Archive for the ‘“Champion of Change”’ category

A Test for the Anti-Trump Movement

February 28, 2017

A Test for the Anti-Trump Movement, Tablet MagazineBari Weiss, February 28, 2017

(Please see also, Perez, Ellison and the Meaning of Anti-Semitism. — DM)

A movement that has so much to say about the value of black lives, of transgender lives, of women’s lives, of Latino lives, of Muslim lives, of the lives of the disabled and the poor and the weak, but becomes mealy-mouthed and contingent about the lives of Jews when those Jews happen to live in the land of Israel should make any person of conscience question the sincerity of that movement.

Indeed, what’s perhaps even more disturbing is the increasing tendency on the part of Jews to silence themselves on these fundamental moral matters to fit in or to avoid accusations of being soft on Trump. On this, our leaders must do better, even though it will surely mean fewer likes and retweets from popular progressives. It’s incumbent upon those who assert themselves as representatives of the Jewish community not to paper over this disturbing hypocrisy—especially if what they are trying to do is convince amcha that it’s still in their best interest to be at the anti-Trump table.

Somehow it seems that Jews are always the ones being asked to check their identity at the door in movements driven by identity politics. We may assiduously follow the “two-thirds and 51 percent” rule, but our partners often do not. If asking for something so minimal—to disassociate and condemn a woman who murdered innocent Jews—seems impolite or greedy, then perhaps the compromise we have made is rotten.

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In the week leading up to the presidential election, like hockey players who refuse to shave during the playoffs, the women of the Weiss family lived in their “Pussy Grabs Back” T-shirts. For months, our family texts had buzzed day and night with emoji-laden reactions to the latest Trump outrage, while my mother waged a very personal campaign against the Republican candidate. When the first Tuesday in November was upon us, my dad, who has a giant poster of William F. Buckley in his office, bowed to shalom bayit and wrote in Steph Curry.

All of this camaraderie put me in a strange position. Since the crucible of my college years—in which being an outspoken Zionist made you fascist, supporting the war in Iraq made you an imperialist, and believing that some cultures are indeed more enlightened than others a hegemon—I’ve gotten used to feeling politically homeless. I’m typically the hardass among the squishes. All of a sudden, I found myself making common cause with those whom I disagree with vehemently on, say, the Iran deal (bad), the necessity of teaching Western Civ. (good), and most certainly Israel. It is the difference on the Jewish state that has been the starkest and the most painful, as anyone who has paid any attention to the increasingly leftward tilt of the Democratic Party will not be surprised to learn.

One of the rising stars of this new generation of progressive politicos is Linda Sarsour, who was honored as a “champion of change” by the Obama administration and is now one of the anti-Trump movement’s most visible leaders. Sarsour, a longtime Arab-American community organizer, was one of the heads of the Women’s March in Washington and is the named plaintiff in the high-profile lawsuit against Trump’s immigration ban. The image of her, hijab-clad and flashing a defiant smile, rivaled the pink knitted hat as the unofficial symbol of the march.

She is also a proudly outspoken supporter of BDS. “Nothing is creepier than Zionism,” she has tweeted, a remark that, along with the fact that in December she posed for a photo with a former Hamas operative, stirred a series of critical pieces on right-wing websites in the days following the march on the capital. Within hours, Sarsour’s newfound friends and supporters—do I even need mention that Mark Ruffalo and Susan Sarandon were among them?—burst forth with a social-media-driven campaign dubbed #IMarchWithLinda, in which the stories about her background and views were presented as vicious hatchet jobs by pro-Trump legions determined to slow the momentum of the anti-Trump brigades. Indeed, how could a woman who last week made headlines for organizing a fundraising drive that raised more than $56,000 to repair the desecrated Jewish cemetery in St. Louis harbor hostility to Jews?

Among those who have pledged allegiance to Sarsour are prominent Jewish leaders and rabbis. Criticism of the Muslim activist was nothing but “a deliberate smear campaign from the far right to delegitimize the march itself,” said Los Angeles Rabbi Sharon Brous, expressing the view of many other anti-Trump Jews. “This is a time for serious coalition-building, for standing beside other minority populations that are targeted. It is time for people to stand for and with each other. There will be in the mix a number of different perspectives. I don’t feel at all uncomfortable about that,” Brous has said. “A much greater problem would be if the Jewish community stepped out of activism because we’re afraid that someone on the stage has a position on BDS different than our own.”

