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Solidarity, My Dear Watson

Perhaps Ms. Watson is trying to send a much more complicated and desperately needed message to the pro-Palestinian movement about what real solidarity actually means: rejecting the lies and violence of Hamas in favor of better alternatives.

On Monday, actress Emma Watson reposted a call for solidarity with Palestine on Instagram. The post, which came only days after the terrorist group Hamas fired two deadly rockets at the Tel Aviv coastline, was widely condemned by Jewish and pro-Israel groups as antisemitic.

Perhaps the statement was reflective of a callous indifference to Jewish people’s safety. Or perhaps Ms. Watson is trying to send a much more complicated and desperately needed message to the pro-Palestinian movement about what real solidarity actually means: rejecting the lies and violence of Hamas in favor of better alternatives. The clues are right there for the deducing.

As part of her post Watson included a poem from Sara Ahmed:

Solidarity does not assume that our
struggles are the same struggles, or that
our pain is the same pain, or that our
hope is for the same future. Solidarity
involves commitment, and work, as
well as the recognition that even if we
do not have the same feelings, or the
same lives, or the same bodies, we do
live on common ground.

There is nothing wrong with those sentiments, and everything right about expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people, who have long suffered under cruel and incompetent leadership. Solidarity with the Palestinian people does not, and should not, automatically mean that Israel should not exist, or that attacks against the Jewish state should not be taken seriously. In fact, solidarity with the Palestinian people does and should include everything that Ahmed’s poem calls for.

Solidarity with the Palestinian people does not, and should not, automatically mean that Israel should not exist, or that attacks against the Jewish state should not be taken seriously.

Real solidarity with the Palestinian people begins with the recognition that, regardless of what Hamas and some on the far left have tried to convince those who don’t know any better, the struggles in the Middle East are not the same as the civil rights struggles here in the U.S, or elsewhere.

For example, the conflict in Israel is not, and never has been, about race, and when powerful people pretend that it is just to score some progressive political points, they create new enemies where there could have been allies. This particularly tortured “simplification” ignores the inconvenient fact that the majority of Israeli Jews are not white, and are physically indistinguishable from their Arab neighbors. Nevertheless, it has led impressionable people to hate Israel (and by proxy Jews) for no reason, and has even contributed to the exclusion/alienation of some pro-Israel voices from the greater Black Lives Matter movement. It has also increased support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, which lets foreign activists feel good about themselves while stunting the actual peace process and demonstrably hurting Palestinians.

Nor is the pain felt on both sides of this conflict comparable to the pain felt during the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Forget that Israeli Arabs serve in the highest levels of every branch of government; by definition apartheid involves an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression by one racial group over another committed with the intention of maintainingthat regime. Israel treats all of its citizens, including its Arab citizens, equally before the law. But even if Israel did treat Arabs differently (they don’t), there cannot be apartheid when one side keeps trying (over 30 times!) to offer plans for peace. Still, the allegation of apartheid gets irresponsibly repeated over and over again until it becomes a de facto justification for the launch of violence against innocents.

For example, the conflict in Israel is not, and never has been, about race, and when powerful people pretend that it is just to score some progressive political points, they create new enemies where there could have been allies.

Both of these faulty comparisons were on full display last May, the last time Hamas shot missiles at the citizens of Israel, threatening the lives of its Arabs and Jews, men, women and children alike. Unfortunately, at that time a large number of people who bought into the underlying lies made the mistake of thinking that solidarity with the Palestinian people meant implicitly supporting the terrorist attacks.

That is why Watson’s post is so important now; in the days after a Hamas attack once again threatens the relative peace and stability of the region, Ahmed’s poem reminds us that real solidarity with the Palestinian people means standing up and rejecting those who use lies and faulty metaphors to enlist others in their never-ending quest for bloody violence, in favor of supporting the real leaders who are committed to actually doing the work of finding (and living on) common ground.

The end of Ahmed’s poem is reminiscent of the end of the speech that MK Mansour Abbas, head of the Islamist Ra’am party, gave at the Knesset podium before his swearing in this summer. He said that “we come from different nations, different religions, and different sectors. There is one thing that connects all citizens of Israel and that is citizenship.” Abbas has repeatedly reiterated that Israel was born a Jewish state, and will remain so, while focusing on his desire to further the interests of his Arab constituents through increased cooperation with the Jewish people on the ground in the country of their shared citizenship.

Those are the sentiments of a statesman worthy of solidarity, and worthy of remembering whenever Hamas’ ugly alternative rears its head. Maybe that is the message that Watson meant to highlight. Hopefully she will clarify, but if not, we can give her the benefit of the doubt when a conclusion is this elementary.

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