By now, everyone has seen the video clips: Congresswoman Elise Stefanik asking the presidents of elite universities if their speech codes allowed students to call for genocide against Jews. Yet as Michelle Goldberg has explained in the New York Times, the viral video only shows part of the exchange.
Stefanik had previously asked: “You understand that the use of the term ‘intifada’ in the context of the Israeli-Arab conflict is indeed a call for violent armed resistance against the state of Israel, including violence against civilians and the genocide of Jews. Are you aware of that?”
This has been a rallying cry for all supporters of Israel: Anyone who is opposed to Israel’s genocidal assault against Gaza in fact wants to wipe Jews off the face of the earth.
This is nothing more than a cynical attempt to distract from the actual genocide going on before the world’s eyes. This defamation is particularly cruel when we notice how many of the activists using these very chants to protest for the people of Gaza are themselves Jewish.
Every colonizer is worried that the colonized will some day get revenge. Whites in South Africa were terrified that the end of Apartheid would allow Black people to commit mass murder. U.S. racists claim today that any critique of racism is in fact a call for “white genocide.” Yet these fears, whether real or not, cannot serve to justify systems of oppression.
What Is an Intifada?
The term “Intifada” has nothing to do with killing Jews. Rather, it is an Arabic word meaning roughly “shaking off.” The term was used for the first Palestinian uprising that began on December 9, 1987. This first Intifada was defined by mass resistance: demonstrations, strikes, and organizing across the occupied territories. This struggle forced Israel to make some concessions — at least on paper — that led to the Oslo Peace Accords.
Yet the Israeli government never intended to cease the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine. During all “peace talks,” Israel’s governments expanded settlements across the West Bank. This eventually led to a second Intifada, which began on September 28, 2000 after yet another provocation by a far-right Israeli government. This uprising again consisted of mass protests — but this second intifada is when Palestinian groups began the tactic of suicide bombings on a wide scale.
As socialists, we criticize these kinds of indiscriminate attacks on civilians. Yet this is no anomaly in the history of anti-colonial movements — the Algerian freedom struggle, for example, also involved bombing cafés. Resistance to occupation can often take forms that we believe are ineffective or even counterproductive. Yet such actions in no way justify the original occupation.
A call for an Intifada is nothing but a call for an uprising. Palestinians have an explicit right under international law and under numerous U.N. resolutions to fight back against an illegal occupation. We socialists put little faith in these bourgeois international bodies, but the Palestinian right to resist — to carry out an Intifada — is covered by elementary democratic principles. Everyone has a right to struggle against occupation.
“Intifada” has been used for different popular uprisings across the Arab world. The people of Western Sahara, fighting against occupation by the U.S-backed monarchy in Morocco, also refer to their struggle as an “Intifada.” Socialists have always supported the Sahrawis against imperialism and Moroccan colonialism. Would Stefanik claim this is also a call for genocide against Jews?
So, is a call to rise up and end the occupation in fact a call to eliminate Jews? Of course not. It clearly only refers to the Apartheid state in historical Palestine. Stefanik and others present the state of Israel and the Jewish people as interchangeable, as if all Jews stood behind Israel’s right-wing government. This assumption, that Jews represent some kind of secret collective with common plans, is itself an old antisemitic stereotype. Associating Israel’s horrific war crimes with “the Jews” is a deliberate attempt to stoke anti-Jewish hatred around the world.
In a similar way, the slogan “from the river to the sea” means that all people living in historical Palestine — Jews, Palestinians, and others — must enjoy equal democratic rights. It is not a call to end Jewish life on the territory. Rather, it is a call to end Apartheid.
Stefanik should be particularly sensitive to questions of anti-Jewish racism. She is one of the biggest boosters in Congress of Donald Trump, and her hero has a decades-long record of disparaging Jewish people, including associations with unabashed antisemites like Alex Jones, Nick Fuentes, and Kanye West. It was a Trump supporter who committed mass murder in the Tree of Life Synagogue, inspired by the very same conspiracy theories that Trump spreads. Stefanik itself has toyed with the antisemitic “great replacement” theory.
Bourgeois politicians claim that Jews can only survive if they are in charge of an Apartheid system — Biden said, for example, that “no Jew in the world would be safe” without Israel. This naturalizes anti-Jewish hatred as something timeless and universal — which is itself an antisemitic idea.
Marxists, in contrast, argue that antisemitism is a product of class society. We fight against antisemitism in all its forms — and we know we can end antisemitism by overcoming capitalism, and with it all forms of exploitation and oppression. That means that all people from the river to the sea will be able to live together in peace. For that, we need an uprising — or in Arabic, an “Intifada” — of working people all over the world.