. Israeli leaders have made clear their intent. The destruction and carnage indicate little attempt has been made to save civilian lives. Omer Bartov, an Israeli scholar of the Holocaust, has said: “The possibility of genocide (in Gaza) is staring us in the face.” He warned there was a “clear intention of ethnic cleansing.”
And which politicians acknowledge that 70 percent of the population of the Gaza Strip are refugees, either direct victims or the descendants of those Israel ethnically cleansed from 1947 to the mid-1950s? As Israeli politicians openly debate forcing them out of Gaza and into Egypt, these refugees fear ethnic cleansing for a second time. Western politicians, having failed to call out that first bout of ethnic cleansing, are now doing nothing to prevent round two.
World leaders should be outraged that a system of institutionalized discrimination against Arabs exists, but they are not
American politicians have increasingly indicated frustration with Israel, but not condemnation. Not one British minister has uttered a single syllable of criticism of Israel’s actions in more than a month, including of the settler violence and forcible transfers in the West Bank. It took many weeks for French President Emmanuel Macron to call for a ceasefire — a mild call that most of his European colleagues dare not echo.
Anti-Arab racism is not new but it has plumbed new depths. It was notably expressed in many Hollywood films that entrenched negative images of Arabs. In recent times, what debate there is about this is subsumed in the issue of Islamophobia. Many still lazily conflate Arab and Muslim. The world is content to see protracted situations of suffering in Arab states, such as Syria, Libya, Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine. Hundreds of thousands of people have died in these conflicts but little to nothing is done to resolve them. Israel’s occupation has lasted 56 years so far. Is it meant to be eternal?
The unacceptable status quo is, too often, all too acceptable.
The Israel-Palestine conflict highlights this racism and it did so pre-Oct. 7. A system of collective punishment had been imposed on Gaza for 16 years. The claim that Israel runs an apartheid system — even though it has been made by almost the entire global human rights community, including Israel’s own — is just dismissed. World leaders should be outraged that a system of institutionalized discrimination against Arabs exists, but they are not.
Palestinians crave freedom, but when was the last time you heard a Western politician talk about the need for Palestinians to be free?
The stunning racist positions of so many Western leaders leave Palestinians and their supporters placing their hopes in mass marches. Yet those who demonstrate for Palestinian rights and a ceasefire are demonized in dangerous fashion. One German newspaper asked: "The Jews or Aggro-Arabs: We have to decide who we want to keep.” Before she was sacked last week, British Home Secretary Suella Braverman demonized protesters calling for a ceasefire as participating in “hate marches.” An Israeli spokesperson called one London protest “a large demonstration of rape apologists.”
Those who chant “from the river to the sea” at demonstrations are condemned, but not Israel, which has occupied all that territory for 56 years and whose current coalition government stresses that the entirety of this area belongs exclusively to the Jews. The Likud’s founding charter also claims all the land from the river to the sea.
Arabs and Palestinians are asked to answer for the crimes of Hamas. The most appalling example of this was German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who called on all people with Arab and Palestinian roots in Germany to distance themselves from antisemitism and Hamas. Just as Jews are not responsible for Israel’s crimes, Arabs are not for Hamas’. This demand is just racist.
The horrific reality is that racism against Arabs, including Palestinians, is not just acceptable but even a vote winner. Too many politicians are happy to pander to the far right, to anti-Palestinian groups and to the anti-Muslim brigades that dominate Western discourse. In the rest of the world, this racism is seen all too clearly and the consequent anger is growing. If we want peace in the Middle East, these anti-Arab attitudes have to be confronted, as well as everything else.
- Chris Doyle is director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding in London. X: @Doylech