As President Trump made waves with an executive order meant to stifle speech, action, and education that highlights Palestinian rights, a case that might have been affected by that very order was resolved in Massachusetts. The suit, brought by several anonymous students against the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, attempted to censure the university for hosting a panel that supported the movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel and to establish that such events were inherently discriminatory and must be forbidden on campus.
The panel, which took place as scheduled on May 4, 2019, featured some of the country’s most outspoken supporters of Palestinian rights and progressive causes, including former Women’s March Co-Chair Linda Sarsour, Temple University Professor Marc Lamont Hill, musician Roger Waters, and Sports Editor for The Nation Magazine, Dave Zirin. All these people are fierce critics of Israeli policies from a progressive viewpoint.
The event, entitled, “Not Backing Down: Israel, Free Speech, and the Battle for Palestinian Rights,” was specifically designed to discuss efforts to stifle criticism of Israel, on campus and beyond. The suit itself, and the effort preceding it to force the cancellation of the event, couldn’t have demonstrated the need for that panel more clearly. Read more at Responsible Statecraft
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) made headlines by unveiling its latest project, the Congressional Black-Jewish Caucus. It sounds like a terrific idea, and certainly AJC is claiming to have done a lot to lay the groundwork for it. These two communities—which overlap a lot more than many people realize—have a long and complicated history, marked by periods of great mutual support but also of mistrust and hostility. A caucus in Congress to help inform policy that would be beneficial to both communities should be welcome.
But this is one of those eras where mistrust abounds, aggravated recently by the focus of the Jewish community on Black thought leaders who are sympathetic to the Palestinian side of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Accusations of disproportionate hostility toward Israel, accompanied by both indirect and direct accusations of anti-Semitism have tenderized already fraught community relations, where too many Jews and Black people feel that the other bears them ill will. These tensions are particularly hard on Black Jews and other Jews of Color, members of both communities who must contend with this friction in the most personal way.
All of this should make the caucus even more welcome. But the inclusion of Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) in the new Black-Jewish Congressional Caucus inevitably raises significant questions about its intent. Read more at LobeLog
Earlier this month, New York Times columnist Michelle Alexander ignited a controversy by stating her support for Palestinian rights. In her piece, “Time to Break the Silence on Palestine,” Alexander used the act of confronting her own silence on this issue to encourage others to break theirs. She made the case that “criticism of the policies and practices of the Israeli government is not, in itself, anti-Semitic,” while also affirming that
Anti-Semitic incidents in the United States rose 57 percent in 2017, and many of us are still mourning what is believed to be the deadliest attack on Jewish people in American history… We must be mindful in this climate that, while criticism of Israel is not inherently anti-Semitic, it can slide there.
That statement was not nearly enough for the “pro-Israel” community in the United States. The Israeli-American former ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, called Alexander’s column a “strategic threat.” The American Jewish Committee had the audacity to accuse Alexander—a prominent African-American civil rights lawyer and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness—of “appropriating” Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy. Numerous other voices, conservative and liberal, defended Israel from Alexander’s “attacks.”
Her supporters will say it is because she is a strong, left-wing woman who wears a hijab, proudly supports the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement and is firmly anti-Zionist.
Either way, the mere mention of her name is usually enough to provoke a passionate response.
And when she called for support for Congresswoman-elect Ilhan Omar, who Sarsour said she was being attacked by pseudo-liberals who check their values at the door where Israel is concerned, she was quickly assailed for having invoked the anti-Semitic canard of dual loyalty.
But is that really what she did? Read more at The Forward
The bad faith attacks on Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour have reached new heights in recent days. They have been revived and risen in intensity after the massacre of 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue late last month. I’ll have more to say on this very soon, but right now, I wanted to share the message below that was distributed by Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center. Rabbi Waskow bracketed the statement with some comments of his, and you can see these here.
It is important, to be sure, to hear Sarsour’s own words, in full context rather than as happens to often, framed by others. But it takes on a greater importance right now. The very real escalation in attacks on Jews in the United States have had absolutely nothing to do with Israel and its human rights violations, but have a very strong connection to the hateful, anti-Semitic ramblings of Donald Trump. The Jewish right has tried to distort this reality because they support Trump–not only in his anti-Semitism, but in his broader racism and authoritarianism–and because they never miss an opportunity to try to frame all criticism of Israel as being based in anti-Semitism, despite the clear reality that this is rarely (not never) the case.
Linda Sarsour is, in many ways, the lightning rod for all of this. If we are to understand what is going on in America right now, and if we are to stop this rapid rise in anti-Semitism and all that goes with it (it is certainly true that anti-Jewish violence and hate speech tends to be a canary in the coalmine for the rise of broader hate movements like white supremacy), hearing Sarsour’s voice in full and clearly, is crucial. She is the very epitome of the reality that dedication to equal rights for all–a dedication that even progressives and liberals all too often find reasons to exclude the rights of Palestinians from–is the only way to guarantee equal rights for any of us. Here, then, is Linda Sarsour’s message.