by Martin Odoni


I was not planning to write this until New Year, but with yesterday’s disturbing news that any support for Hamas is to be criminalised in Britain, I decided to hurry. I stress I do not support Hamas itself, but any words of support for Palestinians while Hamas runs the Gaza Authority might be interpreted by cynics as support for Hamas.

We have all heard a refrain among Zionists wanting to insist opposition to Israel is anti-Semitism; protests against Israel are really just an outlet to anti-Semitic feeling. The sadly dim-witted Shelagh Fogarty of LBC Radio even declared last year, during the Rebecca Long-Bailey/Maxine Peake furore, that all support for Palestinians is cloaked anti-Semitism, protests against Israel are a front, and nothing would ever change her mind about that. (On that note, let me just say to anyone who has ever said, “Nothing you can say will ever change my mind,” congratulations on explicitly declaring yourself an unthinking bigot.) John Ware argued the same without demonstrating it in his 2019 Panorama documentary Is Labour Anti-Semitic?

Now I concede this has a loud echo of truth. Anti-Semites do sometimes use the Palestinians as a pretext for unfairly persecuting Jewish people. I have witnessed it myself, especially on social media. But these types are easy to spot. Their weakness is they cannot resist driving discussions that are only loosely-related onto the subject of Palestine, and also get an evident kick out of making their Jewish interlocutor feel personally guilty about Israel’s persecution of Arabs.

The most frequent manifestation of this is in discussions of the Holocaust, when anti-Semites in the room hurriedly “whatabouterise” the Nakba, terminating all further exploration of the Shoah. My impression is that there is near-total overlap between these vile people and Holocaust-Deniers, or at least Holocaust-Downplayers. So desperate are these fools to believe that Jews are the arch-villains of all-time, they need to believe it impossible for Jews to have been victims of one of history’s worst crimes-against-humanity.

But while this certainly happens, it is idiotic, as Fogarty does, to leap from there to insisting that every protester against Israel must be pulling the same trick. I am completely sure that it is not all (not least because I am a protester against Israel, I am Jewish, I have never downplayed the Shoah, and I have never tried to shift discussion of it onto Palestine), and reasonably sure it is the practice of a tiny minority.

Anti-Semitism is not needed to protest Israel. Israel’s actions are motive enough

But for now, let us indulge the argument. Assume all pro-Palestinian activists really are using Israel’s crimes as grounds to give Jews grief. This raises a question; –

So what?

Seriously, so what? The motivations of the protest may prove less altruistic, but that does not change the nature of what is being protested against, or make it unreal. When Israel steals land from Palestinians; when it bombards Gaza with airstrikes; when its soldiers shoot Arab passers-by dead for looking ‘different’; those crimes do not become justified, just because the Palestinians’ advocates have motives other than the declared ones for highlighting them. No, a pretext only works when elements of it are grounded in truth. Underlying motives give reason to check what protesters claim, certainly, but not summarily to dismiss what they claim.

What matters is not who claims that Israel commits crimes. What matters is that Israel clearly does. Otherwise, anti-Semites among the protest movement would stop using the issue as a pretext. There would be nothing in it for them to exploit, and the protests would have ended long ago.