Antisemitism and Islamophobia: Two Sides of the Same Bigotry Coin

From the May/June 2019 PNL #866

by Ariel Gold and Elijah Gold


Photo: Brian Quinn at the Wellsville (NY) Daily Reporter


Last month it happened again. On April 27, during Shabbat and the Jewish holiday of Passover, a man walked into a US synagogue and opened fire. One person was killed and three people, including an eight-year-old girl, were injured. It was less than six months since a man had walked into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and massacred 11 Jewish-Americans. There is no denying the near historic levels of antisemitism being witnessed right now in the US and across the world.

Neither the Poway Chabad synagogue nor the Tree of Life synagogue shooters were supporters of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. Neither of them were friends of Women’s March co-chair and Muslim-American activist Linda Sarsour or fans of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, but you wouldn’t know this from so many of the responses to the Chabad murders, which blamed Muslims for an attack carried out by a white nationalist. For example, Trump Jr. retweeted Joel Fisher, the Vice Chairman for Social Affairs of Kings County GOP’s tweet reading: “If you're blaming Trump [rather than blaming Muslims and/or the Left] for the actions in Poway, CA, you need to re-evaluate your life.”

Morton Klein, the Director of the Zionist Organization of America tweeted, “What about condemning the Islamic Muslim antisemites who attack Jews every day in Israel as well as in France, Germany, Belgium, etc.”

Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll, who writes for Times of Israel, Forward, and The Jerusalem Post, took to Twitter saying, “If you [Rep. Omar] overly criticize the funding/
influence of Jews/Israel, it's antisemitic.”

Not mentioning Muslims, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu called on the international community to “step up the struggle against antisemitism.” But what does the world struggle against antisemitism look like? Are all things labeled as antisemitism really antisemitic? And what is the price of false accusations of antisemitism, who pays, and when are accusations of antisemitism acts of Islamophobia?

The most widely used definition of antisemitism—adopted by 44 countries, including Germany, France, UK, the U.S. State Department—is from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) laid out as being: “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” Examples from the IHRA include such things as symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism, holocaust denial, accusing Jews of dual loyalty, and “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination.”

Some of these are portrayals of Jews as hook-nosed, greedy, and unclean, or are about Holocaust denial, for example, and are vile and obvious forms of bigotry and
hatred that should be condemned by all. Others, such as defining anti-zionism—the belief that the political movement of Zionism utilized in order to establish Israel has played out historically through such things as removing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes and lands, and is today a practice of settler-colonialism, illegal military occupation, and apartheid—as antisemitism and the accusation of dual loyalty act to silence debate on Israel and can result in bigotry against other groups.

In February 2019 Congresswoman Ilhan Omar tweeted, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby” (a song by hip hop artist Puff Daddy) in response to attacks she and fellow Muslim congresswoman Rashida Tlaib experienced for criticizing Israel. A short time later at a town hall, she expanded, saying, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that why it is ok for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country. And I want to ask, why is it ok for me to talk about the influence of the NRA, of fossil fuel industries, or Big Pharma, and not talk about a powerful lobby that is influencing policy?”

All hell broke loose. President Trump, Mike Pence, and a number of GOP members called for Rep. Omar to resign either from Congress entirely or at least from her position on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and Omar’s own party introduced a resolution condemning antisemitism that, while not specifically mentioning her name, was clearly an accusation that she was trafficking in antisemitism.

What Rep. Omar said on Twitter and at the Town Hall was neither untrue nor antisemitic, but the consequences faced by the first black, hijab-wearing, Muslim woman in Congress were dangerous and Islamophobic, causing Rep. Omar to face attacks because of her Muslim faith. Found at the West Virginia statehouse, during a Republican-sponsored public gathering, was a poster associating Rep. Omar with the September 11 attacks. The assertion of the poster was that because Rep. Omar is a Muslim, she is more likely to support violence. Months later, a man arrested for death threats against Omar was found to be in possession of a cache of over 1,000 bullets and illegal guns.

And the false accusations of antisemi-tism haven’t just been against Rep. Omar. Black scholars and activists, including Angela Davis, Marc Lamont Hill, and Michelle Alexander, have all found them selves heavily targeted, and in some cases paid the price of losing their jobs, speaking out on behalf of Palestinian rights.

As we face a dangerous tide of rising antisemitism—two synagogue shootings within a six month period—and the dangerous rising tide of Islamophobia, we must build and strengthen our joint intersectional movement to reject all forms of hatred and bigotry and protect each other. As Rep. Omar recently said: “When we are talking about antisemitism, we must also talk about Islamophobia; it's two sides of the same coin of bigotry.” She added. “Just this week, when we've had the attack in California on a synagogue, it's the same person who's accused of attempting to bomb a mosque. So I can't ever speak of Islamophobia and fight for Muslims if I am not willing to fight against antisemitism.” What Rep. Omar’s quote referred to is the Poway synagogue shooter’s manifesto where he laid clear his hatred for Muslims and Jews alike and admitted that prior to entering Poway Chabad synagogue he had attempted to bomb a mosque in the area.

If we want to achieve safety for Jews in this time of rising antisemitism, we must do so by at the same time achieving safety for Muslims and all the other groups currently subject to hatred and bigotry. It is through solidarity that we can find safety for all.

Ariel is the national co-director for CODEPINK.
Elijah is a senior at Lehman Alternative
Community School in Ithaca, NY.