While Israel wages an unprecedented siege on Gaza, the United States is perpetrating an assault on the right to protest and denounce Israel’s crimes. The many thousands of Americans who stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people are now facing organized harassment, surveillance, and state repression.
At first, the attack on protests against Israel’s war on Gaza was largely rhetorical. Media outlets and politicians were quick to pull the long-standing lie that supporting Palestine is antisemitic, obscuring the fact that Zionism isn’t the same as Judaism and that many Jews support Palestine (by the way, I’m one of these many anti-Zionist Jews). For good measure, they also threw in the angle that support for Palestine means supporting “terrorism.” Despite this rhetorical campaign to isolate and discredit the movement, the week of October 8 saw massive rallies across the United States in support of Palestinian self-determination.
Since then, the state and Zionist organizations like J Street and America Israel Public Affairs Committee have begun upping their repression. On October 12, the National Executive Director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee reported that his organization received multiple calls about ICE detaining Palestinian nationals and the FBI visiting Palestinian homes as well as mosques and Arab inmates throughout the country. A journalist for the Harvard Crimson reported that a truck has been driving around Harvard Square displaying the names and photos of students who signed a statement in solidarity with the Palestinian cause. In New York City, city council member Inna Vernikov showed up to a rally organized at the City University of New York (CUNY) carrying a gun to intimidate students who support Palestine. The country’s two largest cities, NYC and Los Angeles, bolstered the police presence at protests against Israel’s siege on Gaza. On October 13, the NYPD arrested more than 100 Jewish New Yorkers who held a protest outside Senator Chuck Schumer’s office to demand an end to the indiscriminate killing of Palestinians. Those arrested included elected officials, rabbis, and descendants of Holocaust survivors.
Even within Congress, the right to voice support for the Palestinian people is under attack. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian herself, and Congresswoman Cori Bush issued statements which called for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine and Israeli apartheid. As a result of these statements, conservatives, and the media are attacking Tlaib and Bush, and even members of their own party have joined these attacks. Republicans are even attacking Tlaib for displaying a Palestinian flag outside her office.
Meanwhile, the largest socialist organization in the country, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), is also being attacked. Many rank and file members of the organization have long fought for DSA to act strongly in support of Palestinian self-determination. This past week, DSA chapters throughout the country and even the national leadership have issued statements strongly condemning Israel’s violence, and DSA members have mobilized to join Palestinian solidarity actions. Now, the organization is being smeared by the mainstream media as “hateful” and “antisemitic,” and even some of its former members and DSA-endorsed elected officials have joined the fray.
The Zionist and imperialist campaign to silence critics of Israel is not new. For example, Amnesty International warned in 2020 of the State Department’s attack on the BDS Movement, one of the most popular strategies of peaceful protest that supporters of Palestinian liberation have organized. As Amnesty explained at the time: “The Department of State’s targeting of groups advocating for using peaceful means, such as boycotts, to end human rights violations against Palestinians as antisemitic violates freedom of expression and is a gift to those who seek to silence, harass, intimidate and oppress those standing up for human rights around the world.”
In 2018, the Intercept reported on the organization Canary Mission which documents pro-Palestine activists in order to wage coordinated harassment efforts against them. Canary Mission’s doxxing has been used to keep Palestinian rights activists from being hired by certain companies or accepted into certain colleges and has gotten activists fired from jobs.
It is not yet clear how far this current wave of repression will go. At the time of publication, the United States has not taken any extreme actions to ban the right to protest as countries like France and Germany have. However, many activists and civil liberties experts familiar with the so-called “War on Terror” are saying that the climate of repression and media frenzy are reminiscent of 2001-2003, when the state waged an offensive against basic civil liberties, the impact of which reverberates to this day.
One of our most basic democratic rights, to protest and speak out against injustice, is under attack, and everyone must stand up now to defend that right and to resist the attempts of the state and the media to silence dissent. This requires seeing through the media spin and propaganda that falsely paint condemnation of Israel as “violent” and “antisemitic.” Those of us denouncing and protesting Israel’s siege on Gaza are not the violent ones; in fact, we are the ones demanding an end to the violence that is fueled by Zionism.
Despite the repression, many people are bravely exercising their basic right to criticize Israel’s actions. Those exercising this free speech include: organizations like the DSA and Jewish Voice for Peace, the BDS Movement, elected officials like Rashida Tlaib and Cori Bush, and most importantly, the millions of members of the Palestinian diaspora who are facing the brunt of this hate and repression while fighting for their loved ones to not be massacred. The public, and especially political organizations and human rights organizations, need to condemn this offensive that seeks to silence all criticism of Israel.
We support the fundamental right of all people to protest injustice, we denounce all attempts by the state, the media, private institutions, and conservative forces to limit, prohibit, criminalize, or punish criticism of Israel and the defense of the people of Palestine, and we call for a mass movement in the streets to demand an immediate end of Israel’s brutal occupation.