Godwin’s Law. That’s what it’s called – the tendency for internet debates to degenerate into arguments where one side labels the other a Nazi. And so we have a contribution to the Israel/Palestine issue akin to an angrily typed hatemail at the fag end of one of these online brawls –Ruth Dudley Edwards saying that the people on the Irish Ship to Gaza supporting Palestinian rights are antisemites, like the Nazi-loving Irish of her youth.
Jim Roche, a friend of ours, is singled out. Jim’s crime was to be part of the flotilla to Gaza, engaging in the Nazi-like act of bringing support and aid to a beleaguered and battered population. Jim and those other friends of ours on the flotilla are heroes, a word we don’t use lightly. They were prepared to sail to Gaza, fully aware of Israeli army threats to attack their peaceful unarmed mission. The Israelis (or someone else – let’s be fair) cut the propeller of the ship – an act of sabotage which would have sunk the ship in the Mediterranean, had it not been discovered in time. Six of the Irish flotilla supporters, including the rugby player Trevor Hogan, are still sailing to Gaza with the other ships. They know they face danger ahead. They should not have to also endure sniping from back home.
But the flotilla’s main aim is not to bring in aid. Ms Dudley-Edwards is right on this one thing. Despite their desperate plight, it is not aid that the people of Gaza need. It is freedom, the ability to live a normal life, to export and import goods like anywhere else in the world and to begin to develop industries, making Gaza economically viable. This is the main thing Israel is taking from them with this ongoing siege. This is their demand: normality. How crazily Islamist and antisemitic can one get? And so, yes, the flotilla is mainly a political mission. While it does contain medicines and other things that the Israeli government bans (such as materials to rebuild homes Israel has destroyed), its main aim to shame the governments of the world into doing something to stop the siege of Gaza, this illegal immoral act. Instead these governments are supporting Israel’s flouting of international law and the basic freedoms of Palestinians. Like our government, they are trading in arms with the Israeli regime and ignoring its crimes against international law.
It seems one cannot point this out without being called an antisemite. Why is Israel always singled out by its supporters? Where else in the world can we not criticise before we criticise everywhere else in the world? Does anyone call the critics of the Chinese government anti-sinitic because they don’t also criticise [insert random name of country of your choice here]? They’d be laughed off the stage if they did.
Let’s be blunt, the accusation of antisemitism is not because the argument is particularly compelling or coherent. It’s because supporters of Israel have already lost all the other arguments – the ones based on fact – and are reduced to name-calling. For the facts are clear and well-known. Israel is occupying Palestine and stealing more and more Palestinian land in the longest military occupation in modern history. The living conditions of the people of Gaza – as a result of the siege – are horrendous, as UN report after UN report shows. Israel still refuses to let Palestinian refugees back home. Its far-right government is turning the country into a frightening place, with regular legislative attacks and on- street intimidation against both non-Jews and dissident Israeli Jews, many of whom support the flotilla as well as the boycott campaign. The fact that the latter are dubbed ‘self hating Jews’ demonstrates the poverty of the Israeli argument – we know of thousands of Jewish people in Israel, Europe and the US actively united in opposition to the occupation of Palestine, while also being faithful to their religion and history.
We want to say this very clearly: it is not racist to oppose the actions of a racist state like Israel. Supporting the Palestinian people and their desire to live ordinary lives is the essence of what solidarity is and does not mean a wish to see Israeli lives being lost. We are not saying this just because we are Jewish, although we are sick and tired of seeing who we are being invoked by the likes of Ruth Dudley Edwards to defend anything that Israel does. We are saying it because it is right, and we salute heroes like Jim Roche and all participants on the flotilla who are prepared to sacrifice themselves for this most moral of causes.