Politics & Media
Nov 21, 2023, 06:24AM

Binary Zionism

More reflections on the war on the innocent.

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I attended a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Margate, Kent, on Saturday, along with a number of friends from Whitstable and Canterbury. I guess about 800 people were there. My friend Diane held up a sign to the passing traffic saying, “Ceasefire Now!” Many of the cars were honking their horns as they passed by.

I caught the bus home. Standing in the queue at the bus station a young woman smiled at me. I smiled back. “I like your hat,” she said.

“Thanks,” I said, and showed her how the peak stops the hood of my coat from falling over my eyes. Her face went blank. That’s when I realized what she was referring to. “And it has a Palestinian flag on it,” I said.

“Yes!” she said, emphatically.

Sometimes I’m a little wary of showing my affiliation to the Palestinian cause as I know that people get angry, but this time I was pleased to be noticed. The propaganda is all one way. As Jonathan Cook, one of the best commentators on Israel/Palestine, puts it:

“For weeks, the media made sure Gaza's astounding suffering—daily bombing of children and families, mass ethnic cleansing, genocide—shared the billing with (or more often got second billing after) the story of the shockwaves for Israel from Hamas' October 7 attack. As the toll of Palestinian casualties in Gaza started to eclipse the Oct 7 attack by orders of magnitude, the media still made sure to 'balance' its coverage with a prominent Israel story. That often involved running a piece referencing weeks-old events ahead of coverage of the horrors unfolding that day in Gaza. Now six weeks in, as almost every Palestinian family is ethnically cleansed and their homes destroyed, hospitals don't function and the encaged population lacks food and water, and there are no places to hide from the bombs, the media is treating the story of Gaza as stale. Coverage is perfunctory. Gaza barely makes the front pages any longer. It's all a far cry from the Ukraine war, which dominated the news agenda for more than a year. It's almost as if the media thinks Palestinians don't count—just as Palestinians haven't really counted for the West for the past 75 years of their oppression by Israel.”

The young, on the other hand, have alternative sources of information and are reaching different conclusions. Take this video, on TikTok, as an example. It involves a young American man talking about the relative merits of traditional media and TikTok. “Dude, I’m fucking tired of this narrative that TikTok is not an accurate source of information. In school we all remember being taught the difference between primary sources, secondary sources and tertiary sources.” He goes on to talk about his family citing the story of the beheading of 40 babies by Hamas. “Where the fuck did you get that information from?” he asks. “Now is it important to get all your news information from TikTok? Of course not. But when you are seeing first person videos of people in hospitals, apartment buildings, schools, getting fucking bombed, innocent people, I don’t care what news source you present your findings to me, I will never, never equate that to what we are watching on our own fucking phones.”

I recommend seeing the whole video to get a sense of the anger and frustration of young people being talked down to by the old and fixated. It’s like Vietnam all over again. And just as Vietnam radicalized a generation to reject the social norms of the 1960s and 70s, so, now, a new generation is arising, with a new agenda, new politics, and a new set of attitudes that we need to pay attention to.

The disparaging term that’s often used to refer to the young generation is “woke,” as if the opposite, being asleep, is preferable. This burgeoning awareness is particularly noticeable among young Jews. Try this TikTok video, from a young Jewish woman.

“My fellow Jews,” she begins. “We need to talk.”

What follows is a carefully-worded analysis of the relationship between Judaism and Zionism. How old is she? She looks to be in her early-20s, and yet her words are so much more mature than many of the pundits from my own generation whose minds are closed, and who can only scream abuse when you try to put an alternative point of view.

“I’m aware that many self-identifying Zionists believe that Jewishness and Zionism are one and the same,” she says, “and I agree with you to the extent that this is the common perception. I’m also aware that many self-identifying Zionists define Zionism as self-determination for a Jewish homeland, and often the definition stops there. For me, this definition necessarily expands to ‘at the expense of Palestinian citizens’. And this is where I draw a very hard line, because to accept the former without the latter requires a large amount of dissonance.”

