A BDS Leader’s Fundraising Campaign Leaves Me Stumped

This week, the Jewish community continued to be rocked to its core by anti-Semitic acts, including more bomb threats called into Jewish institutions across the country and the desecration of the Chesed Shel Emeth, a Jewish cemetery in University City, Missouri. While the President has been criticized by many for his delayed response to this hatred, the outpouring of support that the cemetery has received has been tremendous. The Vice-President visited the cemetery on Wednesday along with people of all different faiths to stand in solidarity with the Jewish community. Our own Julie Cole, a student at Washington University, has worked with her Hillel to raise funds needed to repair the damage done to the cemetery, which is just ten minutes from her apartment. Many other individuals and organizations are doing the same thing, including Linda Sarsour, the outgoing Executive Director of the Arab American Association of NY, a former Democratic National Convention delegate (she was a supporter of Bernie Sanders) and an organizer of last month’s Women’s March on Washington. Ms. Sarsour, in partnership with Tarek El-Messidi of Celebrate Mercy, has raised more than $100,000 for the cemetery on Launchgood.com.

During this challenging time, it’s extremely meaningful to see so many people from various faiths and backgrounds reach out and support the Jewish community. This being said, I’m struggling with Ms. Sarsour’s support. My struggle is based on a larger struggle I have with “intersectionality,” the trendy, sociological term that describes how different groups that form around various religious, socio-economic, national, racial, ethnic and/or gender identities can, at times, share a common struggle. Unquestionably, both the American Jewish and Muslim communities have been confronted with terrible hate and violence. We do understand, to an extent, each other’s pain and fear and must stand with each other during these trying times. Many members of the Jewish community have supported the Muslim community when they have faced acts of hate, and I’m grateful to all members of the Muslim community who have supported our community – including those who have given to Ms. Sarsour’s Launchgood fund – when the hate has been directed at us.

This being said, Ms. Sarsour is a staunch advocate of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign (BDS) which is designed to delegitimize the State of Israel. Democratic Senator Chuck Shumer states very clearly that BDS is a “modern form of anti-Semitism.” And the Anti-Defamation League, which has stood in opposition to all forms of Islamaphobia, states:

The delegitimization of Israel is at the heart of contemporary anti-Semitism. BDS is one of its most visible and dangerous manifestations.  ADL is committed to exposing the bigotry at the core of the movement and discrediting the leaders of BDS.

Ms. Sarsour, who has built strong relationships with some American Jewish organizations and leaders, claims she’s not an anti-Semite. Her strong support of BDS (watch Ms. Sarsour testify on behalf of BDS in NYC last September here), however, tells a different story. And her hateful comments about Zionists drive this story home:

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Interestingly, while organizers of the Women’s March on Washington worked hard to keep Israel-Palestine issues from being part of last month’s protest, Ms. Sarsour’s involvement in the BDS Movement did keep some individuals and organizations from participating.

In addition to being a staunch BDS advocate, Ms. Sarsour believes that the solution to the Israel-Palestinian crisis is a one-state solution, a solution that will ensure a Palestinian majority and, thus, the end of the Jewish State (yes, during the press conference with President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu earlier this month, you heard about a one-state solution that would favor Israelis). Ms. Sarsour states:

I don’t think a two-state solution is viable, is logistically possible…My hope is that it will be one state, one man one vote, that everyone is treated equally. Then you can say that part of the world is a true democracy.

Ms. Sarsour, who has been subject to a great deal of scrutiny lately, believes that by supporting the restoration of the graves at Chesed Shel Emeth, we can send “a united message…from the Jewish and Muslim communities that” makes it clear that “there is no place for this type of hate, desecration, and violence in America.” I certainly agree that as two powerful religious communities, we do have the ability to send such a message. However, I personally believe that Ms. Sarsour’s involvement in the delivery of this message is completely inappropriate and inauthentic to her position and the position of many of us in the Jewish community.

Pinned to the top of Ms. Sarsour’s Twitter account is the following tweet:

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Sadly, Ms. Sarsour has no problem denying the rights of others to exist. We see this in her support of the BDS Movement. We also see her reject those who want to stand up to Islamaphobia but don’t meet all of her requirements. When Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the ADL, promised to register as a Muslim if the Trump administration created a religious database, Ms. Sarsour attacked Mr. Greenblatt’s promise by tweeting:

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Ms. Sarsour belittles Mr. Greenblatt’s support because the ADL has come out againstCongressman Keith Ellison becoming the chair of the Democratic National Committee due to anti-Israel and anti-Semitic statements he made. You can read the ADL’s statement on Congressman Ellison here.

Back in November, American Muslims for Palestine (an organization that, according to the ADL, promotes anti-Israel and anti-Semitic views) held their Annual Convention for Palestine in Chicago. Ms. Sarsour spoke at the convention saying (you can also hear a recording of her speaking these words here):

We have limits to the type of friendships that we’re looking for right now…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 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.

Ms. Sarsour told NPR earlier this week that her fundraising effort for Chesed Shel Emeth is “another way for us to publicly defy the idea that Muslims and Jews can’t get along.” However, her comments at the American Muslims for Palestine convention, comments which are very similar to her pinned tweet posted above, make it explicitly clear: if you don’t share her views on BDS and the Palestinian cause, you are no friend. And if you are an Israeli, she will work tirelessly to undermine your country’s legitimacy. How does this encourage Muslims and Jews to get along?

As troubled as I am by Ms. Sarsour’s statements, she has every right to say them and believe in them. But, her positions highlight the absurdity of intersectionality here.  She wants the Jewish community to join her and stand up to hate. But, in order for us to do so, to genuinely stand with her, she has one major condition: we must support the delegitimization of the Jewish State – a condition that many of us see as anti-Semitic – a condition that is grounded in hate.

