Israel's support for Iran protests is more than hypocritical
A few months ago, groups of Jewish-Israelis congregated in Tel-Aviv in solidarity with the people of Ukraine against Russia’s invasion. More recently, the Municipality of Tel-Aviv lit up its building in support of Iran’s protests, and Israeli-Jewish women rallied in Jerusalem for the women of Iran, some cutting their hair in solidarity. On both accounts, Israel was called out for moral hypocrisy, given its military occupation of Palestinians and the denial of their basic rights.
Hypocrisy is a moral and behavioural inconsistency between what people think is normative and expect others to abide by, and how they themselves behave. Taken as face value, it is as salient for Israel as it is for the United States, and not less so for Iran, Russia, Ukraine, or China. With Israel, however, while the label is applicable, it remains conceptually narrow.
To understand why many Jewish-Israelis express support for Ukraine and Iranian women but ignore their long-time oppressed Palestinians, requires looking into the ideological foundations of the Israeli-Jewish society.
''Israel needs a moral identification to uphold its “positive self-image” and to cushion against any uncomfortable self-reflection. One way to do it is to rally for just causes internationally. Under such a scenario, one can be an oppressor at home but a freedom seeker abroad, without the need for scrutiny.
Zionism was built on the premise of establishing a Jewish homeland to emancipate the Jews from the centuries-old woes of anti-Semitism in the so-called galut (diaspora). Embedded in this worldview is the notion that Jews were always victims and a Jewish state was the only insurance against victimisation. The “sense of urgency” in the Zionist perception meant that the project had to be implemented detached from the needs of Palestine’s native population.
The early Zionists, like European imperialists saw Palestine as an empty territory, “a land without a people for a people without land.” When they did acknowledge the local population, they denied them any national character and expected them to passively accept the plans made for their country. At best, Palestinian nationalism was framed as merely a by-product of Jewish nationalism, a reaction, as it were, to the influx of European Jews into Palestine.
To further legitimise the take-over, Zionism “reclaimed” the land as their own and sought to nativise the Jewish identity to match the region’s geography and history. Many Jewish immigrants, mainly from Poland, Ukraine, and Russia, changed their names to Hebrew-sounding ones for that purpose. David Ben-Gurion, for instance, was David Gruenin, and Golda Meir was born Golda Mabovitch.
The Jewish genocide in Europe was used as definitive proof that, indeed, without a Jewish homeland, the fate of the world’s Jewry would always be tied to the fluctuations and whims of other nations. This assumption helped strengthen the moral imperative of the Zionist enterprise and, inevitably, further trivialised or completely disregarded the existence of Palestine's indigenous population and their political aspirations.
The mental erasure of Palestinians eventually materialised to ethnic cleansing. To legitimise the crime, the 1948 war was reconstructed to “confer upon Zionism the equivalent status of a third world liberation movement.” Israel’s establishment, for instance, was labelled azma’ut (independence) from the British, and shihrur (liberation) from the galut.
That being an ideological framework, the Israeli governments up to the late 1980s, at least, saw Palestinians as nothing but an unwanted disruption to Israel’s master narrative. Any Palestinian demands for justice, let alone physical resistance to Israel’s occupation, was necessarily interpreted as a violation of Israel’s right to exist.
The equation has always been zero-sum, and today - even after many Israelis had acknowledged the Palestinian right to self-determination in the wake of the Oslo Accords - the idea of resistance remains unacceptable. It continues to be largely seen as mindless terrorism aimed not at the occupation and oppression, but at Jews qua Jews. Little difference does it make whether the target is Israeli soldiers in the occupied territories or civilians in Israeli cities.
The legal and moral delineations that grant the occupied the right to resist the occupier are deemed irrelevant.
Consider that in a 2017 survey published by the Israeli Peace Index, nearly 70% of the Jewish public supported the death penalty for Palestinians involved in the death of civilians. The sentiment may not be unfathomable, but the survey also showed that roughly 66% supported the penalty against Palestinians accused of killing soldiers in the occupied territories. For a large portion of Israeli society, there is little difference if the violence targets civilians or military occupiers.
Given that the same year, 62% of Israeli-Jews were either “sure” or thought that Israel’s control of the West Bank should not be described as occupation, this is unsurprising. As of 2020, half of Israelis supported the annexation of the occupied West Bank.
A reality-grounded alternative to the ideological worldview would be an admission of Israel’s historical and continued wrongdoing. Eventually, however, this may lead to Israel being confronted with a series of legal consequences and transitional justice procedures, including its leaders facing accusations of war crimes.
Nevertheless, many Jewish-Israelis live in a state of self-induced denial. This allows for the elimination of historical causality between Israel’s inception, and the Palestinian plight. Not only does that reduce collective guilt, but also relieves the Jewish state of its responsibility and, thus, decontextualises the present-day occupation and apartheid as either non-existent or simply necessary for security.
But this is not enough, the collective needs a moral identification to uphold its “positive self-image” and to cushion against any uncomfortable self-reflection. One way to do it is to rally for just causes internationally. Under such a scenario, one can be an oppressor at home but a freedom seeker abroad, without the need for scrutiny.
That apparent blind spot explains why Knesset member, Sharren Haskel, from the National Unity Party, someone who supports the annexation of Palestinian land, took a pair of scissors and cut her hair in solidarity with Iranian women. “As a fighter in the IDF, I salute the brave women and their children who are fighting for their home and their future,” she told the crowd.
The “hair show” took place against the backdrop of Jerusalem’s Shufat refugee camp protests only a few kilometres away. The protests were met with suppressive methods outmatching those recorded in Iran, and the popular movement was described by the Israeli media as “mass terrorism”.
Dr Emad Moussa is a researcher and writer who specialises in the politics and political psychology of Palestine/Israel.
Follow him on Twitter: @emadmoussa
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