Last week, newly elected North Carolina congressman Madison Cawthorn detailed his past attempts to convert Jews to Christianity. For those who haven’t followed Cawthorn’s bumpy rise to prominence, he previously posted photos of himself visiting Adolf Hitler’s former vacation home, where he referred in the caption to “the Fuhrer” and “supreme evil.” Meanwhile, as COVID-19 cases surged across the country, Mike Pompeo flew to Israel and became the first-ever United States Secretary of State to visit the Golan Heights or a settlement in the West Bank—both of which are illegally occupied by Israel according to international law. There, Pompeo issued a statement declaring the Palestinian-led movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israeli occupation, also known as BDS, to be antisemitic.
The State Department later tweeted a photo that read “Anti-Zionism is Anti-Semitism”—a statement that mischaracterizes both BDS and antisemitism. Together, Cawthorn and Pompeo’s actions are emblematic of a growing contradictory threat: The right is emboldening antisemitism while hurling bad-faith accusations of antisemitism at liberation movements.
We have spent years learning from and with Palestinians and Israelis. As members of an organization grounded in anti-Zionist politics and Jewish community, we combat both antisemitism and those who seek to suppress criticism of Israel through false accusations of antisemitism. We refuse to let the Jewish community be used as a right-wing talking point at the expense of Palestinian freedom.
Boycott is a time-honored tactic used by marginalized people in the U.S. and across the globe. The American South has a long tradition of Black-led boycotts against Jim Crow laws, and a rich history of Black-Palestinian solidarity against apartheid. The South African Anti-Apartheid Movement, first established as the Boycott Movement, inspired the Palestinian call for international boycott, divestment, and sanctions. BDS is a tactic to fight an undemocratic occupying power that refuses to comply with international law, giving people of conscience around the world a way to act collectively to defend human rights and reject complicity with injustice.
For those who would characterize BDS as antisemitic for “singling out” Israel, Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. Foreign Aid since World War II. To date, the U.S. has provided Israel $146 billion in bilateral assistance and missile defense funding. Much of this money has been used to fund Israel as an international hub of military technology development. These technologies are used to surveil, cage, and suppress people in Palestine—and they have been exported to the U.S. as well. This exchange of military aid and weaponry is antithetical to justice and human life.
Meanwhile, as the State Department seeks to weaken the Palestine solidarity movement, the president is emboldening white nationalism and antisemitism, its “theoretical core.” In the U.S., we have witnessed Nazis, Klan members, and their sympathizers assemble on the streets of our cities and gain seats in Congress. Yet the right is able to effectively use antisemitism as a wedge issue—not only because they’ve diluted the true meaning of antisemitism with false attacks, but also because true antisemitism eludes easy explanation.
To be clear, like all oppressions, antisemitism surfaces across the political spectrum. According to journalist Talia Lavin, author of Culture Warlords: My Journey into the Dark Web of White Supremacy, antisemitism, which originated in Europe, is essentially “the oldest conspiracy.” At its core rests a centuries-old myth that a global cabal of Jews has plotted to control institutions such as the banks, the media, and Hollywood. This enduring and false idea fueled regimes that then diverted blame onto Jews, leading to pogroms and mass murder. While antisemitism has no political allegiance, it is most dangerous when it is weaponized by those in power, in part because it distracts people from recognizing that it is actually capitalism that creates scarcity. That is why the rise of QAnon as a mainstream conspiracy theory (with new congressional adherents) should worry anyone who claims to care about antisemitism.
By fostering antisemitic conspiracy while hurling bad-faith accusations of antisemitism at liberation movements, the right presents a dangerous contradiction for freedom fighters. Accusing pro-Palestinian activists of being antisemitic creates a chilling effect, just as red-baiting did in the 1950s and criminalizing anti-fascism does today. Furthermore, defining BDS as antisemitic positions Jewish people as arbiters on whether fighting for Palestinian freedom is antisemitic—an inherently racist premise. This tactic silences Palestinians in the occupied territories and in the diaspora who are fighting for their own freedom and dignity; it endangers Palestinian, Black, Indigenous, and Muslim organizers, leaders, and elected officials in the U.S. who speak out against injustice, only to face racist death threats. Yet Madison Cawthorn’s antisemitic statements and actions have hardly threatened his nascent political career.
If we seek to fight antisemitism, we need true solidarity. Antisemitism is most dangerous when fascists weaponize it to fracture multiracial working-class movements and divert blame for society’s problems—capitalism’s problems—to Jews. We know that Cawthorn, Pompeo, and their ilk threaten our community’s survival, and we envision a future beyond the conditions of scarcity and extraction produced by capitalism and white Christian supremacy, both of which provide fertile ground for antisemitism to flourish. Our tax dollars should not fund a racist and profit-driven military occupation of Palestinian land. As Jewish people, we refuse to be divided from other people seeking freedom and will continue to support Palestinians in their fight for liberation.
Emerson Goldstein, Sandra Korn, and Carol Prince are members of the leadership team of Jewish Voice for Peace – Triangle NC.
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