OPINIONS

Wed 29 Nov 2023 9:33 am - Jerusalem Time

American public opinion...and the trend towards supporting the Palestinian people

Many events that have occurred in the past few weeks point to our frightening reality. When it comes to freedom of expression about events between Israel and Palestine, we are on perilous ground.


It is clear that public opinion has shifted in a more supportive direction for the Palestinian people, especially among the American nation – young people and people of color, and so far, this fact has been recorded mainly in polling data. But with the past six weeks of Israel's brutal assault on Gaza, there has been an outpouring of statements supporting Palestinian rights and opposing Israel's relentless war against the Palestinian people.


It was expected that support for the Palestinian people would be countered by pro-Israel groups. But the ferocity of the pro-Israel counterattacks was alarming. A major American Jewish organization that claims to defend civil rights has called on universities to ban Students for Justice in Palestine (a pro-Palestinian university student activist organization in the United States, Canada, and New Zealand), describing it as anti-Semitic. In an unusual move, the US government called for an investigation into whether the students could be charged with “providing material support to terrorism.” While some students were not careful in their choice of words to express their support for the Palestinians, there was nothing to support the serious charge of “terrorism.” Some universities have responded by banning Students for Justice in Palestine, along with Jewish Voice for Peace, a national organization of progressive American Jewish youth who support Palestinian rights. Despite its Jewish membership, this organization has also been described as anti-Semitic by the same defenders of Israel.


About a week ago, the head of the Democratic Party in a Midwestern state sent a press release condemning officials of the Young Democrats (the largest youth-led political party organization) in a university building in the state. The statement ended with a text that pro-Israel groups insisted on... It is a controversial statement, because instead of saying, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” they wrote, “Let every Palestinian be free, from the river to the sea.”


Despite the students' efforts, the state party chair accused them of using anti-Semitic language, making Jewish students feel unsafe on campus, and supporting genocide against the Jewish people, and called on them to resign from their elected positions in the Democratic caucus. To justify this harsh response, the president cited the definition of the original phrase, provided by a pro-Israel group.


Last week, the Central American Solidarity Association of Maryland (CASA), a respected community organization in Maryland that advocates for and provides services to immigrants, issued a statement in support of the Palestinian people. The association condemned what Hamas did on October 7, and also condemned the Israeli bombing campaign that claimed the lives of thousands of Palestinian men and women. The Casa statement said that as people of color, they identify with the struggle for justice and freedom because “the Palestinian struggle reflects our victory.”


CASA's solidarity was met with a letter from a group of lawmakers and elected officials in Maryland demanding that the association rescind its statement, describing it as "anti-Semitic." As state legislators who decide the state budget, they more explicitly stated: “This may be a good time to re-evaluate the state’s mechanism for providing financial aid and support to our immigrant community.” Because thousands of immigrant women and men depend on CASA for important services and advocacy, they felt compelled to apologize and rescind the statement. Lawmakers have not yet backed down from their threat to stop funding the association.


Finally, an editorial published in the New York Daily News last week called for the re-establishment of the notorious Jewish Defense League, a move that raises concern and anger. Instead, it passed without comment from elected officials concerned about the spread of hate. The author of the article, a prominent New York philanthropist, praised the founder of the Jewish Defense League, Meir Kahane, and extolled the virtues of the League, claiming that it represents strong Jews and is a firm response to dealings aimed at their safety. The writer ignored the facts that the League had for decades been on the FBI's terrorist list, was a major perpetrator of terrorist violence during the 1970s and 1980s, and was banned in Israel as a racist group that produced the likes of the person who massacred Muslim worshipers at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, and the person who Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. That a major American newspaper published such an article without comment indicates how serious the situation is.

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American public opinion...and the trend towards supporting the Palestinian people