20 April 2012
Why aren’t pseudo-supporters of Syrian human rights actively lobbying Israel to stop the occupation of the Golan Heights?
(Yin Dongxun / Xinhua)
Answer: Maybe because the Druse of the Golan have far more human rights under Israeli rule than under the butcher of Damascus.
The very fact that one could seriously ask such a question shows the fundamentally “us-them” mentality involved in this formulation. No matter how viciously “we” Arabs treat our own people (e.g., Assad in Syria today), we want the human rights community to support putting Arabs (not even – Druze) under Arab sovereignty… is this a kind of “right of dictatorship”?
The Israeli government and its supporters have long utilized a wide range of propaganda tools to sugarcoat Israel’s atrocities against the Palestinians.
I like the use of the term “atrocity.” Nothing in the widely inflated thesaurus of accusations against Israel so carefully collected by Electronic Intifada and their allies (e.g., al Awda) comes close to what the Arabs do to their own people (torture, civilian massacres, systematic throttling of free press). But it’s Israeli “atrocities” that drive these activists wild with indignation. Here again we encounter the honor-shame, us-them mentality: what Arabs do to Arabs is not nearly as problematic, no matter how bad, as what Israelis do to Arabs. In other words, no matter how slight the offense, Israeli inflicted Palestinian suffering is an unbearable humiliation. Indeed, in some versions of the story, it is even responsible for preventing Arabs from creating democracies.
In addition to pinkwashing (using Israel’s relative support of gay rights to sugarcoat the country’s apartheid nature) and greenwashing (perpetuating the perception that Israel has environmentally-friendly policies to do the same), Zionist advocates are now using a different method: Assadwashing.
The problems with the “pinkwashing accusations” was widely addressed at the time the NYT shamefully published the editorial. Assadwashing is a worthy successor in the category of inane moral arguments.
But I find (again) the author’s use of “relative support” to characterize Israel’s defense of gay rights, to be especially amusing. Tell it to the Palestinian homosexuals who, for decades, have been fleeing to Israel for that culture’s “relative” tolerance. Jamil makes a grudging concession, which he swiftly brushes aside; and yet, in this matter, Israel shows a double tolerance neither of which one detects in the Arab world: a) for homosexuals, and b) for the “other,” even the hostile “other.” Hard to find a better case of a not “us-them” mentality than Israel’s treatment of Palestinian gays.
Such observations have actually led some gay progressives to praise Israel. Understandably, this infuriates the zero-sum activists for Palestinian “rights,” like Jamil.
As the Syrian uprising moves into its second year and Bashar al-Assad’s regime continues its brutal crackdown, the pro-Israel camp has breathed a sigh of relief and put on an indignant grin. Zionists now feel justified in pointing to Israel’s northeastern neighbor and exploiting the Syrian people’s suffering and resistance in order to further their own political agenda, depicting Israel as a “vibrant democracy” in comparison to Syria.
Ummm, yes. Can you imagine the equivalent of an Ahmad Tibi or Hanin Zouabi in any Arab country… say, an Iraqi or Iranian Jew who loudly and publicly denounced the regime as anti-Semitic and oppressive and openly called for its overthrow? On the contrary, even Muslims who show any support for Israel are under penalty of death.
To follow Jamil’s logic here, pointing out the obvious (and important) is forbidden lest it benefit ‘the [evil] enemy.’ Truth means nothing in the face of solidarity, if the truth works against “us.” That makes sense from a purely “us-them” mentality, but hardly seems like it should fly in a moral conversation. As Pierre Bourdieu, the French sociologist who studied North African honor-shame cultures noted:
The ethos of honour is fundamentally opposed to a universal and formal morality which affirms the equality in dignity of all men and consequently the equality of their rights and duties. Not only do the rules imposed upon men differ from those imposed upon women, and the duties towards men differ from those towards women, but also the dictates of honour, directly applied to the individual case and varying according to the situation, are in no way capable of being made universal.
So one should not, by this logic, apply the same standards to everyone, both to perpetrators (Israel vs. Syria) or to victims (Palestinians vs. Syrians). Eyes on the prize.
Perversely, to Zionist propagandists, Assad’s pernicious brutality comes not as a tragedy but as a savior.
