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Voices: Thank you, Emma Watson – Palestinian rights deserve advocacy and attention

The Independent logo The Independent 05/01/2022 Harriet Williamson
The post on Emma Watson’s Instagram remains up, unlike previously supportive statements of Palestinian rights from Rihanna, Kendall Jenner and Paris Hilton - Getty Images © Getty Images

The post on Emma Watson’s Instagram remains up, unlike previously supportive statements of Palestinian rights from Rihanna, Kendall Jenner and Paris Hilton

- Getty Images

Two days ago, a new post appeared on Emma Watson’s Instagram, an account followed by 64.3 million people. It showed what appears to be a protest in support of the people of Palestine, overlaid with a collage reading “solidarity is a verb”. The caption includes a quote on the true nature of solidarity from intersectional feminist academic Sara Ahmed, and explains that the image is a repost from Bad Activist Collective.

Predictably, it didn’t take a minute for Danny Danon, head of global operations for right-wing Israeli party Likud, and former Israeli ambassador to the UN, to accuse Watson of anti-semitism on Twitter.

The conflation of Judaism and all Jewish people with the state of Israel and the policies of the Israeli government is deeply damaging and wrong. It is this conflation that has, for too long, resulted in the delegitmisation of even the mildest criticism of the policies of the Israeli government.

The Israeli government, like all governments across the world, should be held accountable for its decisions and actions. According to Human Rights Watch, the Israeli government enforces “severe and discriminatory restrictions on Palestinians’ human rights”. Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank are described by the UN as illegal and “trampling” on international human rights law.

In the Occupied Palestinian Territories, 2 million Palestinians are food insecure. In Gaza, access to territorial waters for fishing is restricted, and there are sweeping restrictions on the movement of people and goods in and out of the area. There is not enough water to drink, cook with or wash in. Israel controls 85 per cent of Palestinian water sources.

There have been 3,572 conflict-related deaths of Palestinians over the last 10 years, including 806 children. There have been 198 conflict-related deaths of Israelis, including 14 children. The UN recorded that, in the first six months of 2021, Israeli authorities have demolished, seized or forced the demolition of at least 421 Palestinian-owned buildings, displacing 592 people (320 of them children) across the West Bank.

The immense suffering of Palestinian people living under occupation should not be up for debate. It is factual.

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Criticism of Israel and its policies, and the recognition of the way Palestinian rights are being routinely trashed, is not inherently antisemitic. It can be, in the use of antisemitic tropes and language, but the broad conflation of caring about human rights abuses perpetuated by the Israeli government with hatred of Jewish people as a whole is extremely unhelpful and wrong in the face of an ongoing humanitarian crisis.

In the words of the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whose support for the rights of the Palestinian people was so conveniently ignored in many tributes after his death: “Those who turn a blind eye to injustice actually perpetuate injustice. If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

This means we mustn’t ignore the plight of the Palestinian people, or allow hatred of Jewishness and Jewish people to flourish.

Fair play to Emma Watson. The post on her Instagram remains up, unlike previously supportive statements of Palestinian rights from Rihanna, Kendall Jenner and Paris Hilton, which were deleted. Solidarity with the people of Palestine should not be viewed as an untouchable cause, shrouded in silence. Their suffering must be acknowledged and brought to light, without holding Judaism or Jewish people as a whole responsible. Surely this distinction is not too difficult to grasp.

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