If Israel wants to ban antisemites, it should start by banning antisemites

As a Jewish refugee from Uzbekistan, I know the truth about the history between Jews and Muslims – and I won't be swung by propaganda

Rafael Shimunov
Sunday 18 August 2019 18:26
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Rashida Tlaib: Israel made 'huge error' with visit denial

I’m no stranger to trumped-up antisemitism charges placed on Muslims. As a Jewish refugee from Soviet-dominated Uzbekistan, we lived as a minority among majority Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kazakhs and other Muslims for generations. Of course, no melting pot is free from conflict, but under Soviet dominance, which disguised white supremacy as communism, our families were in it together. At home in Queens, New York, we were the first of our family and among the first Bukharian Jews to settle in the US as HIAS refugees. With our success came opportunities to receive other families fleeing as hosts.

My childhood became a reality show, where each season, a new family would arrive and its elders and its children would share with me all of their stories. They arrived in Muslim or Jewish garb from Iran, Mongolia, China, North Africa and Eastern Europe, with the same instruments and traditions we recognised. And the stories they told made two things very clear to me.

When Central Asian Jews and Muslims found themselves under the boot of Moscow’s white supremacy, our rabbis and our imams found interfaith solidarity.

As Soviets banned synagogues, it was the imam who opened his mosque for our bar mitzvahs. As Soviets made the bribes Muslims needed to prepare food under halal dietary requirements unsustainable, it was the rabbi who worked with kosher preparation to make it work for Muslims. It was stories like these from elders that convinced me solidarity is possible under any scenario.

But I also learned how quickly those stories began to change. Right-wing Israeli propaganda made me realise the fragility of solidarity. Fuelled by free trips, organised by apps, and ignited with million-dollar Facebook ad campaigns, the children of those elders, who inherit these stories today, have changed the narrative of us fleeing Soviets to us fleeing the very same Muslims we stood with.

Today, that same propaganda machine has resulted in an Israel where white supremacists and the world’s most infamous anti-semites have been enjoying an open door to the country without much attention, while shaking the earth at the notion of a Palestinian American congresswoman wishing to visit her Palestinian grandmother.

There are few people on this planet with more right to visit the West Bank than a Palestinian, no less one who is a member of an American Congress which doles out seemingly infinite amounts in foreign aid, and enforces its veto power over human rights accountability in the UN.

Yet today, it is antisemites who enjoy unrestricted freedom to travel granted by Israel.

Sebastian Gorka, who wore the honorary medal of Hungarian nationalist organisation Vitezi Rend, a group with alleged historical links to Nazi Germany, visited Israel with no restriction for a conference in 2017. Andras Heisler, vice president of the World Jewish Congress, said at the time that wearing such insignia “isn’t a good message for a democratic society”.

Founder of the Proud Boys, Gavin McInnes, said during his trip to Israel that Jews in Israel have a “whiny paranoid fear of Nazis” and posted an article detailing “10 things I hate about Jews”. McInnes publicly claimed to have left the group in 2018, after the FBI reportedly categorised it “an extremist group with ties to white nationalism”.

Milo Yiannopoulos, following a stunt where he created a mock Western Wall to pray against immigrants, with “ICE” emblazoned on a Jewish kippa, was celebrated by enough Israeli youth that a movement to invite him was sparked by fans.

Modi, the far-right Hindu nationalist PM of India, who oversaw the Gujarat State Board where textbooks glorified Hitler, was a state-honored guest of Israel, along with Italian former fascist sympathiser Gianfranco Fini and far-right leader Matteo Salvini. Antisemitic Hungarian PM Viktor Orban has also been courted by Israeli politicians.

This propaganda would have you believe that these are friends of Jews, and that the true anti-semite is Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who found the strength and solidarity with Jews to opine that even in the midst of near total destruction of her homeland, and daily humiliation of her people, it gave her comfort to at least know that it was Jews fleeing the Holocaust who found refuge in Palestine as they fled those very same European antisemites.

Rafael Shimunov is a board member of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), and co-founder of The Jewish Vote in New York City. He says the Muslim Jewish solidarity of his home country, is alive and well in Queens, NYC today with Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM), Yalla Brooklyn!, MPOWER Change and the Arab American Association of NY, most recently offering mutual aid after white supremacist attacks on mosques and synagogues

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