Rachel Shabi

Israelian writer

Rachel Shabi (born 30 March 1973) is a British journalist and writer. She has contributed to The Guardian, among other publications, and is the author of Not the Enemy, Israel's Jews from Arab Lands (2009).

Rachel Shabi in 2022


  • Whatever your views on Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – and there are many – [George] Galloway's move is plainly an own goal (assuming his goal is to support Palestinians, rather than generate publicity for himself). One reason that many left-leaning Jews don't join the BDS movement is precisely because the boycott is perceived to be about rage against people, rather than an effective political tool. What's the best way to cement that belief? Announce you're avoiding Israelis as part of your commitment to BDS. Cue a flood of "told you sos" from those who say its all about punishing Israelis just for being who they are.
  • Every British Jew has their own family story – of emigration and immigration, of threats and losses, but also of community and belonging. My own family’s journey to the UK from Iraq via Israel – two places fatefully touched by the influence of empire – may explain my own lack of shock at the callous, divisive and biased treatment of minority communities by the British political class, Labour included. Remembering Britain's history is not an excuse for today's politicians, or a minimisation of the real and noxious racism that still permeates our society. But it should be a reminder that for many in Britain, the experience of racism is still the norm and not the exception.
  • [Following Boris Johnson's three days in intensive care with Covid-19 in spring 2020] A national leader in critical condition is an unsettling jolt, especially in the midst of an anxiety-drenched pandemic. But in Britain’s news media, the prime minister’s condition seemed to crowd out concern for others, and the exaltations of Mr. Johnson dampened scrutiny of his government’s failures.
  • But Mr. Johnson had set a terrible example at work, breezily claiming he'd shaken hands with Covid-19 patients, crowding into Parliament and undermining health messages with his joshing delivery. Meanwhile, dozens of doctors and nurses were dying of the virus, among them several of the thousands who had answered the government call to come out of retirement to work in the N.H.S. during the pandemic. Reports emerged of staff members "bullied and shamed" into treating Covid-19 patients without the equipment needed to protect themselves, which the World Health Organization had warned in early February would be needed in vast supply.
  • [Noam] Shuster worked with a women's health organisation in Rwanda before becoming a co-director of the Israel programme at Interpeace, a peacebuilding organisation set up by the UN. Shuster concentrated on a project working with Jewish settlers, the ultra-Orthodox and other groups either resistant to or excluded from standard peace camp initiatives. For Shuster, reaching out to such communities was a key part of conflict resolution, but the UN disbanded the project in 2017.
  • She started writing jokes, in Hebrew, Arabic and English, trying to communicate the topics and ideas she had felt unable to broach within the confines of the peace industry. "You start with open mic slots, you bomb, you fall on your face a million times, you sharpen your material,” she says. But there was a receptive audience for a half-Iranian Israeli woman cracking jokes about the absurdities and injustices of Israel's decades-long military occupation.
  • [On Oh Jeremy Corbyn: The Big Lie] The film does make central an argument based on antisemitic conspiracy layered upon conspiracy. First, there is the idea that Jewish groups within Labour and in Britain are de facto pro-Israel fronts. Then, that such groups nefariously exerted outsized power – “orchestrating” the demise of a Labour leader, no less – and that Israel was pretty much behind all of this. Hence claims of Labour antisemitism were only ever false – indeed they are exclusively referred to as "smears" throughout the film’s narrative voiceover.
  • We might also add, to those defending the film on the grounds that it features several Jewish voices, that this is a terrible fig leaf. Would we apply the same logic to people of colour dismissing the legitimacy of claims of anti-Black racism or Islamophobia? One would hope not.
  • Proponents of the "smears" and #itwasascam narratives tend to see two oppositional camps: either you are a genuine socialist and sincerely committed to the Palestinian cause, or you are an anti-Corbyn liberal washout and advocate for Israel. This false dichotomy must be rejected outright.
  • For decades, Israeli and Western leaders have dehumanised Palestinians, but the response cannot now be to dehumanise Israelis. Explaining the political context of the Hamas attacks and the principles of strategic armed struggle is a world away from endorsing an indiscriminate massacre. For if you think that war crimes from Hamas last Saturday are acceptable, how are you going to argue that war crimes from Israel today are not?
    To lose moral consistency weakens the moral core of the Palestinian cause. To see these indiscriminate Hamas attacks as an acceptable outcome of Palestinian suffering is not a sign of solidarity; it is a form of moral relativism. To cast oppressed Palestinians as having special clearance for brutality is not a liberation struggle; it is specifically intertwining the cause with violence against civilians. And to say that all Israeli citizens are fair game (as I have seen repeatedly online) is a level of permissibility that is extraordinary. It is the same logic applied now to Palestinians in Gaza by the extremist Israeli government and its cheerleaders.
  • Everyone can, hopefully, agree that a connection to Israel should not make British Jews a target for antisemitism, which spikes every time that tensions in the region escalate. We might also agree not to infer that anyone with a "connection" to Israel automatically supports the state's violent policies towards the Palestinian people. But from there on, things get murky. One can passionately disagree with a British Jewish person’s appraisal of the Gaza war as "self-defence", but not be motivated by anti-Jewish hatred. One can be distressed by the apocalyptic images coming out of the Palestinian strip and wonder how anyone might justify such horrors, yet not be fuelled by antisemitism. But the different motivations lying behind criticism have been terribly conflated amid a fearful Jewish minority and its established leadership.

About Rachel Shabi

  • Omnipresent on our screens, the redoubtable Shabi is one of the few Corbyn supporting commentators to be taken seriously by the media. Thoughtful and fluent, she deserves her massive rise in this year’s list.
  • Shabi contends that the need to show a united front against the common enemy has meant that Israel has taken a long time to confront this discrimination [against Mizrahi Jews] and develop the equal opportunities so familiar to us in modern Britain. What is more, she argues, consigning the Mizrahi Jews to a lower status than Ashkenazi Jews has resulted in a huge missed opportunity for improving Israel's relations with its neighbours.
  • Israel has changed radically since the days of its Ashkenazi founding fathers and mothers but Shabi's important book is nonetheless a wake-up call to modern Israeli society. For a nation to be able to call itself a true democracy, all of its citizens must feel equally enabled and valued.
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