Over the last couple weeks as the genocide in Palestine unfolds before our very eyes I have been thinking about writing this post. I have hesitated and even as I write these words I feel like I should not be writing this post.
This is because the most basic of support for the Palestinian cause and the mildest of criticism of the state of Israel can result in accusations of antisemitism being thrown around as a way to silence legitimate criticism of the oppression Palestinian people face on a daily basis.
My hesitation aside, as a moderator of a fediverse instance, the topic of antisemitism falls well within my purview and as such I think it is important to talk about how we moderate antisemitism on the fediverse. To educate myself on the nuances of antisemitism both contemporary and historical and from a multitude of perspectives I read On Antisemitism: Solidarity and the Struggle for Justice, a collection of essays from a variety of authors which include both Jewish and non-Jewish authors alike.
What is Antisemitism?
To even begin to moderate a bigotry such as antisemitism, one must start defining its characteristics, its dynamics, tropes, and the hierarchies involved. Such definitions are necessary if anyone is to moderate with any degree of confidence.
I am borrowing some quotes from JVP’s (Jewish Voice for Peace) post from 2016 about their understanding of antisemitism in the United States.
JVP focuses on two forms of antisemitism, Christian antisemitism and racial antisemitism. In my experience moderating the fediverse, these are the two kinds one will see most on the fediverse.
On Christian antisemitism:
Fighting Antisemitism | 2016, Jewish VoiCE FOR pEACE
Christian hegemony – the fact that Christian values and beliefs dominate U.S. culture in everyday and pervasive ways – impacts all religious minorities in the United States. Despite the many liberation theologies that can and do inspire Christian communities to work towards justice for all people, there are some denominations of Christianity in the U.S. that use antisemitic religious interpretations of Christian scripture. These interpretations treat Judaism as inferior to Christianity, or cast blame on “the Jews” for the death of Jesus. Additionally, we see the theology of Christian Zionism, which encourages Jewish return to Israel as a means to achieve Christian redemption, as similarly founded on antisemitic interpretations of scripture.
On racial antisemitism:
Racial antisemitism, and the term “antisemitism” itself, developed alongside pseudo-scientific theories of race in 19th century Europe. These theories identified and classified different categories of people, then placed them in a racial hierarchy. This racist logic still echoes in U.S. white supremacist, “alt-right” or neo-Nazi circles, which have moved from the fringes to the mainstream since the election of Donald Trump. At various points in history, this form of antisemitism has had secular institutional and governmental support, reaching its apex in the mass violence against Jews and other groups during the Nazi Holocaust. In the United States today, even as the Trump administration emboldens and empowers antisemitism in the form of in incidents of bigotry, violence, or speech, it is not currently reinforced by state institutions in the same ways that racism, anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim bigotry are through state violence, mass incarceration, and surveillance. We commit to fighting racism, Islamophobia, and antisemitism – we all need to be vigilant as we expect these forms of bigotry and oppression to gain greater intensity in the coming years.Fighting Antisemitism | 2016, Jewish Voice For Peace
And finally, the ways these forms manifest in contemporary expressions of antisemitism:
Contemporary expressions of antisemitism include treating Jewish people as a monolithic group, stereotyping Jewish people as rich or greedy, or demonizing Jews as all-powerful or as secretly in control of political events. These tropes are evident when the U.S. is exempted from responsibility for its unconditional support of Israeli apartheid, and instead the U.S.-Israel relationship is blamed solely on Jewish power. The white nationalists known as the “alt-right,” for example, staunchly support Israel even as they disseminate and perpetuate antisemitic myths of Jewish control and power.Fighting Antisemitism | 2016, Jewish Voice For Peace
Now that we have some definition for the topic at hand, I can clarify what it is not.
What is not Antisemitism?
As a overarching statement, criticism of the state of Israel, its far-right government, its mechanisms of oppression (for example, the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces) do not constitute antisemitism. Furthermore, support for the Palestinian people and their struggle is not in itself antisemitic. This includes support for the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanction) movement and organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace.
Examples of statements that are not antisemitic:
- “Israel is a settler-colonial apartheid state.”
- “The IDF are committing war crimes in the Gaza Strip right now.”
- “Occupation is a crime, Free Palestine!”
- “Anti Zionism is anti racism.”
- “From the River to the Sea“
I’ll also put this in a different way with an example that Omar Barghouti provided in his essay “Two Degrees of Separation: Israel, Its Palestinian Victims, and the Fraudulent Use of Antisemitism”.