Again I recommend watching the whole video to get a sense of the growing distance that young Jews feel towards the State of Israel, whose actions are performed, supposedly, in their name and the name of their religion. The last time I looked at the Mosaic Ten Commandments they contained proscriptions against stealing, coveting, and killing. These laws were meant to apply without exception. They do not say, “Thou shalt not kill, except Palestinians. Thou shalt not steal, except Palestinian homes. Thou shalt not covet, except Palestinian land.”

One of the problems with coming out as pro-Palestinian on the internet is that it doesn’t take long before you get called an anti-Semite. It’s one of the reasons I generally refrain from responding to comments by outsiders on my Splice Today feed. Here’s an example, from Twitter. I saw a post from an Israel supporter calling him (or her) self Never Again. The motto on this person’s feed reads: “When Jewish people say 'never again', we mean it.” I made a comment, quoting from a Jewish friend of mine: “Never Again means never again for anyone, regardless of ethnicity or religion.”

This struck a nerve. The first reply was sarcastic: “Very profound; you should put that in your book to show people how deep and clever you are.” After that came a sharper response: “Do you 'all lives matter' other minorities when you see them referencing their own historical oppression, or is it just Jews?” My reply: “No, only Israel apologists who are attempting to defend a genocide.” Never Again came back: “Ha! It never takes long for antisemitic trash like you to reveal yourselves. You couldn't care less about Palestinians—if you did, you'd be raging about their slaughter in Syria. You're just a grubby racist who hates Israel, ie, the 'Jew' on the map.”

After this there was a pile-on. A series of messages from Never Again and their supporters, calling me names and accusing me of a variety of things: being “virulently antisemitic,” being a “Hamas-ISIS supporter” and committing “blood-libel,” among others.

You’ll notice the care I took in making my reply. The term I used, very deliberately, was “Israel apologists.” Not Jews, not Israelis, not Zionists: “Israel apologists,” meaning anyone, Jew or Gentile, who makes excuses for the slaughter now taking place in Gaza. In these terms, Rishi Sunak is an Israel apologist, as are Joe Biden and Keir Starmer. Most politicians, and most of the media—most of the pundits on our screens these days—are Israel apologists.

It’s not a racist term, but the response was aggressively racialized. Maybe it was a mistake to have said anything. I should’ve known better. I long ago stopped debating with Zionists. Not only do you inevitably get called an anti-Semite, but the counter arguments will quickly take on racist tones. Generalizations about Muslims and Palestinians abound, the conflation of “Palestinian” with “Hamas” one example, as if this was the only type of Palestinian ideology available. And someone really did say this to me once: “Palestinians don’t care about their own children, they deliberately allow them to get killed in order to make Israel look bad.” A host of racial stereotypes, about the cruelty of Arabs, the greed of Arabs, the mendacity of Arabs. If you reversed the things that Zionists say about Palestinians, and applied it to Jews, you’d be rightly labelled an anti-Semite. But somehow, when said about Palestinians by Israelis, it’s considered acceptable.

Not all Jews are Zionists. Not all Zionists are Jews. It’s important to say that, since the State of Israel and its supporters like to conflate the two. There’s a very healthy pro-Palestinian Jewish movement. One of the most prominent anti-Zionist Jewish groups in the United States is Jewish Voice for Peace. I recommend subscribing to their feed. In Britain there’s Jewish Voice for Labour, comprised mainly of Jews who were kicked out of the Labour Party for not following Keir Starmer’s Zionist line. In Israel there’s B’Tselem which recently came out with a report declaring Israel an apartheid state. The name “B’Tselem” means “in the image of” in Hebrew. It’s a reference to Genesis 1:27: “And God created humankind in His image. In the image of God did He create them.” As it says on their website: “The name expresses the universal and Jewish moral edict to respect and uphold the human rights of all people.” By contrast, many non-Jewish Christian Zionists are rabidly anti-Semitic, as this piece from Jacobin magazine makes clear.

