I attended the November 28 panel discussion, “Anti-Semitism and the Struggle for Justice,” with Linda Sarsour and several members of the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), including Rebecca Vilkomerson. The moderator was Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, an award-winning new program broadcast on NPR, public access and college and community radio stations. Sansour and Goodman, in particular, are influential thought leaders in the progressive wing of the Democratic party.
As the son of a Holocaust survivor, I had to hear for myself the logic of having an unapologetic BDS supporter and anti-Zionist speak about anti-Semitism. As I soon heard, logic was irrelevant as the speakers conflated issues, confounded history and espoused hatred for the only Democratic state within the Middle East.
According to its website, the JVP, with 200,000 online supporters, is “inspired by Jewish tradition to work for a just and lasting peace according to principles of human rights, equality, and international law for all the people of Israel and Palestine; stands for free speech, academic freedom and justice in Palestine; seeks an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem; supports resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem consistent with international law and equity; works in coalitions” and claims that “Israel defenders use false charges of anti-Semitism to limit the debate over Israel on campus.”1 Vilkomerson mentioned apartheid, despite the right of Israeli Arabs to vote in elections. JVP tactics include campus organizing, interfaith dialogue, legislative advocacy and Jewish community transformation, and support of the BDS movement.
Linda Sarsour, a 37-year-old Palestinian-American born in Brooklyn, is an unapologetic supporter of BDS. Her grandmother was born during the Palestinian mandate and had to “flee” her ancestral home. Sarsour has advocated for the closure of NYC schools on Muslim holidays and the elimination of racial profiling, and was a co-organizer of the Women’s March on Washington in March 2017. Her progressive policies focus on intersectionality, i.e., the interconnected nature of social categories such as race, class, gender and religion in terms of discrimination or disadvantage. In an interview with The Nation, Sarsour stated, “Anyone who calls themselves an activist cannot be selective. You can’t be a feminist in the United States and stand up for the rights of the American woman and then say that you don’t want to stand up for the rights of Palestinian women in Palestine. This feminist movement is an international global movement.”2
During Farrakhan’s 20th anniversary of the 1995 Million Man March in Washington, Sarsour stated, “The same people who justify the massacres of Palestinian people and call it collateral damage are the same people who justify the murder of young black men and women.”7
Intersectionality does not, however, apply to anti-Semitism and ignores the abuse of women, homosexuals and Christians by Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic organizations. Sarsour once tweeted, “Nothing is creepier than Zionism.”4 That implies not even ISIS!
A campaign organized by Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi, Muslims Unite to Repair Jewish Cemeteries, raised $162,468—far beyond the initial fund-raising target of $20,000. Monies were provided to cemeteries in St. Louis, Philadelphia and Colorado. The original impetus for the fundraising was overturned tombstones in St. Louis. Success of the campaign was raised by Sarsour as evidence of her intent to combat anti-Semitism (while still supporting anti-Zionism).
According to many progressives, the racism against Jews differs from that of blacks, Hispanics and Muslims, as stated by Jay-Z in a recent New York Times Style Magazine interview: “You can be rich, you can be poor, you’re still black” and “You ever wonder why Jewish people own all the property in America? This how they did it.”3 Islamophobia, according to Sarsour, is solely based on racism, and not the chaos and destruction caused by Islamic fundamentalists, the Shiite-Sunni schism and regimes in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The evening began with brief remarks by the dean of the New School on “their commitment to the free expression of speech,” and Rabbi Alissa Wise, deputy director of JVP and co-founder of the Nakba Education Project (NEP), highlighting “their organizational struggle to end anti-Semitism and fight all forms of oppression.”
Each of the panelists made lengthy introductory remarks highlighting their Jewishness, and the need to fight the evils of capitalism and fascism in the U.S. and across the world. Donald Trump was recognized as a particular evil and a threat to all Americans irrespective of race, religion or gender. The point was made that not all Jews support Israel. And, attacks by right-wing Jews on progressives as being anti-Semitic is viewed as an attempt to limit criticism of Israel.
The notable quotes by panelists included:
“Intersectionality is not about black and white people organizing together or Jews and Muslims organizing together. It is all of us organizing at the intersections of oppression and seeing oppression [as] connected. Anti-Semitism is one branch on a larger tree of racism. You can’t just address one branch, you need to address all branches together so we can get to the root of the problem.”6 (Linda Sarsour)
“Because I care about Jews, I am anti-Zionist.”6 (Rebecca Vilkomerson)
“Louis Farrakhan—I think he’s an anti-Semite; but materially, how has he put Jews in danger? Not really, because he only really affects the black community. But people in Chicago—white Jews—love to talk about him and love to paint him as the ultimate anti-Semite. Why is that? So I wanted to bring into this analysis how anti-Semitism factors into the structural repression that we’re trying to dismantle.”7 (Lina Morales)
The audience was overwhelmingly supportive of these statements.
During the panel discussion, three attendees rose to dispute their statements and respectfully left the auditorium. Contrast that with the double standard applied by many leftists and the ant-fa supporters to “disagreeable” speakers such as Alan Dershowitz, Ben Shapiro and Danny Danon at Berkeley, Columbia University of Michigan, Georgetown and elsewhere.5
In summary, the “new anti-Semitism,” defined by Natan Sharansky, as the 3Ds—demonization, double standards and delegitimization—was clearly evidenced at the New School on November 28. A reference to the “Man in the High Castle,” no mention of fundamentalist Islamic attitudes towards women and support for BDS “from the river to the sea” highlights the 3D challenges facing American Jewry going forward.
The Progressive wing of the Democratic party, as well as many members of the “left” and our youth believe that an any attack on Israel, however outrageous, is justifiable. Intersectionality, the growing irrelevance of actual facts (vs. beliefs) and the disproportionate role of social media represent a significant threat to longer-term American support for Israel. They need to be challenged.
2 The Nation. Can You Be a Zionist Feminist? Linda Sarsour Says No. March 13, 2017.
3 New York Times Style Magazine. On Therapy, politics, marriage, the state of rap and being a black man in Trump’s America—Jay-Z. December 3, 2017.
5 The National Review. Year of the Shout-Down: It Was Worse Than You Think; May 31, 2017. http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/448132/year-shout-down-worse-you-think-campus-free-speech