Zionists use false charges of anti-Semitism to silence people of color in the Palestine solidarity movement
by Pauline Park
I have been thinking about how to respond to Rafaella Gunz and her personal attack on me and my Palestine solidarity activism (Rafaella Gunz, “This transgender Jew is tired of the anti-Semitism in the LGBTI community,” Gay Star News, 16 July 2017) or whether to respond at all. There is a good argument for simply ignoring this hit piece, as it is entirely devoid of substantive argumentation or evidentiary support of any kind and it has had zero impact on my standing as an activist in general or as a Palestine solidarity activist in particular. But because the knowingly false charges that Gunz hurls at me are part of a larger campaign of harassment and intimidation directed against critics of Israeli occupation and apartheid, I will respond to those charges and take them more seriously than they deserve to be taken.
Gunz writes, ” Many LGBTI advocates, like the organizers of the Chicago Dyke March, are vehemently anti-Israel, claiming the country is participating in an ‘genocide’ of the Palestinian people. One such activist is Pauline Park, a transgender woman associated with the group NYC Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, who often posts publicly about her pro-Palestinian activism, using buzzwords like ‘genocide,’ ‘apartheid,’ and ‘occupation’.” Gunz goes onto quote Dana Beyer’s Zionist hit piece on me in which she writes, “That Pauline has no clue as to what genocide actually is, or what apartheid actually means, is obvious, but it is just as clear that she understands that such terms are trigger words for many whom she claims she is trying to persuade.” Gunz concludes by quoting Ariel Lipson at length, declaring, “If you want to be more inclusive to the Jewish LGBTQ+ community, start by listening. Like any other minority that you do not belong to, you do not get to dictate what is, or is not anti-Semitic. You do not get to tell us what our oppression is, or is not. That is for Jews, and only Jews, to decide. Your job is to stop talking, listen, learn, and act upon what you have learned to make your spaces safer for Jews. You do not get to interrogate every person with a Magen David Necklace or a Kippah. You do not get to stop listening to a Jewish person because they are a Zionist. That is not how activism works.” Gunz, Beyer and Lipson heap absurdity upon absurdity in their frantic attempts to label my critique of Israeli occupation, apartheid and genocide ‘anti-Semitic.’ But let’s take these false charges of anti-Semitism seriously just for the sake of argument and examine them in some detail.
It strikes me as highly revealing that Gunz starts her attack piece by focusing on my use of the terms ‘occupation,’ ‘apartheid’ and ‘genocide’ and calling them ‘buzzwords,’ entirely sidestepping the question as to whether they are in fact accurate descriptions of the situation in Israel/Palestine as they so clearly are; and it seems to me that that is the question, not whether or not some people (Jewish or otherwise) are offended by my use of those terms. In fact, all three terms are actually defined in international law, something Gunz seems entirely ignorant of. “Belligerent occupation is governed by the Hague Regulations of 1907, as well as by the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949,” writes Prof. Francis Boyle, noting that United Nations Security Council Resolution 1322 of 2000 is a legally binding mandate on the Israeli government to end its illegal occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip (Francis Boyle, “The International Laws of Belligerent Occupation“). A professor of international law at the University of Illinois, Boyle points out that Israel is guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Israel’s occupation of the occupied territories is illegal because Israel has no legal or legitimate claim to them; simply having seized the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in war does not give Israel any title to them, regardless of who started that war (and there’s a very good argument that Israel provoked the 1967 War, contrary to Zionist propaganda); the notion that ‘occupation’ is simply a ‘buzzword’ would be laughed out of the courtroom in the Hague or in any classroom at any reputable school of law.
The same is true for both ‘apartheid’ and ‘genocide,’ which are also clearly defined in international law, in the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid of 1976 and the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1951. Zionist propagandists falsely assert that even the slightest differences between Israel and South Africa invalidates application of the term ‘apartheid’ to Israel’s illegal occupation regime in Palestine, but It is important to note here that use of the term ‘apartheid’ in international law is not restricted to a direct comparison with the former apartheid regime in South Africa; and even the most casual perusal of the apartheid convention shows that Israel is clearly contravening every one of the provisions of that convention. Article II of the convention on genocide defines it as involving any or all of five different actions, three of which (a, b and c) Israel is clearly guilty of in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and even more so in the Gaza Strip; note here that a state does not have to have committed all five in order to be guilty of the crime of genocide. Israel’s bombing of the Gaza Strip in 2014 clearly constituted genocide and Israel’s most distinguished historian, Ilan Pappe, refers to Israel’s policy in Gaza as ‘incremental genocide’ (Ilan Pappe, “Israel’s incremental genocide in the Gaza ghetto,” Electronic Intifada, 13 July 2014). Rafaella Gunz, Ariel Lipson and Dana Beyer seem to be entirely ignorant of international law and of these international conventions, which are fully binding on the Israeli government and to which it is a signatory.
