Stop the Anti-Semitism When Talking Gaza

Criticism of Israel’s actions in Gaza is one thing. But anti-Semitism is quite another. Keep it away. Far, far away.

Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty

At a crowded Muslim-American event I attended Sunday in North Jersey, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim elected to Congress, spoke about a range of issues. The audience, many of whom have supported Ellison since he was first elected in 2006, cheered many of his comments, but the biggest applause line came when Ellison said: “There’s absolutely no place for anti-Semitism in discussing Israeli policy.”

And that reaction is not atypical in my experience. On Saturday, I attended another large Muslim-American event in Long Island, New York, and that same sentiment was expressed there.

Muslims, like Jews, are a minority faith in America. Consequently, we have endured our share of vicious barbs launched by hate-group leaders, elected officials and even clergy members of other faiths. This has made us keenly aware of the pain of being demonized simply for our faith. That is why Ellison and I and the Muslims I know find it so despicable to see instances of anti-Semitism arise over the conflict in Gaza.

This is especially the case in Europe. While the media have noted that in large part the rallies there opposing the Netanyahu government’s military action in Gaza have been peaceful, there has been an alarming amount of anti-Semitism on display.

“Gas the Jews” and “Death to the Jews” have been heard at some rallies. Firebombs have been thrown at synagogues in France and Germany, and Jewish-owned businesses in Paris have been vandalized. As Daniel Schwammenthal, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Transatlantic Institute explained to the International Business Times, “If you attack a synagogue, explain to me what this has to do with being concerned about Gaza. You just want to hurt the Jews.” He’s 100 percent correct.

This type of conduct is despicable. Period. There’s no “but” or “let me explain why I said or did that.” It doesn’t matter how much you are angered or heartbroken by the image of children being killed in Gaza. And being of Palestinian heritage, I’ve been very aware of the suffering of Palestinian civilians well before social media has recently made this information instantaneously accessible. So I say this as someone who is very supportive of Palestinian humanity.

Anti-Semitism is morally wrong. It’s just like racism, Islamaphobia, homophobia, or any other type of hate. It can’t be tolerated, defended, or contextualized regardless of the form it manifests.

While the recent anti-Semitic events have occurred in Europe, I’m not going to pretend there isn’t anti-Semitism in our nation, or in my own community. But an ADL survey released in May found anti-Semitism in the United States at its lowest level in years, just 9 percent, and it has thankfully been dropping over time.

In contrast, the levels of anti-Semitism in Europe, as well as Islamaphobia for that matter, are considerably higher. In Western Europe, the ADL charted anti-Semitism at 24 percent and in Eastern Europe at 34 percent.

Why are these European levels so much higher than America’s? In my view, some of it is a result of people (intentionally or not) conflating the policies of the Israeli government as being representative of Jews worldwide. That is factually wrong. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the leader of a sovereign nation. He isn’t a religious leader. His policies don’t speak for Jews worldwide in the same way the Pope speaks for Catholics.

And just like Christians and Muslims, Jews have a wide diversity in their views on political issues from very liberal to ardently conservative. Indeed, a day hasn’t gone by during this current conflict that I haven't read articles written by Jewish-Americans decrying Netanyahu’s military campaign in Gaza. And if you read the Israeli media outlets, especially the more progressive Haaretz, you will see a very similar debate over Israeli policies.

Also contributing to the flames of hate is the deplorable rhetoric from those like Hamas who incite hatred against Jews. And this garbage isn’t limited to speeches. Hamas TV also infamously broadcasts a children’s show featuring a bumblebee character that teaches viewers to hate Jews. This is simply horrendous.

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Distressingly, but unsurprisingly, the ADL report found that the highest rates of anti-Semitism on its list are found in the West Bank and Gaza. Clearly that is due in part to the Hamas-style incitement.

Another factor contributing to those findings is that the only Jews the Palestinians see are IDF soldiers manning checkpoints, carrying out raids, or waging war. Palestinians and Israelis no longer interact with each other as they did in the past, with Palestinians working in Israel in large numbers. Consequently, there’s little material with which to build empathy on either side of the conflict. In fact, the ADL’s Abraham Foxman addressed this very issue in a May op-ed published in Haaretz in which he called on the Israeli government to crack down on the rise of Jewish extremists within Israel and West Bank who have been engaged in a startling number of “price tag” attacks (acts of random violence) against Palestinian civilians as well as vandalizing Christian churches and mosques.

I would be remiss not to mention that some defenders of Israel’s actions have alleged anti-Semitism not when Jews were being attacked for their faith, but in an effort to silence those criticizing the polices of the Israeli government. The overuse of this charge has diluted the power of the term anti-Semitism as a call to action in situations like we see happening today in Europe.

But to those who want to cheer “Death to the Jews,” use Nazi imagery, or in any other way want to demonize the Jewish people, let me be clear: I don’t want you on our side. Your hateful rhetoric is not only morally repugnant, it's hurting my family and the millions of other Palestinians struggling for basic human rights. Don’t attend events supporting Palestinians or post vile comments in our name on Facebook, etc. We don’t want the Palestinian cause to be defined by your hate.

Let’s follow the lead of people like Ellison—and those in Europe engaged in the “Raise Your Voice” campaign—and vocally counter anti-Semitism wherever we see it, be it at an event or a posting on social media. We can’t afford to wait to speak out until we see anti-Semitic incidents in the United States like those happening in Europe.

Hate is hate regardless of the target. Let’s not lose our own humanity while trying to fight for the humanity of others.