This was something of a dodge, because, as Brous and others must know, Sarsour’s odious views aren’t limited to BDS, and stretch particularly into issues that directly relate to the systemic oppression of women. “You’ll know when you’re living under Sharia Law if suddenly all your loans & credit cards become interest-free. Sound nice, doesn’t it?” Sarsour tweeted about the Islamic law code that justifies beating women and considers the testimony of a woman half that of a man. She has also denigrated the anti-Islamist feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali in astonishingly vulgar terms, insisting that Hirsi Ali is “not a real woman” and joking that she wishes she could take away Ali’s vagina—a particularly vicious bon mot, given that Hirsi Ali was well-known as a victim of genital mutilation in her native Somalia.

Still, anti-Trumpers argued, Sarsour’s personal imperfections didn’t come close to forcing Jews to disavow her and her movement. Echoing Brous, Yehuda Kurtzer, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, pushed back against those who use support of Israel as a single-issue litmus test. In a piece in the Jewish Journal, he made the case that American Jews should stick to what he dubbed the “two-thirds and 51 percent” rule: “We identify in political communities, or organize for particular causes, with people who share, or at least do not operate in contradistinction to, two-thirds of our core moral imperatives, and with whom we agree on a minimum of 51 percent of our moral concerns,” he writes. By this standard, Sarsour’s leadership role is not a deal breaker. “Rotten compromise, the kind we must not do,” wrote Kurtzer, “entails making common cause with evil.”

So what does boundary-crossing evil look like? Is it OK, for example, to support the civil rights of Palestinians, undocumented immigrants, and women who wear hijab while also calling for the denial of the national and indigenous rights of Jews, and rejecting the rights of women in Muslim-majority countries to control their own bodies? Is that a fair definition of Kurtzer’s 51-percent rule? If you call for the death of Zionists but support Palestinian nationalism, is being against Donald Trump the moral tie-breaker that makes you a legitimate ally of American Jews like me—and immune from our criticism? Kurtzer doesn’t say, but the assumption was that nothing had thus far emerged in the anti-Trump movement to meet the rotten compromise test.

That logic resonated with almost all the anti-Trump Jews I know, who either actively rallied around Sarsour, or—like me—held their tongues. I justified it by telling myself that no political movement is perfect, no coalition entirely pure. Opposing this president, I reasoned, is too critical a priority.

Now, unhappily, the anti-Trump movement has produced a leader far worse than Sarsour: a woman whose actions must surely qualify as evil. If they don’t, the problem doesn’t belong to Zionists or Jews, but to the movement itself—and even more so to the spiritual health of the political party angling to benefit from it.

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The names Leon Kaner and Edward Jaffe are now lost to history, but Rasmea Odeh surely remembers them well. Kaner and Jaffe are the 21-year-old and 22-year-old who went to a Jerusalem supermarket on Feb. 21, 1969 to pick up food for a trip and were blown up thanks to a bomb that Odeh and an accomplice had placed there. Nine others were injured in the blast. Four days later, a second bomb that the duo planted exploded at the British Consulate. Odeh was sentenced to life in prison by Israel but was released in a prisoner exchange in the early 1980s.

This convicted terrorist has surfaced since the march on Washington as a new leader of the women’s movement, announcing its next global action in the pages of the Guardian: a worldwide women’s strike on March 8. Along with Angela Davis and several others, Odeh called for a day of “striking, marching, blocking roads, bridges, and squares, abstaining from domestic care and sex work, boycotting, calling out misogynistic politicians and companies, striking in educational institutions.” And the organizers of the Washington March followed Odeh’s lead, recently announcing their participation in this international “day without women.”

The political stupidity of embracing Odeh is plain. What better ammunition could there possibly be for a White House all too keen to dismiss a genuine grassroots movement as paid professional protestors and anti-American anarchists than the public participation of a bona fide terrorist? If the anti-Trump movement is going to stand for tolerance, genuine liberalism, civility, and decency—everything we disdain Trump for disdaining—Odeh and her ilk can have no place in it.

But there is a deeper, darker point here beyond strategy: It concerns the alarming cheapness of Jewish blood. A movement that has so much to say about the value of black lives, of transgender lives, of women’s lives, of Latino lives, of Muslim lives, of the lives of the disabled and the poor and the weak, but becomes mealy-mouthed and contingent about the lives of Jews when those Jews happen to live in the land of Israel should make any person of conscience question the sincerity of that movement.

Indeed, what’s perhaps even more disturbing is the increasing tendency on the part of Jews to silence themselves on these fundamental moral matters to fit in or to avoid accusations of being soft on Trump. On this, our leaders must do better, even though it will surely mean fewer likes and retweets from popular progressives. It’s incumbent upon those who assert themselves as representatives of the Jewish community not to paper over this disturbing hypocrisy—especially if what they are trying to do is convince amcha that it’s still in their best interest to be at the anti-Trump table.

