Words by Hiba Krisht. Hiba is Lebanese and Palestinian, as well as a scholar and brilliant writer, so when she talks about Palestinian welfare and discourse about Palestine, everyone should listen.
“I’m at the point where I can’t see how focus on the Israel Palestine question re: Chicago Dyke March is anything other than derailment.
I’d also like to say that perception that pro-Palestine sentiment here is being silenced *as a general trend* very much does not sit well with me because I believe the silencing to be happening the other way around, and think this is in fact a longstanding destructive feature of discourse surrounding the Palestinian cause. Also, I believe most of those engaging in defense of a pro-Palestinian liberation stance right now mean well but do not understand how much its framing decenters actual Palestinian welfare.
I will elaborate on both counts. I’m agitated from all sides about this and I can’t do brevity so bear with me I guess.
First, the derailment. It’s of particularly troubling sort because it falls into a larger pattern of whataboutism where what *should be* a case of clearcut antisemitism cannot ever be identified and unilaterally condemned by the left without also being hashed and rehashed in exculpatory ways "because Israel.”
This is ESPECIALLY troubling when:
- There is a persistent phenomenon that’s almost like a lefty inversion of the concept Israeli exceptionalism. Like a reverse- exceptionalism, whereby discussion of Israel’s transgressions are held to singular standards of scrutiny to the exception of other nations/populations with comparable and/or far more deplorable histories and actions and crises. And in that I am including all the unspeakable injustice and destruction the larger MENA region has wrought to Palestinians, and how accountability seems no concern there, in part *because* of eternal return to obsessive, unilateral focus on Israel as the central Palestinian issue.
- Cases of anti Muslim bigotry aren’t held to the same scrutiny. The fact that people will demur about antisemitism but not anti-Muslim bigotry betrays a terrible lack of self awareness re: double standards. I mean, if you want to go ‘head and make weak arguments about how religious symbols are politically wielded, I’m going to have to start wondering why you aren’t referencing the much more appalling and deadly scope of human rights abuses committed under Muslim banners whenever the question of banning Muslim symbols comes up. Which would be a clearly terrible argument, but maybe it’s worth reflecting why the same argument suddenly makes sense when it comes to Jewish symbols.
- Casual antisemitism often manifests as (among other things) conflations between Jewish symbols or beliefs / various Zionist ones / various Israeli nationalist ones. We ALREADY know the Dyke March incident to be an iteration of this problem. Now think about how fucked up what happened next is: the ban of a Jewish symbol at a public event based on a bigoted conflation is called out as anti-Semitic. Then, as a kind of precondition for defense against or acknowledgement of such anti-Semitism, people on the left apparently see fit to hold Jewish people accountable, individually and as a group, for *the same bigoted conflations targeting them*, basically needing Jewish people to declare their politics and/or unilaterally renounce Zionism – essentially acting as gatekeepers despite being outsiders operating from apparently rather reductive and narrow presumptions of Zionist politics, since they somehow have the arrogance of assuming they understand and can judge what any given Jewish person’s Zionist adherence entails and means based on the label alone???
Who the fuck else does this? Who the fuck else has to go through this? Do we have to establish and approve of the political and ideological leanings of Muslims in order to defend them against anti-Muslim bigotry, or do we engage in whataboutism re: the scourge of political Islamism in the Middle East to determine if Muslims have the right to display their religious symbols in the west?
Now the Palestine thing. And necessary conversations. And silencing and whatnot.
Even points that are so reasonable and evident they may well be tautologies by now, like 'Palestinians are entitled to basic human rights’, bear a different weight when made in these contexts. They don’t exist in vacuum, but carry the shadow of a discourse that already has huge issues with privileging particularly anti-Zionist or anti-Israel Palestinian advocacy no matter how tangential to the conversation, and never mind what else is minimized and derailed in the process.
I am not doubting the sincerity and concern of my friends who are struggling to express pro-Palestine sentiment while being confused by hostility right now, but I would urge a more thorough consideration of the relative space taken up by the respective conversations thus far, and to not confuse long overdue push-back from folks who have every reason to be frustrated and sick of derailment and semantic squabbles over definitions of Zionism every time anti-semitism comes up.
If it seems like there is rejection from the left when you want to assert a pro-Palestinian stance here, it is less likely to be because people have a problem with pro-Palestinian politics as such, and more likely to be because there is a salient point regarding how cavalier antisemitism already is today and how these patterns of derailment every damn time end up gatekeeping attempts to counter an insidious kind of racism that can and must be discussed without forcing marginalized people to jump through the Israel Blame Game hoops to defend their humanity. The Israel Palestine thing needs to stop hijacking conversations about antisemitism. Palestinian welfare does not suffer if people refuse to derail conversations about anti-semitism, but conversations about anti-semitism certainly suffer when what-about-Palestine pops up.
And that’s all besides the fact that no matter how well-meaning, this Palestine-specific whataboutism does not contribute anything appreciable to Palestinian welfare and is so oblivious in some ways it’s kind of heartbreaking to try to navigate through. I firmly believe that the kneejerk way the Palestinian Cause is held up like a trump card whenever convenient and the infuriating reverse exceptionalism with which the conflict is treated has been a firm factor in prolonging the crisis and exacerbating Palestinian suffering. I’m struggling to find the words for why it troubles me so much to see all these conversations stuck on questions of whether anti Zionism is anti Semitism because don’t forget Israel and what about accountability for Palestine.
Please. Please. Please try to understand that an anti-Zionist pro-Palestine liberation stance is not one that needs championing in the left, that nobody fucking lets us forget Israel when we try to talk about Palestine, and nobody stops talking about Palestine when anyone mentions Israel, and it hasn’t done shit for diaspora or territory Palestinians except turn us into a handy slogan.
