A firm stance - GulfToday

A firm stance

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Emma Watson 11

Emma Watson

More than 40 film stars have supported Harry Potter actress Emma Watson after she was sharply rebuked by Israeli officials for expressing solidarity with Palestinians on social media. The British star, famous for her role as the boy wizard’s friend Hermione Granger in the popular films, shared a photo from a pro-Palestinian rally with the phrase, “Solidarity is a verb.” She accompanied this post with a quote from Palestinian-Austrialian activist, Sara Ahmed, who wrote, “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.”

Watson’s post drew a prompt response from the current Israeli ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan,who expressed the wish that wizards could eliminate Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, while a predecessor Danny Danon conformed to the standard charge that Watson is an anti-Semite.

Director Leah Greeberg of Invisible Project retorted to Danon by saying that his accusation was a “perfect demonstration of the utterly cynical and bad-faith weaponisation of anti-Semitism to shut down basic expressions of solidarity with the Palestinian people.”

In reaction, stars Susan Sarandon, Mark Ruffalo, Viggo Mortensen, and others extended their backing to Watson in a letter which read, “We join Emma Watson in support of the simple statement that ‘solidarity is a verb,’ including meaningful solidarity with Palestinians struggling for their human rights under international law.

“We recognise the underlying power imbalance between Israel, the occupying power, and the Palestinians, the people under a system of military occupation and apartheid.

“We stand against ongoing Israeli attempts to forcibly displace Palestinian families from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan and elsewhere in the occupied Palestinian territory.”

Among the film stars who back Watson is fellow Harry Potter performer and widely popular British Australian Miriam Margolyes, 80, who is Jewish, anti-Zionist and a member of the ENOUGH! Coalition which advocates the Palestinian “Boycott, Divest, and Sanction” campaign and is a signatory of Jews for Justice for Palestinians.

In a remarkable interview with Middle East Eye, she expresses her view that establishing a Jewish state in Palestine was a mistake as this destroyed the lives of the indigenous Palestinian population. While she opposes expelling Israelis from Palestine, she believes in criticising Israel whenever it is in the wrong and argues that Israeli officials rely on the anti-Semite epithet to denegrate those who do and discourage others from following suit. It is her belief as a human being to report the truth as she sees it and makes the point that she has visited Palestine and Israel and witnessed what is being done to the Palestinians. She also says Israel takes a tough line on critics as she sees it is losing its public relations battle to the Palestinians.

The letter and her comments are particularly apt because for decades Hollywood has been a major source of Arab and Muslim demonisation. The overwhelming portrayal of Arabs and Muslims as evil beings, criminals, and enemies of Western civilisation has left “scratches on our minds,” to use the term employed by Harold Isaacs in his book about India and China published in 1958. Scratches on young minds can become infected in time with Islamophobia, which has been whipped up and sustained following al-Qaeda’s 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

Last month, the US House of Representatives voted on a bill to establish a State Department task force for monitoring and fighting Islamophobia around the world. While it was passed by a narrow Democrat party majority, the bill was opposed by Republicans, demonstrating that nearly half the members of the lower house of the US Congress is not concerned about anti-Muslim and anti-Arab behaviour. This has roiled relations between the Muslim world and the West since the advent of Islam. As was the case during the Christian crusades, Palestine has become the driving force behind anti-Islamic attitudes and actions.

This is of particular concern now because the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has produced a report, “Islamophobia in the Mainstream,” revealing that between 2017-19 nearly $106 million was funnelled by 35 top US charitable organisations into 26 Islamophobia Network groups which promulgate lies and conspiracy theories about Muslims and Islam. Six of the funding organisations named by CAIR included a leading Christian evangelical foundation, the Adelson Family Foundation and the Jewish Communal Fund.

CAIR lists some of the results of the efforts of the recipients of this largesse: a rise in school bullying of Muslim children, Islamophobia in social media and political discourse, violent attacks on Muslims and mosques, and lobbying of influential politicians and others by anti-Muslim hate groups.

As CAIR, a non-profit organisation with 28 chapters across the US, has organised conferences promoting BDS, mounted protests against Israeli assaults on Palestinians, and seeks to counter the might of the pro-Israel lobby, it is hardly surprising that it should become the target of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) which accuses CAIR of using “inflammatory anti-Zionist rhetoric that on a number of occations has veered into antisemitic tropes.. and vilification of Zionists” who, the ADL argues, account for “the majority of American Jews.” While the ADL’s claim that many if not most US Jews identify to a greater or lesser extent with Israel, an increasingly large percentage regards Israel’s policies toward Palestinians as unacceptable and support the two-state solution providing for a Palestinian state alongside Israel. This is why the ADL, similar organisations and Israeli officials react vehemently to pro-Palestinian pronouncements, especially from film stars.

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