To Israel, everything is an existential threat

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by Kathryn Shihadah

Part One of a two-part series

A recent headline in an Israeli newspaper caught my eye:


I was caught off guard by this statement, knowing as I do that Israel generally encourages our Congress’ obsession with protecting Israel (there are quite literally dozens of pro-Israel bills in the works this minute). What could we have done to offend our beloved ally, our cherished partner-in-democracy? Did that pesky Squad make waves again?

As it turns out, one of the pro-Israel bills that our House supported with unbridled enthusiasm – House Resolution 246, which passed 398-17 – did not quite suit some Israeli right-wingers. Their preference would have been for Congress to condemn the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement, and then just shut up.

Instead, our legislators took leave of their senses for a moment, babbling some nonsense about “strong support for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resulting in two states.”

Had they gone completely mad? Did they forget the obvious, that as horrifying as it may be for Israel to endure the horrors of a nonviolent boycott, the very idea of a Palestinian state is even worse?

When I first saw that headline, I had a few choice words. With the passage of time, I’ve grown even more disturbed. It occurs to me that Israel considers any pursuit of justice to be dangerous. Everything is an existential threat. A few examples.

Existential threat #1:

The two-state solution is an existential threat to Israel (Israeli legislators re H.Res.246: “such a state would undoubtedly be a dysfunctional terrorist state”).

This is a clear and absurd insult to Palestinians. It’s also pretty narcissistic: it suggests that Palestinians are so spiteful that they would undoubtedly use their new statehood not to rebuild a society destroyed by occupation, not to celebrate their culture or restore their economy to its former vibrancy – but to terrorize their neighbors.

More than narcissistic, this assumption is also ludicrous, totally missing the point of Palestinian opposition to Israel: it’s not an eternal hatred of Jews – it’s resistance against injustice (occupation, blockade, withholding of self-determination, etc.). But I get it. If you pretend it’s Jew-hatred, you don’t have to address your own responsibility for Palestinian hostility.

“As long as I consider y’all terrorists, your oppression is your fault.”

Existential threat #2:

The one-state solution is an existential threat to Israel (according to ADL, this solution is “nothing less than an indirect attempt to bring about an end to the State of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people”).

Again with the narcissism. Zionists seem to think that Palestinians who support a one-state solution are merely plotting an alternative way to destroy Israel in the event the two-state solution fails to do so.

Zionists, has it occurred to you that Palestinians just want a solution? It’s not their fault that the Zionist Project was destined to fail. Israel’s founders did not take into account the will of the indigenous Palestinians to remain in their land. Building a Jewish-only country in a place where millions of non-Jews live was a bad idea, and that’s not the non-Jews’ fault.

(As an aside, the two-state and one-state solutions are pretty much all the options, and Israel doesn’t like either one. They’re not in a rush to come up with another plan – occupation seems to be working fairly well.)

“You are not entitled to self-determination – because it doesn’t work for me.”

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Existential threat #3:

The internationally guaranteed right of return for Palestinians is also an existential threat and anti-Semitic (Jewish Virtual Library: “Israel's acceptance of a ‘right of return’ would amount to national suicide…The world's only Jewish state would cease to exist”).

(I’ve never heard a Zionist say that the right of return as a concept is wrong – they can’t say such a thing because Zionism is built on the right of return. Rather, this right, applied to Palestinians, is unacceptable.)

Once again, dear Zionists, this dilemma is the fault of your founders. They started an enterprise that was deeply flawed, and then left the mess for you. Instead of righting the wrong, you are perpetuating it. Yes, theoretically the return of Palestinians could be problematic for Israel, but withholding justice just because it’s inconvenient is immoral.

“I have the right to perpetuate your homelessness you because I want to.”

Existential threat #4:

What about nonviolent resistance against the illegal occupation and blockade of Palestine – for example, the Great March of Return? Definitely an existential threat (the Independent describes Israel’s mindset of “moral exceptionalism: when Israel is under threat, politicians and activists alike must accept the army doing whatever it takes to ensure the state’s existence”).

“Moral exceptionalism” is a nice way of saying “we do whatever works for us because our desires trump the whole moral universe.” Thus, Israel defies the United Nations at every turn, refuses entrance to international observers and inspectors, violates international law for decades on end, opposes any criticism or sanction. Thus, Gazans with flags and balloons and slingshots are met, unblinking, with sniper fire; children with stones are put in prison; women in labor are left to die; and 40% of Palestinian males have been detained or arrested. Israel says it is necessary, and Israel is answerable to no one.

“Nothing is more important than my feeling of safety while I oppress you.”

Existential threat #5:

A speech pathologist in Texas or a math teacher in Kansas seeking justice for Palestinians? They must be stopped, because BDS (Boycott, Divest, and Sanction) is anti-Semitic and an existential threat.

Bahia Amawi (L) of Austin TX was terminated because she refused to sign an “Israel Oath” as part of a contract renewal. Esther Coontz of Wichita KS was barred from being an instructor in Kansas’ math teacher training program for the same reason.

Bahia Amawi (L) of Austin TX was terminated because she refused to sign an “Israel Oath” as part of a contract renewal. Esther Coontz of Wichita KS was barred from being an instructor in Kansas’ math teacher training program for the same reason.

The BDS movement targets products associated with occupation, especially items produced in unlawful Jewish-only settlements built illegally on Palestinian land. Zionists don’t like to talk about this detail, only the part about how the manufacturers are Jewish, and therefore the movement must be anti-Semitic. Because BDS hits Israel in the pocketbook, it has been nicknamed “economic terrorism,” or “economic warfare.”

So when Congress members Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) attempted to visit the Palestinian territories, Israel refused entrance, citing the women’s pro-BDS stands. The US officially supported the decision, stating that Israel has the right to bar BDS supporters “as it would bar entrants with more conventional weapons” (emphasis added). That is, our shopping habits can be seen as a dangerous weapon and regulated by law, but AK-47s can’t be banned. What a world.

In reality, BDS is not used as a weapon, but as a nonviolent way of addressing a very real problem. The fact that even American citizens can be punished for holding an opinion on BDS says more about Zionist fragility (and Congressional pandering) than about BDS.

“Criticism can hurt my delicate feelings, so we’re making a law against criticism.”

Existential threat #6:

How about this: a middle-aged Palestinian refugee telling his family’s story to a few dozen neighbors? This was our actual experience. When my husband told his personal Nakba story, he was accused of paving the way for another Holocaust. True story – here’s part of the angry letter that was sent to over 50 members of our local community:

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The difference between Hitler and my husband, as I understand it, is that Hitler actually told racist lies about Jews to pave the way for the Holocaust. My husband told a non-racist true story about people who perpetrated injustice and ethnic cleansing. Yet the Palestinian narrative is shut down as a matter of course, not just for us but all over the US, as though truth is an enemy – an existential threat.

“Oh, I’m sorry – you’re going to have to stop talking. It makes me uncomfortable.”

Six more existential threats next time.

Q&A time during one of our presentations.

Q&A time during one of our presentations.