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Linda Sarsour’s Problematic Views on Zionism and Anti-Semitism


Petra Marquardt Bigman, Brandeis Blog

March 15, 2017
 

As a co-chair of the Women’s March protesting Donald Trump’s inauguration, Linda Sarsour – who is usually identified as a Palestinian-American progressive political activist – has recently attracted much sympathetic media attention, but also some criticism. Among the issues that critics of Sarsour brought up early on was her open support for BDS, i.e. the movement that singles out Israel as a target for boycott, divestment and sanction, and her stated preference for “a one-state solution that, experts agree, will not be a Jewish state because the larger population will be Palestinian.” While her Wikipedia page currently claims that Sarsour “supports Israel’s right to exist,” she quite obviously does not support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Indeed, Sarsour once asserted [http://archive.is/D42dt]: “Nothing is creepier than Zionism;” she also suggested that Zionism is racism.

Sarsour Zionism creepy

“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist” is of course listed as an example for contemporary anti-Semitism in the US State Department definition of anti-Semitism.

However, Sarsour has insisted that she is only “a critic of the State of Israel” and that she firmly opposes anti-Semitism. But given Sarsour’s declared revulsion against Zionism and her openly acknowledged preference for a so-called “one-state solution” that would transform the world’s only Jewish state into yet another Arab-Muslim majority state, it would clearly be more accurate to describe her not as a “critic,” but rather as an outright opponent of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. Moreover, there is reason to suspect that Sarsour does not accept common definitions of anti-Semitism: she is listed (#73) among the people who signed on to the truly Orwellian definition of anti-Semitism that veteran anti-Israel activist Ali Abunimah published in fall 2012 on the basis of his preposterous view that Zionism is “one of the worst forms of anti-Semitism in existence today” and that support for Zionism “is not atonement for the Holocaust, but its continuation in spirit.”

In the years since Sarsour endorsed Abunimah’s blatantly anti-Semitic definition of anti-Semitism, she has posted numerous tweets that seem to echo anti-Semitic tropes popular among anti-Israel activists. Particularly noteworthy are her repeated insinuations that American politicians who back strong bonds between the US and Israel should be suspected of dual loyalties or corruption. Reminiscent of the “Israel-firster” slurs, which caused much controversy a few years ago and were widely considered as echoing anti-Semitic tropes, Sarsour suggested in July 2014 that “Israel should give free citizenship to US politicians. They are more loyal to Israel than they are to the American people.” She also asserted that there was an “awkward moment when the White House goes off AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] script and says ‘Israel must end the occupation;’” according to Sarsour, this meant for the White House that “#theyareintroublenow.” Sarsour also seems to believe that AIPAC lobbies to get the US to “revolve around Israel;” she therefore demanded in 2012: “Our country’s future should not revolve around #Israel. #aipac2012.” Referring to Hillary Clinton, Sarsour wondered last year, “What was in Hilary’s goodie bag at AIPAC. Had to be real nice after that speech that almost bought her a prime minister seat in Israel.” A few months ago, Sarsour reacted to a statement by Senator Lindsey Graham with the question “Are you a US Senator or do you work for Israel?”

Even though it has been often pointed out that US support for Israel enjoys broad backing among Americans and that Israel is not only “a clear strategic asset to the United States,” but that the bilateral relationship is based on “tangible, steadily increasing security and economic interests,” Sarsour has also often suggested [http://archive.is/kZpAj] that US military assistance to Israel comes at the expense of health care, education funding and various other social benefits for US citizens.

Sarsour’s complaints have to be seen in the context of her deeply hostile views of Israel. Like many anti-Israel activists, she doesn’t just oppose Israel’s control over the West Bank, but apparently regards all of Israel as “occupied.” In 2012, she suggested that any criticism of her hostility to Israel was unwarranted: “What am I supposed 2 do? give State of Israel a high five for occupying my people 4 the past 64 years? Wow my critics need new material.” Obviously, Sarsour’s point of reference was Israel’s establishment in 1948; it was only in 1967 that Israel took control of Gaza and the West Bank in the wake of the Six Day War. Moreover, in 2005, Israel evacuated all Israeli civilians and military personnel from Gaza; a few months later, Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections and since 2007, the Islamist terror group rules Gaza.

But as far as Sarsour is concerned, there is no difference between Israel and terror groups like Hamas, the Islamic State or Al Qaeda. As she told her Twitter followers in 2014: “My condemnations don’t end with Israel. I have condemned butchers like Bashar Al Assad, ISIS, Al Qaeda and Hamas.” On another occasion, Sarsour again implied that Israel was comparable to the murderous Syrian dictator: “I condemn Assad unequivocally but difference with him and Israel is we (The US) don’t fund Assad to murder Syrians.” In yet another tweet, Sarsour seemed to suggest that Israel, rather than the Palestinians, should be condemned for terrorism: “Israel steals more land and they expect the Palestinians to sit back? Then Palestinians are the terrorists? I am beyond words.”

