Anti-Semitism has no place in Palestine advocacy

Anyone who claims to speak for Palestine while condoning acts of bigotry against our Semitic brothers and sisters should not be speaking on our behalf at all, let alone for those suffering in Gaza. 

By Yasmeen Serhan

Amidst heart-wrenching death tolls and news accounts of the recent escalation in Israel’s ongoing bombardment of Gaza, reports of violence in a Parisian protest against the Israeli military operation began to shower my newsfeed. Articles detailed how hundreds of participants in a pro-Palestinian demonstration allegedly took to the streets of Sarcelles – home to one of France’s largest Jewish communities – and wreaked havoc on the surrounding community.

Accounts described how protestors allegedly threw Molotov cocktails near a synagogue and set fire to local businesses and vehicles. Such actions came at the heels of Paris’ recent citywide ban on all pro-Palestine activity, including demonstrations. The protests, according to these accounts, were supposedly in the name of Palestinian “advocacy.”

A protest condemning the Israeli assault on the Gaza strip, held outside the Israeli consulate in downtown Chicago, IL on July 16, 2014. (photo: Activestills)
A protest condemning the Israeli assault on the Gaza strip, held outside the Israeli consulate in downtown Chicago, IL on July 16, 2014. (photo: Activestills)

Though it is still unclear as to exactly what transpired in Paris and who was responsible for the acts, what remains clear is that what occurred in there did not mirror the actions of pro-Palestinian activists elsewhere. In countries like Australia, Chile, Spain, and countless others, thousands of people stood up in solidarity with the people of Gaza and against the Israeli military’s escalating operation, which has thus far claimed the lives of more than 655 Palestinians – mostly civilians – and 31 Israelis, 29 of them soldiers. In London, 15,000 demonstrators took to the streets to demand Israel end its attacks on Gaza. In Chicago, 10,000 protestors marched for 10 blocks in protest of the Israeli assault. Yet, unlike Paris, such large protests did not succumb to violence.

The reason is simple: Such acts of violence simply have no place in Palestinian advocacy.

Pro-Palestinian advocates must continue to ardently oppose the siege in Gaza, as well as the brutal military occupation of the Palestinian people. However, we, as supporters of the Palestinian people, too must actively push back against any form of bigotry or violence against Jewish communities. This type of behavior, as exemplified in the events in Paris, is antithetical to what Palestinian advocacy stands for – a movement of freedom, equality and human rights. Such actions only perpetuate the misguided paradigm that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is based on religious bigotry, and only provides fodder to those who use such incidents to depict all Palestinian supporters – many of whom Jews – as anti-Semites. Ultimately, such violent actions are no better than the right-wing extremist “Death to Arabs” protests taking place throughout Israel. It is a mockery of Palestinian advocacy, and something that should never be tolerated.

Five activists were arrested during a direct action at Boeing International Headquarters in Downtown Chicago on July 16, 2014. The activists wore red stained shirts and protested Boeing’s involvement in the deaths of Palestinians during the recent Israeli offensive in Gaza. (Tess Shcaflan/Activestills.org)
Five activists were arrested during a direct action at Boeing International Headquarters in Downtown Chicago on July 16, 2014. The activists wore red stained shirts and protested Boeing’s involvement in the deaths of Palestinians during the recent Israeli offensive in Gaza. (Tess Shcaflan/Activestills.org)

Just as some within the Jewish community condemn Israel’s violent operation in Gaza by decrying “Not in my name,” we too must speak out against the unthinkable acts of violence that threaten to take place in ours. Anyone who claims to speak for Palestine while condoning acts of bigotry against our Semitic brothers and sisters should not be speaking on our behalf at all, let alone for those suffering in Gaza. Palestinians know firsthand what it’s like to be oppressed on the basis of identity; the last thing we should allow is for our peers and allies to hypocritically do the same.

In famed Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf’s latest tribute to Gaza, he sang, “Raise your head high, it is your weapon.” In the spirit of Assaf’s words, we too must continue to raise our heads high. It is a far more powerful weapon than any Molotov cocktail will ever be.

Yasmeen Serhan is a Palestinian-American student studying international relations at the University of Southern California. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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