This article is a commentary reflecting the lived experience, research and/or perspectives of the author. The views and opinions expressed don’t necessarily represent those of Unicorn Riot.
Looking at our social media feeds, it appears as if some of us are existing in a Pleasantville-esque parallel universe where a genocide of Palestinian babies and families is not being livestreamed. People are posting vacation pictures and influencers are bragging about eating endless shrimp inside the White House amid a hunger strike happening outside to protest the killing of Palestinians.
Beyonce and Taylor Swift are screening their movies in Israel while Gazans are digging their family members out of rubble and carrying dismembered remains of their loved ones in plastic bags. Taylor Swift was also named Time’s Person of the Year. An appropriate honor indeed, if only for her remarkable ability to stay mum about a genocide while commanding one of the largest fanbases in the world.
The two divergent realities — one where Israel is committing a genocide and the other one where it can do no wrong — can be understood by considering who stands to benefit. There is the reality of the Palestinians, an occupied people, who are broadcasting their own murders. They have gained international support from workers and students who have realized that their struggles are interconnected. Then there is the reality of the Israeli government (backed by the United States), which presents itself as all-powerful, righteous and a perpetual victim at the same time. In Israel’s reality the Palestinians it kills, imprisons and displaces (basically all Palestinians) are terrorists. In Israel’s eyes, these actions are necessary and condemning them is an act of bigotry. It is a mind-bending reality, if you think about it. It is a strange concoction of a state weaponizing a history of persecution, settler-colonialism, and a touch of imperialism.
The United States’ support for Israel isn’t some goodwill gesture out of concern for Jewish people. Strengthening Israel helps the imperialist world order maintain a measure of control over Arab nations — historically viewed as unpredictable — and their resources. In this parallel universe, speaking up against this injustice is considered bad, while condoning it is praiseworthy. Websites like Canary Mission and Stop Antisemitism are working overtime doxing professionals and students speaking up against the genocide of the Palestinian people. Educational institutions like Columbia and Brandeis are targeting Pro-Palestine student groups. The Los Angeles Times barred journalists who signed a letter condemning Israel’s actions from covering the genocide for three months.
“Israel Strikes Gaza After Truce Expires,” read an NPR headline talking about the resumption of the genocide after a weeklong truce. The reality for the Palestinians, however, was that even during the so-called truce, Israel continued to kill them while conducting raids in the West Bank. Israel has also arrested almost as many Palestinians as it released as part of the hostage exchange deal, making the gesture purely smoke and mirrors.
Past Commentary by Adnan Ahmed: Palestine Can’t Afford Silence
Meanwhile, across the U.S., institutions and politicians have been busy pledging allegiance to the ideals of Zionism and mislabeling criticism of Israel as antisemitism. On November 28 — when the number of killed Palestinians was in the tens of thousands — the U.S. House of Representatives passed House Resolution 888, which effectively attacks any form of organizing for Palestinian liberation and ignores the fact that Israel defines its existence in the ongoing brutal occupation and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. The resolution was passed 412 to 1 and was supported by several members of The Squad, including U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY14), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY16) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN5). It was a thinly veiled attempt at equating anti-Zionism with antisemitism.
But it obviously did not go far enough for some members of the House and just days later they passed another resolution (House Resolution 894) that explicitly states, “anti-Zionism is antisemitism.”
The new resolution, apparently too blatantly racist to be supported by The Squad and a handful of Democrats and one Republican, still passed with a clear majority. Ninety-five Democrats voted to support HR 894.
Legislation against pro-Palestinian organizing has seen an uptick in recent years. Just four years ago, Democrats overwhelmingly voted for a resolution that passed the U.S. House rejecting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. BDS is an international peaceful movement seeking to end support for the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. As of August 2023, over 30 states have passed anti-BDS legislation.
In 2019, then-President Trump signed an executive order that expanded Title VI of the 1964 Civil Right Acts to include discrimination based in antisemitism. The order directed institutions to use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism which cites criticism of Israel as an example of antisemitism. According to Palestine Legal, this order is a “distorted definition of antisemitism designed to censor advocacy for Palestinian rights.” President Biden, upon taking office, did not undo this executive order. Trump’s executive order — adopted by the Biden Administration as its policy — is now bearing fruit and Jewish students across the country are suing universities for Title VI violations, against the backdrop of increased campus activism opposing Israel’s atrocities.
This “moderate racism” is a clear example of how the Democratic Party tends to position itself just to the left of the Republicans. Democrats are experts at this game of creeping rightward while shifting focus from their own ineffectiveness and racist and discriminatory practices to highlighting the awfulness of their opponents — opponents that they often covertly support.
