“#Hitler Did Nothing Wrong.” 3 Thoughts on anti-Semitism in France and a movement for justice for Palestine.

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Reply to the Leftern Wall: Hitler was Right. Hitler did nothing wrong.

That was the first thing I saw this morning when I turned on my phone. There is a backstory. Last night, just after I finished formatting and posting a new edition of the July Story Journal, a powerful piece by Yuval Orr about being called a “hypocritical, traitorous autoantisemite” by a family member for planning to attend a protest calling for the end of Israel’s violent campaign against Gaza, I logged on to twitter to post Yuval’s piece there. I was sitting in the Berlin airport, waiting to fly back to Tel Aviv after a week of speaking throughout Bavaria about nonviolence, anti-collectivization, Israel’s military occupation and my own refusal to take part in that system, and a weekend of exploring Berlin. An article on twitter caught my eye: Jews in Paris were hiding in a synagogue after a violent group emerged from within a protest in support for Gaza seeking to harm Jews.

I tweeted:

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The Hitler Did Nothing Wrong was a response to my tweet.

Three thoughts.

(1) There is something very European about this. The fact that a man whose twitter handle is “Urdu” has chosen to praise Hitler rather than, say, al-Qaeda is extremely significant. Contrary to what is implied by some strains of islamophobic, amnesiac discourse, Muslim immigrants did not “bring anti-Semitism to Europe.” Rather: there seems to be a fraction of the Muslim immigrant community to Europe that has begun taking cues directly from the dark parts of Europe’s history. In other words, poor, marginalized, disenfranchised communities taking their anger out on Jews, rather than turning their gaze towards the political system which has victimized them. Unlike in the past, though, European governments (with a number of ugly party-exceptions: Jobbik in Hungary, the Golden Dawn in Greece, straight-up Nazis in Germany) are not stoking this fire but rather trying to put it out, and that is a difference whose significance cannot be overstated. And yes, there is the added element of Palestine, and pan-Muslim solidarity, but supporting Palestine has nothing to do with firebombing a synagogue in Paris.

(2) “Understandable” has no place in moral discourse. Leave that to academia.  Another response I got to my tweet was this: “No excuse, but understandable why some feel so outraged [and] helpless they lash out on easy targets.” On an academic level, this tweeter is right. It is absolutely understandable. And that is important for researchers studying social unrest and political mobilization to keep in mind. But on a moral level? It doesn’t matter. “Understandable” is immaterial, and is almost always used to minimize the severity of the action. “This is bad, but…” On a moral level, it doesn’t matter that it was the protestors felt outrage about Israeli governmental and military murderousness as they decided to attack Jews in Paris. Just like it doesn’t matter that the American mobs in 2001 who tried to beat up Muslims or Arabs or people who looked to be Muslim or Arab were thinking about 9-11 as they did so. Just like it doesn’t matter to me that the Jewish mobs in Jerusalem who went searching store to store for Arab workers to attack did so in the wake of the murder of the three Israeli teenagers. We all have the capacity for violence and we all fall into the trap of collectivist thinking, so if we open our eyes, I think we can all understand collectivist violence. And this is genuinely important on an academic, analytical level- I didn’t mean that snarkily. But in moral discourse, people generally tend to “understand” only the acts of violence done by their own side/the side they identify with. And that is wrong.

(3) The fact that these protestors claimed to be “supporting” Gaza should not, for a single second, shake our support for the people in Gaza. The Israeli government and military are carrying out a massacre in Gaza. The Israeli blogger Idan Landau wrote it as follows (Hebrew, my translation—I don’t usually like number-arguments or long quotes, but in this case, both are crucial):

“In Gaza, a massacre is going on. We can now use this word without quotation marks, without caution, because the hard facts will not reverse themselves. As of end of the fourth day of the operation, 105 people were killed and 785 injured in Gaza. This is twice the amount of deaths and during the first days of “Operation Pillar of Defense” [in the Fall of 2012]. But the incredible fact is the high percentage of uninvolved persons killed… The last report by the UN spoke of 58 out of 80, and the last report by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights spoke of 73 out of 86. In other words, the percentage of innocents killed fluctuates between 72%-84%. For the sake of comparison, in the first four “delicate” days of “Operation Pillar of Defense,” the percentage of uninvolved persons killed was 35%.”

Those who are committed to human rights in general, rather than a narrow vision of selective rights and selective justice, must oppose what is going on in Gaza. It is important that this is done in a way that is genuinely pro-Justice, and that targets the real perpetrators, ie., the Israeli government and military, rather than, says, Israelis writ large, or Jews, as happened in France. On a discourse level, those of us who condemn actions like the attacks in France –which should be all of us, without equivocations– need to speak out in support of nonviolent actions –yes: including boycotts— that target Israeli policy rather than Israeli or Jewish people. That, I think, is how we can do something for justice in these dark days.

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