The polarisation of thought that Zionism creates is part of its methodology. The world’s seen in binary terms: good versus evil, Jew versus Muslim, civilization versus barbarism. We know all the names and all the faces of the hostages who were taken on October 7th, but none of the Palestinian prisoners who’ve languished in Israeli jails, often without trial, for years. We’re repeatedly reminded of the crimes of Hamas, which serve as justification for the slaughter of innocents in Gaza, even when, as becomes clearer by the day, at least some of the deaths were caused by Israeli cross-fire. Meanwhile Israel is allowed to act with impunity under the general rule that Israel has a right to defend itself. Yes it does, against foreign incursion, but not against a region it occupies. In fact, it has a duty of care to those who suffer under its rule. That’s the law.

Here’s an example of Zionist thought in action. A Jewish woman stands on the side of the road holding a sign calling for a ceasefire. A bunch of Zionists, wrapped in Israeli flags, surround her.

“Let’s cut open your stomach, take out your fetus and then smell it, while they torture you and cut off your body parts and rape you. Make you naked and drag you through the street,” says one.

“I wish they would rape you alive,” says another. “They are filming you and if your mother be alive they will send the video for your mother to see how you burn.”

“You know what a bomb does?” answers the woman, quietly. “It burns.”

If you don’t believe me that at least some of the deaths were caused by Israeli fire, watch this video. It’s Mark Regev, Australian-born Ambassador for Israel in the United Kingdom, talking to Mehdi Hasan on MSNBC. Among other things, including the denial of the numbers of children killed in Gaza, he says this about the casualties on October 7th: “We had the number at 1400 casualties and now we’ve revised that down to 1200 because we understood that we had overestimated. We made a mistake. They’re actually bodies that were so badly burnt we thought they were ours. In the end, apparently, they were Hamas terrorists.”

So ask yourself: how did the bodies come to be so badly burnt they were unrecognizable? Did they do that to themselves? Obviously not. And the question that follows: how were they mistaken for Israeli bodies? Presumably because they were in the same buildings. In other words, as eye-witnesses have reported, Israeli tanks and aircraft fired on buildings with both Hamas fighters and hostages in them, burning both so badly they were indistinguishable from each other, after which they were put on display as examples of Hamas' brutality.

I’ll end with a poem by the Gazan poet, Khaled Juma, which was read out at our gatherings, both in Margate and Canterbury:

Oh Rascal Children Of Gaza

Oh rascal children of Gaza,
You who constantly disturbed me with your screams under my window,
You who filled every morning with rush and chaos,
You who broke my vase and stole the lonely flower on my balcony,
Come back –
And scream as you want,
And break all the vases,
Steal all the flowers,
Come back,
Just come back…

—Follow Chris Stone on X: @ChrisJamesStone

  • "Language is a tricky business. It’s full of traps and snares," as you recently wrote, Christopher. Here's a trick you just performed: writing that "at least some" of the Oct 7 deaths were from Israeli fire. "At least some" suggests that maybe all of the deaths were such. You've consistently downplayed Hamas' atrocities to a point approaching outright denial.

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  • No I wasn't meaning to suggest that. I meant what I said: "at least some", meaning "not all". I haven't downplayed Hamas' atrocities, but I do question the extent. As I understand it the majority of Hamas actions took place on military bases and Israeli state facilities, and the majority of deaths were amongst Israeli military personnel. These are legitimate targets for a resitance group, under international law. If the US was under occupation, you would act in the same way. That's not to say that atrocities did not occur but unfortunately the Israelis have not allowed independent verification, so we really can't say precisely what happened. Currently they are commiting atrocities themselves while making claims, again, without independent verification. They are also bombing their own hostages, rather than negotiating for their release, which suggests to me that they don't want the hostages to live in case their first hand reports contradict their own lies. (That's a suggestion, not a fact). Here's the truth, as I understand it: neither you, nor I have any idea what happened that day, because we weren't there to witness. But what we do know is that the people of Gaza are suffering unimaginable horrors right now, dying of hunger, thirst and transmittable diseases, as well as having bombs rained down on them and being shot at when they are trying to escape. I can find sources for all of the above.

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  • To quote the full sentence: "We’re repeatedly reminded of the crimes of Hamas, which serve as justification for the slaughter of innocents in Gaza, even when, as becomes clearer by the day, at least some of the deaths were caused by Israeli cross-fire." "At least some", in this context, clearly means that most of the deaths were caused by Hamas. That was how I meant it.