Establishing a stance of basic advocacy for the rights and welfare of the Palestinian people is not what the discourse lacks, it is what the discourse needs to *move past* already. Everybody is well-versed and comfortable with the Israel Blame Game– it drowns out and supersedes everything else, and it’s everything else that Palestinian advocacy desperately needs.
This is something that frustrates me to no end because it’s not reducible to something like Israeli conduct being dealt with disproportionate scrutiny in the left *as such*, but as a function of urgency and relative space. When Israel overshadows discourse about Palestinian welfare even though it is Arabs who are responsible for the most staggering and horrific ongoing Palestinian abuses, we have a problem. And it can never be talked about or addressed because only Israel’s actions are viewed with agency and significance, and attributing Palestinian suffering to anything else is instantly condemned as insidious detraction.
So you can see how it is frustrating to go through the whole 'is pro-palestinian anti-zionism anti-semitic’ rigmarole when it is so often a distraction from more functional questions of Palestinian welfare.
Fact: There are kinds of anti-Zionism that are pro-Palestinian rights and that are also anti-Semitic. Fact: There are kinds of anti-Zionism that are pro-Palestinian rights and that are not anti-Semitic. Fact: There are kinds of Zionism that are consistent with upholding the rights and freedoms of Palestinian Arabs, and, fact: there are kinds that are categorically not.
Educated opinion: Not only is anti-Zionism the established and normative stance across most of the Middle East, but, if we’re being honest, probably the most prevalent and established type of anti-Zionism in the discourse is that which engages in solid pro-Palestinian advocacy while also falling into both gross and casual anti-Semitism. This is definitely the case in the broader discourse on the issue in the Middle East, and what’s more, there is next to no self-awareness of the anti-Semitic assumptions, myths, and bigotries, not to mention the historical revisionism, threading popular and political anti-Zionism in the MENA region and popular Palestinian and Lebanese culture as well. This is a problem, and one that will never be addressed as long as pro-Palestinianism and anti-Semitism are presumed to be wholly non-overlapping binaries by well-meaning leftists. It is both possible and necessary to acknowledge and mount critique of anti-semitic elements in pro-Palestine discourse while maintaining Palestinian advocacy. Acknowledging anti-Semitism in the discourse is not going to undermine the Palestinian cause. Again, people don’t need to be perfect moral agents to justify a defense of their humanity.
Educated opinion: Leftist discourse centering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is overall entrenched in rigid, binary thinking and overwhelmingly leans pro-Palestine but in unfortunately too-basic, reductive ways. It already has an ideological rigidity problem. The discourse is such that to be pro-Palestine is to be above all transcendentally righteous: the lines of oppression and blame are clear and brook no further complexity; it is the cause no reasonable person can deny or fail to center in any conversation, and Palestinian advocacy is almost synonymous with condemnation for the Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people and aught else.
It is troubled with issues of allegiance and abstraction– maintaining certain principled stances re: the Cause is treated as an almost inviolable tenet for anybody who can claim to care about Palestine, despite the fact that the central narrative of the Cause pits the immediate welfare and prosperity of generations of living, breathing Palestinians against the memory of a Palestine that has not existed for decades and an abstract future promise of a right to return to a place that never again will be. The narrative may have once been in service of the people, but it has not been so in a long time. And it is only the narrative that is treated with sanctity by the most vocal champions of Palestine, and if it comes at the expense of Palestinian lives like in Yarmouk, so be it. Palestinian advocacy is more about condemning Israel than it is about supporting Palestine, and that is the problem.
It’s beginning to feel like despair, seeing how pro-Palestinian discourse is framed in terms of the questions of Zionism and anti-Zionism over and again, constantly centering and recentering the question of Palestinian welfare as a foil to Israeli aggression in broad nationalistic and/or existentialist terms, assuming unilateral causes, ascribing agency very selectively to regional actors, brooking no interrogation of Palestinian, Arab, or Muslim agency in the conflict, and obsessively resistant to moving past the past.
It’s been decades and Palestinians continue to suffer large-scale crises in basic resources, public health, trauma, and disenfranchisement, and they have largely been allowed to persist in the name *of* Palestine, at the hands of Arab regimes that shrug off all accountability in Israel’s direction, though for fifty years diaspora Palestinians in the larger Levant have been purely at the mercy of the Arab states housing them. We do not need to hear tired pro-liberation stances when it is those very stances that are used to justify keeping us holed up in Lebanese and Syrian refugee camps, stateless, in suspended animation, without civil rights or wealth or upwards mobility, dying slowly of poverty and deplorable living conditions and isolation if we’re lucky, and if we’re unlucky, until a guy like Assad comes along and murders, maims, starves, and makes refugees out of a whole city of us– and yet it is in the name of liberating Palestine that Assadist discourse proliferates, being anti-Israel, and Palestine’s catastrophe is only and ever subsumed into the crimes of Israel and not of those of Syria or Lebanon or Assad or Hamas or the PA or Fatah or the GCC states or anybody else.
When I want to talk about Palestinian advocacy, I want to talk about Assad and the nearly 200,000 Palestinians in Yarmouk camp that are now dead or gone or starving under siege and I want to talk about how the Lebanese state has made pariahs and a lost people out of *generations* of diaspora Palestinians practically quarantined in refugee camps because of petty sectarian concerns and I want to talk about the Palestinian political elite grievously frittering away resources and opportunities that could have prevented significant Palestinian suffering and death because of political feuds and a reckless privileging of a jihadi cause over popular welfare– but I cannot, because the justifications, distractions, conspiracy theories loop incessantly back to Israel. Which cements *my* concern that these conversations are not really *about* Palestinian welfare at all.“