When he wrote his book The Jewish State in 1896, could Theodor Herzl have imagined that his ‘promised land’ would begin to deport some Jews or ban them from entering, and even impose restrictions on their organizations? What could be said to the father of political Zionism if he was around today about the condition of the Zionist state under the current government and its predecessors, which looks to have become an established tradition?
The banning of Jews from the self-declared “Jewish state” is nothing new; it attracted particular attention when American philosopher and political activist Noam Chomsky was prevented from entering Israel from Jordan in 2010, despite his Jewish heritage. The Israeli authorities did not want him to give a lecture at Birzeit University in the occupied West Bank. This may have surprised some at the time, but Chomsky is not the only Jew who has been deported or refused entry to areas under Israeli control. A growing number of Jewish activists from around the world face the same problem at the hands of a government that considers itself as running a state on behalf of all Jews.
Israeli propaganda now targets NGOs, including organisations established by Jews and acting on their behalf. Some of them are Israelis, such as groups like Breaking the Silence, set up by former members of the Israel Defence Forces who seek to expose the excesses and oppression of the occupation army against the Palestinians. Every time the organisation tries to hold public lectures or exhibitions in a European country, the “pro-Jewish state” lobbyists harass the ex-soldiers, as happened in Switzerland in June 2015, for example. The issue has gone as far as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refusing to meet with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel last year because he had met with Jewish-Israeli activists from Breaking the Silence, as well as from other human rights groups such as B’Tselem.
It is clear that the government led by Netanyahu is determined to confront Jewish intellectuals and activists who do not conform to Israel’s official narrative. More and more Jewish public figures in Europe are facing fierce campaigns against them launched by official and semi-official pro-Israel circles. Such figures have simply taken a critical moral stand against Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian territory. It is astonishing to hear accusations that they are “encouraging anti-Semitism” by taking this principled stand, and that such attacks have even been directed at veteran Jewish figures such as the late Sir Gerald Kaufman, who was raised as a Zionist, served in the British House of Commons for 47 years and then stood up for the rights of the Palestinian people until his dying day in February last year.
The very obvious fact is that change is happening in many Western countries with regards to Jewish attitudes towards Israel and its occupation; criticism is growing. Emigration is on the rise too, with many “former Israelis” moving to Europe and the US permanently, some of whom express deep opposition to Zionism and the Zionist state. Even Goa in India attracts young Israelis with temporary or permanent residency permits keen to distance themselves from the “Jewish state”. It is ironic that Berlin has become a favourite destination for tens of thousands of young Israelis who have not found opportunities in Tel Aviv and other major cities.
While Israeli propaganda directs accusations of “anti-Semitism” against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, it does not address the fact that a remarkable number of the founders and key activists in the movement around the world are Jews who have discovered the truth behind Israel and its occupation. It was, therefore, no surprise for the New Zealand-born Lorde to cancel her concert scheduled for June in Tel Aviv after receiving an open letter from a Jewish compatriot, author Justine Sachs, and Palestinian Nadia Abu Shanab. Of course, the subsequent vicious campaign launched against the 21-year-old singer did not hesitate to label her move as anti-Semitic; one individual bought a full-page advert in the Washington Post in which he described her as a bigot.
The growth of the anti-occupation movement across Europe and the US has not occurred solely due to the influence of Palestinian activism; the reality of Israel and its occupation, especially the brutality of its armed forces, has been exposed, causing this shift in public opinion. Many more Jews are now uniting to raise their voices against what Israel is doing to the Palestinians in the name of world Jewry. The result is the existence of groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, whose members speak out against the occupation, just like those from Breaking the Silence. They are not alone.
It is estimated that the number of Jews who demonstrate in European cities under Palestinian flags is sometimes greater than those who wave Israeli flags. This happened in the summer of 2014, for example, when the Israeli army bombed Gaza for two months. More importantly, well-known Jews throughout Europe are now often absent from “solidarity with Israel” gatherings, which have difficulty in mobilising enough people, so they are replaced with lots of flags to try to disguise the fact.
With the development of social networks, public awareness about Jewish organisations against the Israeli regime has grown. There are now online civil society groups with global membership sharing knowledge and experiences to end the Israeli occupation. This online presence helps to minimise the impact of the defamation campaigns and restrictions imposed on activists by the Israeli authorities.
It was no surprise, therefore, to see Israel starting 2018 by publishing its list of “banned organisations”, whose members will be prevented from entering the Zionist state; the list includes Jewish Voice. The occupation Apartheid government is keen to monopolise “the Jews” and is thus concerned by the bold and growing moral opposition within Jewish circles to its occupation policies, in which secular as well as religious Jews are involved.
We have seen large demonstrations on the streets of New York by ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups taking a stand against Israel and Zionism. The streets of the West Jerusalem neighbourhood of Me’a She’arim have witnessed such Jews expressing their frustration at America’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Some have even talked about leaving Israel forever as a result. It is difficult to come across Israeli flags hanging in their neighbourhood in particular, but sometimes they have Palestinian flags on the walls; the message is clear.
All of this points to the fact that it is difficult for any propaganda, regardless of how powerful and well-funded it might be, to justify what is happening without raising doubts about its credibility. More and more Jews across the world are feeling a heavy burden as a result of the grey concrete walls, humiliating checkpoints, bombings, killings, land confiscation and house demolitions being carried out in their names by the entity claiming to be the “Jewish state”. The fact that the same state is now banning Jews and Jewish organisations illustrates the fallacy of that claim. Some Jews, indeed, are definitely not welcome in the “Jewish state”.
- Hossam Shaker is an expert on Arab-European affairs and a journalist and an author.