Jewish criticism of Israel’s actions must not be dismissed

<span>A banner at a pro-Palestinian camp at Oxford University on 7 May 2024. ‘Jews, observant and secular, have worked for decades for peace, and an end to occupation,’ writes Lynne Segal. </span><span>Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images</span>
A banner at a pro-Palestinian camp at Oxford University on 7 May 2024. ‘Jews, observant and secular, have worked for decades for peace, and an end to occupation,’ writes Lynne Segal. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

It is indeed a tragic time for Jewish people, as Dave Rich argues (The 7 October Hamas attack opened a space – and antisemitism filled it. British Jews are living with the consequences, 16 May). He rightly insists on the extreme dangers of historic and continuing antisemitism, today rising and falling with the extremities of conflict in Israel/Palestine. Yet he fails to address the specific grief of thousands of Jews, observant and secular, who have like me worked for decades for peace, and an end to occupation and land grabs in Israel/Palestine.

Rich’s article was published the day after Nakba day: commemorating the catastrophe of 700,000 Palestinians forcibly dispossessed of their homes and sent into exile to enable the establishment of Israel in 1948. Jewish criticisms of Israel’s dispossession of Palestinians have always existed, but they tend to be immediately dismissed to allow only one narrative to be heard.

No one addressed this dismissal more cogently than the Palestinian scholar, Edward Said, who spoke often of the inexpressible horror of Hitler’s genocide of European Jewry, while knowing we can only seriously address the politics of Israel/Palestine by recognising the suffering of both Jewish and Palestinian people: a recognition that insults neither Jewish memory of Hitler’s Holocaust nor that of Arab dispossession by incoming Jews.

Yet this so rarely happens. Every western child is taught the horrors of the Holocaust, through books, films, music, Jewish museums, all referencing the Nazi killing centres, correctly reiterating the menace of antisemitism. Yet, these children almost never hear that other narrative of Arab dispossession in historic Palestine, following the huge influx of Jews in the early to mid-20th century – a migration still encouraged today. What must be done, Said suggested, is to insist on that link between the two catastrophes, without diminishing either one of them: “There is suffering and injustice enough for everyone”.

This is why I’ll be joining Jews marching for a ceasefire and peace and justice for all in Israel/Palestine this Saturday.
Lynne Segal
Professor emerita, Birkbeck, University of London

• David Rich’s article sensitively warned readers that antisemitism is a scourge that must be opposed, especially in light of the events since 7 October. This message needs to be taken seriously by those who have been repelled by the devastation and misery inflicted on the Palestinian people living in Gaza. British Jews must not be blamed for what the far-right Israeli government does.

In his otherwise evocative call for vigilance against antisemitism, Rich sees anti-Zionism as a source of anti-Jewish sentiment. This possible equation overlooks the fact that there are many Anglo-Jews who have raised their voices in defence of the Palestinian people during the war on Gaza, and even have gone as far as to question Israel as a “Jewish state” that privileges the rights of Jews at the expense of Palestinian rights. These dissenting Jews act on a moral and ethical code of Judaism that requires Jews to speak out against injustice wherever they see it, even if the culprit is Israel.
Ron Mendel

• Have an opinion on anything you’ve read in the Guardian today? Please email us your letter and it will be considered for publication in our letters section.