Plenty of other tweets illustrate Sarsour’s deeply felt hatred for Israel and its supporters. In fall 2015, she told her followers: “See the difference between me & supporters of Israel is I don’t justify murders, they proudly do and it’s DISGUSTING.” Earlier that year, she commented on the result of Israel’s elections: “Congratulations. Pompous war criminal elected as PM of Israel. Again. You must be so proud. #IsraelElections.” A few months ago, Sarsour suggested that an Israeli withdrawal from the UN would be of great benefit: “Israel withdrawing from UN – does this mean UN can live up to its mission & not worry about being dragged down to level of the occupier?”

Occasionally, Sarsour has also embraced the incitement that circulates among anti-Israel activists. Thus, in October 2015, a few weeks after the onset of a wave of terrorist stabbing attacks, Sarsour claimed that “Israa Abed, young Palestinian mother and college student [was] shot by the State of Israel for existing;” the text she attached stated: “She was executed in cold blood. Another MURDER!” However, Ha’aretz reported that Abed sustained only moderate injuries in the incident that she staged because she suffered from mental illness and, “after breaking up from her partner she decided to pretend to be a terrorist, go to a crowded place and induce security forces to shoot her [by brandishing a knife].”

Reading through Sarsour’s tweets about Israel and Zionism reveals that she views the Jewish state as illegitimate, oppressive and murderous and believes it should be condemned alongside the Middle East’s worst dictators and terror groups. Sarsour apparently also feels [http://archive.is/ZH2RQ] that Israel should be blamed for the spread of anti-Semitism in the Middle East – an obvious double standard since it is very doubtful that she would consider it acceptable to blame the policies of Muslim states for anti-Muslim bigotry.

Given Sarsour’s views, it is hardly surprising that a few days ago, she made news by asserting that Zionists, or supporters of Israel, have no place in the feminist movement that she is helping to organize and lead. Indeed, the short platform of the recent International Women’s Strike declares that “the decolonization of Palestine” is an important part of “the beating heart of this new feminist movement.” Apparently, the “decolonization” of other territories where people have long sought autonomy or independence – from Western Sahara to Kurdish areas to Balochistan to Tibet – is somehow less important to “the beating heart of this new feminist movement.”

It is therefore difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Women’s Strike platform “seems engineered to specifically exclude one social group: supporters of Israel who do not buy into a one-sided condemnation of Israel, who believe it doesn’t deserve to be singled out among all the conflicts … and who don’t accept that the only solution worthy of discussion is the one that leaves no room for a Jewish state.”

However, while this “new feminist movement” that Sarsour is so energetically promoting rejects Zionists, it warmly embraces a convicted Palestinian terrorist murderer as one of their leading voices: when a widely shared call for the Women’s Strike was published in early February in The Guardian, Rasmea Odeh was listed as one of the co-authors of the text. Her Guardian profile [archived here] describes her as “the associate director of the Arab American Action Network, leader of that group’s Arab Women’s Committee and a former member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine [PFLP].” As I have noted elsewhere, the fact that the profile mentions her “former” membership in the PFLP obviously means that Odeh does not renounce her previous association with the group, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the US, Canada, Australia, and the European Union. The PFLP “is well known for pioneering armed aircraft hijackings in the late 1960s and early 70s” – i.e. the period when Rasmea Odeh was a PFLP member. In 1969, Odeh was accused of taking a major role in a bomb attack at a Jerusalem supermarket, which killed two young Israelis and wounded nine others; a second bomb at the same supermarket was defused before it exploded. For her involvement in this attack and another attempt to bomb the British Consulate in Jerusalem, Odeh was sentenced to life in prison; however, after serving ten years, she was released in a deal with the PFLP in exchange for a captured Israeli soldier. Odeh eventually made her way to the US, where she acquired citizenship by concealing her terrorist past; and while she is now claiming that she confessed to the bombing attack only under torture, the extensive documentation assembled by William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection supports the position that Odeh was rightly convicted and that her new claims have no merit whatsoever.

One might have hoped that Odeh’s biography would disqualify her from being feted as a leading feminist, but given Sarsour’s hostility to Israel, it is hardly surprising that she would object to feminists who consider themselves Zionists, while warmly embracing a convicted terrorist murderer who shares her loathing for the world’s only Jewish state.

Last but not least it should be noted that both Sarsour and Odeh are among the “featured speakers” at the upcoming national member meeting of the misleadingly named Jewish Voice for Peace – a group that has acquired a well-deserved reputation for using “its Jewish identity to shield the anti-Israel movement from allegations of anti-Semitism.”

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Walter Reich
Walter Reich is the Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Professor of International Affairs, Ethics and Human Behavior, and Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, at The George Washington University; a Senior Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center; and a former Director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
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