Even in the case of the Vatican, an entity that exclusively and legitimately represents Catholics worldwide, anti-Catholic bigotry cannot be inferred from a hypothetical call for boycotting the Vatican, say over its anti-gay policy. Only if an anti-Vatican boycott is called explicitly on the basis of some anti-Catholic premise (as in arguments that essentialize Catholics) can it be accused of being motivated by bigotry or discrimination against Catholics.Omar Barghouti, Two Degrees of Separation: Israel, Its Palestinian Victims, and the Fraudulent Use of Antisemitism
This brings me to the point about “essentialization” or to use another word “homogenization” of Jews that is performed by the Israeli state and its propaganda.
Placing all Jews into a single category—as Israel does– is to suggest that group is intrinsically different in nature from all other humans, and is thus a case of essentializing and exceptionalizing them. Claiming that Israel is coextensive with all Jews strips them of human diversity and reduces them to a monolithic or homogeneous sum. That is truly antisemitic.Omar Barghouti, Two Degrees of Separation: Israel, Its Palestinian Victims, and the Fraudulent Use of Antisemitism
Barghouti also brings up another point that I think is especially important for us fediverse moderators. It is the use of stereotypical anti-Jewish language in criticizing Israel as a form of antisemitism.
This is tricky. There is no uniform tool that can be used to assess all such cases. Sometimes associating Israel with stereotypical attributes that are associated with Jews is antisemitic. Sometimes it may not be. Regardless, and given the hurt that verging on antisemitic language causes to Jewish communities, we who advocate for Palestinian rights must be quite vigilant about using such language and must try our best to adhere to the most accurate, non-emotive description of the facts as possible.Omar Barghouti, Two Degrees of Separation: Israel, Its Palestinian Victims, and the Fraudulent Use of Antisemitism
Barghouti however also stresses such non-emotive description of fact will still result in accusation of antisemitism as was the case when UN officials recommended adding the IDF to the list of armed forces that violate children’s rights as this is similar to the typical antisemitic charge against Jews (the one about them being child killers).
In such cases, I implore all fediverse moderators to consider the context of what is being said before making a decision. As such, I also think that it is important that fediverse moderators do some reading and research on the nature of antisemitism as it will provide much needed context when it comes to making decisions in such matters.
Taking Off the Moderator Hat
The past couple weeks have been distressing to put it mildly. The quality of my sleep over the past week especially has been affected. I watch in abject horror as I see the news about yet another tragedy, another civilian building bombed, I watch as yet another civilian dies. I watch as the military industrial complex of the United States of America gears up to defend Israel. I watch in horror as incidents of Islamophobia rise. I watch in despair as once again many countries across the world turn a blind eye and refuse to call what Israel is doing for what it is. Genocide. That’s what’s happening.
For the entire time I have been alive, I have not known a free Palestine. I remember as a child hearing prayers for the Palestinian people at the mosque. As time has passed, the situation in Palestine and the oppression of the Palestinian people has gotten worse. To some this blog post may seem sudden but know that that I’ve felt this way for a long time.
The land of Palestine is seeped in generations of blood, of brutal oppression, imprisonment and disenfranchisement. I see echoes of what the British did to my people on the Indian subcontinent in what Israel is doing to Palestinians. I see echoes of what was done to Indigenous people in America and Canada. I see echoes of what the Spanish did to South America. I see echoes of what the French did to Haiti. I could go on.
We must call what Israel is doing and enacting by its proper names. Settler-colonial subjugation. Apartheid. All of us who want a better world must stand in solidarity with the Palestinian cause. We must continue holding our governments accountable for their inaction and for being complicit in acts of genocide as is the case with the USA. We must shout ourselves hoarse in the streets in protest.
As Stafford Beer said, the purpose of a system is what it does. Since 1948, the systems that constitute the Israeli state has systematically oppressed the people of Palestine. We must all do our best to grind the gears of these systems to a halt lest we take on the burden of inaction.
The Ten Forward Fundraiser for PCRF
In the spirit of material action and solidarity I have started a fundraiser to raise money for the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund.
If you are able to and would like to donate, you can do so here. Donations made through that link will be counted towards our fundraising goal of USD$1000. You can of course donate directly through the website if you so wish.
I also encourage people to donate to Medical Aid for Palestinians. I couldn’t find a way to group donations into a fundraiser like with PCRF but it doesn’t matter.
I have made two donations of USD$100 each to PCRF and to MAP. I made both in memory of my father who passed away in 2020 and who I know would have appreciated what I am doing right now.