Trying to find the grey in a conflict presented as black and white
I know this sits incongruously under the header ‘Awkward Situations For Girls’. But I just spent a few hours reading through the horror of the Twitter hashtag #HitlerWasRight, flagging the offensive images to Twitter and reporting the users inciting racial hatred. Pretty pointless, really, as apparently Twitter doesn’t look at these reports unless the user is directly harassing me, but I wanted to feel like I was doing something. Anything.
I’d warn anyone with a soul or a sensitive disposition not to click on the hashtag, and not to fall down the hellish rabbit-hole of “free speech” hatred that our society is becoming.
A lengthy article published yesterday listed in some detail the rise of antisemitism across Europe. Eight synagogues were attacked in France last month, it reported; in Italy, the Jewish owners of shops and businesses in Rome arrived to find swastikas and anti-Jewish slogans painted on shutters and windows. It breaks my heart; that a conflict in the Middle East could provide a guise for people to hate a race, that antisemitism could be disguised as moral conscience. ”They are not screaming ‘Death to the Israelis’ on the streets of Paris,” said Roger Cukierman, president of France’s Crif (the umbrella group for France’s Jewish organisations) last month. “They are screaming ‘Death to Jews’.”
The history of what’s happening in Gaza is so grey, I’m wary of any article, news outlet, or personal opinion that makes it too black and white. Children are dying, which I can’t support from any angle, on any side, but I also have to appreciate that I do not have all the facts. None of us can. We can’t presume to know everything that’s happening or happened, and so many are speaking out particularly on social media without knowing or understanding the extensive, difficult history between Israel and Palestine.
When coverage makes Hamas, a known terrorist organisation, acknowledged by our UK government as a terrorist organisation, sound squeaky clean, our own personal cynicism should be activated like a pop-up flag. Hamas restricts what foreign journalists can say when reporting from Gaza - but we’re not being told that over here, not really. The charter of Hamas explicitly states “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews)”. Do we really imagine this is a clean, one-sided fight?
But likewise, when the Jerusalem Post publishes headlines like “Yes, all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic!”, we’re again on dicey territory. Because discussing the politics of an occupation is not the same as voicing racial hatred. No, it’s really not. Speaking personally, I struggle with the idea of a country being established where people already live. I just can’t fathom a solution, which scares me: how long will the conflict go on, and to what end? History tends to show that the occupied fare worse than any occupiers. As Brits, maybe we’re blind to that particular peril of occupation. But my grandparents and their parents lived in Imperial India, where it was certainly true.
Sometimes not being born to a defined race and not being beholden to any religion can be quite freeing; sitting outside of what is essentially a tribal conflict based on religious difference can allow neutrality. I don’t see ‘Jew’ or ‘Muslim’ - I just see good people (or bad) united by ethics rather than by faith. Being tribe-less, I try to listen to all sides of a story and gauge that I will never truly understand what is happening, despite an emotional response; I can only be sympathetic to the facts - and wary when I’m not being given all of them by the media.
But that same freedom from religion is also a factor in the re-rise of rampant antisemitism. Peter Ulrich, a research fellow at the centre for antisemitism research (ZfA) at Berlin’s Technical University, commented that some of the “antisemitic elements” Germany has seen at recent protests could be “a kind of rebellion of people who are themselves excluded on the basis of racist structures”.
It is difficult sitting outside of something you can’t be part of, where you don’t know the rules or understand the traditions. I get that. I’ve been there myself. But there is no justification in feeling excluded therefore gunning for the complete destruction of that belief system. There is also no justification in referencing the Third Reich, Nazism or Hitler in connection with what is happening in Gaza right now, unless in a historically factual way when discussing the establishment of Israel in 1948. This is the quote most appearing alongside the hashtag #HitlerWasRight: “I could have annihilated all the Jews, but I left some of them to let you know why I was annihilating them” - Adolf Hitler. Of course there are misquotes and misappropriations (I don’t think Hitler spoke in percentages or memes) but the disturbing bedfellows of that quote with the words “#HitlerWasRight” is plainly horrific. Offensive. Disgusting. Outrageous. And depressing.
Confronting anyone posting a mashup of the swastika with the Star of David or shouting down Israel on social platforms tends to go one of a few similar ways. In my personal experiences online recently I’ve noticed a high correlation between those inciting racial hatred and those claiming “freedom of speech”. Freedom of speech was clearly created before the internet, and by god does it need a revisit. Or a re-education. Freedom of speech is not an excuse to voice your hateful little opinion and feel protected. That’s actually hate speech. And hate speech and incitement can be restricted (and prosecuted) by the government, employers, and other bodies. Such as Twitter. Hmm.
I try to remember that these are probably the same people who voted UKIP; the same people who blame other nationalities and other races in times of economic struggle. It’s all so predictable, but it’s making me feel like I’m sitting out on a ledge on my own. Looking at that hashtag and the antisemitic attacks across Europe, and the casual way prejudice is proclaimed as moral conscience, I can’t remember ever feeling so disenfranchised from the general public. I’m sitting here, waiting for all the elements of grey to be added on both sides of the Gaza story; judging the politics of Israel without hating the religion of the state; strongly opposing Hamas with their underhand tactics and blatant genocidal doctrine; wanting the death of innocents to end, without professing to know the answer. Am I alone? I hope not. I hope others come and sit on my ledge, soon, too. Maybe we can start our own tribe.