This is one of those times when lots of people are talking about Israel and Palestine, and expressing their support for Palestinians. I want people to speak out against bombings, against ethnic cleansing, against the removal of families from homes in which they have lived for more than 50 years. I do not want there to be any state in the world which excludes people from citizenship along ethnic lines. Still less do I want there to be a state which dispossesses people while claiming to speak for the world’s Jews. But, for the Palestinians to win, they will need to have the backing of huge numbers of people. That means that for everyone giving their support to Palestine, it matters how we talk.
It is possible – in fact it’s quite easy – to express support for Palestinians in ways which are pointlessly grating to ordinary Jewish people, whether or not those words are antisemitic.*
Here are some tips of my own to help people in the UK to get it right, by helping a righteous cause without being idiots:
1. (The easy bit). Just don’t say things which are plainly and clearly antisemitic. Eg one socialist group I’m in last week included a comment asking where a Jewish person who supports Israel’s gets her money from. Which plays old fantasies that all Jews either have money or conspire together and can call on people who do.
2. Don’t blame British Jews for the actions of the state of Israel. This is why the racist cavalcade was so incredibly stupid: the people driving the cars went to a perceived Jewish area in order to upset British Jews. Such behaviour isn’t just offensive it’s also counterproductive – it turns people against the majority of folks who supporting Palestinian rights and aren’t idiots.
3. Don’t demand that British Jews take a stance. If you find someone disagrees with you, don’t ask “Are you Jewish?” If you put something on your facebook wall and people say they don’t like it, don’t say “the Jews are disagreeing with me”.
4. Criticise Israel – Israeli tanks, Israeli ministers, Israeli actions – try not to say “Zionists” as a shorthand not “the Zionists” unless you’ve thought carefully about the point you’re making, and you’re being really, *really* precise.
5. Don’t post anything in haste or in anger. If someone annoys you, put a timer on your phone and just don’t say anything for 10 minutes. There is a real chance that what they’ve said is badly written or even wholly inoffensive, and that your response will significantly increase the tension in the room.
6. Try hard to avoid analogies with the 1930s. You might think you’ve come across a brilliant, one-liner which explains it more than anything. But all that will happen is that someone else reading your post will think – me, you’re call me a Nazi, me?
7. Don’t blame “religion”.
8. Don’t assume. The world is full of antizionist Jews; it is full of zionist Jews, and (shocking as it may seem) people who just want to be left along and get on with their life and that matters a lot more to them than your guesses about what they did/do/should think.
9. Listen to people you disagree with. This is one of the issues that involves people – and a lot of them – which means almost everyone will know at least one thing you don’t. If only you give them a chance to speak you. If you let them tell you someone you didn’t know, you will be a better activist for it.
10. Don’t be afraid to apologise.
Oh, and last of all, don’t be afraid to call *me* out. Quite a lot of these things are things that I see because *I’ve* done them wrong – and I’m not proud of them. I’m posting this as much for me as anyone else. If I’ve got things wrong, show me, and I’ll apologise and I’ll do my hardest to get it right next time.
*(It’s also just about possible to be grating on social media and to be effective, but the group of people who are sharp enough to do this are vanishingly small – it’s more or less just Jewdas – and they’ve been thinking about the cultural politics of this for years).