Guardian columnist Arwa Mahdawi: liberal, except on antisemitism?

The headline of an op-ed by Guardian columnist, and feminist activist, Arwa Mahdawi (“Nothing makes liberals abandon their values, or their courage, like mentioning Palestine”, March 12) is oddly placed on the writer’s ‘The Week In Patriarchy‘ page:

The headline is culled from the op-ed’s opening paragraph:

What starts with “P” ends with “E” and is too terrifying a word for many people to so much as mention? “Palestine”, of course! Simply uttering the P-word in a vaguely sympathetic way can be enough to elicit bad faith accusations of antisemitism. The topic has become so loaded that some people seemingly prefer to pretend Palestine and Palestinians don’t exist and just ignore the issue altogether. Nothing makes liberals abandon their progressive values, or their courage, like someone mentioning Palestine.

First, the suggestion that Jews use the word “antisemitism” in bad faith whenever anyone expresses sympathy for the Palestinians is a smear straight out of the Corbynista playbook.  In fact, page 28 of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report on antisemitism in the Labour Party denounced as racist that very tactic – used by former London Mayor Ken Livingstone and others – of discrediting Jewish complaints of antisemitism by alleging they are merely cynical attempts to stifle criticism of Israel.

Also, it’s absurd for Mahdawi to claim – on the pages of the Guardian no less, the global English-language home of pro-Palestinian journalism – that the issue of Palestinian rights is ignored.  The issue of Palestine in fact garners a disproportionate amount of attention in the media, at international bodies like the UN, and “human rights” NGOs.

The final sentence of the paragraph rests upon the lie that support for the Jewish state – the most progressive state in the Middle East by far – is somehow inconsistent with liberal values. In fact, however one views the nature of the conflict, it is the Palestinians who embrace illiberalism.  This is the case by virtue of their leadership’s undemocratic, authoritarian rule in both Gaza and the West Bank, as well as public opinion polls on the attitudes of ordinary Palestinians.

In fact, if journalists were to take Palestinian views and decisions seriously, their readers would see that they are far more ‘right-wing’ (as the term is generally used by the Guardian) than Israelis on matters ranging from patriarchy, LGBT issues, support for violence and attitudes towards religious minorities. Polls from Pew Global and Anti-Defamation League reveal the following:

  • 40% of Palestinians think suicide bombing is sometimes justified (the highest rate of any population in the world).
  • 89% of Palestinians think homosexuality is immoral.
  • 89% of Palestinians favor the imposition of sharia law into their society.
  • 45% of Palestinians think honour killings are sometimes justifiable.
  • 93% of Palestinians hold antisemitic views (the highest rate of any population in the world).
Percentage of Palestinians who agreed with these statements, per ADL survey

Mahdawi’s op-ed continues:

Vogue…magazine recently edited a reference to Palestine out of an Instagram post on its official social media page that was dedicated to supermodel Gigi Hadid’s pledge to donate her all her Fashion Month earnings to relief efforts in Ukraine and Palestine. Last Sunday Gigi, who is half Palestinian, announced that she was giving her earnings to “to aid those suffering from the war in Ukraine, as well as continuing to support those experiencing the same in Palestine. Our eyes and hearts must be open to all human injustice”. Vogue initially included the reference to Palestine in the post but removed it after it was accused by a number of pro-Israel voices, in very bad faith, of furthering antisemitism. After an outcry from people who pointed out that it is not antisemitic to support Palestinians, Vogue then amended the post a third time to put the reference back in.

Though, as we argued recently, the moral comparison between the plight of Ukrainians and that of the Palestinian territories is irredeemably flawed, Mahdawi is right that Vogue’s initial decision to remove Hadid’s reference to Palestine from their article was incorrect – as the magazine was merely reporting (accurately) what the model wrote on her Instagram post.  However, as the publication eventually restored the original language, it’s not clear how the episode supports her broader argument about ‘silenced Palestinians’.

Mahdawi continues:

Like the Hadid sisters, my dad is a Palestinian refugee. Like the Hadid sisters, I’ve also found myself harassed and vilified for daring to suggest that Palestinians deserve human rights…As I’ve written previously, there is seemingly no acceptable way for a Palestinian to protest oppression or stand up for our rights.

Of course, the New York-based Mahdawi is well aware of the ubiquitous, well-attended pro-Palestinian protests that take place in major US cities like NYC, as well as in major European cities, whenever there’s a war between Hamas and Israel.  So, it’s hard to understand how she can claim that there’s “no acceptable way” to protest against Israel.

In fact, as we saw during last year’s war, the hateful fury of such protests often incites expressions of antisemitism, including violence.

Mahdawi’s claim concerning the putative paucity of outlets for pro-Palestinian advocacy is not only untrue, but obfuscates the real problem: non-Israeli Jews being targeted with hate and violence due to the extreme animus towards Israel by so-called ‘progressive’, ‘anti-racist’ activists.

More broadly, as we’ve noted, a groundbreaking study in the UK published by CST in 2019 showed empirically that those who hold extremely hostile views towards Israel are far more likely than the general population to also hold classically antisemitic views.

Has Mahdawi ever used her large media platform to speak out about antisemitism in Palestinian society and within the pro-Palestinian movement she embraces?  If, as our research indicates, she hasn’t, it seems like the Guardian columnist is a liberal except when it comes to Jews.

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