Somehow it seems that Jews are always the ones being asked to check their identity at the door in movements driven by identity politics. We may assiduously follow the “two-thirds and 51 percent” rule, but our partners often do not. If asking for something so minimal—to disassociate and condemn a woman who murdered innocent Jews—seems impolite or greedy, then perhaps the compromise we have made is rotten.

White House “Champion” Blasts Muslims Who Talk to Any Pro-Israel Jews

December 7, 2016

White House “Champion” Blasts Muslims Who Talk to Any Pro-Israel Jews, Investigative Project on Terrorism, December 7, 2016

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Palestinian activist Linda Sarsour took to Twitter Nov. 22 with a quick, venting post: “You know what I can’t stand? Bitter people. That’s all.”

Sarsour spoke at the annual American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) conference three days later. Evidently, she can’t stand herself.

Sarsour, who describes herself as a “racial justice and civil rights activist,” lashed out at Jews who extended a hand of friendship and solidarity over concerns that increasing hostility toward Muslims in America might lead to draconian government action. And she lashed out at fellow Muslims who accepted the gesture and joined in a new inter-faith dialogue.

Why the bitterness?

The Jews at issue support the state of Israel, support its existence and its vitality. Sarsour wants none of that.

“We have limits to the type of friendships that we’re looking for right now,” Sarsour told the AMP conference, “and I want to be friends with those whom I know have been steadfast, courageous, have been standing up and protecting their own communities, those who have taken the risk to stand up and say – we are with the Palestinian people, we unequivocally support BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctioning Israel] when it comes to Palestinian human rights and have been attacked viciously by the very people who are telling you that they’re about to stand on the front line of the Muslim registry program. No thank you, sisters and brothers.”

It’s a message that fit right in at the AMP conference. AMP claims its “sole purpose is to educate the American public and media about issues related to Palestine and its rich cultural and historical heritage.” But in practice, the group has defended Hamas and its leaders admit they seek “to challenge the legitimacy of the State of Israel.”

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Sarsour, a media darling honored by the Obama White House as a “Champion of Change” and a high-profile surrogate for Bernie Sanders‘ failed Democratic presidential nomination campaign, seems to strike a different tone in public appearances. Her biography says she is “most known for her intersectional coalition work and building bridges across issues, racial, ethnic and faith communities.” That clearly wasn’t her intent at the AMP conference.

She acknowledges there’s a rift among Islamists about how hard a line to draw in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, yet she was intent on pouring gasoline on the fire.

The “cracks in our community” are so wide, she said, they’re visible to “right-wing Zionists, Islamophobes, white supremacists.”

“They know where we’re divided. They know that we’re segregated,” she said. “So they, we could easily be targeted when we’re a fragmented community. But if we were a strong, united, steadfast community that stood up for each other first and foremost, you’d better believe that no opposition would ever be trying to take us down, because we’d be too big, too strong and too united.”

Some of her comments likely were directed at Anti-Defamation League chief Jonathan Greenblatt. Should a Trump administration create a registry for Muslims, an idea that does not seem to be on the table, Greenblatt recently pledged that “this proud Jew will register as Muslim.”

Sarsour not only rebuked the gesture, she cast Muslims who might respond more positively as sellouts of the Palestinian cause. Cooperation and solidarity gestures should only be reserved for those who share the depth of her hatred toward Israel, she said.

“I am tired of Muslims working towards acceptance and not respect of our communities. And I’m also tired of the Muslims willing to sell Palestine just for a little acceptance and nod from the white man and white power in these United States of America,” Sarsour said.

1902Sarsour, in the red hijab, poses with others at the White House Eid celebration.

Despite this extreme stance, Sarsour is a rising star among American Islamist activists. She has been welcomed to the White House at least 10 times during President Obama’s tenure, most recently in July for a celebration of the Muslim Eid holiday. Last year, a glowing New York Times profile described her as “a Brooklyn Homegirl in a Hijab.”

“But the most apparent thing about her voice is that it is exceedingly Brooklyn,” the story said. “She says ‘swag’ instead of ‘charisma.’ (‘Mr. B. has swag …) She calls her father, a Palestinian immigrant in his 60s, ‘Pops.’ Like the actress Rosie Perez in a hijab, Ms. Sarsour has perfected her delivery of the head-swaying ‘Oh no you dih-int’ and pronounces the word ‘Latino’ like, well, a Latino.”