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  • >> As I understand it the majority of Hamas actions took place on military bases and Israeli state facilities, and the majority of deaths were amongst Israeli military personnel. << I am in transit most of today but would be interested in looking at a source indicating that. As for the "at least some" wording, I think "some" would've been preferable.

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  • The snares of language again. I should have said, "many of the deaths were amongst Israeli military personnel:" "At least 340 active soldiers and intelligence officers were killed on October 7, accounting for close to 50% of confirmed Israeli deaths. The casualties included high ranking officers like Col. Jonathan Steinberg, the commander of Israel’s Nahal Brigade. (Many first responders and armed Israeli civilians were also killed)." https://thegrayzone.com/2023/10/27/israels-military-shelled-burning-tanks-helicopters/ A number of police offers were also killed, around 60 I believe. That brings the figure to around 400, or 1/3 of the deaths. According to the UN 13,000 people have now been killed in Gaza, including 5,600 children. I wonder what percentage of those are Hamas fighters?

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  • Given that we know that "some" of the victims were killed by friendly fire, that means that the number of civilian deaths that can be attrubuted to Hamas is far less than we were led to believe at first.

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  • The "at least" was meant as a qualifier for "some". Had you been my editor though, I would have taken your advice and removed it.

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  • Palestinian health officials in Gaza say they have lost the ability to count the dead because of the collapse of the enclave's health system and the difficulty of retrieving bodies from areas overrun by Israeli tanks and troops: https://abcnews.go.com/amp/International/wireStory/gaza-health-officials-lost-ability-count-dead-israeli-105071226

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  • >> Here’s the truth, as I understand it: neither you, nor I have any idea what happened that day, because we weren’t there to witness. But what we do know is that the people of Gaza are suffering unimaginable horrors right now... << I have no doubt, whatsoever, that the people of Gaza are suffering unimaginable horrors right now. I reject the claim that "neither you, nor I have any idea what happened that day [Oct 7]." The evidence is far clearer than with most atrocities and includes this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nuePcX3vXf4 https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2023-11-20/israel-shares-video-of-hamas-gunman-executing-woman-on-oct-7

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  • That is indeed a shocking a terrible thing to see, but it amounts to one incident over a number of days. I have made it clear that I'm sure there were atrocities, but it was also much more complex than we were led to believe. Hamas did attack military facilities as well. They killed police and soldiers, who are legitimate targets for a resitance group, and "some", possible many, civilians were killed by the Israelis then put on display as examples of Hamas brutality, which is an outright lie. Their main purpose seems to have been the taking of hostages, which is illegal under international law, but anyone who thinks that the killing of now in excess of 13,000 people, including 5,500 children, as a response is proportionate, needs to take a good long hard look at themselves.

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  • Here is a different version of what may have happened on the 7th and the days following: https://twitter.com/MaxBlumenthal/status/1718308008713650412

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  • Daren Al-Bayaa lost everyone in her family except her brother: https://www.tiktok.com/@devotedly.yours/video/7303988830846176555

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  • I recommend this Ken: two old codgers talking about the past, a Palestinian and an Israeli. Very enlightening: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUjdDYoTZG0

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  • I only started watching it, Chris, and am familiar with Avi Shlaim. My initial perception is that they're talking about different things (and it's two interviews spliced together) as he's saying "Everything changed after 1967" and she's focused on 1948. (BTW, the B'Tselem map site you mentioned in comment at my piece has a lot of info but nothing about pre-1967.)

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  • No, it's a single interview. They are sitting opposite sides of a table. You've only watched the intro, which cotains cuts from the whole, not the whole thing, where they are talking about their respective childhoods. That's what's interesting, the parellels between their lives, as an Iraqi Jew and a Palestinian, whose lives were disrupted by the same event, the 1967 war and the occupation. They've both written books which sound fascinating.

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  • Ok. I will watch when I can.