Or, alternatively, and possibly still more perversely, to anti-Zionist propagandists, the global revelations of Assad’s pernicious brutality come not as a tragedy for the Arabs who are, and have been, the recipients of this brutality, but as an embarrassment/tragedy for Palestinian efforts to depict Israel as an apartheid-practicing tyranny.
Assadwashing in action
At one of our Israeli Apartheid Week events at Boston University, in which we hosted Samer Arafa, an exiled Palestinian, and Jewish-American journalist Max Blumenthal, we witnessed this tactic in action. A man sitting in the back of the room during the Q&A session completely ignored the content of the lecture and asked what the speakers were doing regarding Syria.
I actually didn’t ignore the content of the lecture. I was mostly struck by a) the smug self-righteousness of Max Blumenthal presenting himself as a “good Jew” who was informing his (rather small and significantly Arab/Muslim) audience of how the “bad Jews” wanted to commit genocide against the Palestinians, and b) the pathetic quality of Samer Arafa’s complaints about the Israeli occupation, while his fellow Arabs were being gunned down in the streets of neighboring Syria.
Blumenthal replied that this question is a typical Zionist talking point, and is used to deflect attention from Israel’s crimes.
How dare I change the subject to greater injustices and suffering!
“Evidently, a right-wing ultra Zionist…” this is actually my favorite part of the article. It illustrates the way in which Palestinian rhetoric has mangled the political spectrum. I understand it in their context: as hard zero-sum players who view any support for Israel as unacceptable (what one might call a hard “right-wing” position), they find any argument that stands up for Israel, no matter how positive-sum (i.e., willing to make room for a Palestinian state as well), is unacceptable. Thus EI’s founder, Ali Abunimah referred to “Peace Now” [!] as a right-wing Zionist racist organization.
The interesting part here is having uncompromising right-wingers, accusing a centrist liberal (or in the case of Peace Now, a left-wing progressive group) of being “right-wing ultra-Zionists” (where Zionism is the equivalent of racism). Again, if this were merely the rantings of an extremist in the ultra-nationalist Palestinian camp, it would be one thing. But my sense is that this kind of loopy, inverted rhetoric carries a great deal of weight among the allegedly “left/progressive” camp. And therein lies a tragedy.
I don’t think the mainstream news media [MSNM] “overstates [sic: media is a plural noun] Israel’s massacre of Palestinian civilians for propaganda purposes.” I think the Palestinians systematically misinform the MSNM for propaganda purposes, and the MSNM complies for a number of deeply disturbing reasons.
A website which Landes runs called The Second Draft denies that the murder of 12-year-old Mohammed al-Durra during the second Palestinian intifada was carried out by Israeli forces.
The website is also of the conviction that Palestinians teach their children “unbridled hatred towards Israelis.”
Jamil says that as if it were self-evidently contrary to fact. What’s even bridled in the hatred here or here?
Its opinion on Arabs is elaborated in this statement: “The Palestinians teach explicitly, as do many Arab nations, that to die in the ‘jihad’ — holy war — against Israel purchases the ‘martyr’ instant acceptance into heaven. And it is a very red-blooded and lusty male heaven they are promised, characterized first and foremost by endless sex with a multitude of virgins” (“Who killed Mohammed al-Dura?”, The Second Draft, undated).
Constructing Palestinians, and Arab nations at large, as blood-thirsty savages, Landes’ Islamophobia and unabashed Orientalism, as revealed through this website, cannot be reconciled with a belief in Syrian — or Arab and Muslim — human rights.
Actually, Jamil reveals the problem here. While I will happily rephrase my statements to “[way too] many Arab and Palestinian elites teach hatred… [and way too few object]” in place of the blanket “Palestinians and Arab nations…”, the problem remains. The kind of scape-goating, demonizing, discourse that continues to fuel the behavior of Arab elites like Assad (and his henchmen), both the old, vaguely secular dictators and the new Islamist ones, indeed makes it impossible for Palestinians, Egyptians, Syrians, Arabs, or Muslims to enjoy even the most basic human rights. As Irshad Manji notes, anti-Zionism in the Muslim world is a “weapon of mass distraction.”
