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  1. Ideas
1 December 2023

Pro-Palestinian protests have been intimidating and isolating

Those closest to the conflict have greater capacity for solidarity and recognition of complexity than keyboard warriors.

By David Davidi-Brown

Six weeks after Hamas’s attacks on 7 October I still have a lingering dread from that Saturday morning. Like almost all Jews I know, I frantically messaged family, friends and colleagues, desperate to hear that they were safe. I still struggle to fathom what unfolded as the largest-scale murder and torture of Jews since the Holocaust.

Initially, after 7 October, being Jewish on the left often meant being isolated or intimidated by responses from those I thought would be allies. Some marched alongside calls for jihad, intifada or “Khaybar, Khaybar, yaa Yahood” (referring to the murder and expulsion of Jews). Others tore down posters of children kidnapped by Hamas. Or stood silently alongside anti-Semitism and protesters lauding Hamas’s “resistance”. Stop the War activists objected to Peter Tatchell demanding, in addition to his call for an armistice, an end to “Hamas’s sexist, homophobic, anti-human rights dictatorship”.

In another callous response, campaigners against sexual violence appeared to deny or excuse the rape and sexual torture of Israeli women. Sisters Uncut implied that exposing Hamas’s sexual cruelty – corroborated by the militants’ own footage – was an “Islamophobic and racist weaponisation of sexual violence that presents it as an Arab, as opposed to a global, problem”.

The reactions from those far from the conflict were in stark contrast to those of my Palestinian colleagues. That first weekend in October, one sent this message: “I share in all our deep sorrow for Jews and Arabs affected by the current situation. There is no justification for the atrocities committed. Those who kill innocent people in their homes do not share my vision for the liberation of the Palestinian people.”

Another Palestinian colleague “felt the need to reach out” to say: “There is so much pain, violence and suffering and I hope you and yours are safe and healthy. I have been reading about the rise in anti-Semitism around the world, and wanted to let you know how shocked and outraged I am, that I am sending a big hug… No one should feel unsafe because of their identity – something I personally know all too well.”

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I understand and empathise with the outpouring of concern for Palestinians. At the New Israel Fund my colleagues are courageous and compassionate Israelis – Jewish and Palestinian citizens – working to end the occupation of the Palestinian territories and striving for a shared future for Arabs and Jews. One way I have navigated being Jewish and on the left has been to listen to and lift up their voices. They have greater capacity for solidarity and recognition of complexity than keyboard warriors and the hateful among the protesters. We could all better follow their lead as they hold on to humanity and hope.

I say this to my fellow progressives and my fellow Jews: many of us are in anguish over the scale of death and devastation in Gaza and desperate to see more done to protect civilians and provide aid. We must allow space for that alongside understandable support for Israel.

I am dismayed by those ignoring prejudice faced by Muslims and Arabs, or those allowing people who spout hate to appropriate the fight against anti-Jewish racism. The Jewish Chronicle published Douglas Murray after he insinuated that Humza Yousaf, the Muslim First Minister of Scotland, had “infiltrated our system” and called him the “first minister of Gaza”. Can you imagine the rage from the same paper if a Jewish politician was accused of infiltration and being disloyal? The Jewish Chronicle further undermined efforts to counter hate by publishing Murray’s Holocaust revisionism and claims that “average members of the SS and other killing units of Hitler’s were rarely proud of their average days’ work”.

There are initiatives that offer hope for me and many Jews on the left. Our Jewish Values is galvanising thousands of Jews in support of doing “all we can to support the work of those at the heart of this conflict, Arabs and Jews, Israelis and Palestinians, working to ensure a safe future for both peoples”. Together for Humanity is similarly bringing together diverse community, faith and political leaders in “shared humanity and to do what we can to bridge divides… and condemn all those using this conflict to whip up hatred”.

One moving moment at Together for Humanity’s fist vigil came as the Palestinian-Israeli singer Mira Awad comforted Magen Inon as he shared how his parents were murdered by Hamas and expressed his yearning for peace. Mira sang a version of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish’s “Think of Others”, stirring us all with the words “If only I could be a candle in the dark”. Writing this between Diwali and Chanukah, this gay Jew on the left with Indian heritage is desperate for more candles in the dark and glimmers of hope in these darkest of days.

This article is part of the series What It Means to Be Jewish Now.

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