It is Real Easy to Become an Anti-Zionist
I think I am starting to understand how so many people are convinced of the anti-Zionist position and how they also become antisemitic. I have struggled with this for a long time, as have many others. I have been involved in discussions that included looking for psychological explanations. One suggestion is that Israelis who are sure that Israel is to blame for the impasse and for horrific crimes against the Palestinian Arabs are suffering from Stockholm Syndrome (similar to the battered wife). In other words, the victim comes to identify with the victimizer in order to (re)gain a sense of power and control. On the other hand, pro-Palestinian Diaspora Jews are accused of being self-hating Jews. And the anti-Zionist non-Jew is just a Jew hater pure and simple. I have never really felt comfortable with these ideas.
These may be part of the phenomenon, but now I think that there is a much less sophisticated explanation. You know, Occam’s razor, the principle that states that the simplest of competing theories is probably the correct one. So let me tell you what I now believe and how I came to see that.
I have colleague Paul Solomon to thank for this. He spent a number of years in Israel decades ago, and we met when debating over our left wing versus right wing views in an academic context. He continues to send me links to articles in his attempt to convince me that I am wrong and that left wing NGOs, such as Breaking the Silence, are correct in their assessment of the Israel situation. Recently, the topic of India came up when I posted this on Facebook:
Solomon took issue with my characterization of India as a nation one should consider a worthy ally and sent me two articles. The second one struck home, so to speak. I know almost nothing about the inner workings of India other than the bits and pieces Indian friends write about in private messages and openly on FB. While I suspect that I know much more about Israel than he does, I have no idea if Solomon knows any more than I do about India.
As I read the lengthy article he sent (India: Intimations of an Ending, The Rise of Modi and the Hindu Far Right) I grew more and more horrified. The author, Arundhati Roy, is one I thoroughly enjoy reading. Her novel, The God of Small Things, enthralled me. Her writing in the scathing political piece before me now was no less elegant and breathtaking than that found in her book. For example:
In India today, a shadow world is creeping up on us in broad daylight. It is becoming more and more difficult to communicate the scale of the crisis even to ourselves. An accurate description runs the risk of sounding like hyperbole. And so, for the sake of credibility and good manners, we groom the creature that has sunk its teeth into us—we comb out its hair and wipe its dripping jaw to make it more personable in polite company. India isn’t by any means the worst, or most dangerous, place in the world—at least not yet—but perhaps the divergence between what it could have been and what it has become makes it the most tragic.
The power of her writing drew me in and, given that Roy is Indian and Hindu on her father`s side (in other words, has credibility as an Indian and Hindi), I found myself wondering about the morality of my Indian friends, two of whom I met in Israel in person. They declare their open admiration of Israel and organized more than one pro-Israel demonstration in India that drew about 80,000 people each. They talk about the problem they share with Israel, that of Muslims (both the large minority within and those in neighbouring nations) wanting to take over our countries and convert everyone to Islam or make us dhimmis (second class citizens) or make us dead. They have told me about Muslims abducting and marrying young Hindu girls and of their efforts to reunite these girls with their Hindu families. But the horrors Roy describes are so convincing of Hindu treachery that I had to question what my Indian friends had led me to believe about themselves.
Roy aroused strong emotions within me. I felt myself growing angry at Hindu India. I felt an increasing sense of betrayal due to the apparent perfidy of my Indian friends. Were the Hindus really so monstrous?
And then it struck me!
How I was feeling and what I was thinking while reading the article is probably the same as many feel and think while reading about Israeli “criminal” behaviour toward the Palestinian Arabs. Equally emotionally laden texts as Roy’s could easily arouse the indignation of individuals regarding Israel and, by extension, the Jews. In fact, there were a number of similarities between what she was saying about Modi’s Hindu government and what anti-Zionists say about Israel. If I were to expose myself only to writings such as Roy’s I could perhaps be persuaded to join demonstrations against Modi and the Hindus and an “India Apartheid Week”.
Additionally, I have the feeling that were I to read materials contradicting Roy’s thesis, they would be dry and factual and not have the power to sweep me away emotionally. Unless the writers were to use the same emotionally laden language as she, in this case haranguing passionately against the Muslims. And then they would be called right wing extremists. Sound familiar?
There are many passages I could quote here but I just want to give those who will not open the link to read the entire article an idea of the rage Roy feels toward Modi and Hindu India. And I want you to observe your own emotional reactions to these quotes. Would they make you stand on the street and hold posters declaring your opposition to such a regime? (But do you know how true they are? Do you know the context?)
She describes lynchings of Moslems and the lowest caste of HIndus, the Dalit:
What we are living through now, in addition to the overt attack on religious minorities, is an aggravated class and caste war.
And she describes the hypocrisy of the ruling party:
This September, while Modi was being honored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for building toilets, two Dalit children, whose home was just the shelter of a plastic sheet, were beaten to death for shitting in the open. To honor a prime minister for his work on sanitation while tens of thousands of Dalits continue to work as manual scavengers—carrying human excreta on their heads—is grotesque.
