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Racism Versus anti-Semitism

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 £200 in cash, they took all of it without giving back change.

A trip the would have cost the family £750 in travel expenses, cost them £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.”

racismFor 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.

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13 Responses to Racism Versus anti-Semitism

  1. Blake February 7, 2013 at 1:32 am #

    This is just one story of so many. A place not at peace with itself and it will never be until it vanishes from the pages of time.

  2. John D February 7, 2013 at 4:21 pm #

    The term ‘anti-semitism’ only existed from 1860, when the first recorded use of the term was made. It is – quite literally – a nonsense term. As the article above points out, Palestinians are also people who speak one of the 20 or so Semitic languages. Clearly, David Ward was not speaking against Palestinians, was he? The use of the term ‘anti-semitism’ is, therfore, clearly nonsensical but that does not mean it does not have its uses, especially for the Zio-fascists. Like George Orwell’s 1984 and Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen, it can mean whatever the Zio-fascists want it to mean. This is why they reach for it every time they are subject to criticism. It also has its uses in cases such as when Mossad bombed Jewish centres in Iraq in order to frighten Iraqi Jews to emigrate to Israel, all the while calling upon the nonsense term ‘anti-semitism’ as justification.

    • Blake February 7, 2013 at 8:38 pm #

      “An anti-Semite used to be a person who disliked Jews. Now it is a person who Jews dislike.” Dutch holocaust survivor Dr. Hajo Meyer.

  3. Heather Stroud February 8, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

    As Blake rightly points out Tawfic’s story is not unique. Most of us reading this commentary will be aware worst things happen to Palestinians on a daily basis in Occupied Palestine. The media attention created by the charges of anti-Semitism directed toward Scarfe and Ward, however, has provided a platform to highlight Israel’s discrimitary racial policies directed, not only to Palestinians, but also to those who show solidarity with Palestinians.
    The Yorkshire Press are looking to write a news article based on Tawfic’s family experience at Ben Gurion Airport. To do this they will contact the Israeli Embassy to ask why they treated his family in this way. The likely response will be that they do not comment on individual cases. So the next question could be; ‘why treat anyone in this way?’

    This is the place where Tawfic’s situation becomes universal. Zionist Israel and those who support Zionism are very quick to accuse their critics of being anti-Semitic. I think it is time for us to be pro-active. Instead of defending ourselves against these false accusations we could all be writing to the Israeli Embassy asking why they adopt such racist policies, because doesn’t this suggest it is they that are racist and not us?

  4. Blake February 8, 2013 at 1:40 pm #

    I had my own experience at that airport and I am not even Palestinian. They seem to interrogate you for hours and it is rather intimidating so much so that I vowed only to return when it is Palestine again. I have traveled far and wide and the only place that came near it in terms of feeling intimidated was at Ciampino airport in Rome, Italy (never going there again will now make sure I fly into Fiumicino if I go to Rome again) – but still nothing as horrific as how I felt in Ben Gurion.

  5. Heather Stroud February 8, 2013 at 3:04 pm #

    The last time I visited the West Bank I decided that when I left Ben Gurion to return to the UK I didn’t want to lie anymore. To play the game of denial to protect my ability to return, sickened me. I think its great that activists go and support Palestinians so I’m not suggesting that others do what I did. I’ve visted many times and felt that the time was right for me to risk sabotaging my ability to return. Besides I’ve just finished writing a novel set in Palestine so suspect that I’d be banned from re-entering anyway. I wasn’t risking a lot. I was simply giving myself a cathartic moment to express what I really think.

    When the immigration officer asked me where I had been in Israel, I answered that I hadn’t been in Israel I’d been in Palestine. I was immediately separated from the other passengers and the searches and questions began. Since I was no longer protecting my right to get in I was free to deflect their questions and say what I liked. After all the other times of giving deliberately ambiguous replies, so as to secure my three month visa, this experience was liberating.

    It’s outrageous that the international community even consider this treatment of Palestinian and Palestinian supporting passengers to be okay. What if Israelis were subjected to this treatment when they travelled into foreign airports? Wouldn’t this be racist or ( what’s that word?) – anti-Semitic?

    • Blake February 8, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

      Precisely and to think they use that to their own benefit when they are not semitic by definition and the Palestinians, who they oppress, are. It smacks of aparheid South Africa (and probably far worse) I remember an American told me when he visited during apartheid there was a “European” and “Non-European” passport control so him being an American went to the Non European queue thinking that is what it meant. He saw the madness the minute he stepped on Apartheid South African shores.

