America is the greatest place for Jews that the world has seen. For people targeted by pogroms throughout our history, the United States has allowed us to achieve safety in a way that was previously unattainable. Jews are still occasionally scapegoated or stereotyped, but we have found a mostly inviting and accessible home here.
That is why it is so weird to see some Jews in the United States put a fake target on their backs with exaggerated claims of anti-Semitism. Pro-Palestinian activists have been met with outrageous labeling, such as Columbia Professor Sir Simon Schama comparing rallies to Kristallnacht or Amy Schumer saying they are “aligning with terrorists who pledge to kill every last Jew in the Middle East.” The American right-wing uses a similar tactic to disingenuously devalue real-life dangers faced by poor people and people of color. They cry “racism” so their victims are left debunking these charges instead of calling out legitimate acts of racism and violence. Similarly, Israeli nationalists are also claiming they are on the end of a genocide perpetrated by Palestinians while the death toll in Gaza continues to grow exponentially. History shows we will eventually be on the receiving end of real danger, but by characterizing Israel as an innocent victim of Palestinian terrorism, nobody will believe us.
Karl Marx responded to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s claim that “history repeats itself” with “first as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Dehumanizing language spewed out by the Israeli government such as the Minister of Defense in Israel saying “We are fighting against human animals” or the Minister of Finance’s claims that “the village of Huwara needs to be wiped out” are proof of history’s cyclicity. As outlined in Norman Finkelstein’s “The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering,” Zionists — also known as Israeli nationalists — manipulate the public through the memory of the Holocaust, claim an indisputable link between Zionism and Judaism, and then actively commit genocidal acts reminiscent of the Holocaust itself. All of this breeds anti-Semitism that the nationalists encourage to perpetuate a cycle of anti-Israel attacks, leading to more rabid Zionism and renewed justifications for atrocities.
Underpinning all of this is virulent anti-Arab racism. Israeli nationalists defend their peddling of Islamophobia and racism with mention of Mizrahi Jews and the decent treatment given to some Arab Israelis, a defense not unlike “…but I have Black friends.” The Apartheid government led by the ultra-nationalist Benjamin Netanyahu has stewed up hatred against Arabs by labeling all Palestinians as primal, barbaric terrorists. This dehumanization is then peddled by Western media outlets who show far more concern for the several hundred Americans stuck in Gaza than the 8,000 and counting Gazans already killed. Dehumanizing rhetoric has dangerous implications around the world. In Chicago on Oct. 14, a landlord brutally killed 6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume and severely injured his mother, allegedly because they were Muslim.
None of these dynamics were unknown to me before last Thursday’s Students for Justice in Palestine rally. Still, the malevolence of Israeli nationalism was made clear in a more personal and visceral way. About 200 students gathered to show our opposition to the Israeli offensive into Gaza and the mass displacement of Palestinian civilians, left without water, food and fuel for hospitals. At the start of the march, the diverse crowd mourned the deaths of Israeli civilians.
As a Jewish person, the only intimidation or fear I felt was from the pro-Israeli nationalist counter-protesters. I was called a self-hating Jew, was photographed and videotaped to antagonize me and had obscenities yelled inches from my face in an attempt to instigate a fight. We were all called “‘terrorist sympathizers.” Following the march, I heard that a student there had been cropped from a video to make it appear like she was doing a Sieg Heil salute. The student, whose name I will conceal because of the pro-Israeli nationalists’ reputation for intimidation, had been mocking a counterprotestor for being shorter than her. The complete video is in circulation and any honest viewer can clearly see what happened. This is not an exceptional instance — a truck broadcasting the names of “leading anti-Semites” — students who support Palestine — has popped up at Harvard, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania. Their “anti-Semitism” is a refusal to turn a blind eye to the war crimes being perpetrated by the Israeli state or the historical context of the conflict. There are so many cases of Israeli nationalists threatening and endangering people into submission. It makes you wonder — why do so many Zionist groups have to resort to this thuggish behavior?
Nathan Sommer is a junior majoring in history.