There are those who believe that, despite Ms. Sarsour’s condition, her effort to help Chesed Shel Emeth is admirable. Some American Jews can separate the hateful rhetoric of BDS from the well-being of the American Jewish community. I can’t. Working to undermine the existence of the Jewish State is, as Senator Shumer states, anti-Semitism. And anti-Semitism is hate that is dangerous to Jews in Israel, in America and across the globe. I can’t enter into a partnership with someone who threatens the very survival of Israel.

Many of us in the Jewish community stand in opposition to BDS and in support of the ADL. Given this, Ms. Sarsour would not befriend us, making it extremely difficult to stand together against the desecration of Chesed Shel Emeth. And this leaves me struggling to figure out why Ms. Sarsour is raising funds for the cemetery. Is it a good will gesture? A show of compassion? An attempt to build bridges? If she dropped the condition to unequivocally support BDS – perhaps. But, since this condition is still very much on the table as Ms. Sarsour leaves her position at the Arab American Association of NY and lands in the national spotlight, I can’t help but wonder if this is a well-orchestrated public relations campaign. If so, it’s worked exceptionally well. Everyone is talking about Ms. Sarsour’s support of the Chesed Shel Emeth. But, for those of us whose pro-Israel and anti-BDS positions would keep Ms. Sarsour from befriending us, we’re willing to be the “out of key instruments” in that well-orchestrated campaign. While on the surface, Ms. Sarsour’s support of the cemetery seems like a beautiful effort to unite the Jewish and Muslim communities, when we dig deeper it is clear that there are more genuine ways for Jews to support the restoration of Chesed Shel Emeth. I encourage you to learn more about Washington University’s Hillel fundraiser by clicking here. And, as always, I urge you to do your homework before you give your resources and lend your name to a cause.

 

2 thoughts on “A BDS Leader’s Fundraising Campaign Leaves Me Stumped

  1. Dear Rabbi Andrew Jacobs,
    Your argument against Sarsour has two critical weaknesses:
    1. You do not distinguish between BDS against the Israeli settlers and BDS against Israel itself. Virtually the entire Israeli peace movement supports the former and opposes the latter. In failing to make that distinction, you lose all credibility with anyone who opposes the Occupation–and that is a growing number of young Jews. Failing to make that distinction actually serves the more extreme BDSers, whom I oppose, by putting them in the same category with those opposed to and boycotting products made in the West Bank settlements.
    2. You don’t want to make alliance with Sarsour in opposition to anti-Semitic violence because you suspect her of being anti-Semitic on grounds of her opposition to Zionism. Yet this is a questionable position for two reasons: A. There are many Jews, including a small group of orthodox Jews, who oppose the policies of the State of Israel, and some who oppose the very idea of Zionism. Yet there is not a shred of evidence to substantiate the claim that they are in fact anti-Semitic, unless you simply define anti-Zionism as inherently anti-Semitic (a move comparably misguided as the move by some in the women’s movement who define being anti-choice on the abortion issue as being inherently sexist though many women are in the “pro-life” movement). I used to davven with Professor of Jewish Studies Daniel Boyarin, and he used to write for Tikkun magazine till he decided that our defense of Israel against some of those in the left we deemed anti-Semitic led him to label us “the most sophisticated apologists for Zionism precisely because you critique some Israeli policies but still defend the basic Zionist idea). I was deeply disappointed in his decision to distance from Tikkun, but I can assure you that there is not an anti-Semitic bone in his body, and that is true of many others who are today denouncing Zionism while continuing to belong to orthodox synagogues and davvening daily. B. Your position seems to be that if a person holds prejudice in one important realm, you cant ally with them in another realm where they want to ally with us against anti-Semitism. But in the same article you seem fine with Pence, the representative of President Trump, coming to the cemetery and opposing what was done there against Jewish graves. Yet President Trump has been notorious not only for his racism, sexism and xenophobia, but also for his failure to explicitly tell his followers that they must isolate and reject anyone who expresses anti-Semitic views. Ha’aretz and other Jewish publications have argued that Trump is explicitly anti-Semitic outside the realm of his son-in-law, and that is why it has been almost impossible to get this inveterate tweeter to tweet messages to his followers urging THEM to oppose anti-Semitism. So here you are allowing Trump to get credit though his antiSemitism is far more dangerous to the Jewish people than anything this (in my view misguided) Linda Sarsour could possibly do to our people.
    Kol tuv.
    Rabbi Michael Lerner Editor, Tikkun Magazine rabbilerner.tikkun@gmail.com

    • Thank you for your comment. I apologize for the extremely long delay in posting. This got caught in spam.

      As to your first point, if you look closely at and dig deeply into BDS Movement literature and website you quickly discover that this notion of boycotting only settlements is just a means to get more folks involved. From their own website: “This is simply because targeting these companies are, at this stage, more capable of winning widespread support and succeeding. As our movement grows, so do our ambitions and the BDS movement is currently in the process of moving away from campaigns focused mainly on illegal Israeli settlements.” https://bdsmovement.net/get-involved/what-to-boycott. So to me, there is no distinction to be made. BDS is BDS.

      Concerning point two, when you mock, condemn and attack Zionism the way Sarsour does – it reads quite clearly to me – this is anti-semitism. Yes, I was grateful that the VP visited the cemetery. At the same time, on this blog and elsewhere, I have shared concerns about the current administration’s comments and actions pertaining to religion, Judaism, Israel and religious freedom.

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