I often hear this phrase among people in Pakistan (or Pakistanis in America) who have had experiences living in other countries, where they live and work among Jewish people and have Jewish friends. “I’m against Israel’s genocidal policies/occupation of Palestine/the existence of Israel as an apartheid state but I’m not anti-Semitic.” It is a way of establishing one’s position vis-a-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while still assuring our Jewish friends that we are not against their religion or them as Jews.
Does it work? Is it believable or credible? Or is Israel so indivisible from Jewishness that this is an impossible position to take?
I don’t have all the answers. I do feel, though, that we need to tread carefully when we talk about being “anti-Israel but not anti-Semitic” as Muslims, Pakistanis, or anyone else who is not Jewish and feels an affinity with Arabs and Palestinians because we imagine Islam compels us to do so.
Imagine this: that a friend comes up to you and says, “I’m against Pakistan/its oppressive policies against the Pashtuns/the genocide in Baluchistan but I’m not against Islam.”
Would that make sense to you?
Pakistan is so deeply identified with Islam that it would be a Herculean task to separate one from the other. If an outsider were to make the statement “I’m against Pakistan but I’m not against Islam” you would immediately feel alienated and on the defensive, as if your identity as a Pakistani Muslim was being threatened or called into question. However, if a Pakistani talked about opposing policies espoused by the Pakistani government, you would know they were speaking with an insider’s view, with an understanding of context, and with a deep love for the country despite its mistakes and missteps.
So too it is with Israel: when we speak of being “against” Israel but not against Judaism, we are not realizing what we are saying and how it is perceived (Please note that I am not saying a pro-Palestinian stance is undesirable or that we must not call out nations that engage in occupation and oppression). But trying to hedge your bets, as someone who is not Jewish, may strike someone as insincere at best, dishonest at worst, and agenda-driven regardless.
It is probably best to give the space to those Jews and those Israelis who understand the system and religion to lead the movement and protest against its oppressions and injustices. And there are many Jews and many Israelis of conscience who do understand and who do oppose those policies and who do lead the protests. We as Pakistanis, Muslims, and non-Jews, can support those Israeli voices and amplify their message, while remaining pro-Palestinian in a political sense.
But we must always bear in mind that Jews around the world still hold the idea of Israel, a homeland for their people, dear to their hearts.
Tread carefully, because you tread on their dreams, to paraphrase Yeats.