Several events happened in the past few weeks that, for me, created a mirror into the wider issue of racism versus anti-Semitism. One might reasonably conclude that these two words are close in meaning but given the prevailing force of today’s political gatekeepers it is becoming increasingly evident that the words are being driven further and further apart. So far apart in, fact to render the meaning of ant-Semitism almost worthless. Other than as a weapon to use against would be critics of Israel, the real offenses of ‘racism’ are being blatantly ignored. My contention is that ultimately this trend doesn’t protect anyone least of all those who are most vulnerable to racist attacks.
Two events which hit the headlines were the charges of anti-Semitism against Gerald Scarfe, the ‘Sunday Times’ cartoonist and those directed against David Ward MP Bradford (East) for his comments relating ‘The Holocaust’ with the ongoing ‘Catastrophe’ of the Palestinians. These kinds of charges might have passed me by, since they have been leveled at so many individuals when they have legitimately criticized Israel for a liturgy of crimes – crimes that are so numerous it would be impossible for me to document them. However it was the story of a friend in describing his recent humiliation at ‘Ben Gurion’ Airport that created a sharpened focus from which to view these events.
When Tawfic flew into ‘Ben Gurion’ with his British wife and three young children their passports were stamped with ‘no entry’ and they were held at Israeli immigration for several hours – the reason
being that although Tawfic holds a British passport he is also Palestinian. His plan had been to travel to the family home in the West Bank for a New Years Eve celebration. His mother has been ill and was eager to see her grandchildren.The ensuing events caused distress to everyone but it was particularly traumatic for the children. No food or water was offered to the children during their time of being detained. At one point the family were accused of deliberately creating a public political scene when the eldest of the children, seven year old Olivia, clung to her father’s legs and cried out words to the effect; “You can’t take my Daddy. You’re nasty people. We just want to go to Palestine so I can play with my cousins.” The Israel response to Olivia’s distress was to call in more backup. Christine, Tawfic’s wife, counted no less than a total of twenty police and soldiers surrounding their small unarmed family.
After hours of questioning Israeli immigration officials presented Tawfic with a choice: he and his family could all return on a flight to the UK or he could spend a night in a room with a shower to calm
down. If he chose the latter in the morning, at a cost of $200, could fly to Jordan. He could then re-enter and be processed by Israeli immigration in the occupied West Bank, at the Allenby Bridge. His family would then be free to make the journey into the West Bank without him. This was not an easy choice because Tawfic was fearful for his family. Also his being separated from them meant the burden of travel was left to Christine. Not wanting to miss the opportunity of seeing his Palestinian family he agreed to separate from Christine and the children.
The room with a shower turned out to be a shared prison cell some distance from the airport. After a night in a cell (with no shower just a miserable dripping faucet next to the toilet) Tawfic was driven under armed guard to the airport. When his captors demanded he pay $285 he protested. “Pay the money or go back to prison.” As they pushed him back into the vehicle he struggle to get back out; “Okay I’ll pay the money but give me a receipt.” No receipt was offered and since Tawfic only had Â£200 in cash, they took all of it without giving back change.
A trip the would have cost the family Â£750 in travel expenses, cost them Â£1500 because Tawfic was required to fly back to the UK from Jordan. It also meant that Christine had to make the journey back to their home in the UK alone with the children. The response, although sympathetic, from the British Foreign Office was that there was nothing they could do. It was suggested by one British official;
“Try suing them.”
For me this incident is clearly anti-Semitic in the original meaning of the word because as a Palestinian Tawfic’s first language is Arabic. Arabic is a Semitic language. It also demonstrates blatant racism. Anyone claiming to be Jewish is entitled, not only to enter Israel, but is also entitled to live there. All the rest of us, assuming we are not Palestinian, or profess to support Palestinian dare allowed to visit. I really don’t see how it is possible to disregard the ‘racism’ here, yet, while the criticism and disciplinary procedures taken against Ward and Scarfe have been headlined this poignant story is unlikely to make any of the mainstream papers.
I would like to see the word ant-Semitism scrapped. It’s been abused to almost render it meaningless. I would replace it with the word racism. Racism is a word that is inclusive. It aims to protect all of us – Jew, Muslim, Christian, atheist…, all of us – and yes, it includes Palestinans. In a world that professes to value everyone equally this would be a step toward linguistic clarity and equality.