Also striking is the fact that Gunz, Lipson and Beyer conflate Judaism with Zionism, even as Lipson accuses me of doing so by labeling a critique of Zionism as an ideology as inherently anti-Semitic; in fact, a majority of Zionists are non-Jewish, including a large number of Christian fundamentalists as well as non-Jewish politicians in the United States, Europe and elsewhere, such as Donald Trump, Justin Trudeau, Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron. It is also extremely odd that Lipson accuses me of “leaving Jews out of their speeches, out of their activism.” In fact, I regularly including Jews in my activism and in my Palestine work, most importantly by working with them, including colleagues in Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews Say No as well as Jewish colleagues in New York City Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (NYC QAIA), a majority of the core members of which are Jewish.
Gunz ends her screed with a long quote from Lipson, quoting him as saying, “Like any other minority that you do not belong to, you do not get to dictate what is, or is not anti-Semitic. You do not get to tell us what our oppression is, or is not. That is for Jews, and only Jews, to decide. Your job is to stop talking, listen, learn, and act upon what you have learned to make your spaces safer for Jews.” It is hard to take this absurd statement seriously, but for the sake of argument, let us do so in order to understand its true meaning and intent. First of all, pointing out the falsity of false allegations of anti-Semitism is not ‘dictating’ anything to anyone; it is simply stating the truth about such false accusations. Second, the false allegations of anti-Semitism that I was referring to in the Facebook post that prompted Gunz and Lipson to start their smear campaign against me and my Palestine activism referred to the accusations leveled against the Chicago Dyke March collective, which Gunz refers to only in passing at the beginning of her hit piece; significantly, Gunz is either ignorant of the fact that the collective includes Jewish members or else deliberately and conveniently excludes mention of that fact; one of those collective members, Stephanie Skora, is a Jewish transwoman, and it is illogical and frankly bizarre of Gunz and Lipson to call me ‘anti-Semitic’ for defending a Jewish transwoman, but that is the ‘logic’ of their superficial and ultimately toxic identity politics in which no one has the right to talk about Palestine but Jewish Zionists. One could argue that it is Gunz and Lipson (and Beyer as well) who are the anti-Semites by smearing Jews like Stephanie Skora as ‘anti-Semites’ who are engaged in the vital work of challenging Zionist propaganda defending Israel’s illegal and brutal apartheid regime and non-Jewish Palestine activists working with Jewish colleagues in doing so.
There is probably not a single Palestine solidarity activist in the United States, in Israel or anywhere else who has not be smeared with false accusations of anti-Semitism, which is why not a single Palestine solidarity activist (Jewish or non-Jewish) who has regarded Gunz’s screed and Lipson’s false accustions of anti-Semitism as having any credibility whatsoever. It is ironic that both Gunz and Lipson have denied being Zionist because what they have done in attempting to smear a Palestine solidarity activist with false accusations of anti-Semitism is exactly what Zionists do. Zionists call non-Jewish anti-apartheid activists ‘anti-Semites’ and call Jewish anti-apartheid activists ‘self-hating Jews’ or ‘Jewish kapos’; it is in fact such a commonplace that it has become something of a joke among anti-occupation activists. And since it simply is not possible to do Palestine solidarity work without facing false allegations of anti-Semitism, Gunz and Lipson’s assertion that it is illegitimate for non-Jews to question false accusations of anti-Semitism is in effect a prohibition on doing such work; it is significant in this regard that neither Gunz nor Lipson have done even an hour’s work to end the illegal occupation of Palestine, as far as I am aware; and Beyer is on the board of directors of A Wider Bridge, an organization specifically established to ‘pinkwash’ the occupation.
