Muslims must differentiate between Israel and the Jews

Israeli government is not the representative of Jewish community as a whole

Bariza Umar November 23, 2023
The writer is a graduate of Brandeis and Harvard Universities

People around the world are justifiably outraged by the atrocities being committed by Israel in Gaza. However, we must not forget one thing: the Israeli government is not the representative of the Jewish community as a whole.

One of the greatest disservices to the Jewish community post 1948, in my opinion, is the linking of criticising the Israeli state with antisemitism. And the more antisemitism is whipped up, the stronger will be the support provided to Israel, due to the horror of the Holocaust, which is imprinted in the DNA of diasporic Jews, who think of Israel as a safe haven if, and when, antisemitism reaches their doorsteps.

When criticising the actions of a state turns into hate-speech toward Jewish people, it silences and undermines legitimate opposition and protests against what Israel is doing to the Palestinians.

Muslims around the world must not feed antisemitism. Just as criticism of Iran is not about being anti-Shia, and criticism of The Vatican or the representatives of the Vatican in the priesthood of the Catholic Church is not about being anti-Catholic, calling out the war crimes of Israel cannot and should not turn into antisemitism.

There are around 16 million Jews in the world, and less than half of them live in Israel, and not all Israeli citizens endorse the actions of their state. In fact, Jews have been at the forefront of so many social justice movements around the world. Many Jews have truly taken to heart that “Never Again” applies not just to them but to everyone facing violence for who they are. Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) has been just one group at the forefront with Palestinians, and others, calling for not only a ceasefire now, but for lasting solutions.

The Israeli state does not appear to care about bringing the hostages back. Its indiscriminate bombardment is killing them along with the over 14,000 people in Gaza who have died during this “war” as I write this. Even if Israel believes that the lives of their citizens is more valuable than those of Palestinians (which has been said in no uncertain terms by the militant, right wing representatives of the Israeli government), this is not a calculation that makes sense. If destroying Hamas is their objective, every bombardment since 2006 has been the best recruitment push for militant groups that are not interested in a diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

One dear professor in my Brandeis philosophy class on the Philosophy of Justice talked about the Dresden bombings as a war crime. While I miss him dearly, I am gratified he is not around to have to bear witness to this current carnage in Gaza.

During my college years, we had a walkout against the Iraq war. Brandeis was at the forefront of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. The Jewish imperative to “repair the world” (tikkun olam) is beautifully ingrained in so many. The cognitive dissonance that must be required to grapple with the actions of a state that purports to be Jewish, and yet commits such atrocities in the guise of protecting Jewish people, must be overwhelming for many Jews themselves. Many Jews around the world also have loved-ones in Israel, and I’m sure some of the hostages were those working for peace, and there are those among the survivors of October 7th who have been vocally critical of the Israeli response despite what happened to them.

As the horrific bombardment of Gaza, nearing genocidal proportions, continues, with the US government support, it is imperative that this reminder keep being given, that Israel is not all Jews, just as the actions of the US government is not representative of all Americans. Antisemitism will serve only to buttress the Israeli state.

Muslims, of all people, should realise the dangers of such a conflation. We have been there ourselves, having to contend with the actions of extremist groups that do not represent us all. Now we need to be careful and not demonise all Jews for the actions of the Israeli state.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 23rd, 2023.

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