I’ve spent a good part of my adult life writing about US policy towards Israel and the Palestinians. To put all my cards on the table, I’m firmly in the camp that the US should adopt a less one-sided policy that puts firm conditions on the military aid that we give to Israel in order to pressure the country to respect Palestinian human rights.
But there is a certain trap that a lot of the left tends to fall into when they take sides in conflicts such as these — where you have a weaker party quarreling with a much stronger party. Although I agree with progressives that the Palestinians are by and large mistreated by the Israeli government, which has maintained a military occupation of their lands for decades, I don’t think this renders Palestinians or their allies in the West above criticism, both on moral or strategic grounds.
The latest example of this is a spree of incidents that took place across the United States and United Kingdom where supporters of the Palestinian cause engaged in harassment and even violence against supporters of the Israeli side of the conflict.
While I don’t think this violence or harassment constitutes a sustained wave of hate crimes or is characteristic of the large Palestinian solidarity movement in the West, I do think that progressives are hesitant to criticize it — just as they were hesitant to criticize the violence committed by fringe supporters of Black Lives Matter over the past year.
They view it as the violence of a dispossessed, marginalized group — which is qualitatively different than violence performed by a group that has power. Racism, they’ve told us throughout the Great Awokening, is prejudice plus power. Only white people can be racist, right?
This is a problematic outlook as it seems to exist primarily to downplay the agency of people who progressives have labeled as downtrodden in the social order. While it is ostensibly designed to be sympathetic to minorities, it subtly strips us of what we seek most: power.
It is a commonly accepted axiom that you cannot have power without also having responsibility (the comic series Spider-Man even popularized the saying). If minorities cannot be held responsible for our actions, it is because we are weak. By refusing to treat us as they would anyone else, they are not only denying us responsibility, but they are denying us the potential to hold power.
As I’ve written elsewhere, anti-Semitism is more common among Muslims worldwide than progressives are likely to readily admit — and it’s a form of prejudice that I myself struggled with in my younger years. Surveys suggest that among European Muslims, anti-Semitic attitudes are more prevalent than they are among many other groups of Europeans.
The reasons for this are complex — but there’s no doubt in my mind that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one driver of this prejudice. Hot conflicts tend to be associated with increases in the level of social intolerance. Many Muslims worldwide deeply invest themselves in the plight of the Palestinians. Resolving the conflict in the Middle East would go a long way in helping Muslims and Jews get along elsewhere in the world.
But we can’t simply shrug and say that as long as there’s a conflict in the Holy Land that we simply have to resign ourselves to anti-Semitic harassment or attacks (or Islamophobia that also creeps up every now and then — a mosque in New York was recently vandalized with the message ‘Death to Palestine’).
We have to commit ourselves to peaceful co-existence here in the United States if we want peaceful co-existence over there in the Middle East. And that starts by taking responsibility and understanding that there is a problem of anti-Semitism among some Muslims — and that we should do everything we can to discourage it.
You can’t solve a problem you can’t even recognize. We learned that with the media’s false narrative that the anti-Asian violence over the past year was due to ‘white supremacy’, when many of the assailants weren’t even white. Let’s treat Muslims and other minority groups like adults — and recommit ourselves to the work of building a pluralistic society here in the United States and the Middle East.