Islamophobia and anti-Semitism have again reared their ugly heads this month with mosque burnings and desecrations of Jewish cemeteries in the United States. In response to an attack on a St. Louis cemetery, Muslim-American activist Linda Sarsour helped launch a crowdfunding campaign – with more than $130,000 raised so far – to help rebuild it.
Sadly, some in the Jewish community – in both the United States and Canada – are seeking to discredit Sarsour and her gesture of solidarity. I have seen accusations of Sarsour being an anti-Semite and of supporting Hamas, so I’ve been spending time trying to dig up proof. But no one who levies these charges seems able to produce a shred of evidence.
Here’s what I did see: a two-minute video circulating in the right-wing blogosphere that is meant to incriminate Sarsour. But there was nothing incriminating in the video. Sarsour even mentions Israel’s “right to exist,” something that landed her in hot water, ironically, with some in the Palestine solidarity movement. As Ha’aretz reported, she has actively told her followers to avoid using anti-Semitic language when criticizing Israel’s actions in Gaza, calling that kind of discourse “unacceptable.”
She is accused of shilling for sharia law. I have seen her make tongue-in-cheek remarks about sharia, pining for better maternity leave in America and forgiving credit card debt. It seems right-wingers could use a sharper sense of irony.
Finally, I have seen a photo showing her posing in a group with someone who apparently had ties to Hamas. She herself has denied Hamas ties. It’s tough to accuse someone of supporting a group when she denies all links. She doesn’t sound like a very loyal or helpful supporter to me.
Now, she’s certainly no Zionist. In 2012, she tweeted, “Nothing is creepier than Zionism.” She supports BDS and a one-state solution. If that’s the entire body of actual evidence linking Sarsour to the unsavoury views of which she’s accused, then we need to focus on that alone.
— Linda Sarsour (@lsarsour) October 31, 2012
Is it beyond the pale to oppose Zionism? And is BDS anti-Semitic? According to the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, which relies on the “3 Ds” definition – demonization, delegitimization and double standards when it comes to Israel – one could argue that in its opposition to Zionism (which, in its current manifestation, precludes Palestinian refugee return), it is.
The trouble is, the “3 Ds” definition of anti-Semitism is hugely problematic. It implies that opposing a particular ideology – even one that strains under its own weight to maintain ethnic privilege within a democratic framework – means that one is promulgating hatred of Jews. The logic just doesn’t hold up.
So without actual evidence for Sarsour’s so-called anti-Semitism, I smell a toxic brew of Islamophobia and misogyny. A strong, vocal Muslim-American woman with a Brooklyn accent who stands at the podium of the half-a-million-strong Women’s March on Washington (which she co-chaired) and mentions that she’s her occupied-territories-residing grandmother’s “wildest dream” might just be a bit much for those who think Muslims deserve to be taken down a notch or that Palestinians living under occupation are not deserving of basic rights.
And if that’s what it is – Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian prejudice – I wish her critics would just say so. It would give me more time to devote to other matters rather than asking for evidence where none exists.
Speaking of anti-Semitism, we should be asking why U.S. President Donald Trump took so long to condemn recent anti-Semitic incidents, humiliated a Jewish reporter who politely challenged him on this, and appointed a top adviser – Steve Bannon – who is linked to trafficking in anti-Semitism and other forms of racism. And we must ask why the forces of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia have been so rapidly unleashed. We must stand together against all forms of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and racism, as Sarsour would have us do.