The problem is not an “Orientalist” analysis that focuses on the systemic problems in the political culture of the Arab world; the problem is a self-consciously “post-Orientalist” discourse that forbids talking about reality lest it produce observations that “cannot be reconciled with a belief in Syrian – or Arab and Muslim – human rights,” as if human rights were an entitlement granted by believing in them, rather than by the collective courage of a people committed to not only exercising them, but allowing others to exercise them as well.
On the contrary, such an ideology views Syrians as nothing more than convenient pawns to further anti-Palestinian propaganda in the service of Israel.
One of the marks of an obsessive thinker is that everything is about “me.” In Jamil’s case, he’s a Palestinian, and if the grisly situation in Syria, compounded by the impotence of both the Arab world and the human rights community to come to the Syrians’ aid, puts Israel’s “atrocities” in perspective, thus reducing his traction in denouncing Israel, he’s outraged.
One probably should not put much hope in having such feedback from the real world provoke in him any kind of self-criticism about what’s wrong in Arab political culture. That might produce some reflections on how the Palestinians are nothing more than convenient pawns to further anti-Zionist propaganda in the service of restoring Arab/Muslim “honor.”
Much easier to sling accusations of “Assadwashing.”
Using one oppression to mask another
Aiming to demonstrate an inconsistency within the Palestine solidarity movement, supporters of Israel have frequently utilized Assadwashing to undermine efforts to bring about justice and self-determination for the Palestinian people.
The latest to take up this tactic is the Israeli government itself, which distributed a letter to activists taking part in the recent Welcome to Palestine 2012 “flytilla” in which it told the activists to direct their activism against Syria, Hamas and Iran.
“We suggest you solve the real problems of the region, and then come back and share with us your experience,” the letter, tweeted by an official Israeli government spokesperson, said.
For Israel and many of its supporters, Assad’s repression, and other injustices in the Middle East and the world are sufficient justification for apartheid and ethnic cleansing.
It’s a mark of a person’s discernment to understand what someone else is saying. No Israel-supporter I know, even the most “right-wing” (i.e., move the Arabs to Jordan/Palestine), would make this statement, even in private. It is simply silly.
To them, injustice anywhere is not a threat to justice everywhere, but a way to steer attention away from Israel’s behavior.
How about a way to put Israel’s behavior in context? In the 20 years from 1989-2009, for example, some 10,000 people were killed in the Arab-Israeli conflict. In the same time unbridled wars killed some 4-6 million (!) people in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
If you just reverse the labels, you have a comparison of the “media footprint” of these two conflicts, with huge attention to the Arab-Israeli conflict and virtually nothing to the Congo. Challenging that grotesque (and ultimately racist) obsession with Israel and lack of concern for African dead at the hands of Africans, apparently makes Jamil indignant.
Would it not be appropriate for all human rights activists who are not victims of the Human Rights Complex, who are not tempted by a kind of Judeophobia in which anyone injured by a Jew/Israeli is infinitely more important than someone killed by a “person of color,” to reconsider priorities? All I hear from Jabril is “don’t let Israel off the hook by looking at anything else.”
Until every other problem in the world is solved, they seem to be suggesting, no one ought to utter a word of criticism of Israel.
Nonsense on a dozen counts. Criticism of Israel is a dime a dozen, and comes a great deal from within its own ranks. Criticism of Arab culture, on the other hand, comes rarely from without (i.e., observers who actually have moral expectations from Arabs), and still more rarely from within (i.e., self-criticism). The situation in question is actually the opposite. Jamil seems to feel that unless the Palestinian problem is resolved (to his liking), no other problem in the world, no matter how grave (like Syria), deserves any attention.
I’d actually suggest some kind of reasonable system of triage. Certainly no doctor would expend time and effort into someone’s broken arm while someone else is bleeding to death. (Indeed, the accusations of a [verrry slow motion] Israeli genocide of Palestinians is designed, among other things, to hide the relatively privileged material and even political conditions of Palestinians under Israeli “occupation,” when compared to commoners throughout the Arab world.
(“Colonial condescension!” Jamil and Max would happily shout together. “White man’s burden!” Whatever… it’s not genocide by any standards, except those found in a delirious rhetorical universe.)
