Independent journalism about VU Amsterdam | Since 1953
13 July 2024

Campus
& Culture

‘Israel is going to kill you all!’

The Shoah casts its shadow over the Gaza debate, the second teach-in about Gaza made clear. ‘Zionism needs antisemitism.’

“Antisemitism is real, the fear of it is justified, and you feed on this fear if you downplay antisemitism”, said Associate Professor in Ethics and Political Philosophy Anya Topolski (Radboud University) yesterday, during the second teach-in about Gaza since VU Amsterdam started permitting such gatherings on campus. The theme was antisemitism and Islamophobia and the four speakers at the gathering showed how both are being used to legitimise the Israeli war on Gaza and to silence critics.

Because it’s not just antisemites that feed off the fear of antisemitism, but Zionists do this too according to Topolski, by saying that Jews aren’t safe anywhere else than Israel, as all non-Jews are antisemitic. Zionism, more precisely Theodor Herzl’s variant that eventually led to the foundation of Israel, needs antisemitism, says Topolski.

But the antisemitism that led to the foundation of Israel was a European problem put upon the Palestinians, asserted Topolski, who quoted Hannah Arendt, who wrote that the solution to the “Jewish question” of colonising a country only led to a new group of stateless and rightless people, i.e. the Palestinians.

Victims of the victims

The idea that the Palestinians are “victims of the victims” of the Shoah, as the Palestinian-American intellectual Edward Said had stated, was a recurring motif during the gathering. VU Amsterdam philosopher Yolande Jansen objects to this statement as she believes it is a generalisation of the victims of the Shoah and also doesn’t do justice to the Palestinians as a people. According to her, Israel can better be characterised as a continuation of European colonialism.

But VU Amsterdam anthropologist Sinan Çankaya argued that the Shoah, as a reference point, is deeply ingrained in the collective memory, and as such also “casts its shadow over Gaza.” According to him, the Holocaust commemorations and monuments are part of a culture of complacency, no longer serving as a reminder of the horrible consequences of European antisemitism, but confirming European superiority. After all, Europe has defeated antisemitism. Now it’s the Palestinians that aren’t seen as a people fighting for its freedom, but as one in which antisemitism is deeply rooted.

Palestinians as the antisemitic evil, with as its consequence the “Palestinianisation of Muslimness”. Researcher Rahma Bavelaar, chair of the Stichting Meld Islamofobie (Report Islamophobia Foundation), mentioned a few examples of Islamophobia caused by the attack of Hamas on 7 October and the war on Gaza. Someone who yelled “Israel! Israel! Wilders PVV! Do you want to die?!” to a lady and two children, and someone else who snarled “Israel is going to kill you all” to a gentleman.

Rights of Muslims violated

All of this didn’t start on 7 October, of course, but in the eighties, when the threat of terrorism was “weaponised” by the West, an excuse to come down on Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims. Because of this threat of terrorism, all means are justified in combating it. This means that also in the Netherlands, the rights of Muslims are violated.

According to Çankaya, the Holocaust commemorations and monuments are part of a culture of complacency

An audience member, impressed by the knowledge of the speakers, asked if the VU Amsterdam board had ever consulted them. VU historian Pepijn Brandon, who was also in the audience, responded by saying that VU Amsterdam is only interested in a certain type of Jewish voice, which he, a Jew himself, considers stereotyping. “Even though that isn’t as awful as the way in which Muslims are stereotyped”, he hastened to add.

Over the past few months, Brandon has become the spokesperson of the pro-Palestinian movement on the VU campus and doesn’t shy away from bold statements, whereas others are very cautious, also during this gathering. In Israel the Jewish outsiders became insiders, he said, who took over the European machine gun, which had always been pointed at them, and pointed it at the indigenous population of Israel. According to him, Holocaust and Second World War commemorations have become devoid of meaning because people like PVV party member Martin Bosma, the current Speaker of the House, are invited to them.

Positive note

There was a great deal of gloom, about the way in which the protest against the presence of Israeli President Herzog at the opening of the Holocaust Museum was framed, about the lack of attention being paid to the growing Islamophobia, about how exhausting it is for Muslims to continuously have to prove that they’re not dangerous and that they, too, are full-fledged citizens, about the feeling of powerlessness while the war in Gaza rages on. And about how government-organised gatherings are invariably required to end on a positive note, “which always gives me a faint feeling of nausea”, said Bavelaar.

“But we’re not powerless”, someone said. “If anything we have a lot of power, if we seek each other out and form a group.”
And so, the whole thing ended on a positive note after all.

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