Jewish Pro-Israel Group Attacks Pro-Palestinian Activists

Progressives are Silent

The following is an email I wrote on February 20 to a group of progressive political activists from Syracuse, NY, a city less than one hour’s drive west from where I live.  For the last three years the Jewish Federation of Central New York (JFCNY) has sent a series of letters to the Syracuse Peace Council (SPC), a local progressive organization, attacking a number of their members who participated in pro-Palestinian actions and events. The JFCNY falsely claimed those events were expressions of antisemitism, which were the cause of increased violence against local Jews. Half of the recipients of my email are Jewish and of these, all except for one consider the State of Israel to be an important part of their Jewish identity.  The pressure this places on lifelong allies to avoid creating discord in the group by avoiding working on the Palestinian struggle against Israeli ongoing oppression and denial of basic rights and freedoms is enormous. It often clouds the judgment of otherwise intelligent and effective political actors. In this case it stopped these activists from speaking out against a hideous attack upon a group of pro-Palestinian activists from Rochester, a city one-and-a-half hour’s drive to the west.

The letter that follows was edited for clarity but closely follows the original text.

Hi All,

This statement  by the Brighton Stands Against Antisemitism (BSAA) organization condemning a group of Rochester Blacks and Palestinian-Americans for their expression of solidarity with the Palestinian cause was sent to me by a friend from Rochester.  The Jewish Federation of Rochester subsequently issued a statement supporting the BSAA position.

Brighton, a suburb of Rochester, NY is very, very Jewish and very well-heeled.

BSAA objected to opinions expressed by two Black and two Palestinian-American activists on a local Rochester radio program.  (Click on Load More Episodes, then see February 15, “Discussing the motivations bringing Black Americans to the Palestinian cause.”  I have not listened to the program since its contents are not directly relevant to what I have to say here.)  The main target of the BSAA statement is Robin Wilt, a Black member of the Brighton Town Council who apparently has previously raised the ire of members of the BSAA by criticizing the State of Israel. The BSAA is calling for remedial action in the form of a censure statement to be made against Ms. Wilt by the Brighton Town Supervisor.

The second paragraph of the BSAA missive presents its lead objection to Ms. Wilt and the others.

“One of the deliberate lies told on Mr. Dawson’s show and enthusiastically embraced by the panel was that Israeli soldiers rip Palestinian children from their parents’ arms. This concept is based on the centuries old “blood-libel” that Jews intentionally and gleefully kill children in order to make ritual bread (or matzah) with the blood. This false and hate-filled concept, which has resulted in literally millions of innocent dead Jews since it was first uttered, is familiar enough to many listeners that it may be readily accepted as truth. The truth is that BSAA was stunned and dumbfounded – when this statement was made and affirmed by Brighton Town Council member Robin Wilt.”

The BSAA statement condemns the completely reasonable utterance that “Israeli soldiers rip Palestinian children from their parents’ arms.” [In addition, it is an egregiously inaccurate quote as I learned after listening to the program, see below ig.]

I apologize for pointing out the obvious here. There are numerous videos showing Israeli occupation soldiers ripping children out of the arms of their parents. But more to the point: the Israel army has for decades had a policy of invading Palestinian homes in the middle of the night, mostly in order to detain children because they are suspected of throwing stones or other projectiles at the Israeli security forces, and additionally, in order to generally intimidate the captive Palestinian population. What parent would not want to take their child in their arms and protect them from being detained? And when a parent does hold their child to attempt to stop that child’s seizure, what do you think the soldiers do? Yes, rip that child from the arms of the parents. So the statement that Israeli occupation soldiers rip Palestinian children from the arms of their parents is actually more than just literally true, it is a figuratively accurate expression of the cruelty, mindlessness, and, yes, evil of the Israeli occupation and apartheid regime.

The BSAA statement then makes the erroneous claim that political expression directed against Israeli government policy increases both violence against Jews and hatred of Jews in general.

“It is unacceptable when our public broadcasters produce shows that allow our elected government representatives to endorse these types of statements that perpetuate hatred of Jews. It is an understatement to say that we are troubled and afraid for our community. Jews feel threatened in America. One only has to look back to this past weekend to see why (NY, Texas, Kentucky) – Anti-Jewish violence and hate is rising.  By sharing or affirming Jew hating blood libels, like those given airtime on “Connections”, immeasurable harm is done and the risk of violence against Jews tangibly increases. Fact-checking and follow up doesn’t remove these stereotypes or ideas from people’s minds and hearts. Retractions and complicated truths never make the same splash that gory headlines do”.

The reasoning behind the false conjecture here is nonexistent to say the least, but it is a type of deceptive and inflammatory statement which is typical of many Jewish groups who have the goal of deflecting criticism away from Israel, or from their own inappropriate use of political and economic pressure in support of the Zionist state. They are also hiding their libeling of pro-Palestinian activists by conflating criticism of Israel with the expression of antisemitism. One example of this that all of you are familiar with are the letters from the Jewish Federation of Central New York (JFCNY) condemning a Justice for Palestine Committee (J4P) event, and more recently condemning the DeWitt Gaza Street Heat action.  (See “Gaza DeWitt Street Heat: Palestinian solidarity amid false charges of antisemitism, Mondoweiss.net.)

The JFCNY letters are not as outrageous as the BSAA statement. They do not single any individual out for punishment; they do not publicly call on a local politician to take action against another politician they condemn.

