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In the West Asia crisis, replace moral certitude with compassion

The resignation of poet and cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskote from the Finding Committee for Documenta 16, the 2027 edition of the premier quinquennial art exhibition in Germany, is of a piece with other instances of clampdown on contrarian voices on the crisis in West Asia. In Mumbai-based Hoskote’s case, the resignation came after charges of anti-Semitism and sympathising with the BDS (A Palestinian-led movement promoting boycotts, divestments, and economic sanctions against Israel) in an article published in the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung last week. Hoskote had been a signatory to a 2019 BDS India petition protesting a discussion on “Zionism and Hindutva” in Mumbai. In his resignation letter, Hoskote noted that “there is no room, in this toxic atmosphere, for a nuanced discussion of the issues at stake. And now — in what strikes me as a doomed attempt to save a situation that is beyond saving — I am being asked to accept a sweeping and untenable definition of anti-Semitism that conflates the Jewish people with the Israeli state; and that, correspondingly, misrepresents any expression of sympathy with the Palestinian people as support for Hamas.”

It is a crucial point that Hoskote makes on the conflation of a complex political and humanitarian crisis into an us-versus-them binary that demands complete and unwavering certainty across the aisles. From elite American universities dissociating from and censuring protesting students to former British Home Secretary Suella Braverman terming the recent pro-Palestinian rallies in London as “hate” marches, since the beginning of the latest conflagration in October, support for the Palestinian cause, attempts to point at Israel’s role in the crisis, or marches calling for ceasefire have met with swift pushbacks and accusations of anti-Semitism.

The problem with such cancel culture is that it promotes a rhetoric of umbrage that is myopic and isolatory. In its dissonance from the complexities of the issue and its rigid disowning of the rights of the other, it closes itself to nuance of course, but also to empathy. Hoskote’s resignation came on a day when the Israeli pushback against Hamas’ act of terror on October 7 reached Gaza’s largest hospital, al-Shifa, already beleaguered by lack of electricity and other vital, life-saving resources. It also came soon after a senior member of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government stated that Palestinians should voluntarily emigrate to other countries as Israel could no longer accept Gaza as an independent entity. With the death toll in the ongoing conflict estimated to be well over 11,000 and even more displaced, the crisis does not require moral certitude or self-righteous echo chambers. What it needs, instead, is a humanitarianism that recognises the irreparable damage that has already been wrought on both sides, and that needs to stop without further delay.

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