By JOHN LESLIE
The recent attacks on Israel by Hamas and Israel’s genocidal response in Gaza has brought renewed scrutiny to the actions of the state of Israel and renewed charges that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism. In recent weeks, the media and U.S. political and educational institutions have employed Islamophobic myths about Palestinians and have accused activists who condemn the 75-year occupation of Palestine and the dispossession of Palestinian people of being supporters of terrorism and antisemites.
This anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic rhetoric is responsible for the murder of six-year-old Wadea Al Fayoume, a Palestinian-American boy from Chicago who was stabbed 26 times by the family’s landlord. His mother, Hanaan Shahin, was stabbed more than a dozen times and could not attend her son’s funeral due to the extent of her injuries. After the attack, the Council on American-Islamic Relations demanded, “The Islamophobic rhetoric and anti-Palestinian racism being spread by politicians, media outlets, and social media platforms must stop.”
Students and activists who have spoken out since the Hamas attack have been doxed and harassed by far-right websites such as Canary Mission, a site that conflates neo-Nazi groups with activist groups and individuals who criticize the policies of Israel and stand in solidarity with the Palestinians. Harvard students who signed a statement in solidarity with Palestine were doxed and have faced threats. The law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell withdrew jobs offers from three Columbia University graduates because they had signed a petition in solidarity with Palestinians.
One Philadelphia activist, a supporter of the Workers World Party, told this reporter that he had received “hundreds” of threatening and harassing phone calls in one day after his personal information was recently published by Canary Mission. The backlash against Palestine solidarity activists is designed to sow fear, as a McCarthy-style campaign threatens careers. There also is a climate of fear on campuses that is calculated to chill free speech.
One of the organizations fueling this atmosphere of hate is the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a supposed civil-rights group that has maligned advocates for the rights of Palestinians as being antisemitic by conflating criticism of Israel with hatred for Jewish people. Appearing on MSNBC, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt made outrageous and unsubstantiated claims concerning movements critical of Israel’s genocidal policies. He claimed that “governors, mayors, and people in positions of authority” had ignored an alleged Hamas call for a “Global Day of Jihad” because they don’t care about Jewish safety. Greenblatt also declared that all of the Palestine solidarity rallies being held worldwide are “pro-Hamas rallies” and repeated the now-debunked claim that Hamas decapitated babies. He went on to say that “anti-Zionism is genocide,” claimed that “every Jewish person is a Zionist,” and stated that “Zionism is fundamental to our existence.”
U.S. politicians join the anti-Palestinian chorus
Rhetoric on the right only serves to reinforce prejudice against Palestinians and support for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Georgia GOP Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted: “Anyone that is pro-Palestinian is pro-Hamas.” Senator Lindsay Graham called for Israel to level Gaza to the ground, saying, “Gaza is going to look like Tokyo and Berlin at the end of World War II when this is over. And if it doesn’t look that way, Israel made a mistake.”
Presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis made the claim that all Palestinians are “anti-Semitic.” Breitbart News senior editor Joel Pollak openly endorsed ethnic cleansing, saying, “That’s an option, I think, after all this. … If it comes down to ethnic cleansing, you want to cleanse my people. I’ll cleanse yours first.” Senator Tom Cotton has come out against any humanitarian aid for Gaza and endorses Israel’s mass violence against civilians: “As far as I’m concerned, Israel can bounce the rubble in Gaza. Anything that happens in Gaza is the responsibility of Hamas—Hamas killed women and children in Israel last weekend.”
Few voices in the Democratic Party are calling for an end to the violence. The Biden administration has pledged more deadly aid to the apartheid state and has given the Israelis the green light to “defend” themselves. Calls for a ceasefire and an end to U.S. aid to Israel by “progressive” Democrats Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) drew fire from within their own party, as the Democratic establishment jumps through hoops to demonstrate its own loyalty to Israeli policy.
In her statement, Tlaib said, “The failure to recognize the violent reality of living under siege, occupation, and apartheid makes no one safer. … We cannot ignore the humanity in each other. As long as our country provides billions in unconditional funding to support the apartheid government, this heartbreaking cycle of violence will continue.”
Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) attacked Tlaib’s statement as “reprehensible and repulsive” and stated that “U.S. aid to Israel is and should be unconditional.” Fellow Democrat Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) said, “We must continue to come together as a Congress and a country to disavow terrorism and support the Jewish state, our democratic ally, Israel.” Stevens also said that “Israel has a right to exist and defend herself.”
The Democratic Party in recent years has faced an unprecedented amount of doubt within its voter base about the U.S. relationship with the apartheid state. NBC News reports: “In March, Gallup reported that, for the first time since it began asking the question, Democratic voters are now more sympathetic toward Palestinians than Israelis, with a particularly steep drop in net sympathy for Israelis among young voters.” This spells trouble for the Democrats, who have been avid supporters of Israel for decades.
Nevertheless, NBC repeats the lie equating pro-Palestine activity to antisemitism, saying, “Groups like the Anti-Defamation League have warned that the left-wing movement that agitates against Israel in the name of Palestinian rights has made antisemitism more socially acceptable in left-leaning spaces like college campuses.”
It’s in this atmosphere that the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), A Muslim-American civil rights advocacy group, was forced to cancel a planned 29th annual banquet in Arlington, Va., after multiple bomb threats and threats made against conference participants and hotel staff. According to a CAIR press release, “Anonymous callers have threatened to plant bombs in the hotel’s parking garage, kill specific hotel staff in their homes, and storm the hotel in a repeat of the Jan. 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol if the events moved forward.”