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  • I've watched much more and will finish later. I presume you didn't mean to say their lives were disrupted by the 1967 war, since of course her family fled in 1948 when Israel was founded, and his fled Iraq in 1950, when Jewish communities around the Arab world were being expelled. I think they have important perspectives. I still, though, would encourage you, Chris, and anyone else reading this to read the Commentary article I cited in another thread https://www.commentary.org/articles/sol-stern/century-of-palestinian-jew-hatred/ and moreover to understand that Jews faced persecution by Arabs well before large numbers of Zionists arrived (as in the 1929 riot of which I quoted a graphic description in another thread), that the British Mandate included what's now Jordan (and Jews were barred from living there), that Ben-Gurion accepted the Peel commission plan that would've established Israel as a mostly coastal strip, and then accepted the UN partition plan, and ended up with the 1948 borders after fighting off an invasion by five Arab armies; and that Israel gained the 1967 territories after attacking the armies that had massed on its borders; and was almost defeated in a surprise attack in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, but then won even while refraining from destroying an encircled Egyptian army; and then with peace treaties handed back the Sinai and unsuccessfully asked Egypt to take Gaza back. There's a lot of history that doesn't fit into the narrative that Israel is solely to blame for where thing are (I don't say it carries no blame).

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  • They both talk about both 1948 and 1967 but refer to 1967 as a turning point. The reason I pointed it out to you is that these two old people from different sides of the fence show that it is possible for the two nations to make an accomodation and even reach the same conclusions. I read the piece you refer to and commented on it extensively in the other thread. It is a very weak piece of biased journalism in my estimation, clearly polemical. For eg he refers to the Nakba as "the Palestinian Nakba narrative" which is an attempt to downplay the actual event. Infact as Ilan Pappe (a proper historian) makes clear, the Palestinian narrative is substantially true. On the 1967 war, I would urge you to read Miko Peled, whose father, Matti Peled, was the Israel Defense Forces’ chief of logistics at the time. https://www.latimes.com/opinion/la-xpm-2012-jun-06-la-oe-peled-israel-palestine--six-day-war-20120606-story.html He said: "From a military standpoint, it was not the IDF that was in danger when the Egyptian army amassed troops on the Israeli border, but the Egyptian army.” The Israelis saw the war as an opportunity for expansion and acted as such. There is indeed a lot of history, but one thing that Israel is to blame for, unequivoclally, is the apartheid regime that it has created in the intervening years as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B'Tselem all make clear. It has deliberately undermined the two state soution, which even Hamas has accepted as the basis for a possible peace, https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/hamas-2017-document-full

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  • Thank you for reading and commenting on the Stern article. As for the Hamas declaration, the wording was: >> 20. Hamas believes that no part of the land of Palestine shall be compromised or conceded, irrespective of the causes, the circumstances and the pressures and no matter how long the occupation lasts. Hamas rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea. However, without compromising its rejection of the Zionist entity and without relinquishing any Palestinian rights, Hamas considers the establishment of a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital along the lines of the 4th of June 1967, with the return of the refugees and the displaced to their homes from which they were expelled, to be a formula of national consensus. << As an editor, I would say it was worded artfully to generate hopes without actually accepting a two-state solution as the basis for a possible peace. In any case, what they've done, especially in 2023, matters much more than what they said in 2017.

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  • It is an artful document written in diplomatic language, but it is also the basis for possible negotiations. It's not Hamas who have been building settlements and regularly "mowing the lawn in Gaza", meaning invading and killing a few hundred or a few thousand every few years in order to remind everyone who the masters are. Watch Finklestein on that: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxP9ey5wSf0 The trick of the Western media is always to report Palestinian violations without reporting previous Israeli violations, so it always looks as if the Palstinians have broken the ceasefire. When Palestinians are murdered, that's just taken as a matter of course, which shows the inherent bias of the reporting. Many, many more Palestinians have been killed in these conflicts than Israelis. Currently Israel seems to be targeting reoprters: https://peoplesdispatch.org/2023/11/22/israel-is-assassinating-journalists-in-gaza/, a crime, once again. Face it Ken, Israel is a criminal enterprise, at least as brutal as Hamas (more so by death count). We need independent investigations of all the crimes that have been committed by both. There need to be indictments at the ICC calling both to account.

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