But despite the JFCNY letters being less offensive than the BSAA statement, both share a number of claims in common. Both groups’ arguments conflate criticism of Israel with antisemitism. Both pro-Israel Jewish groups dwell upon the pain and suffering that opposition to Israel and Zionism cause the Jewish community, but dismiss the pain and suffering visited by the Israelis upon the Palestinian people. The Jewish groups are also, not surprisingly, oblivious to the considerable pain and suffering their own tactics cause the innocent targets of their anger. And finally, both groups falsely and ludicrously ascribe what they believe to be an increase in violence against Jews to political campaigns against Israel such as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). For me, the most personally offensive attack voiced by the Central New York Federation is when they claimed that the sight of the Street Heat demonstrators, and I have sporadically participated in this action, caused a group of young Jewish students who were passing by in a school bus untold psychological trauma.

Dear Allies (to quote from a coinage of our friend Eduardo): Is the BSAA statement and/or the letters sent by the JFCNY what many of you had in mind when you personally told me that the Syracuse Peace Council and the DeWitt Gaza Street Heaters should pay more attention to the concerns and feelings of the Syracuse Jewish community?

My advice to my fellow Jews whether from the SPC, J4P or the JFCNY is to express their ethnic solidarity in a more creative, productive and less destructive manner than smearing Blacks who support the Palestinian cause. Or attacking Palestinian-Americans who voice their desire to free their families from Israeli apartheid rule. Or crying antisemitism at those who hold signs of solidarity with the Palestinian cause at busy public intersections in neighborhoods where Jews happen to live. One suggestion I offer you is to join me in becoming a fan of the English Premier League football team, the Tottenham Hotspur who appear regularly on the NBC television network.  Tottenham is the Brighton of London. Like Brighton, Tottenham is home to a large economically privileged Jewish population.  Because of this the football team is commonly known as “The Yids.”  This appellation surprisingly causes little offense among the Hotspur’s numerous Jewish followers.

Secondly, with the impending turnover in paid staff at the local umbrella peace organization to which many of you belong, now may be a good time to re-evaluate the organization’s relationship with the Jewish Federation and the various rabbis that have been given special access to your group. In other words, you may want to consider ceasing to be a Progressive Except for Palestine (PEP) organization.

La lucha continúa, la de ellos y la nuestra,

המאבק נמשך, שלהם ושלנו

Ira Glunts

Since writing this letter I have found time to listen to the Rochester radio program. (To listen click on Load More Episodes>Discussing the motivations that bringing Black Americans to the Palestinian cause.) It was a wonderful example of what local political programming can be. All the panelists were informed, well-spoken and their remarks were extremely compelling.  Special praise is due for the host, Evan Dawson, whose probing questions made the program good listening from start to finish. A Jewish caller (see 47’10” into the program) said she was “pretty appalled by many Jewish people in Rochester [for their views about Palestine]” and that she had left her synagogue because of disagreements about the issue of Palestine. For his trouble, hosting this groundbreaking program meant Dawson got to present a panel about the rise of antisemitism which was obviously an attempt to placate the local Jewish critics of the Black/Palestinian activist show. See “Discussing the rise of Antisemitism,” February 23.

The statement that was attributed to Robin Wilt about Israeli soldiers ripping Palestinian children from their parents’ arms was not said by her nor did she say anything even remotely close. Iman Abid-Thompson, a Palestinian-American and a Rochester native who is the National Director of Advocacy and Campaigns at the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights spoke about a recent specific incident that was widely covered in Israel, in the Arabic, Hebrew and English press, in which Israeli police retaliated against protesters by making random arrests, and some of those arrested were children “taken from their parents” in nighttime police raids. (See 38’ mark of the panel discussion.) Abid-Thompson never made the general statement that Israeli soldiers rip children from their parents’ arms. Contrary to the claims of the BSAA statement, no other panelist spoke about this incident or the policy of the Israeli Defense Forces of arresting children during nighttime raids.

The good news is that this radio conversation about Palestinian rights and identity happened at all, especially a discussion that involved Black activists explaining the intersection between the Black and Palestinian struggles for human rights. Also good news, five days later, an Associated Press article was picked up by the Utica OD, the daily newspaper of Utica, NY which is one hour’s drive east of Syracuse. The article, by Joseph Krauss, was titled, “New generation of Palestinian activists emerges.” It is available on the Internet with the title, “Jailed Egypt activist sees wider struggle for rights in Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Krauss discusses the change in pro-Palestinian activism from one based on achieving a two-state solution, which is the default position of most progressive Jews and the Zionist left in Israel, to a rights-based approach, which calls for equality for all citizens of Palestine/Israel.

Unfortunately, the attack of the Rochester BSAA illustrates an ongoing obstacle for Rochester activists and pro-Palestinian activists everywhere. Organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Foundation in Defense of Democracies (FDD), American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) are just some of the pro-Israel organizations which attack Palestinians, Palestinian-Americans and their supporters. They are assisted by liberal Zionist organizations like Americans for Peace Now, the New Israel Fund and JStreet, who claim to work for justice in the region but usually remain silent in the face of BSAA type smear campaigns.

While we celebrate the accomplishments of pro-Palestinian activists and criticize the injustices perpetrated by the Zionist regime, we should also never forget to speak out against those that want to harm us. like BSAA and those that will help our adversaries with their silence while posing as allies.

*Hat tip to the friend and Rochester resident who brought this story to my attention and supplied many valuable leads.  He requested to remain anonymous because of his very real fears of retaliation from Jewish pro-Israel activists for his efforts.

Ira Glunts is a Jewish-American, recovered liberal Zionist, retired university librarian and avid fan of the Tottenham Hotspur.  He and his wife live in Madison, NY with their five cats. Read other articles by Ira.