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America’s “Israel” Taboo is Now Everyone’s To Deal With

It is challenging to discuss Gaza, Palestine, Hamas and the more significant Israel-Palestine crisis without fear of judgment from the one interacting, from bystanders, overhearers, or even from a bothersome person.

Even after more than 10,000 people have died in Gaza in recent days, Piers Morgan would still ask, “Do you condemn Hamas?” He had previously asked the same question after 5,000 people were killed in Gaza, which he had first asked when over 1,000 people were killed in Israel. Sure, I denounce Hamas! Will it, however, put an end to the massacre of defenceless civilians, including women and children, in Gaza by the Israel State?

israel palestine
Israeli air strikes in Gaza City on October 31, 2023. | Photo: Abdul Qader Sabbah, AP

In the last few days, Israel announced that more than a million Palestinians across the northern Gaza Strip had to evacuate their homes. At the same time, Israel indiscriminately bombed throughout Gaza to destroy Hamas, a terrorist group responsible for killing over thirteen hundred Israelis a few days prior.

It did so while also cutting down on all essential supplies to Gaza, creating a choke-like situation across the region. Despite the laws of war explicitly prohibiting deliberate attacks on civilians, the Israeli Defence Forces have continued to attack densely populated urban areas killing civilians disproportionately.

Unlike in the past, this time, there is an unusual silence on the Gaza massacre. This time, everyone who spoke against or questioned the Israeli state’s persistent “settler-colonial” mindset was met with fierce pushback. They were not only disciplined by the  Jewish lobbies but also by countries that had previously backed the Palestinian cause—using trolls on Twitter to incite hatred in public opinion.

There is something amiss in how the Arab nations look at this present crisis—in perpetual distance. Once, the champions of democracy and human rights—America and the rest of the West—tweeted Israel’s right to defend itself while simultaneously curating a line or two in their tweet for the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, knowing all too well that their weapons are what kill people there.

Civil society has been given what to read, speak, and think; it is no longer critical. Very few people have strongly condemned the bombing of Gaza’s children.

This time, the world is severely affected by what Edward Said previously referred to Israel as “America’s Last Taboo.”

In the December 2000 article in The New Left Review, Said observes, “The general picture is that Israel is so surrounded by rock-throwing barbarians that even the missiles, tanks, and helicopter gunships used to ‘defend’ Israelis from them are warding off what is essentially an invasive force”.

He continues, “In fine, American Zionism has made any serious public discussion of past or future of Israel—by far the largest recipient ever of foreign aid—made taboo.” He goes on to describe the American civil society, Jewish lobby, and bipartisan support from politicians and how they seek to perpetrate the taboo.

Americans can discuss their involvement in the murder of indigenous people, dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and committing acts of cultural violence in Afghanistan and Vietnam. They wouldn’t say anything negative about Israel, though.

america's israel taboo
Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza. Photo: Brookings Institution

The way the Americans have seen the Israel-Palestine conflict is almost like a script. To the extent that Edward Said writes, “For all too many American Zionists, Palestinians are not real beings, but demonised fantasms—fearsome embodiments of terrorism and Antisemitism.” And now, I worry, these very emotions have become global.

American Zionist sentiments now shape public discussions regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict: Israel is the victim; they have the right to exist; they are helpless against lunatics who hurl stones; they have to construct an iron dome, which is insufficient; they have to fight and kill in order to survive.

In recent days, there is so much control over one’s beliefs that they cannot express them publicly. When someone shows sympathy for the Palestinian people, they run the possibility of being called “terror-sympathisers”—and anyone who is a terror-sympathiser is another “terrorist”—or merely “terrorists.”

Once you’re written off as a “terrorist” with no right to exist, it’s easy to destroy both you and your ideals. That’s all it takes to create a taboo around ideas and opinions. It seems like everyone in the world has succumbed to the American taboo today when it comes to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

While the entire world condemned Russia for its invasion of Ukraine in April 2022, Israel has received very little criticism for its decades-long encroachment on Palestinian territory, which has resulted in the Palestinians becoming refugees in their own country, and for its unprecedented extrajudicial killing of children and innocent civilians. 

It is easy to blur the truth with a simple linguistic trick: start your story from “Secondly.” Yes, this is what Rabin did. He simply neglected to speak of what happened first. Start your story with “Secondly,” and the world will be turned upside-down. Start your story with “Secondly,” and the arrows of the Red Indians are the original criminals and the guns of the white men are entirely the victim. It is enough to start with “Secondly,” for the anger of the black man against the white to be barbarous. Start with “Secondly,” and Gandhi becomes responsible for the tragedies of the British. You only need to start your story with “Secondly,” and the burned Vietnamese will have wounded the humanity of the napalm, and Victor Jara’s songs will be the shameful thing and not Pinochet’s bullets, which killed so many thousands in the Santiago stadium.

(Barghouti 1997)

We no longer talk about the Israeli state excesses, settler colonialism, or the persecution of the Palestinian people in Israel. The Zionist State of Israel, which is attempting to survive, is always the putative “victim” in this “perpetrator-victim” narrative that the rest of the world, like America, now applies to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Israel’s genocidal objective, which is predicated on victimhood and state survival, is currently focusing on a significant attack in the Gaza region, and hardly anyone has stood out against it.

In the process of re-telling the Israel-Palestine issue through “Secondly,” all of Israel’s transgressions are absolved, while the supposed crimes of the Gaza people are underlined. It has not only conditioned us to the point where one cannot sympathise with Palestine, but it has also made us accomplices in the historical atrocities against the Palestinian people.

Because of the linguistic manipulation, we are all now victims of the American “Israel” taboo. We cannot firmly endorse Palestine without condemning Hamas. Furthermore, we cannot criticise Israel without defending its right to exist. Today, we are all made to read the Israel-Palestine conflict through the lens of “Secondly”, and that has made all the difference.


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