Thursday, July 22, 2021

When advocacy is relegated to grafitti

In the magazine Jewish Currents, Peter Beinart has probed the asymmetrical bigotry the U.S. mainstream throws at people of Palestinian background.

Why is this widespread anti-Palestinian bigotry so difficult to name? Because until society decides that members of a certain group deserve equality, the bigotry that they and their supporters endure generally remains invisible.

The history of the word “antisemitism” offers a glimpse into how this works. As Professor David Feldman, Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism at the University of London, explained to me, 19th century English-speakers had no special term for bigotry against Jews until they imported “antisemitism” from Germany, where it had emerged in the1870s. Why did the term “antisemitism” emerge there at that time? Because, Feldman argues in a 2018 essay in the American Historical Review, it was in 1871 that German Jews “decisively” gained “civil and political equality.” In other words, it was only after Jewish equality gained some political legitimacy that opposing it denoted a specific form of bigotry. Before that, treating Jews as inferior didn’t require a special term because it was unremarkable, the normal order of things.

That’s roughly the situation for Palestinians today. ... what remains largely unnameable is the idea that Palestinians deserve equality, and that denying them equality—or penalizing Americans for advocating their equality—thus constitutes a form of bigotry.

... It is up to Palestinians to decide how to wage their struggle for freedom. But since pro-Israel organizations in the US have made it nearly impossible to discuss Israel-Palestine without addressing questions of anti-Jewish bigotry, Americans of all backgrounds have a responsibility to ask why even blatant expressions of anti-Palestinian bigotry pass almost unnoticed. ...

As a culture, we're not very good at appreciating the lives and travails of people from faraway places. Most of us can afford not to look. But we are learning, painfully, to set more inclusive standards for ourselves and to recognize bigotry embedded in accustomed practices and systems. We need to offer that same standard to Palestinians and Palestinian-Americans -- and be ready to listen up!

Read Beinart's full article.

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