2008: The Year in Anti-Semitism
Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism
Posted: May 14, 2009
Although it is perfectly legitimate to criticize Israeli policies, the rhetoric employed by anti-Israel groups in 2008 frequently slid into anti-Semitism. In writings and widespread rallies throughout 2008, such groups supported terror and violence against Israelis; depicted Israelis as Nazis; claimed that Israel has no right to exist; and described Zionism as an inherently racist ideology. These messages effectively demonize Jews and deny Jewish aspiration to self-rule, and as such may fairly be characterized as anti-Semitic.
Anti-Israel groups were galvanized to employ such rhetoric twice in 2008: first in connection with the 60th anniversary of Israel's independence, and then toward the end of the year (and continuing into 2009) in connection with Israel's military operation in Gaza.
Surrounding the celebration of Israel's 60th anniversary, groups intent on criticizing its founding and existence organized anti-Israel events around the United States.
These groups focused on the notion that it has been 60 years since the "Nakba," an Arabic word meaning 'catastrophe' or 'disaster' that many Palestinians and Arabs use to refer to the 1948 war and the establishment of the State of Israel.
One of the more important groups involved in this activity is Al-Awda, The Palestinian Right to Return Coalition, a grassroots organization that opposes Israel's right to exist and which openly supports terror groups that target Israelis. Al-Awda's Sixth Annual International Convention, which was labeled a "Nakba" commemoration and held from May 16-18, in Anaheim, California, featured speakers who vocalized particularly virulent anti-Israel rhetoric. Al-Awda co-founder Salman Abu Sitta referred to the "Nakba" as the "largest, longest operation of planned ethnic cleansing in history" and compared Gaza and the Nazi Holocaust by referring to Gaza as "the new Auschwitz." A Jerusalem-based bishop, Atallah Hanna, spoke about the need for Palestinian Muslims and Christians to unite against the "one enemy [Zionism]."
The convention was endorsed by a wide array of groups, including ANSWER and the International Action Center (IAC). Arguing that all of Israel should be returned to the Palestinians, IAC representative, John Parker, said, "From the river to the sea, we will not stop until all of us are free."
Numerous rallies organized around the country commemorating the "Nakba" were marked by denunciations of Israel's existence. For example, on May 16, a "Nakba" commemorative rally that took place at Dag Hammarskjold Park in New York City featured demonstrators holding signs that read, "Palestine Peace not Ethnic Cleansing," "Free Palestine from the River to the Sea." A banner signed by Al-Awda read, "Return Resistance Liberation/ By Any Means Necessary." One particularly offensive poster read, "Zionism is Nazism" and had a drawing of a Star of David juxtaposed to a swastika. Demonstrations organized specifically to counter celebrations of Israel's 60th anniversary were also widespread throughout the U.S. on Israeli Independence Day.
In response to Israel's military action in Gaza to staunch the barrage of Hamas rockets hurled at Israeli towns and cities, ANSWER and the Muslim American Society helped organized a "National Day of Action" on December 30, 2008, in more than 30 locations around the country. Many of the demonstrations, which were held in front of Israeli embassies and consulates and U.S. Federal buildings, as well as at Holocaust museums and memorials, were marked by offensive Holocaust imagery likening Jews and Israelis to Nazis, anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic rhetoric, as well as expressions in support of terror. One demonstrator in Ft. Lauderdale was depicted in a YouTube video screaming, "Jews go back to the ovens!"
Approximately 200 anti-Israel rallies were documented in various U.S. cities in the first weeks of January 2009. On January 10, at least 10,000 demonstrators picketed in Washington D.C., where signs reading "Jewish Run Media Hides Jewish Terrorism," "Hitler was Right. Jews are blood suckers," and "Stop Israel's Nazi Genocide." At one point the crowd chanted, "Hitler, Olmert they're the same. The only difference is their name."
A sign at a January 19 rally in Chicago read, "Death to Jews and the State of Israel." At a January 10 rally in San Francisco, signs read, "Target all Zionist Businesses," and "Globalize the Intifada." A sign at a January 10 rally in Los Angeles described Israel as a "Cancer upon the World." A January 9 rally in Chicago included a sign claiming that the Mossad was responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. At a January 5 rally in San Francisco, one sign read "Jews: The First Terrorists." Other major anti-Israel protests took place in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
While anti-Israel rallies, including expressions of support for terrorism and anti-Semitism, are unfortunately to be expected when Israel undertakes military action, more troubling were the anti-Semitic incidents that were directed at Jews or Jewish institutions:
- Synagogues and Hebrew schools in Dalton, Georgia; Irvine, California; New York City; and Wilmington, Delaware reported receiving threatening messages that referred to Israel's operation in Gaza.
- On December 31, 2008, more than 22 Jewish institutions in Chicago, Illinois, received letters warning that they would be bombed if Israel did not exit Gaza immediately.
- On January 10, 2009, vandals broke windows at three Chicago synagogues and a Hebrew school and spray-painted the walls with anti-Israel graffiti, including "Death to Israel" and "Free Palestine."
- A Holocaust memorial in San Francisco, California, was defaced with red spray paint reading "Israel, their blood is on your hands."
Each of these incidents was decried by community leaders and investigated by law enforcement.