The Democratic Party actually spends money to bolster far-right candidates to make themselves seem palatable. They do this while cracking down on movements for Palestinian liberation, Black Lives Matter protests, trans rights, undocumented immigrants and unions to protect corporate interests.
The modern day Democratic Party has a legacy of racism in this country. President Roosevelt sent over 125,000 Japanese-Americans into internment camps. Decades ago, Biden himself crafted legislation that allowed the U.S. to lead the world in its population of prisoners. President Obama was nicknamed the “deporter in chief” for authorizing a record number of deportations. Just in his first year in office, Obama authorized more drone strikes than his predecessor, George W. Bush, during his entire presidency. Despite voicing opposition to it while on the campaign trail, Biden has waived 26 federal laws, including environmental laws, to complete construction of Trump’s racist border wall. Unsurprisingly, the Democrats, staying true to their fundamentally rightwing nature, have largely supported Israel in its most recent attacks on Palestinians.
The Democratic Party and other institutional leaders who have historically been loyal to Israel are now citing a rise in antisemitism as a reason to crack down on pro-Palestinian speech. They might sometimes throw in a concern about Islamophobia (anti-Palestinian hatred to be exact) as an afterthought. But it is quite evident that in the eyes of these leaders, Palestinian lives matter less.
Apart from the countless incidents of institutional suppression of Pro-Palestinian speech and activism, there have been many anti-Palestinian attacks carried out by individuals. Three Palestinian students were shot in Vermont over the Thanksgiving holiday for wearing keffiyehs. One of them might never walk again. Stuart Seldowitz, a former National Security Council official, was arrested for subjecting an Arab street vendor to bigoted tirades. Six-year-old Wadea Al Fayoume was stabbed 26 times and killed by his landlord. Wadea’s mother, who survived, was also stabbed multiple times by the perpetrator. These attacks have happened against a backdrop of continuous pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian rhetoric from U.S. institutions.
For many of our elected leaders, though, this rise in anti-Palestinian hate does not warrant a call for a permanent ceasefire, just lip service.
When concern about antisemitism is used as justification to silence people speaking up for the rights of Palestinians, we have a responsibility to examine those claims. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), antisemitism has increased 388 percent since Oct. 7, 2023. No decent human being would deny the long history and present-day incidents of persecution of Jewish people for their faith. However, ADL’s definition of “antisemitism” disingeniously conflates criticism of a government actively engaged in ethnic cleansing and genocide with hatred of Jewish people, making these numbers highly misleading. The ADL has even labeled the anti-Zionist Jewish group Jewish Voice for Peace as being antisemitic.
In reality, Zionism keeps no one safe. It threatens both Jews and non-Jews. A genocide is happening and people are rightfully protesting it. Zionism plays on the Jewish historical trauma of persecution by convincing many Jews that their safety lies in supporting Israel in whatever it does, while making pariahs out of those who call out Israel for being an apartheid settler state.
Recently, outraged Muslim leaders gathered in Michigan and vowed to not support Joe Biden in 2024. The Muslims are trying to use their power as a voting bloc to advocate for Palestinian rights. This is a step in the right direction but it is important to remember that another president in Joe Biden’s shoes would do the exact same thing.
Hundreds of politicians are financially supported by the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). This is not an antisemitic trope. The AIPAC website boasts that AIPAC “supported 365 pro-Israel Democratic and Republican candidates in 2022 with more than $17 million in direct support.” AIPAC has endorsed Democrats and Republicans, as long as they are willing to back Israel, a foreign government, without regard to other political positions they might have.
Politicians, academics, institutional heads and celebrities too often only speak up for human rights when it benefits them. We don’t need to hold our breath waiting for them to do the right thing and we don’t need their permission to speak up. The victim-blaming ruling class alternate reality survives on our docility and obedience. It thrives on the conviction that we can be exploited and intimidated into submission.
We tend to either look the other way by willing ourselves to not see what is happening or are afraid of facing repercussions for speaking out. At the core of our silence lies a false belief that we are powerless and alone. That all we can do — and should do — is shut up, go to work and vote every few years for a new oppressor. This myth is being shattered by the massive support for Palestinians from regular people across the globe despite ongoing repression to deter us. The cause for Palestinian liberation is an opportunity for us to recognize our collective strength and realize that our silence is not worth allowing a genocide to continue.
Dr. Maya Angelou famously said, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” We owe it to the Palestinian people to forever deplatform those who, despite possessing immense power, remain complicit in this massacre through their actions or their silence. We should not forget and, more importantly, we should not let them forget what they did during this genocide.
Cover image by Niko Georgiades for Unicorn Riot using creative commons images.