By Benay Blend
On May 25, 2021, Politico reported a rise in antisemitic attacks on the Jewish population in America. Writing in the midst of the latest escalation of violence towards Palestinians by the Israeli regime, Politico reporters Nicholas Wu, Andrew Desiderio and Melanie Zanona lost no time conflating antisemitism with Palestinian resistance.
“The recent violence in Gaza,” the three explain, “has been the backdrop for discriminatory attacks against Jews in multiple U.S. states, in addition to other cities around the world.” Deconstructing this introductory sentence offers a starter, too, into the ways that the press uses discrimination against one group in order to promote prejudice against another.
On Thursday the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) shared early reports of 193 antisemitic incidents in the U.S. amid a week of conflict in the Middle East, compared with 131 during the previous week. “As the violence between Israel and Hamas continues to escalate, we are witnessing a dangerous and drastic surge in anti-Jewish hate right here at home,” said ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt. He continues: “ADL’s Center on Extremism has documented dozens of anti-Israel protests in the U.S. since the violence in Israel began, and more are planned.”
Not only is Greenblatt erroneously melding antisemitism with support for Palestine, the ADL itself is no model of progressive activism. For example, the ADL refuses to put antisemitism within the context of rising hate crimes in this country. Instead, it not only centers antisemitism but also enables aggression against other groups of people by funding police training in Israel that then relocates those techniques back home.
Moreover, the media itself uses certain language on purpose to blame the victims for their own oppression. Accordingly, the Politico article goes on to report that,
“with more Democrats openly championing the Palestinian cause, Republicans are accusing them of abandoning the closest U.S. ally in the Middle East and playing into the hands of the terror group Hamas, which was firing thousands of rockets into Israel before a cease-fire announced Thursday.”
In the quote above, it appears that the reporters are focused only on Hamas as the sole perpetrator of violence. Its erroneous enough to label Hamas as a terror group, when indeed it was acting in response to Israel’s provocative incursion into Al Aqsa Mosque. In addition, the article leaves out Israel’s bombing of Gaza as well as the escalation of ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem, both of which left over 200 dead, many injured, and recent roundups of Palestinians in the West Bank in return for losing face in Gaza.
Given those omissions, all of which blame the victims for their deaths, the reporters contribute to making Israel appear to the be the innocent victim of violence. How does this relate to antisemitism? It doesn’t, but it gains clear sympathy for Israel and its supporters while labeling groups opposing that stance as terrorists.
All of this contributes to the murky situation that Israel, and indeed global Jewry, finds itself to be in. As Jonathan Cook explains, Israel’s apologists
“cannot defend Israel uncritically as it commits war crimes or seek legislative changes to assist Israel in committing those war crimes – whether it be Israel’s latest pummelling of civilians in Gaza, or its executions of unarmed Palestinians protesting 15 years of Israel’s blockade of the coastal enclave – and accuse anyone who criticizes them for doing so of being an antisemite.”
As the Zionist regime attempts to justify and/or erase its latest excursion into ethnic cleansing, it is also facing an increase in worldwide support for Palestine. Indeed, in Washington DC, more than 1000 people rallied on the stops of the Lincoln Memorial to voice their solidarity.
This leaves Israel with an increasingly narrow choice of allies. There are the Christians United for Israel (CUFI), perhaps the largest Israel lobby group in the United States. Nevertheless, as Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb reports, right-wing supporters of Israel are neither friends of Jews nor Palestinians, for CUFI’s leaders spout, she says, a “toxic blend of anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and sexism.”
“While their support for Israel is supposed proof that their program is not anti-Semitic,” Gottlieb notes, “CUFI’s adherents’ interest in Israel is little more than a declaration that Jews are only useful insofar as they trigger the end of days.” In this scenario, the plight of Palestinians is not worthy of concern.
“This kind of pseudo-fundamentalist theology has long been the basis for white supremacy and colonialism,” she concludes, which leaves Israelis and their supporters in league with the very people who hate them.
For those of us who believe that “justice is indivisible,” as Professor Rabab Abdulhadi claims, antisemitism should no more be acceptable in our ranks than racism, sexism, homophobia along with all of the other discriminatory forms.
But should it should not be centered at the expense of other crimes, particularly at a time when Palestinians are suffering in their own land, Africans (Blacks) are being shot in greater numbers by racist American police, and crimes against Asian Americans are on the increase.
Antisemitism exists. I’ve felt it in my own life as have my family, but it’s taught me to fight against injustice everywhere, not place my own experiences at the center. Moreover, there have always been infiltrators in social justice movements who are ready to commit acts that discredit the entire group.
According to journalist Max Blumenthal, pro-Israel lobbyists have manufactured many of these instances in order to detract from increasing criticism of Israel’s most current war crimes. In a recent article, he carefully documents examples of edited videos and suspicious allegations designed to deflect attention away from Gaza.
It’s important, too, to be aware of the ways that the media uses language in order to whitewash the Israeli government while also tarnishing Palestinian resistance with the label “terrorist,” a racist move in itself because it seeks to reduce an entire group of people to a derogatory stereotype.
From Palestinian activist Iyad Burnat, shortly after his two sons were arrested by the Israeli police during their recent roundup: “We would have stood with the Jews against the Nazis as they had every right to resist the Nazis and defend themselves. So why do you call the Palestinian resistance “terrorism”?”
“It’s easy to repeat the common narrative,” Steven Salaita reminds his readers. “Being mindful is super-important. It’s a constant demand.”
“Understand [too],” Salaita writes,
“that Zionists in North America are setting the groundwork for a new round of punishments. They do it with every Israeli massacre (and in between). The pattern is obvious. It hasn’t changed in decades. And every time it happens, a lot of damn fine people–devoted anti-racists and compassionate activists–suffer significant personal and professional harm. Don’t be the kind of sucker who, in a misguided attempt to sound civilized, facilitates Zionist punishment by repeating their insidious talking points.”
In recent weeks, several celebrities have backtracked on their support for Palestine, as have certain Black leaders who did the same, partly because of the fear of being tarnished with the charge of anti-Semite. Again, in the words of Steven Salaita, “if you’re unwilling to face down a punishment with your principles intact, then you have nothing positive to offer the oppressed and persecuted. Better to just keep out of the way. Conciliation is more harmful than silence.”
– Benay Blend earned her doctorate in American Studies from the University of New Mexico. Her scholarly works include Douglas Vakoch and Sam Mickey, Eds. (2017), “’Neither Homeland Nor Exile are Words’: ‘Situated Knowledge’ in the Works of Palestinian and Native American Writers”. She contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.