A perfect example of the failure of the logic of the Gunz/Lipson attack on me to meet even the most minimal standard of credibility and coherence is the fact that their assertion that non-Jews do not have the right to contest false accusations of anti-Semitism is the case of Rabab Abdulhadi, a professor at San Francisco State University (SFSU) who has been subjected to a campaign of vilification and intimidation by the AMCHA Initiative, Canary Mission and Campus Watch, Zionist organizations that target Palestinian academics and faculty, staff and students who are critical of Israeli apartheid (Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi, “‘AMCHA aims to suppress scholarship honestly discussing Israel’s violation of Palestinian rights’: Prof. Rabab Abdulhadi respons to Israel lobby smear campaign,” Mondoweiss, 23 June 2014). Gunz and Lipson insist that a non-Jewish person has no right to respond to false charges of anti-Semitism; by that logic, a Palestinian woman like Abdulhadi would have no right to respond to false allegations of anti-Semitism by Zionist organizations even though it is clear that they are engaged in a smear campaign that is part of an attempt to shut down any discussion of Israeli apartheid or Islamophobia in an academic context such as the Arab Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas (AMED) program at SFSU (General Union of Palestine Students at San Francisco State University, “GUPS Statement of Support for SF State’s MOU with Al-Najah Uniersity in Palestine, the AMED program, and Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi,” Medium, 21 September 2016). In denying a woman of color the right to respond to her accusers and challenge false accusations of anti-Semitism that are part of a campaign to shut down study of Arab and Muslim communities simply because she is not Jewish, Gunz and Lipson are in effect asserting a right to silence any and all criticism of Israeli government policy, including criticism of Israeli apartheid by Palestinians who are forced to live under the illegal occupation. If a Palestinian such as Rabab Abdulhadi does not have the right to question let alone challenge her own oppression as a Palestinian by Israeli occupation and apartheid, for Gunz and Lipson, neither do non-Jews have the right to stand in solidarity with Jewish Americans such as Stephanie Skora and other members of the Chicago Dyke March collective as well as Israeli Jews under attack from Zionists over their criticism of Israeli government policy.
It is also striking to me that the whole thrust of the Gunz screed and Lipson’s comments are so entirely referential; virtually every reference is to their own Jewish identity, without any acknowledgement of the brutality of the illegal occupation of Palestine; in effect, Gunz and Lipson (and Beyer as well) are saying that their identity as Jews is based on excluding non-Jews from participation in any discussion of Palestine, including Palestinians who are forced to live under apartheid and who are being subjected to what Pappe calls ‘incremental genocide’ in the Gaza Strip, and any reference to or criticism of Israeli government policy is somehow a challenge to their own Jewish identity. Lipson would ‘instruct’ me on “How to Criticize Israel Without Being Anti-Semitic” via a Tumblr post by Peter Vidani, but he like Gunz and Lipson simply falsifies the reality of what’s going on in Israel/Palestine by asserting that “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a real minefield in that it’s a clash between oppressed people of color and an ethnoreligious group that is dominant in Israel but marginalized and brutalized elsewhere” without even acknowleding the fact that the government elected by the ‘ethnoreligious group that is dominant in Israel’ (as he refers to Israeli Jews) is maintaining an illegal occupation under which Palestinians have no ability to exercise their human rights much less any say in how the apartheid regime is run.
If the object to my using the legally defined terms of ‘occupation,’ ‘apartheid’ and ‘genocide’ is that using such terms offends Zionists, then it is not much of an objection; as I see it, the sensibilities of Zionists defending Israeli occupation, apartheid and genocide are far outweighed by the compelling need to end the occupation and apartheid under which Palestinians have been forced to live for half a century and the incremental genocide to which they are being subjected in the Gaza Strip. And in truth, there is simply no way to refer to what is going on in illegally occupied Palestine without using such terms.
But unlike Gunz, Lipson and Beyer, Vidani at the very least acknowledges the fact that Palestinians (like me) are people of color; Gun, Lipson and Beyer seem blithely unaware of the enormous white skin privilege they enjoy in this white-dominant society and in attempting to silence a transgendered woman of color challenging Israeli occupation, apartheid and genocide, they show themselves to be the very embodiment of white privilege; and in the end, their campaign of harassment and intimidation against this transgendered woman of color for advocating human rights for all in Israel/Palestine will only reinforce her commitment to challenging the Israeli apartheid regime that they think no person of color has the right to challenge.
Pauline Park is chair of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA); she led the campaign for the transgender rights law enacted by the New York City Council in 2002. Park participated in the first US LGBTQ delegation tour of Palestine in 2012. She did her B.A. in philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, her M.Sc. in European studies at the London School of Economics and her Ph.D. in political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.