Let’s establish a system of impartial criteria (i.e., they apply equally to everyone) that establishes what are the red zones of humanitarian crisis and what aren’t. Unfortunately for the folks at EI, a place like “Palestine,” where a majority of Palestinians who are Samer Arafa’s neighbors in East Jerusalem would prefer to live in Israel than a future “Palestinian State,” would not make it high on that list.
Indeed, as soon as we did that, we would begin to register the significant contribution made to Palestinian suffering and human rights violations by fellow Arabs. In a sense, Jamil’s article is the cry of anger at being discovered, at having as his about to complain of “constantly being on the defensive” – as if it were somehow his “right” to peddle unopposed a lethal narrative which will not stand up to honest scrutiny.
In an American society whose conceptions are still shaped by colonial views of the world, it seems that the few causes one can participate in without constantly being on the defensive, are those which contribute to Western imperialism and the NGO-Industrial complex — what has been called the “White Savior Industrial Complex.” What once was the “white man’s burden” has now morphed into liberal “humanitarianism.”
Interesting. I agree that the impulse that the West has to make the world a better place is indeed a messianic complex. I disagree that it is more or less “just the same” as previous, more brutal iterations of Western imperialism. Not all, or even most, Western concern for the well-being and human rights of the rest of the world (e.g., intervening in cases of genocide like Darfur), is neo-colonial imperialism. (No good turn, however, goes unpunished in a zero-sum universe of envy and revenge.)
From my perspective, there’s a huge difference between sadistic (old-style) and masochistic (new-style) imperialism. The people who have so profoundly disoriented us with their bold experiments in exegetical freedom, suffer from Masochistic Omnipotence Syndrome. It’s not a healthy state of mind.
From my perspective on the exiled left, the current global “human rights” community has become seriously disoriented by a post-colonial, “Human Rights Complex” in which they feel embarrassed by (pervasive) violations of human rights by third world players (people of color) all over the world (especially in Muslim-majority lands), and therefore wax especially indignant over white man’s sins. (Jews, in this post-Holocaust moral world, being white squared).
So rather than assume the inferiority of the global “other”, most Western intellectuals accept some form of the principle “the epistemological priority of the other.” What oppressed, suffering, post-colonial subalterns say is inherently more authentic than what future dead white males have to say (Fanon over Camus). In particular the messianic circles around NGO activism, take an almost principled rigidity to of penitent friend vis-a-vis the global “other.”
And on a more basic everyday level, Americans in particular, take the approach of reaching out and thinking the best of the encountered “other.” Thus, people unfamiliar with the conflict, like Michael Moore, assume that the Israelis built the Palestinian refugee camps and kept them prisoners for now over 60 years (!). American liberals, with their cognitive egocentrism, can’t believe that Arab leaders would do such terrible things to their own people, for so long.
Not one of Jamil’s favorite topics to discuss, I’ll bet.
Indeed, Westerners assume “the best” of “people of color” and the “Third World” to an extraordinary degree, well beyond what any prudent observer might call reasonable or measured. As Hina Jilani commented to a journalist, concerning the reliability of the testimony she and the rest of the Goldstone Commission had gathered in Gaza, “it would be cruel not to give them credence.” Who wants to be accused of “blaming the victim”? When does one cross the line between giving someone a moral break, and treating them as moral cretins, incapable of any self-control?
The post-Holocaust white man’s burden is guilt, and, alas, some who so suffer cannot resist making Israel and its Jewish supporters the sacrificial scapegoat needed in order to repress that guilt.
Again we are witness to the insatiable appetite of Palestinian activists for unquestioned support. Anything short of full-fledged adherence to the radical agenda of the irredentist Palestinians becomes its opposite: Peace Now thwarts my desires? They are right wing fascists. Only within the narrow confines of “post-colonial” theory can these weaponized narratives seem even remotely plausible.
In this context, few question people committed to “saving children” in Africa; instead, they are hailed as champions of social justice.
But saving children in Palestine, that’s clearly championing social justice? Can one get more “us-them”?
Such an environment makes it easy for Zionists, and others, to demonize dictators of what are known as Third World countries.
Interesting use of the demonize here. Dictators “demonize” themselves (as do Palestinians who support suicide bombing and genocidal discourse). Is Jabril trying to defend the dictators (who abound in the political culture he comes from), by impugning the motives of anyone who so criticizes? Is that an unacceptable expression of the “White Savior Industrial Complex”?
