On the role of racism in the Israel-Palestine conflict

This post is also on Engage.

Phoebe is thinking about the role of racism in the Israel-Palestine conflict:

“To lower everyone’s blood pressure for a moment, think of it like this. Imagine that two neighbors, one who happens to be Jewish, one who doesn’t, get into an argument over… any number of ridiculous things people argue about that have nothing to do with their ethnic-religious origins. Someone’s dog ripped up someone else’s flower bed, whatever. We wouldn’t say that the Jew’s antagonist in this conflict is an anti-Semite. Sometimes Jews, like everyone else, get into disputes, and those disputing with them have whatever beef anyone has with anyone. However, if a bunch of strangers to both formed a committee to support the Jew’s antagonist, while ignoring similar and worse conflicts in the town between non-Jews, we might wonder about the committee members. Now, if the Jew’s antagonist, picking up on his likely source of support, throws a ‘dirty Jew’ in there, that’s foul play and all, but that doesn’t mean the original conflict was about anti-Semitism. It was about the flower bed.”

And the next day:

“I remain unconvinced that “race” or “racism” is the best lens through which to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as it plays out among the parties themselves. I think it’s a very useful lens for understanding why certain third parties get involved, but the Israelis and Palestinians themselves, no.”

Matt responds in agreement about distinguishing between antagonists and their cheerleaders:

“When we call a speaker racist (as opposed to their speech), it typically means that that speaker should be banned from the discourse because their presence is unproductive. If we ban too many Palestinians or too many Jews, we wind up completely disrupting the discourse in a way that is certainly unproductive, because there’s no one left to convince.”

as well as disagreement about the role of racism in the conflict:

“…why should we distinguish between the claims of different actors on that basis when the claims are identical? And while we might seek to be inclusive of a variety of perspectives and actors in our conversation, that doesn’t mean that all claims are equal in that conversation. In short, I don’t think it’s often useful to think of racism as a matter of intent or as an exercise into soul divination.”

“Often, I go back to the 1929 Hebron Massacre. (Phoebe talks about the “ultimate” cause being about land, so lets go back in time.) Palestinian leaders spread a rumor that Jews were massacring Palestinians in Jerusalem. Palestinians (enough) in Hebron chose to believe that rumor because they were willing to believe almost anything about Jews, and they chose to respond by killing Jews.”

A very interesting conversation, HT Bob.

There may be strategic reasons for those most directly involved in the conflict and its resolution to pass over racism. But if like me you agree with Matt that racism is a significant factor, you will be wary of failing to acknowledge something major by putting it to one side. I also take Phoebe’s point that racism cannot be the only lens through which to examine the conflict, but it is racism which gives the conflict its popular edge and sucks in partisans with a weird and avid intensity from all over the world. It seems these days that in engaging with the conflict, and the way the conflict is refracted in far off places like Britain, it is impossible to avoid giving an audience to racist views. Nevertheless racism should compromise the influence of those who espouse it, should have consequences which disadvantage them while they continue to espouse it, and should meet with robust but constructive rebuttal.

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