Islamophobia and antisemitism have again reared their ugly heads this year, including with mosque burnings and desecrations of Jewish cemeteries in the United States. In response to the attacks on the St. Louis cemetery, Muslim-American activist Linda Sarsour helped launch a crowdfunding campaign to help rebuild. A few days out from its March 20 closing, launchgood.com had raised more than $160,000 – its goal was $20,000.
Sadly, some in the Jewish community – in both the United States and Canada – have sought to discredit Sarsour and her gesture of solidarity. I have seen accusations of Sarsour being an antisemite and of supporting Hamas, so I’ve been spending time trying to dig up the proof. But no one who levies these charges seems to be able to produce a shred of evidence.
Here’s what I did see: a two-minute video circulating in the right-wing blogosphere, which 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 Haaretz reported, she has actively told her followers to avoid using antisemitic 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 forgiven credit card debt. It seems right-wingers could use a sharper irony sensor.
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 is certainly no Zionist. In 2012, she tweeted, “Nothing is creepier than Zionism.” She supports BDS (boycott, divestment and sanction of Israel) and a one-state solution. If that’s the full and entire body of actual evidence linking Sarsour to the unsavoury views of which she’s accused, then we need to focus on that alone.
Is it beyond the pale to oppose Zionism? And is BDS antisemitic? According to the U.S. State Department’s definition of antisemitism – 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 antisemitism 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 antisemitism, 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.
If that’s what it is – Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian prejudice – then I wish they 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 antisemitism, we should be asking why President Donald Trump took so long to condemn recent antisemitic incidents, humiliated a Jewish reporter who politely challenged him on this, and appointed a top advisor – Steve Bannon – who is linked to trafficking in antisemitism and other forms of racism. And we must ask why the forces of antisemitism and Islamophobia have been so rapidly unleashed. We must stand together against all forms of antisemitism, Islamophobia and racism, as Sarsour would have us do.
Mira Sucharov is an associate professor of political science at Carleton University. She is a columnist for Canadian Jewish News and contributes to Haaretz and the Jewish Daily Forward, among other publications. A version of this article was originally published by CJN.