Should we not criticize them, lest it take the edge off Palestinian efforts to keep Israel as the focus of moral approbation?
Yet when it comes to the imperialist leaders of the West, they are considered to be the world’s liberators — even when they have committed crimes resulting in death tolls, as in the invasion of Iraq, of hundreds of thousands at least.
Never mind the statistics (and how many of those dead were killed deliberately by Muslim suicide bombers)… never mind the fact that Saddam Hussein had killed over a million Muslims… never mind that unrepentant imperialist sentiments abound in Arab political culture… let us not demonize Arab dictators.
This is emblematic of Israeli Assadwashing where the Syrian regime and other Arab states are considered despotic, whereas Israel is a light unto the world, a democracy surrounded by hostility.
Yes… compared to Syrian or other Arab states, Israel is paradise, even for Muslims (many of whom would move to stay in Israel rather than find themselves ruled by fellow Arabs). Is it not fairly clear to anyone who evaluates the situation fairly, who doesn’t engage in “affirmative action” judgments for Turkey or Lebanon (which operate under conditions none of us Westerners would accept), that Israel is the only robust democracy in the region? The journalists and the activists who demonize Israel know that perfectly well.
Some dictators are Zionist-approved
Israel supporters who ostensibly support Arab human rights have used the Arab uprisings as a playing field for their own political agendas. This hypocrisy is obvious when looking at the Egyptian uprising which toppled Hosni Mubarak, an initially unfavorable outcome to many Israelis (and the Israeli government itself) who rallied for this favored dictator.
Indeed, if these pseudo-supporters of Arab human rights uniquely cared about Syrian rights, for example, they would be actively lobbying the Israeli government to give up the Golan Heights, a Syrian territory which Israel had ethnically cleansed and has been occupying since 1967.
That’s why there is a thriving Druse community on the Golan?
The Syrian question is intimately tied with the Palestinian question. One cannot cherry-pick support for the right of the Syrian people to live free from tyranny without support for Palestinian liberation from Israeli settler-colonialism, and the opposite is also true.
How about the right of Palestinians to live free from Arab tyranny, as in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Kuwait, etc.?
The Syrian regime’s crimes do not justify Israeli crimes, as per injustices elsewhere, and all must be opposed. To be a Zionist, in whatever degree, is to believe in the oppression of Palestinians, and one cannot support freedom in one place and deny it in another.
But isn’t that precisely what this article is about – don’t talk about oppression elsewhere, it distracts from our chosen task, namely working for alleged “Palestinian rights” denied by Israel? In other words, the key issue for the zero-sum Palestinian activists is the “right to eliminate Israel.” Anything that guarantees the human rights of Palestinians, Arabs or Muslims to be free of predatory and oppressive elites, comes in far behind the attachment to this most precious honor of being free to “humiliate Jews.”.
Questions directed at supporters of Palestinian self-determination regarding what they are “doing about Syria” are irrelevant as these are rarely asked of activists involved in other causes, and are intended not to shed light upon the Syrians’ struggle, but to whitewash Israeli criminality.
Classic demopathic, face-saving move: accuse your accuser of hypocrisy. And yet, does that mean that Jamil will throw the Syrians under the bus (their suffering is irrelevant) just so Israel can’t get off the hook? In a world with limited time and devastating crises, human rights activists should indeed consider triage.
I think it’s entirely appropriate to say to any “human rights activist”: what are your priorities? Should you be focusing so much effort on x, when y is so much more disastrous a situation? A fortiori, should we not be allowed to question the bona fides of “human rights activists” who devote their heart and soul to the cause of people who stage humanitarian crises and spread lethal narratives?
Thus, according to Zionist logic, pro-Palestinian activists’ raison d’être must be disguised anti-Semitism unless they are protesting every single injustice in the world simultaneously, and even then, their motives are questionable.
Not at all. Familiar rhetoric from the anti-Zionist camp: any… every… always… never… the reductio ad absurdum to which the other side takes its argument and, accordingly, inverts reality. “They always shout anti-Semitism at any criticism of Israel,” when that is, most saliently, a Palestinian/Arab/Muslim characteristic response to criticism.