Lynchers, and others accused in hate crimes including mass murder have been rewarded with public office and honored by ministers in Modi’s cabinet.
She deals at length with the annexation of Kashmir and the treatment of the Moslems there. Here is one example:
When the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Bill was passed in India’s parliament on August 6 there were celebrations across the political spectrum. Sweets were distributed in offices, and there was dancing in the streets. A conquest—a colonial annexation, another triumph for the Hindu Nation—was being celebrated.
The Indian media was censored in order to present the annexation in a positive light and:
Real reporting about ordinary peoples’ lives came mostly from the journalists and photographers working for the international media—Agence France-Presse, the Associated Press, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, the BBC, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. The reporters, mostly Kashmiris, … traveled through their homeland at great risk to themselves, to bring us the news. And the news was of nighttime raids, of young men being rounded up and beaten for hours, their screams broadcast on public-address systems for their neighbors and families to hear, of soldiers entering villagers’ homes and mixing fertilizer and kerosene into their winter food stocks. …
But the home minister, Amit Shah, said that the siege only existed in peoples’ imaginations; . . .
In addition to Kashmir, Assam, an Indian state most have likely never heard of (as I had not), has a long complex history. Its population is made up of a number of indigenous tribes with their own languages and traditions as well as migrants from neighbouring Bengal. Assam became a part of India in 1947. Roy writes of the unrest there starting in 1951:
The Assamese nationalists called for a boycott of elections unless “foreigners” were deleted from the electoral rolls … The movement quickly turned violent. Killings, arson, bomb blasts, and mass demonstrations generated an atmosphere of hostility and almost uncontrollable rage towards “outsiders.” By 1979, the state was up in flames. Though the movement was primarily directed against Bengalis and Bengali-speakers, Hindu communal forces within the movement also gave it an anti-Muslim character. In 1983, this culminated in the horrifying Nellie massacre, in which more than 2,000 Bengal-origin Muslim settlers were murdered over six hours.
She goes on to describe the dire conditions under which the population live today. Not only undermined by severe poverty, but also by the need to prove that their families have roots in the region and are not migrants:
In the less fertile chars that I visited early last month, the poverty washes over you like the dark, silt-rich waters of the Brahmaputra. The only signs of modernity were the bright plastic bags containing documents that their owners…could not read but kept looking at anxiously, as though trying to decrypt the faded shapes on the faded pages and work out whether they would save them and their children from the massive new detention camp they had heard is being constructed deep in the forests of Goalpara. Imagine a whole population of millions of people like this, debilitated, rigid with fear and worry about their documentation. It’s not a military occupation, but it’s occupation by documentation. These documents are peoples’ most prized possessions, cared for more lovingly than any child or parent. …
And here is where she makes this relevant to her criticism of Modi:
Far from being deterred by the chaos and distress created by Assam’s NRC [National Register of Citizens], the Modi government is making arrangements to import it to the rest of India. To take care of the possibility of Hindus and its other supporters being caught up in the NRC’s complexities, as has happened in Assam, it has drafted a new Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which … says that all non-Muslim “persecuted minorities” from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan—meaning Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Christians—will be given asylum in India. By default, the CAB will ensure that those deprived of citizenship will only be Muslims. …
The real purpose of an all-India NRC, coupled with the CAB, is to threaten, destabilize, and stigmatize the Indian Muslim community, particularly the poorest among them.
These are terrible accusations. I have no idea how much is truth and how much distortion or out and out lies. I only know that much criticism that I read about Israel is both distortion and lies. Therefore I hesitate to accept Roy’s article as gospel truth. Unable to refute these stories, however, I am left without much alternative than to at least half-believe them.
And if the social media began to be flooded with such stories and more? If the social media and university campuses became as interested in India and Hindus as they seem to be about Israel and Jews, would I start to give in to the mass of (mis)information? Would I start to hate Hindus as so many hate Jews? Are we all vulnerable to the sway of passionate writing?
I fear I cannot easily answer these questions. And it helps me understand those who are swept away by the passionate writing of those who want to demonize Israel.
Roy writes with fervour, rage and conviction “as an Indian” as many Jews and Israelis write with fervour, rage and conviction against Israel “as a Jew or an Israeli”. But did activist Roy invent the arguments? Did the activist Jews or Israelis?
I think the question to really be asked is who started this ball rolling? In whose interest is it that Indians turn against the Hindu government that is trying to preserve the Hindu nature of the nation and in whose interest is it that Jews turn against the Israeli government that is trying to preserve the Jewish nature of the nation? And why is it that those attacking the governments of these two nations are seen as human rights activists while those who are defending the rights of the nation to define itself and its needs are labeled criminals? This may be a more fruitful and interesting line of examination than psychological theories of Stockholm Syndrome or self-hate.