Alleged rise of anti-Semitism
That row began when it emerged that in the summer of 2014 the Labour MP for Bradford West, Naz Shah, posted a message that Israel ought to be relocated to the United States. It deepened when the former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, defended her with ill-judged talk about Hitler as a sometime friend of Jews.
The row is of a piece with the controversy over the alleged rise of anti-Semitism in British universities. Feeling about the matter has run especially high since the National Union of Students elected a black Muslim president, Malia Bouattia, who described Birmingham University as a “Zionist outpost.”
All this is happening amid a public atmosphere inflamed as seldom before as British people prepare to vote in a referendum on UK membership of the European Union on June 23. The issue is bitterly divisive, not least among Britain’s ruling Conservative Party, with leading politicians hurling insults at one another. It is questionable if the anti-Semitism row can be divorced from the general distempered mood.
Not a few complain that they do not know the “facts” about the European Union. There is much less curiosity about the “facts” behind anti-Semitism brouhaha.
What is certain is that there has been a widespread increase in hostility to Israel thanks to recurrent devastating incursions into Gaza by the Israeli Defense Forces.
What is also certain is that hostility toward Israel has been keenly felt among British Muslims. That it has spilled over into personal attacks on Jews can scarcely be doubted.
Yet it can scarcely be doubted, either, that “friends of Israel” in Britain are missing no opportunity to encourage the belief that anti-Zionism is a cover for hatred of Jews. It is fair to say that they have gone far toward securing institutional sanction for the view that those who protest against Zionism as a hegemonic ideology founded on the dispossession and subjugation of the Palestinian people are crypto-anti-Semites. Malia Bouattia’s remarks about Birmingham University were a reaction to a vote by pro-Israeli students that places criticism of Israel under strict constraint.
The same Zionist counter-offensive insinuates that anti-Zionists deny Israel’s right to exist — if not the right of Jews themselves to exist. Many do question Israel’s right to exist — in the form of a state that has occupied Palestine territory for half a century and that has made no restitution for the violent displacement of Palestinian people in 1948.
The controversy in Britain over anti-Semitism is inextricably bound up with the long history of Zionist efforts to deny the Palestinians right to exist while also seeking to smear all who espouse the Palestinian cause.
It is no coincidence that the vitriolic Zionist denunciation in the UK of “de-legitimizers” of Israel comes at a moment when the Jewish state faces an epoch-making crisis of moral credibility, when Britain’s Labour Party is led by a longstanding champion of the Palestinian cause, and when demands are growing for both a Palestinian state and recognition by Israel of the guilt it bears for creating the world’s biggest refugee population, today standing at roughly 7 million.
The new book by the Palestinian engineer and cartographer, Salman Abu Sitta, Mapping My Return, is as timely as it is compelling. Now seventy-nine and himself a refugee from Arab Palestine, Sitta writes with measured outrage about the exilic life he has been obliged to lead.
Among much else, he recounts the obstacles he faced in undertaking the research that culminated in his celebrated work, The Atlas of Palestine 1948 (2004), which reconstructs the complex Palestinian settlement that Israel effaced. Studying maps in British libraries, Abu Sitta could not even find the name “Palestine.”
In Israel he discovered that the authorities had confiscated all records of his land. Everywhere he encountered what amounted to official denial that his people ever existed.
Readers of Abu Sitta’s memoir may wonder how discussion of the “de-legitimization” of Israel can be meaningfully pursued without reference to the protracted Zionist endeavor to dispatch the Palestinians to oblivion.
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