The following piece was published first on Mondoweiss:
I am deeply indebted to my friend, Beryl Satter, for taking the time to compose a response to my letter to Judith Butler. Dialogue is necessary. And debate, even the type that might easily move some toward outrage, does not require insufferable contempt. Given that, I would like to respond by noting that even while I am writing to clarify some aspects of my initial argument and to articulate a set of disagreements, I love and respect Beryl as a friend, colleague, and mentor and while I understand that much of what was written may have prompted contention, I am deeply offended, quite honestly, by some of the comments written in response to her piece.
That being said, let me begin where Beryl ends. She asks of the reader to not make Israel a “unique standard” in regards to its violations of international law. Yet, the Palestinian quest for self-determination and anti-occupation work requires one to specifically name the State of Israel as an occupying force. Assuming that one’s critique of the State of Israel, as it relates to the State’s violation of international law and the occupation of Palestinian land, is always already laced with anti-Semitic ideology is a problematic postulation. And, as poignantly noted by my friend and fellow Palestinian solidarity activist Sa’ed Adel Atshan, the assumption of guilt rather than innocence when it comes to charges of anti-Semitism is equally questionable. Sa’ed also contends that it is “problematic to establish a litmus test for Palestine activists just so they can receive some arbitrary ‘non-anti-Semitic’ stamp of approval.” I agree. But Beryl’s response has instigated my own thoughts about the ethics that foreground my own Palestinian solidarity work.
I am writing this response from within the borders of a settler colonial state. I am a citizen of the United States and am, therefore, complicit in the ongoing occupation of the land of First Nation peoples. That I am able to levy an anti-colonial critique of the U.S. (and implicate myself in the criticism) instantiates the possibility that one can interrogate the practices and policies of a state without maintaining deleterious bias against state subjects. To put it another way, one can offer a strong critique of government (even one’s own) without abhorrence directed towards the body politic. And even in the cases that one might find reason to hold responsible a citizenry for, say, the widespread support of injurious practices or policies does not mean that one’s criticism is hatred masked. If I am able to criticize the U.S. without having to stave off reproach (though, in many cases criticisms of the U.S. state by American citizens is easily read as unpatriotic) or am not required to understand the history and character of anti-American discourse as a requisite act for my disapproval of U.S. policies and practices (though, some might require such action), then why must criticism of Israeli state policies be contingent upon one’s move to “understand the history and character of anti-Semitic discourse” (though, that work is important too)?
Such understanding is what Beryl names a “simple solution.” The suggestion, however, traffics in a type of exceptionalism that overly animates the Jewishness of the State of Israel. My concern is that some might easily read that excessive focus on the Jewishness of Israel (as opposed to Israel’s position in the world as nation-state) as anti-Semitic. I do agree, however, that developing and maintaining an awareness of anti-Semitic ideology quite possibly lodged within some strains of anti-Israel (i.e. arguments regarding the move to not acknowledge Israel’s statehood, et cetera) discourse is vital.
Furthermore, Beryl goes on to state, “The only way to engage in a fight against the occupation of Palestinian territories that is thoroughly devoid of anti-Semitism, however, is to acknowledge that anti-Semitic discourse exists and has its own specific cultural and ideological power.” This assertion trivializes the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and, again, centralizes anti-Semitism and, therefore, Jewishness, within anti-occupation discourse and advocacy. But more importantly, Palestinians (and Israelis, for that matter), regardless of whether charges of anti-Semitism are true are not, have every right to resist occupation and demand the State of Israel to cease its neo-colonial practices and policies. And one must ask: What if? What if there are Palestinians who are anti-Semitic, is the decision to cease the occupation validated or not by charges of anti-Semitism on the part of occupied people? No.
I am not attempting to provide an apology for anti-Semitism and its odiousness, but rather posit that the question of anti-Semitism is not the central problem around which anti-occupation and pro-Palestine work ought to be conceived. The centralizing focus must be that of Palestinian rights and Israel’s lack of compliance with international law. And there is no “moral argument” to win, actually. There is only the question of rights and the violation of law.
I am in no position to tutor Palestinian people regarding the ways in which they resist occupation and demand an end to the violation of international law. I am clear about the deleterious nature of anti-Semitism and its affects and am, like many, “conscious” and “deliberate” when crafting a critique regarding the State of Israel’s illicit occupation. I am also clear about the deleterious nature of the occupation and its affects and have no desire to win an argument regarding that fact.
Beryl closes by reminding U.S. that “Activists win when they know their subject inside and out.” And, I agree. Palestinian activists know their subject positions within occupied territory inside and out. We would do well to know the same.