I would offer the following working hypothesis about the Palestinian cause. We should look for anti-Semitism among pro-Palestinian activists for whom their overriding concern for the mistreatment of Palestinians (let’s forget the rest of the global victims of human rights violations no matter how bad), is when it’s at the hands of the Israelis. They not only show a lack of interest in Palestinian suffering at the hands of other Arabs, they get downright ornery when it comes up.
The Danes got much more indignant over Colonel Eisner’s clocking a Danish protestor with his rifle butt than with their own police’s much more brutal behavior with Danish demonstrators. This pattern of behavior, in which one becomes enthralled with Jewish sin, suggests that the main motivation is not Palestinian well-being, but debasing Israel – a pattern that is, alas, all too common in “pro-Palestinian” circles.
This has greatly harmed the lives of Palestinian commoners, who, in 1948, stood poised to become the most dynamic modernizers in the Arab-Muslim world. As the Palestinian observer Muhdar Zahran points out , it continues to do great harm to his people (as so often with anti-Semitism), whose interests are constantly sacrificed to this need to compulsive need to debase Israel. Indeed, I’d recommend that any liberal or progressive-minded person, frustrated with how insoluble this Middle East conflict is, should pay considerable attention to the self-defeating nature of this anti-Zionist obsession among Palestinians and their alleged supporters. The sooner Palestinian intellectuals are no longer enabled in this self-defeating, scape-goating narrative, by a misplaced sympathy for the underdog, the sooner some real change, not deterioration, will start to happen in the Palestinian world.
Palestinians, uniquely, are asked to carry this burden.
Uniquely, is a nice touch.
The earnest college students who are praised for taking part in development missions in Africa are rarely told, for example, that they should go home and solve America’s deep problems of poverty, inequality and violence, before they show concern elsewhere.
I find it hard to believe that that’s not a widespread trope in encounters between American and Western do-gooders and the cultures they encounter, the world over.
The point here is not “do this entirely before you do that,” but prioritize how many ever efforts you make. No one’s telling Palestinians they shouldn’t work for independence (unless they define it in terms of the subjection of Jews). But to obsess, as the folks at the evening discussed above did in loving detail, about Israeli-imposed humiliations and indignities while fellow Arabs were dying daily by the dozen next door, does seem to call into question what motivates their activism: concern for victims or targeting of enemies?
The hypocrisy of the Zionist establishment and its propagandists in their feigned support for the Syrian uprising is ironic; for it is common knowledge that if Homs is Gaza, and Assad is Israel, they would not be organizing rallies or pretending to care about the victims. Instead they would be bringing Assad’s soldiers to tour university campuses in order to show their “humanity” and argue for their “right to self-defense.”
Jamil has talented as an analyst of irony, even where his analogous thinking slides quickly over critical distinctions. Gaza is parallel to Hama, which, in 1982, was deemed by Hafez al Assad as a nest of Muslim Brotherhood operatives (Hamas is a Muslim Brotherhood affiliate). He leveled the city and killed some 20,000 people in 2 weeks. Thomas Friedman coined the term “Hama rules” to describe the way the Arab political culture handles dissent. Israel, dealing with a Gaza Strip from which Hamas was actually launching rockets (nothing of the sort having come from Hama), went into Gaza for three weeks, and under the worst conditions of urban warfare (enemy hiding deliberately among civilians), produced the best combatant to civilian casualty ratios of any army ever.
It’s dangerous to accuse the Jews of hypocrisy. Even when it’s true, it’s most often driven by one’s own hypocrisy.
One of the things that struck me at that talk by Blumenthal and Asrafa was how much it illustrated the accusation made (of all people) by Norman Finkelstein that BDS was a cult. He called it. Here was a small group of true believers listening to rambling talks that repeated well-worn accusations; questions were less than brilliant; and when my challenge came, the organizers did their best to shut it all down. When I tried to speak afterwards with Blumenthal, he dismissed any dialogue: “I’m not going to convince you and you’re not going to convince me.” For culties, it’s only about conversion, preferably one-way.
Such attitudes, I contend, undermine the public sphere that makes our institutional commitments to freedom and human dignity possible.
Jamil Sbitan is a Palestinian student at Boston University. He is an active member of the Boston University chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, and is also active in the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. You can follow him on Twitter @JamilSbitan.
You can follow me @richard_landes