Sarsour also says “nothing is creepier than Zionism,” and all-but accused the CIA of faking an attempted terrorist attack.

Those statements didn’t make the Times profile. And they didn’t prompt the Obama administration to reconsider the wisdom of elevating Sarsour’s clout with repeated White House access.

In February, just over a year after terrorists massacred the staff at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, saying they “avenged the Prophet,” Sarsour told a Council on American-Islamic Affairs (CAIR) banquet in Chicago that she would not stand with the victims. The magazine was “a bigot and a racist” for publishing caricatures of Islam’s prophet Muhammad, she said. The images served to “vilify my faith, dehumanize my community [and] demoralize my prophet.”

Building off Sarsour’s rejection of anyone who breaks bread with Zionists, former AMP New York President Raja Abdulhaq defined the BDS movement – not as a tool to lead to peaceful negotiations – but as way to break Israel into total surrender.

“The rights are non-negotiable. And that’s the whole point of BDS, is that we demand, we want to apply pressure,” Abdulhaq said, “not sit down in a negotiated setting and figure out what you can give up so that I can give up something in return, because what you’re essentially doing is you’re asking the other side – give up your illegality, stop your illegality and I will give up my rights. What kind of negotiation is that? No, I demand my rights, and you stop your illegality. And that’s the whole basis of BDS.”

Among the non-negotiable “rights” Abdulhaq says AMP and the BDS movement insist upon is the so-called “right of return” for Palestinians. That would lead to a huge influx of Palestinians into Israel, swamping the country demographically and ending its existence as a Jewish homeland.

That’s just fine with conference speaker Lamis Deek, an attorney and board memberfor CAIR’s New York chapter. She repeatedly described Israelis as “serial killers” intent on ethnic cleansing.

“There is a serial killer in our home,” Deek said. “And what do you do when you are confronted with a serial killer, right? You protect yourself. You protect your family. You scream for help. And you expect that when you scream for help from a serial killer everybody is gonna come to your aid, they’re gonna come protect and defend you. Right? You don’t expect somebody to intervene on behalf of the serial killer … and say ‘the serial killer has some rights, let us tell you about the rights the serial killer has’ as he begins to kill you. Right?”

Like Sarsour, Deek expressed frustration at Muslims who accept other viewpoints.

“Nothing has set back the Palestinian movement in the U.S. more than demands by people who want to work and focus their efforts on [Washington] D.C., by their demands that we tame our demands for Palestine,” she said.

Dawud Walid, CAIR’s Michigan director, echoed the message about Muslim groups who appear too accommodating. “If these organizations claim to represent the Muslim community,” he said, “then when we see them doing things that go outside of the mainstream of the (UI word) of our community, we need to hold them accountable, and if they continue to step outside of the boundaries, then we should withdraw our support and make that very public.”

Walid has acknowledged that his employer, which works hard to project an image as a civil rights organization, really sees itself as “defenders of the Palestinian struggle.”

Deek, meanwhile, spoke of the harm done to the Palestinian cause by the U.S.-brokered Oslo Accords. While that initiative may have given Palestinians autonomy, it came at the cost of unity, she said.

It’s not clear what she means. But, since 2006, the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority has governed the West Bank while Hamas controls Gaza.

Oslo also made it more difficult to engage in terrorism – what Deek calls “armed resistance.”

“Now armed resistance, self-defense, has been the only direct challenge to Zionist colonial expansion. Nothing else is a direct challenge,” she told the AMP conference. “Everything else is an indirect challenge, right? Pressure – economic pressure, diplomatic pressure. So this national united Palestinian body was able – by supporting the resistance – was able to be part of directly impacting and influencing Zionist policy.”

Advocating more Palestinian violence is consistent for an AMP gathering. The organization’s message never mentions peaceful co-existence. An Investigative Project on Terrorism investigation found connections between at least five AMP officials and speakers and the defunct Hamas support network called the “Palestine Committee.”

During the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, AMP’s then-National Campus Coordinator Taher Herzallah posted images of wounded Israelis, calling them “The most beautiful site (sic) in my eyes.” He defended indiscriminate Hamas rocket fire at Israeli civilian communities as “an audible cry for help” and “an act of resistance.”

Two clear messages emerged from the AMP conference. “Resistance” is better than renouncing violence and seeking peace. All Muslims who might disagree, even if they see eye-to-eye on other issues, are no longer welcome.

These extreme stands came from speakers who enjoy prominent political profiles and high-level contacts.

Sarsour is right about one thing. There is a rift in her community. She and her AMP panelists are the ones widening it.