Why is U Penn. afraid of a literature festival?
A recent Palestinian literature festival, Palestine Writes, held Sept. 22-24 at the University of Pennsylvania, drew ire from Zionists and their supporters, who claimed that the festival itself was a gathering of anti-Semites and terrorism supporters. The Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (NELC) description of the event explains that the festival was a “gathering [of] dozens of writers, artists, publishers, performers, and scholars to explore the richness and diversity of Palestinian culture.” However, in the wake of the Hamas attack, elite donors of the Ivy League university are now withholding financial contributions while calling for the president of the university, Liz Magill, to resign.
In a conciliatory statement, Magill said, “I know how painful the presence of these speakers on Penn’s campus was for the Jewish community, especially during the holiest time of the Jewish year, and at a university deeply proud of its long history of being a welcoming place for Jewish people. … The university did not, and emphatically does not, endorse these speakers or their views. While we did communicate, we should have moved faster to share our position strongly and more broadly with the Penn community.”
Palestine Writes executive director and organizer Susan Abulhawa responded to Magill via Twitter (X), stating, “It will stand in history as a testament to the grotesque privileged elite who stood behind a genocidal settler colonial state & cheered on the bombs obliterating the indigenous population. … We are not afraid, nor are we intimidated by craven statements of individuals who genuflect before powerful billionaire donors to attack the weak and marginalized.” Abulhawa’s Twitter account has been suspended due to her statements against the apartheid state.
The ethnic cleansing of Palestine requires the erasure of Palestinian culture. How can you dismiss people as savages if you allow them to make art or write books and poetry? Advocacy for Palestinians and for human rights is branded as antisemitism.
Is criticism of Israel the same as antisemitism?
Certainly, in recent years, there has been a resurgence in anti-Jewish hate crimes and antisemitic speech as the far right has begun to grow. Attacks like the 2018 Tree of Life synagogue shooting focused renewed attention on antisemitism. Conspiracy theories about how shadowy groups of sinister figures are behind world events—which appear in theories about financier George Soros, claims about the Rothschild banking family, the 9/11 tragedy, and elsewhere—have dangerous implications. Politicians on the right use terms like “globalists,” a code word for Jews.
Rather than tackling the real sources of bigotry against Jews, the capitalist media have repeated claims that antisemitism is a problem on “both the right and left.” Politicians of both parties have declared the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement to be “anti-Jewish.” On campuses, pro-Palestinian activists have been subjected to attacks on their free speech. Thirty-five states have either passed anti-BDS laws or issued executive orders aimed at marginalizing BDS activists. In 2017, a bipartisan bill would have made advocating for a boycott of Israel a felony.
Marxists reject prejudice against Jewish people and oppose any attempt to target Jewish communities. We are clear that such hatred is not welcome on the left, echoing the words of German socialist August Bebel, “Antisemitism is the socialism of fools.” But at the same time, we reject the notion that criticism of the Israeli apartheid state, or the colonial-settler ideology of Zionism, makes supporters of Palestinian rights and self-determination anti-Jewish. In fact, many of the activists in the pro-Palestine movement are anti-Zionist Jews.
When antisemitism rears its head in the movement, socialists do not shrink from fighting against those backward ideas. We do this in the same way that we stand up to racism and sexism in the unions. The responsibility of revolutionary leadership is to take a strong stand against reactionary ideas wherever they present themselves. This means standing against manifestations of antisemitism in the movement.
The BDS tactic made it possible for activists to expose the connections between apartheid Israel and government entities, educational institutions, and corporations. By threatening the base of financial support for the occupation, including settlement building, the BDS movement undermined support for Israeli policy in U.S. society and internationally.
It is this threat to the legitimacy of the Israeli state that drove attempts to discredit the BDS movement. Zionist organizations and bourgeois politicians who try to conflate anti-Zionism with antisemitism reinforce the growth of anti-Jewish thinking by blurring the lines between the legitimate criticism of Israeli policy and actual hate speech.
In a period when the Palestine solidarity movement is under attack on campuses and in communities, it is imperative that we defend the right of activists to organize and speak. At the same time, we mobilize in solidarity with those communities targeted by the far right and their hateful speech and actions. Revolutionaries always stand with the oppressed.
In the days, weeks, and months ahead, it is imperative that all supporters of human rights and the right to free speech redouble our efforts to build solidarity with the Palestinian people. We must demand an end to the violence and the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people. This includes defending our right to criticize the colonial-settler apartheid entity without being labeled as antisemitic. Attempts to witch hunt students and faculty at universities must be vigorously opposed as an attack on the democratic rights of all. These vulnerable activists need our support now more than ever.
The compliant media, who act like press agents of the Israeli state and the U.S. State Department, must be held accountable for their slanted coverage, and the politicians of both parties must be exposed for their support for genocide in Gaza and the West Bank.
As the state of Israel prepares another Nakba, with the collusion of Western imperialism, it is necessary to build the broadest possible unity in action that mobilizes broad sectors of society to say, “No! Never again is now! Not in our name! Stop the killing and end U.S. taxpayer aid to Israel now!”
Photo: Hundreds of Philadelphia high school students walked out of class in solidarity with Palestine on Oct. 20 and rallied outside City Hall. (Sal Mastriano / Workers’ Voice)