      I will sure to be on the look out for your book. When will it be in the shops? Any idea?

  6. Heather Stroud February 8, 2013 at 4:56 pm #

    What a great story. It just highlights the stupidity of it all. We have to raise our heads above the fog line so we don’t become indifferent and blind to the injustices around us.

    With regard to the book, I’m not sure, but I’ll let you know.

  7. tsaabi February 10, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

    Thank you very much Heather for this brilliant article. It touches me and my family personally and my story is just the tip of the iceberg in relation to how Palestinian people have to endure the daily humiliation and suffering under the illegal Israeli military occupation, which is the longest in the modern history.
    I always think that if anyone is suffering from anti-Semitism these days it will be the Palestinians themselves as they are in the heart of the Semitic origins. Unfortunately, due to ignorance and the Zionist propaganda, the anti-Semitic card has been well played by the Zionists to attract sympathy towards Jews only and to cover up the Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians. The term “anti-Semitism” has been hijacked and used these days exclusively to indicate only one group of Semitic origins who are the Jews. Let’s not forget that not all Jews are from Semitic origin. Those who illegally immigrated to Palestine from Europe have nothing to do with the Semitic origin. Even the majority of these Jews didn’t speak Hebrew and had to learn the Hebrew language in Israel. So Palestinians have more right to claim anti-Semitism, to indicate the racist and apartheid policies against them by Israelis whom are the vast majority of them migrated from Europe. A European Jew has no right to use the anti-Semitic card as he/she didn’t belong to Semitic origins just exactly as a Chinese or Indian Muslim has no right to claim being from Semitic origin or claiming land in Palestine or any other Arab countries.

    • Blake February 10, 2013 at 3:40 pm #

      Amen. There has to be an end to this unsustainable insanity soon.

  8. Heather Stroud February 19, 2013 at 10:28 am #

    Well said Tawfic and Blake.

    I was thinking about this issue of anti-semitism and the current way it is being used because accusations are being made from both within and outside of the solidarity movement. I was visualizing a forum where the ‘charges of anti- semitism’ were put on trial. A forum where a genuine debate could take place. Those who have faced such allegations could openly defend their ideas and those who considered them to be anti-Semitic could argue their position for making such charges.

    I don’t imagine any Zionists would attend but there is an unhealthy rift within the solidarity movement that only serves the interests of the Zionist Israeli State and no one else’s. Maybe we should look at healing it?

    • Roy Bard February 19, 2013 at 11:29 am #

      HS: “I don’t imagine any Zionists would attend”

      I reckon it would be easier to get a Zionist to debate than one of the ‘anti-Zionists’ who specialise in throwing the accusation about:

      Despite Greenstein claiming that:

      I am perfectly happy to debate with Atzmon and have said so before

      when a proposal was put to him for exactly such an event, he claimed that ‘the movement’ would not allow him to engage in such a debate…..

      When they chant “Free Free Palestine” I wonder exactly what they mean by the word ‘Free’ and the word ‘Palestine’

      • fool me once... March 31, 2013 at 10:44 pm #

        “would not allow him to engage in such a debate…”
        Also, the serial arguer Greenstein, whilst referring to family tensions, in a recent Brighton Argus article;
        let slip another reason for not engaging in debate;
        “But mainly we try not to speak about it to each other because there’s not much point in arguing over something we are never going to agree on.”
        Greenie then goes on to, presumably in an argumentative style, describe a memorable early influence that led to his
        “passion for these left-wing causes”.
        Greenstein says;
        “…The first book I ever read was called The Scourge of the Swastika by Lord Russell of Liverpool which was about Auschwitz and the horrors of the Nazis.
        It made me think about how hateful human beings could be to other human beings…”
        In a review of said book from 2006 it read;
        “Some of the most shocking incidents include experiments of little or no scientific value being performed on unwilling concentration camp inmates (against the ethics of Medicine), which left many people dead or disfigured; stealing property belonging to the dead, including gold teeth; and using body parts disrespectfully – bones were ground into fertilizer, hair used for making mattresses and skin used to bind books and make gloves and lampshades. There are some photographs in the book which, although by no means being the worst that can exist, are extremely disturbing. Included is a photograph of two shrunken heads, the skulls having been removed, the reason presumably being sport…
        That’s the most frightening thing about this book: all of these incidents have been proven.”
        Considering that Greenie’s formative “early influence” has been proven to be heavily laced with fantasy wartime propaganda, maybe he should rethink his “argument” that holocaust revisionism is not an acceptable topic for debate within Palestine solidarity and elsewhere.