Jews critical of Israel are being completely ignored

Politicians who called the demonstration against the presence of the president of Israel, Isaac Herzog at the opening of the National Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam on March 10 ‘antisemitic’ are playing into the hands of antisemitism. Phineas Shapiro, a member of Erev Rav, the anti-Zionist Jewish collective that organised the demonstration writes that ‘by limiting what we are allowed to believe, they deprive me and other Jews of our right to be full participants in politics and society’

Dutch politicians should be ashamed of themselves. Politicians across the political spectrum and from both large and small parties are supporting antisemitic thought under the guise of ‘remembrance culture’. I am of course referring to last Sunday’s demonstration on the Waterlooplein (Waterloo Square) against the attendance at the opening of the National Holocaust Museum by the president of Israel, Isaac Herzog.

People often wonder why politics is so polarised. For the answer, we need only look at how Dutch politicians reacted to the demonstration last Sunday. A demonstration initiated by Jews in solidarity with Palestinians. The demonstration was against the disgusting choice to welcome the head of state of a country that is actively violating human rights and possibly committing genocide. But it is clearly too complicated for many politicians to understand that you can be both of the opinion that the National Holocaust Museum is urgently needed and also that this head of state should not be welcome in the Netherlands least of all at the opening of this museum.

During a debate in the Dutch Parliament about this demonstration, Jimmy Dijk (of the Socialist Party) asked what has happened in our society that groups of people have become so opposed to each other? ‘A large part of the people demonstrating really have the best interests at heart of the Palestinians, who are in dire straits. On the other hand, there are a lot of people who would like to see a solemn opening of the Holocaust Museum.’ This juxtaposition is so factually incorrect that it is dangerous. The protesters would have preferred not to be there but felt compelled to be there to stand up for universal human rights.

It should not matter that this demonstration was organised by Jewish organisations. However, given our current political moment in which identity is the most important thing of all, it is worth mentioning. More important is that the  anger and grief over the Shoah (Holocaust) cannot be separated from the Jewish perspective on the genocide in Gaza. Our culture of remembrance is not a dead ‘thing’, it is not just a memory of the past. Our culture of remembrance is alive and has great influence on our day to day perspective on the world, politics and our lives. It drives us to fight against all forms of oppression and react when our pain is instrumentalised as a justification for the oppression of others.

Contrived animosity between Jews and Palestinians

Let us be very clear, Jews and Judaism are not homogeneous. Those who maintain this claim feed prejudice and encourage antisemitism. Jews and Palestinians are both diverse and colourful communities. There are forces that want to reduce Jews to Israel, and Palestinians to Hamas. They thus want to create an improper opposition or even enmity between Jews and Palestinians. Zionism (the movement and ideology that supports a Jewish state in the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea) is one of these forces. The kind of solidarity that was visible last Sunday will be the foundation for the liberation of both Palestinians and Jews from the shackles of Zionism.

Zionism is a political belief that stems from the ethno-nationalist idea that we should separate people on the basis of ethnicity, race, or religion. Like all other forms of ethno-nationalism, it is at odds with universal solidarity and humanism, which have roots in both Judaism and Islam, among others. These values promote multi-ethnic and multi-religious democracy. Truly inclusive democracy offers much more security to all people and identities than ethno-nationalism. So I am optimistic when I think of the solidarity between Jews and Palestinians that was on display last Sunday.

But the importance of that solidarity is not seen, or even deliberately ignored, by the Dutch politicians. The demonstration was discussed as if it had been purely antisemitic. Ulysse Ellian (from the right-wing “liberal” party VVD) found that ‘eighty years after the Shoah, the same kind of hatred is being used again in the Netherlands’. It is sad that Ellian confuses solidarity with hatred. Antisemitism is certainly a growing problem in the Netherlands, but it played no role in this demonstration, as far as I and other Jewish participants could see and hear. Nor did we see any evidence of it in the media afterwards.

It is far more dangerous and conducive to the promotion of  antisemitism to make no distinction between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. Limiting what we can and cannot believe deprives me and other Jews of the right to be full participants in politics and society – and  that I find antisemitic.

This is also  true of the slogan “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which Erev Rav, among others, uses as a call for the liberation of Palestine. That slogan calls for political liberation and liberation from Zionism, not for ‘the extermination of all Jews worldwide’ as the Dutch Parliament believes per a motion passed on February 6th. Their perspective infuriates and frightens me, because in passing that motion , the Dutch Parliament perpetuated the link between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. In doing so, they limit what an acceptable political opinion for Jews is, weaken multifaceted Jewish life in the Netherlands, and treat Judaism as homogeneous. In this way they contribute to indifference and intolerance, and play into the hand of antisemitism.

And it cannot be that these politicians do not know our position: the media carefully reported the facts during the demonstration and the cause of Erev Rav. Only when the media gave politicians free reign, did the myth of an antisemitic demonstration emerge. Talkshow Op1 even called off Erev Rav and instead invited Mirjam Bikker (from the “mildly” Christian fundamentalist CU) who was allowed to falsely claim that the demonstrators were misbehaving. Jews critical of Israel were completely ignored by the media in their retrospective reflections, which also helps create the perception of antisemitism.

Who deserves protection?

Ingrid Michon-Derkzen (from the right-wing “liberal” party VVD) stated that the ceremony during the opening became an ‘absolute low point’ because of the demonstration. She wondered what kind of country we live in if we allow ‘under the guise of a demonstration’ the opening of such an important museum to be ruined. Does she know that we said mourners Kaddish (an important prayer in Judaism) with  thousands of people on Waterlooplein?  What kind of country do we live in when solidarity is seen as the low point and not the arrival of a potential war criminal?

If members of the Dutch Parliament need a discrepancy to debate the demonstration, the interpretation of the slogan “never again is now” is a good one. Who deserves protection? Everyone? Mirjam Bikker (from the “mildly” Christian fundamentalist CU) wants us to ‘dare to remember’ but she herself dares not stand up for ‘never again’. She argues that there are moments to be silent and moments to remember. At these and many other moments, I think of my great-great-grandfather, whose name I bear, who was loaded onto a train and murdered. I think of my great-grandmother who was just able to flee with her one-year-old son. Their memory is a blessing and encourages me to work on the intergenerational project to ensure that “never again” really means “never again”. When our memory of the suffering then calls us to take action now, only then will we have a healthy remembrance culture .

This article was originally written for Oneworld and has been translated and re-published with permission.

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