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The British liberals who have a problem with Palestinians



On the week of Nakba Day, the cover story of New Statesman, a liberal-left weekly British magazine, has dismissed the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 as a "tragic consequence of…war."

Nakba Day, held annually on May 15, commemorates the destruction of Palestinian communities that took place with the establishment of the State of Israel. In 1947-'49, some 400-500 villages were emptied and levelled, and 700-800,000 Palestinians were expelled and denationalised.

This was no 'accident'. When David Ben-Gurion was asked what to do with Palestinian inhabitants of Lydda and Ramla, he replied: "Expel them." Returning refugees were shot dead, their land expropriated. This was how a Jewish majority within Israel's pre-1967 lines was created.

The article compounds its Nakba denial with a disingenuous definition of Zionism: "the belief in the right to a Jewish state is all that the term…means", the authors claim. Like other recent efforts, this definition intentionally disappears what a 'Jewish state' has meant in practice for Palestinians.

New Statesman, whose politics is described by its current editor Jason Cowley as "centre-left liberalism", has some kind of a problem with Palestinians.

In February, it published an article by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis lauding "the beauty of Israeli democracy." Last November, meanwhile, the magazine published a piece by Israeli writer Ari Shavit, where he described "Palestinian youths" who "awake in the morning and decide to kill a Jew."

New Statesman does not even attempt to appear balanced. Under their 'Middle East' section, you have to scroll back through the archives all the way to July 25, 2014 to even find one piece authored by a Palestinian ('Letter from Gaza' by Ghada Al Kord).

In the same period, articles on Israeli and Palestinian politics have been published, including by Israelis. Some include criticism of Israeli government policies – but why systematically exclude Palestinians from describing their own situation under colonial occupation?

This is a similar (but worse) pattern to the one I identified last December as prevailing in The Guardian. Out of 138 op-eds on Palestine/Israel published in the paper's 'Comment is free' section from October 2013 to November 2015, just 20 were written by Palestinians.

Since then, The Guardian's problem has persisted, though the numbers show a slight improvement.

From December 2015 to the present, there have been a further 12 op-eds specifically on Palestine/Israel (I excluded pieces on the ongoing antisemitism row in Britain, unless Palestine/Israel was a main focus of the article). Of these 12 op-eds, four have been by Palestinians.

Yet when you remember that the last six months has seen a sharp escalation in repressive Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip – including land confiscation, demolitions, displacement, lethal violence, and mass arrests – then The Guardian's comment coverage (or lack of it) is troubling.

Then there was last month's appalling op-ed by senior staff member Jonathan Freedland, ostensibly about left-wing 'antisemitism'. In fact, the piece was an instructively transparent apologia for Israel's historic and ongoing policies of ethnic cleansing and institutionalised racism.

Charles H. Manekin, an orthodox Jewish studies and philosophy professor, recently used the term 'anti-Palestinianism' to describe the various ways in which both Palestinians' opposition to the colonisation of their homeland, and international solidarity with their struggle, is delegitimised.

It is a sad state of affairs when, through what – and who – they choose to publish, through both marginalising and maligning Palestinians, Britain's two most prominent liberal left publications are trying to outdo each other in anti-Palestinianism.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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