The Israeli Onslaught on Palestine Is a Boost to Indian Islamophobia

It is a dismal situation when in an academic institution an invited talk on the history of the formation of Israel, its occupation of Palestine and its designs on gas reserves is seen as promoting terrorism.

The insane attack by Hamas on Israel on October 7 has been followed by crimes against humanity by the Zionist state of Israel, which has attacked Palestinian hospitals, refugee camps and other civilian targets, causing the death of over 11,000 civilians, a large number of them children. India jumped to support Israel, along with the Western powers. Leaders of the US and UK flew to Israel to extend their support. The UN resolution for a ceasefire was opposed by some Western powers and shamefully, India abstained. True, India sent token humanitarian aid to Palestine. Various columnists in India commented on the ghastly phenomenon. Most of them blamed the tragedy on Hamas, many called it a jihadi terrorist organisation, and characterised their unabashed support of Israel as ‘zero tolerance’ of terrorism.

The “godi” media is glorifying Israel’s actions and condemning the ‘terrorist’ Hamas. Many pro-Palestine demonstrations were held in India, but police in Delhi, UP and even Opposition-ruled Bengaluru and Kolkata have denied permission to protests against Israel’s aggression. In UP, the chief minister said no opposition to the Indian government’s official position would be permitted. In contrast, the Western world saw a plethora of protests in which, interestingly, many Jews have been participating.

Indian social media is full of opposition to the Hamas attack and is presenting Israel as a victim of Hamas. Yet, since the day of the Hamas attack on October 7, social media has seen more and more Islamophobic posts, guided by the BJP’s IT cell. The Palestinian cause is presented as Islamist, and so we must support Israel. There seems to be total conflation of the already prevailing domestic Islamophobia in India with Israel’s war against the people of Gaza.

The most scathing Islamophobic posts, since the war began, have come from India. The peak of this phenomenon, equating Hamas with Palestine and presenting it as a terrorist jihadi organisation, was witnessed in IIT-Bombay. Here, a humanities faculty member outlined the history of Palestine and Israel and the formation of Hamas in a class. In the same department, Sudhanva Deshpande, noted cultural worker from the Jan Natya Manch, showed a documentary and outlined the resistance to the Israeli occupation in Palestine.

According to the Times of India (on November 12, 2023), students affiliated to the RSS-backed Vivek Vichar Manch protested and demanded the suspension of the faculty member. VVM students took out a procession along with people from outside the campus and gave the call for ‘goli maro (shoot them)’. They filed a complaint against the faculty member and Deshpande for eulogising “terrorists” and demanded a probe by central agencies.

Apart from the question of academic freedom, this raises many others. How is the Israeli occupation and the Palestinian resistance being seen? It is heartening that India has voted for the UN resolution against Israel’s attempt to make settlements in Gaza. The ongoing aggression in Gaza by Israel has to be seen in context. As UN Secretary General António Guterres said, “Hamas has not come from a vacuum.”

Noam Chomsky says, “An old man in Gaza held a placard that read: ‘You take my water, burn my olive trees, destroy my house, take my job, steal my land, imprison my father, kill my mother, bombard my country, starve us all, humiliate us all, but I am to blame: I shot a rocket back.’”

The blockade of Gaza has lasted 16 years and the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza has lasted 56 years; the dispossession of Palestinians of their lands and homes began with the establishment of Israel, an ethno-supremacist state, in 1948.

Also read: Unpacking the Hindutva Embrace of Israel

The resistance in Palestine has gone through various phases. Black September killed Israeli athletes in the Munich Olympics in 1972, after 14 lakh Palestinians were made refugees. Yasser Arafat also was doomed to failure as the Western powers tried to impose humiliating conditions on the Palestinians. Hamas is not the leadership of choice, for sure, but what is the way for the democratic expression of resistance when Gaza has been treated as an open prison by Israel? Israel has violated most of the UN resolutions seeking peace and justice. It is the aggressive occupier now eying the offshore gas reserves in Gaza, valued at around $64 billion. Israel has struck deals with US and European companies to become an exporter of energy.

But the ‘common sense’ being promoted in India compares Hamas to the jihadi terrorism which culminated in the formation of Al Qaeda, Taliban and IS. This is supposed to be ‘Islamic terrorism’, which is the biggest concoction in recent history.

That the US promoted fundamentalist groups, trained Muslim youth in Pakistan’s madrasas and armed them is not a secret. In an interview, Hillary Clinton had stated that they trained the Mujahideen to go after Russians in Afghanistan. In his book Good Muslim, Bad Muslim (Harmony, 2003), based on CIA papers, Mahmood Mamdani tells us that America spent $8,000 million and provided 7,000 tons of armaments to train the Mujahideen and Al Qaeda. After 9/11 US media coined the phrase ‘Islamic terrorism’, Islamophobia was the main thrust of the US propaganda machine, which was picked up by the global media. In India, it became an add-on to the prevailing anti-Muslim ‘communal common sense’ which came to rule the godi media, social media and corporate-controlled TV channels, aided by word-of-mouth propaganda by Hindu majoritarian groups.

This is what has led to the current dismal situation, where in an academic institution an invited talk on the history of the formation of Israel, its occupation of Palestine and its designs on gas reserves is seen as promoting terrorism! Israel is probably the only modern example of a nation formed by immigrants who gradually displaced the mass of humanity living in the region, who are not permitted any democratic expressions of resistance. And when Hamas offers a ferocious attack, it’s an excuse to pounce upon the whole nation of Palestine with barbaric force!

Ram Puniyani is president of the Centre of Study of Society and Secularism.

This piece was first published on The India Cable – a premium newsletter from The Wire & Galileo Ideas – and has been updated and republished here. To subscribe to The India Cable, click here.