Silencing Francesca Albanese

Feb 15, 2024
Press briefing by Francesca Albanese, Special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian Territories at UN Headquarters on October 27, 2022 Image; Alamy/ lev radin / Alamy Stock Photo

It was with a sense of disgust rather than despair that I read in the Jerusalem Post this week: “‘Antisemitic’ UN Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese banned from Israel.” We’re being gas-lighted again and this is a chance to push back against the narrative that to support victims of Israel is to somehow be antisemitic. 

Back in November as the Israeli exterminations of Palestinians were ramping up, I had the privilege to hear and speak to Francesca Albanese, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories. She was paying a long-scheduled visit to Australia and New Zealand and spoke to government ministers, relief organisations, journalists and packed halls of citizens who shared a sense of horror at what was playing out in Gaza. Her speeches were filled with knowledge and forensic clarity, only matched by her decency and sense of humanity – which extended to great courtesy shown to a lone and agitated Israeli supporter at a meeting I attended.

In issuing the banning order, two Israeli ministers stated: “The era of Jews being silent is over. If the UN wants to return to being a relevant body, its leaders must publicly disavow the antisemitic words of the special envoy.”

This is of course a vulgar lie told by ministers actively pursuing genocide. These two indeed aren’t silent: the scream, roar and boom of their shells, missiles and snipers’ bullets have shouted to the world how far the Zionist state has descended into the bowels of depravity. The Jewish diaspora are anything but silent too – I have been immensely impressed by the courage and persistence of Jewish people worldwide who have shunned the fiction that to be anti-Zionist is to be antisemitic. I hear them loud and clear chanting with righteous indignation, “Not in our name!”

What really steamed the ministers and momentarily deflected their attention from the slaughter of innocents was Albanese’s riposte to a casual lie by French President Emmanuel Macron: “October 7 was the largest antisemitic massacre of our century.”

Albanese responded, quite rightly, surely self-evidently: “The victims of 7/10 were not killed because of their Judaism but in response to Israel’s oppression.” She also stated her respect for the victims of the attack.

When courageous people are attacked by malign and powerful actors, it takes moral clarity and steely determination to walk into a sea of troubles and oppose the true villains. We all need to do that now – and not remain silent.

In the past couple of months Israel has, with the complicity of the white-dominated Western countries, tried to destroy UNRWA, the primary UN organisation providing relief to the Palestinian people, as they endure this genocidal siege.Because of Israel’s powerful allies, the International Criminal Court has kept mum and ignored the vast number of human rights atrocities committed by Israel. The Israelis have also hoicked and spat out their contempt for the International Court of Justice. National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir commented, “Hague Smague – The ICJ has only proven what everyone already knew, that it is only seeking to prosecute the Jewish nation”.

Traducing the ICJ in this way is another attempt to gaslight us all. If we can do one decent thing it would be to get our governments to raise their voices in defence of the brutalised and besieged United Nations.

Albanese told audiences on both sides of the Tasman: “When I speak of human rights, I speak of both the Palestinians and the Israelis, who are stuck in a settler colonial regime; this is what we have to solve together.” She went on to say, “ I will always stand with the victim.”

There is good reason to try to silence Francesca Albanese. She is an authority in the detail of the dehumanisation inflicted on the Palestinians. She has seen the daily lack of proportionality, the discourse of genocide, the military and administrative controls, the deprivation of sanitary services, food and medicine, the surveillance technology, the casual killings, the financial chocking of a people, the way the Israelis are eating up Palestine inch by inch as the West looks the other way. In short, more than most people she understands the structural system of oppression that is denying the Palestinians the right to exist as a people – culturally, economically, politically. She is a humanist and the exact opposite of an antisemite.

Albanese is one of legions of good people besieged by Israel and its allies. The racist white elites in Europe and the USA are more than happy to adopt a definition that conflates anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel, using the recently-minted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition as a tool to silence (that word again) defenders of Palestinian rights.

When the right-wing of UK Labour set to work to oust Jeremy Corbyn, they succeeded, deploying an antisemitic slur. By the time the purge had finished, thousands of Labour progressives had been eliminated from the party membership, including large numbers of Jewish progressives. The Labour Files, a must-see Al Jazeera documentary, based on a data dump of internal Labour files, uncovered the astonishing statistic that if you were a Jewish member of the UK Labour party you were seven times more likely to be expelled for antisemitism than a non-Jew.

It’s high time we kick this ghastly trope, this despicable manoeuvre equating anti-Zionism with antisemitism into the dustbin of dirty tricks. Jewish people have suffered persecution for their faith over the centuries. It does their memory a huge disservice – not least because now it is quite clear that genocide is the highest stage of Zionism.

For the record: I have Jewish friends who I invite to read and critique my articles before publication. They are not self-hating Jews, they are not antisemitic, and nor am I. We stand shoulder to shoulder with Jewish people worldwide who are appalled at what is being done in the name of Judaism.

Francesca Albanese said something else memorable that evening: “History is also made of watershed moments, when things change. Let’s make this one of them.”

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