The Manipulated Narrative of Anti-Semitism and the Pro-Palestinian Movement

Recently, there has been a rise in debate between pro-Palestinian and pro-Zionist activist groups centered around first amendment rights. After Steven Salaita’s lawsuit against the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, universities have become the epicenter of the fight for justice in Palestine. Non-violent demonstrations by pro-Palestinian groups, such as chanting or protesting, are held as an act of solidarity for the Palestinians in crisis. In response, pro-Zionist organizations have begun to counter with claims that such pro-Palestinian demonstrations are anti-Semitic. This has produced a new dialogue that being pro-Palestinian is inherently anti-Semitic and in some cases resulting in lawsuits. The manipulated narrative of anti-Semitism is being employed by pro-Zionist groups as a smear tactic against pro-Palestinian groups in attempt to delegitimize the movement. The use of anti-Semitism as an argument against the Palestinian cause slanders and defames a peaceful pro-justice movement and disservices the Jewish identity and years of persecution against it.

To be pro-Palestinian is to promote fairness and equality not only in the fight against Israeli aggression but also in the mission for justice for all who are oppressed. In opposing Israeli injustice, the Palestinian movement calls for the condemnation of Israeli violations of international law such as the demolition of Palestinian homes by Israel, demolitions that directly violate Article 53 of the Geneva Convention. The pro-Palestinian movement also rejects Israel’s continued construction of settlements in the occupied territories, which was made illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention.The movement objects to the unlawful imprisonment of Palestinians and the construction of the separation wall that is steadily inching further onto Palestinian land. The pro-Palestinian movement is an ongoing protestation of a country that is breaking international law and basic human rights.

According to a Pew Research study, there has been an increase in sympathy for the Palestinian cause among millennials, jumping from 9% in 2004 to 27% today. This shift has accelerated the growth and frequency of pro-Palestinian activist groups on college campuses all over the world, especially in the U.S. Groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) are both pro-Palestinian groups whose numbers have grown substantially over the years. Other groups such as J Street promote pro-justice exercises to push for the creation of a two-state solution. While J Street is pro-Israel, they are against denying the rights of the Palestinians to a national homeland. SJP, JVP, and J Street, as well as pro-Palestinian movements in general, promote peace, justice, religious tolerance, and human rights.

Despite their growth and rise in popularity, pro-Palestinian groups are continuously harassed and have been cited for instances of anti-Semitism by pro-Zionist student groups. Groups such as AMCHA act as watch groups that profile pro-Palestinian students and organizations in order to “protect” Jewish students from anti-Semitism. AMCHA accuses pro-Palestinian students of anti-Semitism citing the use of images associated with historical anti-Semitism, delegitimizing and demonizing Israel, denying Jews self-determination with phrases such as, “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” and promoting BDS. Similar groups, such as Canary Mission,do not have the intent to “protect” but rather to target individuals and spin political statements to defame the pro-Palestinian cause, especially on college campuses. The use of “anti-Semitism” trackers, tools that both groups employ, is tantamount to a registry designed to shame and harass individuals based on identity and political beliefs,both of which are freedoms protected by the United States Constitution.

In response to lawsuits falsely claiming pro-Palestinian supporters to be racist or anti-Semitic, Palestine Legal– an organization that works to protect the rights of people who are discriminated against for speaking up on the issue of Palestine- was established in 2012. Most recently, the legal group is battling with a case in which students in the New York University (NYU) chapter of SJP have been charged with accounts of anti-Semitism for distributing mock-demolition papers in dorms as a method to draw attention to Israel’s illegal demolition of Palestinian homes. The claim of anti-Semitism came from the president of NYU’s pro-Israel advocacy group, TorchPac, saying the fliers were distributed in dorms with a “high concentration” of Jewish students. However, these claims of anti-Semitism are spurious, and resulted in the rejection of the case. In a case at the City University of New York, claims by the Zionist Organization of America that the SJP chapter engaged in anti-Semitic acts were found to be unsubstantiated. The final verdict of the report was that expressing and calling for BDS, “should not be tarred as anti-Semitic,” and that banners with depictions of a kaffiyeh, or Palestinian scarf, are protected speech.” Pro-Palestinian movements regularly face these accusations of anti-Semitism, which then hinders their effort to promote justice not only for the Palestinians being oppressed but for all people that face scrutiny, including Jews.

This unilateral support for justice by pro-Palestinian organizations can further be exemplified by the acts of Muslim Palestinian-American activist, Linda Sarsour, who raised $130,000 to rebuild demolished Jewish graves in the wake of Trump’s election. Sarsour, a long-time activist, has worked on initiatives such as encouraging New York schools to recognize Muslim holidays. She is the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York and, most recently, was one of the co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington. To raise the funds, Sarsour partnered with her colleague Tarek El-Messidi, founding director of Fast-a-thon. This act of solidarity is just one example that shows the breadth of the pro-Palestinian movement and its commitment to fighting injustice in all forms.

In the opening speech given at the 2016 Creative Time Summit, Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset, Haneen Zoabi, said that, “We struggle against colonialism and injustice not only for our own liberation, but also to liberate the Israeli Jews from their own colonialism, in order to create a state of all its citizens, as we will accept them as equal citizens, without privileges.” The pro-Palestinian movement is exactly that; a struggle against injustice and colonialism. As the famous civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Students who exercise their freedom of speech to protest Israeli violence against the Palestinians is a call for justice and not a performance of anti-Semitism.


The views in this brief are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The Jerusalem Fund.