Anti-violence, not antisemitism: the real reason behind China’s online outrage over Israel’s actions
Published: Nov 14, 2023 12:20 PM
A man carries an injured child at a hospital after Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City, October 17, 2023. Photo: Xinhua

A man carries an injured child at a hospital after Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City, October 17, 2023. Photo: Xinhua

The recent Israel-Palestine conflict has sparked a wave of online comments and reactions in China, some of which have been labeled as antisemitic by Western media outlets such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. However, these accusations are based on a misunderstanding of the Chinese context and perspective, and a failure to recognize the legitimate concerns and grievances of the Chinese people regarding the violence and injustice in the Middle East.

Criticism is not hatred. The majority of the Chinese online comments, accused by NYT and WSJ as antisemitic, are not directed at Jews as a whole, but at Israel's policies and actions in the occupied Palestinian territories. These comments are triggered by countless heart-broken pictures and footage by global media showing the miserable situation in Gaza and the tragedies that the Palestinians are experiencing every day. They are motivated by a sense of justice and conscience from the perspective of most people. This sentiment is not unique to Chinese netizens, but shared by the majority of people across the world who oppose the violent and brutal actions targeted at civilians in Gaza.

The anger and resentment expressed in the Chinese cyberspace are not based on prejudice, but on solid evidence and legal basis. It is clear to anyone with a minimum knowledge of law that Israel, as one side of the conflict, has violated many of the norms and principles in international law and international humanitarian law. These include the prohibition of the use of force, the protection of civilians and civilian objects, the respect for the right to life, the prohibition of collective punishment, the obligation to ensure the basic needs of the occupied population and the illegality of the settlements and the annexation of territory.

The terrible circumstances that the Palestinian people encountered might have won more sympathy from the Chinese netizens than from others. As a group of people who have historically been subjected to foreign invasion, occupation and humiliation, they can empathize more with the plight of the Palestinians, who are seen as the victims of oppression and human rights violations by the Israelis. This is nothing about nationalism, even less about prejudice against the Israelis. This is about solidarity with those who are fighting for their national liberation and independence. 

For the majority of the Chinese people, they believe all lives are precious and condemn all acts that harm and endanger civilians. They wish for no more wars in the world, and believe violence cannot bring durable peace and that retaliations will only result in more deaths and hatred. The Chinese online comments condemning Israel for its violence and injustice are not antisemitic, but anti-violence. They are not driven by a certain perception of Jews, but by a certain perception of reality. They are not manifestations of hatred, but manifestations of compassion and justice. They are not aimed at harming or discriminating against Jews, but at supporting and defending the rights and dignity of the Palestinians.

Regretfully, the op-eds on NYT and WSJ failed to recognize the mainstream view in China's cyberspace about the conflict in Gaza. They cherry-picked a few sensational comments and tried to smear or silence the majority of the Chinese people who have a justified and reasonable position on the Israel-Palestine conflict, and who have the right to express their views and feelings on social media platforms.

When judging the merits in the Israel-Palestine conflict, we need to take a fair stand out of justice and humanitarian concern, instead of one out of ideology or racism, especially when the situation continues to escalate and more civilians are dying from Israeli airstrikes. Antisemitism, as a form of racism which could easily and dangerously arouse hatred, shall not be tolerated. Equally, trying to label those voices calling for humanitarian treatment toward the Palestinians as antisemitism and silence them shall not be tolerated. To fake up a scenario to incite hostility between the Chinese people and the Jews is not only dishonest but also wicked.

 The author is a commentator on international affairs, writing regularly for Xinhua News, Global Times, China Daily, CGTN etc. He can be reached at Xinping604@gmail.com.