I remember, as so many Indians of my generation do, the stamp of my Indian passport. It said that the document was valid for travel in every country except in (apartheid) South Africa and (Zionist) Israel.
India has no history of anti-Semitism. Jews and Muslims have also never had any conflict in India. For instance, Jews from Iraq who made Kolkata their home in the 18th century employed Muslims as cooks. Even today, Muslims, look after the synagogues in Kolkata.
Navras Jaat Aafreedi, assistant professor of history at Kolkata’s Presidency University, where he offers a course in global Jewish history, says: “Once the synagogues came up, Muslims were a natural choice for caretakers. In India, the Arab-Israeli conflict has not dented the historic cordiality between the Jews and Muslims.”
British-Israeli historian Avi Shlaim has spoken of his life as an Arab Jew living in Iraq and how there had never been any conflict. He emphasised the fact that the Arabs – whether Jewish or Muslims – had a shared culture. Shlaim is an emeritus fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford and a former professor of international relations there.
Shlaim is known as one of Israel’s “new historians”, a group of scholars critical of the history of Zionism and the development of the country in the 1940s and 1950s.
He has claimed in his autobiography to have uncovered “undeniable proof” of Israeli involvement in attacks on Jewish communities in Iraq in the early 1950s.
Three Worlds: Memoirs of an Arab Jew, which details Shlaim’s childhood as an Iraqi Jew and subsequent exile to Israel, provides proof of Zionist involvement in the terrorist attacks that prompted a mass exodus of Jews from Iraq between 1950 and 1951. He explains how these attacks helped to quicken the transfer of 110,000 Jews in Iraq to the then-newly created state of Israel.
Shlaim was to speak in Liverpool Hope University in October but his lecture on Gaza was cancelled. The university’s defence was that the decision had been made taking into consideration the wellbeing and safety of students and staff.
However, we can listen to the professor in his interview with Karan Thapar about Israel-Palestine history. It explains the Hamas attack but does not justify it.
It is quite clear from our history that India’s opposition to the creation of the state of Israel was not rooted in anti-Semetism but political opposition to the occupation of a territory by an armed force. This led to the violent displacement and dispossession of the Palestinian people and the destruction of their society, culture, identity, political rights and national aspirations.
India’s position was that the killing of Jews by the Nazis did not justify the creation of Israel. It was a position which Gandhi articulated beautifully:
“My sympathies are all with the Jews. I have known them intimately in South Africa. Some of them became life-long companions. Through these friends I came to learn much of their age-long persecution. They have been the untouchables of Christianity. The parallel between their treatment by Christians and the treatment of untouchables by Hindus is very close. Religious sanction has been invoked in both cases for the justification of the inhuman treatment meted out to them. Apart from the friendships, therefore, there is the more common universal reason for my sympathy for the Jews.
“But my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice. The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me. The sanction for it is sought in the Bible and the tenacity with which the Jews have hankered after return to Palestine. Why should they not, like other peoples of the earth, make that country their home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood? Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs.... Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home.
“The nobler course would be to insist on a just treatment of the Jews wherever they are born and bred....”
The foreign minister of South Africa, Naleni Pandor, made a powerful statement on why her country was pulling out the diplomats posted in Israel. She said Israel’s actions were against the principles of international law and amounted to imposing collective punishment on an entire people.
The first country to recall its ambassador from Israel was Bolivia. Bolivia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Freddy Mamani said at a press conference that Bolivia “decided to break diplomatic relations with the Israeli state in repudiation and condemnation of the aggressive and disproportionate Israeli military offensive taking place in the Gaza Strip”.
Chile and Colombia also pulled out their diplomats from Israel, pushing for the passage of humanitarian aid into the zone and accusing Israel of violating international law.
Colombian President Gustavo Petro called the attacks a “massacre of the Palestinian people” in a post on the social media network X, formerly known as Twitter.
In contrast to the reactions of the Third World countries that feel a strong sense of solidarity with the Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation, the Western media has focused on the Hamas attack of October 7.
