It’s an obvious point, but the obvious bears repeating. The absurd accusations of anti-Semitism against actress Emma Watson last week for expressing solidarity for Palestinians have backfired against Israeli leaders and in one bright flash helped to discredit an ancient tried-and-true strategy of the Israel lobby: maligning critics of Israel’s policies as antisemites.
Israel’s supporters have been effective for years at muzzling critics by doing just that. The good news of the Emma Watson’s smearing is that this time even establishment types raised an eyebrow over the strategy– and may even have noticed the anti-Palestinian bigotry that animates it.
So we should embrace the Emma Watson moment, as another landmark in the march to the mainstream of Palestinian solidarity.
Back to the episode: On January 2, Watson published a rather anodyne declaration of Solidarity with Palestinians with an image of a demonstration from last May, and Israeli ambassador Gilan Erdan lectured her about supporting “evil” and former Israeli ambassador Danny Danon called her an antisemite.
It was overreaching. CNN published criticisms of the antisemitism allegation, including from MSNBC journalist Ayman Mohyeldin.
Leah Greenberg, co-executive director of Indivisible, a US-based progressive political campaign organization, responded to Danon on Twitter. “A perfect demonstration of the utterly cynical and bad-faith weaponization of antisemitism to shut down basic expressions of solidarity with the Palestinian people…”
MSNBC host and former CNN journalist Ayman Mohyeldin was another who commented. “No joke, we are at the point where merely posting a vague picture referencing solidarity with Palestinians on Instagram gets you labeled as an antisemite,” he tweeted.
Miriam Margolyse, a Jewish actor who appeared in the Harry Potter movies that made Watson famous, also supported Emma Watson’s stance and called out the bad faith.
“The Israeli treatment of Palestinians is disgraceful. Anti-semitism is not at issue,” Margolyes, who was born to a secular Jewish family in Oxford, said, adding: “What matters is opposing cruelty, speaking out for compassion.”
“Criticizing Israel is not in itself, an anti-Semitic stance. Conflating the two is a form of disguised censorship,” she concluded.
Some Israel supporters recognized the damage of the attacks.
J Street’s political director expressed support for Emma Watson and accused her critics of “throwing around false accusations of antisemitism.” The Jerusalem Post editorial board rushed in to defend Emma Watson. “Fight Real Antisemitism, Not Emma Watson.”
[W]e also should not confuse real threats against Jews and a Hollywood actor’s poor social media choices. Antisemitism is a real threat that requires real action to confront it. Don’t confuse the two.
Though the Jerusalem Post also tried to shore up the Anti Defamation League’s witchhunt against Palestinian solidarity on campus.
ADL experts identified what they said was “a pattern of anti-Israel groups and activists blatantly demonizing pro-Israel and Zionist students,” and on occasion espousing antisemitic tropes, such as those alleging Jewish or Zionist power and control over the media and political affairs.
Several others have noted the Palestinian solidarity movement’s victory here.
Asa Winstanley said it was an important opening at his “Palestine is still the issue” newsletter:
The anti-Semitism smears are beginning to lose their potency…. Danon’s vicious attack on Watson was a bit of a self-own. It gave the game away: Israeli and pro-Israeli allegations of “anti-Semitism” are 99.99% of the time entirely fabricated, simply as a way to attack and undermine Palestinians and their supporters in the West. The bald-faced nature of the lie this time meant that some slightly more “mainstream” public figures felt able to defend Watson — in a way that they probably would not have done for Jeremy Corbyn, for example
Em Hilton, a British Jewish activist in London/Tel Aviv, echoed that view, writing in the British Tribune that Watson’s post shows that Palestinian solidarity is becoming “a part of the mainstream political discourse.” And Danon’s response was equally important.
[I]t showed that allegations of antisemitism levelled at those who have done nothing other than express solidarity with Palestinians are as malicious as they are absurd. We should hope that that fact sticks in the collective memory when the next set of accusations rolls around.
Hilton went on to link Danon’s post to anti-Palestinianism and the legal lies that politicians tell about the BDS campaign.
Danon’s post might have been absurd in its sheer and immediate overreach, but it was a logical extension of a process that seeks to render the very existence of Palestinians antisemitic, let alone displays of solidarity with them. This process has been at the heart of the strategy pursued by apologists of Israeli occupation for years…
Deeming Palestinian identity, imagery, history, and heritage an existential threat to Jews is used to shield Israel from any kind of meaningful scrutiny or accountability for its brutal human rights abuses.
Our publisher Scott Roth made the point in his weekly newsletter. These are the rules: “unless the main thrust of one’s message re Palestinians is that they only have themselves to blame for their own predicament then you are necessarily discounting Israel’s (the Jewish State) position on the conflict and ergo you are antisemitic. This is the thrust of what Israel’s ambassador to the UN, as well as his predecessor, are saying in response to Watson’s original tweet. Do they ever tire of this? Does it ever get old to hurl scurrilous charges reflexively whenever someone highlights Palestinian humanity?”
Well, yes, it is getting old. People are seeing around the corner of the antisemitism charge, to the anti-Palestinian bigotry that’s behind it. Consciousness is rising slowly but surely.