The BBC interviewed the Palestinian Ambassador to the UK and tried to get him to condemn Hamas. Husam Zomlot, the head of the Palestinian Mission to the UK, blasted the BBC over its biased coverage during an interview in which he was asked whether he would condemn the unprecedented military attack by Hamas on Israel.
The Palestinian Ambassador to India, Adnan Abu Al-Hija, also refused to condemn the Hamas attack on Israel. He instead questioned world leaders for not condemning the Israeli military’s actions in the West Bank.
It is important to understand why Palestinians and those who support them have refused to condemn Hamas. This refusal has nothing to do with their personal views on the politics of Hamas. In their refusal to condemn Hamas, they have brought to the fore the double standards of Europe and the US on the question of the Palestinian people’s right to their land and the illegitimacy of the premise on which the state of Israel was created.
Perhaps the best exposure of Israel’s policies and double standards of the West was exposed by Bassem Youssef an Egyptian comedian, television host in his interview with British journalist Piers Morgan. The interview was celebrated in the Arab world and it was watched by more than six million people.
In that interview he exposes the misinformation about the allegation that Hamas beheaded 40 babies and goes on to challenge the official Western hypocrisy that is embodied in Piers Morgan’s demand that Youssef should condemn Hamas.
There is another reason why so many people who have knowledge of the Middle East have pointed out that Hamas was created or supported by Israel in order to undermine Palestinian, which then inspired by secular ideas. The promotion of an extremist Islamist organisation served to undermine the movement and fed into the narrative after the so-called War on Terror in which Muslims have been demonised.
Mehdi Hasan, the British news presenter known for his hard-hitting style, explained the history of Hamas in his talk.
In the West, there have been growing number of protests against the Israeli attacks on Gaza. But even some who are in power have come out in favour of Palestinian resistance and refused to condemn Hamas. Foremost among them is the former finance minister of Greece, Yanis Varoufakis, who made a statement on October 10, three days after the Hamas attack on X: “Those who try very hard to extract from people like me and DiEM25 a condemnation of the attack by the Hamas guerillas will never get it….”
He added: “The criminals here are not Hamas … The criminals are Europeans... for keeping our mouths shut... as long as it’s Palestinians who die and not the occupiers.”
After facing criticism for refusing to condemn Hamas, the Greek economist clarified his views in another, more detailed statement:
“Now, some of you may have heard that recently when I was in Berlin, in an interview, I refused to condemn Hamas. And as you can imagine, naturally, that stirred up just a torrent of criticism of abuse. There is no doubt that if I were one of those visitors in the music festival near the fence separating Gaza from Israel […] and the Gaza militants arrived, I have no doubt they would have gunned me down. There’s no doubt that they would have even, maybe, taken me hostage. Those scenes are atrocious. There can be no justification. And there can be no absolutely no way of presenting it as justified.
“But I’m not going to condemn the Hamas assault on Israel. Those who want me and you and others to condemn Hamas killing spree are insistent that we, for whom every loss of a human being, every severed limb, every blinded eye, every broken finger is a tragedy for which we consider even ourselves to be responsible, they want us, effectively, to take the side of the state of Israel. That I shall never do. Speaking for myself. And who exactly are they who are demanding of us to condemn Hamas?
“Let’s be clear. These are the same people who look the other way when Israel, the Israeli army, soldiers, kill unarmed journalists, they kill nurses, doctors, children. There are the people who remember international law, remember the United Nations and its charter, they remember the Geneva Convention on war crimes only when the victims are Israeli.
“Somehow it escapes their mind. All these things, UN charter, international law, Geneva Convention, escapes from their mind when it’s Palestinians.”
The question that we should be asking is why in India we are not allowed to hold a peaceful protest against the Israeli government’s actions when so many in Israel are protesting? Why were busloads of students stopped from expressing solidarity with the people of Palestine by demonstrating outside the Israeli Embassy?
After all, they were following in the footsteps of Gandhi, the Father of our Nation.
Nandita Haksar is a human rights lawyer and award-winning author.